Friday, December 31, 2010

A Classless Christmas (and an Unbiased New Year)

Apparently it was recently Christmas, and despite it occurring on the same day every year a lot of people seemed surprised to see it again. None so more than television producer and Daily Mail columnist Charlotte Metcalf, whose recent bout of jingle hell has upset a fair few people, mainly of the middle- and working-classes. You can read the thing here, but if it makes you especially unhappy I'd suggest just leaving her alone; the woman's had a hard time since it was published and it's not pleasant is it kiddies?

The thing that I believe upsets most people is not that she has held a privileged position: many homes, many cars, earning more in a week than most of us make in a month (and yes that's before tax); it's the naive insistence that since she and her family have had their fill of embroidered cushion covers and luxury bath oil, nothing else will be remotely good enough. It's as if everything below Harrod's in the budget line is not worth bothering with. And here is where the problem lies.

Stockings are a great idea, and so is shopping around.
Hands up if you got all of your Christmas shopping done in one day. All of the food, gift wrap, presents, homeware etc. If your hand is up, you must be a liar. I don't even get my general shopping all in one shop: if I know where something's cheaper I'll buy it there instead. Pound shops are the friends of people like me who don't think they should have to pay £1.69 for washing-up liquid with my weekly food shop when one can get two bottles of Limon Freschchsch! for £1. While essentials and food are often better value than most supermarkets, with toys you admittedly will get what you pay for. I say buy your cut-price triangular confectionery from Poundland and maybe splash out a few more quid on little High Street odds-and-sods: plenty of shops now cash in on stocking filler ideas, for example Peacocks, Burtons, and BHS to name a few.

Part of growing up is learning to cope with disappointment.
As a kid, I always turned over my scribbled list to my parents in early November or so. Often it was about ten items long and I did ask for branded toys like Barbie and Lego, but nothing was guaranteed. And you know what? I didn't throw myself to the ground kicking and screaming in front of my parents and demand gifts: for one thing they would quite rightly have given me the hiding of my life right there and then, but primarily because Mum and Dad never implied that if I made a list I'd automatically receive everything on it.

"Christmas Disappointment" does not last. Parents only truly disappoint their child when they don't keep a promise.
Some years when I handed over my list, Mum and Dad would sit me down and ask which things on it I really wanted. Often our conversations went like this:

Mum: What does that say?
Little Neety: A Barbie.
Dad: What kind of Barbie?
LN: One like Allana's.
M: How about a different Barbie instead of one like Allana's? Otherwise you both have the same, and it'll be boring. Poor Allana's Barbie will have nobody new to play with!
LN: Yeah!
D: And you've put Lego here. Now there's lots of Lego, isn't there?
LN: Yes. *eats fist*
D: What type of Lego did you mean?
LN: *shrugs, eating fist*
M: Did you put Lego on there because Ashley wants Lego?
LN: *thinks for a moment* Yes.
D: So you don't really want Lego do you? How about you have a good think, and tell Father Christmas what you want.

I didn't always know what I wanted, especially at a young age when you're programmed to instantly want anything you see in the advert breaks during Pokemon. If you sit your kid down like my parents did and say "There will be presents this year, but perhaps not all the ones on your list", there may be a few tears before bedtime but at least you haven't led them into false hope. And any child that does throw a major tantrum upon hearing about Santa's budget cuts this year - bad news parents, your child has already been spoilt.

Be honest with your friends.
Ever heard the one about the chap who won the lottery? To celebrate his win he went down to his local, bought each of his buddies a drink and they all laughed and joked together. The next morning he received phone calls from people he hadn't heard from in years who had suddenly decided they were interested in him again. Any idiot can see that these people are what is known as "fair-weather friends": friends who like you only when you've got a lot going for you. If you explain humbly to your friends that they'll just be getting cards this year, your best friends are the ones that go "Hey, don't worry about it, we'll just do cards." If you want to get something for their kids, the choice is then yours and yours alone. Often the nicest gift is something you take a little time to make yourself: how about some simple gingerbread cookies for the kids to ice, or a nice home-made card?

The trouble with Ms Metcalf is that she harks back to her days of smoked salmon Christmas breakfast and £20-a-pop ribbons as if it is the only life worth living. I've never even been into Harrod's let alone bought my presents there and I can only imagine how luxurious the gifts must be, but just because a gift is 'High Street' it doesn't mean it is any less enjoyed or treasured by the person who receives it. Boots, The Body Shop, Lush, Whittards, Lakeland and Paperchase to name a small group of stores all have fantastic gift ideas that look, feel, smell and taste great and feel luxurious whether they cost £2 or £22. Globally, we are all in the same boat, and some of us like Ms Metcalfe made changes to their lifestyle this year, whether it was taking a gamble in the volatile world of second and third homes (her) or moving into your first home with your partner (me), and not all of these ventures always pay off.

I hope my readers (all three of you) had a good and full Christmas and go on to have a prosperous New Year. And remember at Christmas as well as the other 364 days of the year: Stand by the decisions you make, give your family your time and effort which is the best gift of all, and don't promise something you just can't deliver.

SOURCE: Metcalf, Charlotte (2010) The Daily Mail Online,, retrieved 31/12/10. Source article updated 6/12/10

Apologies to my oldest friends Allana and Ashley for using you in my analogy, and thanks for many happy years of Barbie and Lego.