Monday, November 18, 2013

The Best of Christmas Yet to Come

After my shameful Bah Humbuggery in the previous post, I had a little think about how grumpy Christmas and all its irks and quirks made me feel, and would you believe it, I fell asleep at my desk.

I was awoken by the rattling of chains and the stomping of feet. In my groggy state I mistook it to be the ringing of choir bells, so I sat up and launched my slipper at the window, punctuating its dull thud with a hearty “PISS OFF!”

Then a spectral voice behind me called my name. “Wiiiiiiibs, Wiiiiiibs,” it howled, rattling its chains.

“What do you want,” I barked, picking up the remote and flicking the TV on.

Turn off the teeee veeeeee...

“What?” I snapped, over a deafening advert for the latest Transforming-Mega-Morphiniser-Bot-a-Tron, with laser night vision and new jack-knifing action.

The teeeee veeeeee...turn it off...

Turkey what?”

The remote was snatched from me by a clammy grey hand and the TV flicked off. I looked up into the ragged face of the spectre, and found it looked a lot like-

“Holy crap, you're me. Or me after three glasses of whiskey. And your roots need doing.”

My roooooots aren’t impoooooortaaaant!” Boomed the spirit, and thunder and lightning cracked outside. “I mean, my roots aren’t important. Look, have you got five minutes? I need to lay some truths on your fat ass.”

“Yeah, whatever, there’s nothing on anyway.” I shuffled over and patted the vacant side of the sofa. “And there’s no need to be personal. Ectoplasm or not, your ass is fat too.”

The ghost sat down, its chains rattling. “Ahh, thanks. The buses are a frigging nightmare at this hour.”

“What’s with all the bling-bling?” I gestured.

“Oh yes,” said the ghost. “Look, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Basically I’m the representation of you if you don’t buck your ideas up and stop being such a Christmas crank.”

“Wait, you’re the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?” My eyes widened. “What a rip-off. Ebenezer Scrooge got three ghosts, and I just get the last one? And what’s more, you talk, and you’re not even a Muppet.” I slumped back in the sofa. “This sucks.”

“This is what I mean,” the ghost sighed, rolling its eyes. “You’re expecting too much of Christmas, setting it up for a failure before this one has even started.” The ghost got up and poured itself a whiskey from my decanter. “Look, you must have enjoyed Christmas as a kid.”

“I did not,” I lied unconvincingly. “I was a prim young lady who never once pulled any crackers or egged any nogs.”

“Oh please,” drawled the spirit, “You loved it. One year you even got a Barbie for Christmas. Your feminist friends would be shocked.”

“Fine,” I said, folding my arms. “Look, what do you really want from me? I was only poking fun in my last Blog. Nobody reads that shit anyway.”

“Do another post,” suggested the ghost, slumping against the liquor cabinet. “Only this time be honest about what you like about Christmas. And none of this Hallmark Cards family and hugs bollocks; tell me how you really feel.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And then you’ll fuck right off?”

Then I’ll fuck right off.”

“All right,” I sighed.



When I was a kid, both sets of Grandparents lived eighty or so miles away. We would make the trip down one year, and my Grandparents would come up to us the next Christmas. When my Grandad died, we still made the trips up and back. Then my Grandma died years later, and my Uncle made the trips down to us, and then I moved out and got married and now have a fledgling family of my own to organise at Christmas.

But one thing always remained the same: every Christmas morning, no matter which bed I woke up in, my brother and I would always have a full stocking sitting at the end of the bed. Sometimes it was Father Christmas’ doing, then my parents’, and then my husband’s, but it was the same every year. Then, my brother and I started doing them for my parents. Every year we’d comb the shops for little palm-sized gifts: lip gloss for Mum, a photo snow globe for Dad’s desk at work. It was so much fun putting them together on Christmas Eve, in my room while music played, trying to figure out if the snow globe would crush the satsuma or if the bath bomb had leaked glitter everywhere.

What I'm saying once you scrape off the layer of sugar is that no matter where you are or who you celebrate with, sometimes you want to hang on to a ritual that makes your Christmas happy. Everyone has them, and everyone should.


Cold is under-rated. In the summer you can take off clothes if you get too hot, but you risk the threat of public indecency. And even if you can strip right off, what happens if you’re still too hot? You can’t take your skin off. If you’re cold in the winter, you can warm up by sticking on the heating or a sassy Christmas jumper. Or, rather brilliantly, our bodies will warm themselves up after a brisk walk through the town centre or at the seafront (the only time I will ever endorse any kind of physical activity).

The cold makes us all equal: absolutely nobody on the planet looks hot in Ugg boots. Sure, you may have amazingly toned abs, but jumpers make you look cuddly rather than chiselled. If you went out in the summer in paisley or candy stripes or with trees and deer and bobbles and glitter woven into your clothes, frankly people would faint from shock. In Winter, nobody looks twice. Unless you’re wearing a dinosaur-themed Christmas jumper, then they look because you’re AWESOME (Santa please take note).


I hate, hate, hate adverts, and I think it started when hubby and I got a TiVo. It meant I could fast forward through the fat opera-singing idiots and talking meerkats to get back to my choice of programme. Adverts wind me up so much, I believe that if I hadn't got a TiVo I would have put my foot through a lot of TV screens.

Christmas adverts, like the season itself, are basically amped-up versions of themselves, so by all means I should hate them. But sometimes, more often than not, there’s one or two miniature works of art garlanding the schedules. One year there was a memorable ad with a little boy waiting anxiously for Christmas Day to arrive, only to reveal he was urgent to give his parents the present he’d picked out for them. “Wait until you see it,” everyone had said to me, “You’ll cry.” Bah, yeah right, adverts make me dry-heave, not cry. But then it caught me by surprise during an airing of The Simpsons and I admit my heart grew a few times in size. Or maybe it was just indigestion.

Of course, there are the dreadful Christmas ads that blare annoying jingles and flash lights at you, but they are quickly forgotten. And if all else fails, you can make fun of the insultingly pretentious perfume ads. I've even made a fragrance ad bingo. Play along if you wish:

If the Brad Pitt advert comes on, drink until he shuts up.


I'm going to go a bit geeky on this one. Christmas just after new consoles are released must be like Christmas with a split-up family: each console releases flashier and fancier titles, hoping to win the love of its cosseted fans. It starts off in the summertime when the gaming expeditions start to premier their upcoming titles, and then launches into a frenzy in the Autumnal months with game after game hitting the shelves. There’s something for every gamer, whether it’s a big family play-fest guaranteed to get Grandma flinging the remote into the fish tank, the latest midnight release in a franchise, or that hot indie game that promised to “turn console gaming on its head”. Although games are now a lot more expensive, there is a much bigger range. Even if you’re a Grandparent who continuously buys an Xbox game for your Nintendo-mad Grandkids, you can now simply buy vouchers.

It’s similarly exciting for music fans. Artists start releasing ‘bonus editions’ of their albums: essentially the same one they released in January or February but with slightly different cover art and a few remixes or the latest single tacked on for good measure. Frankly why you’d buy the same album twice is anyone’s guess, but it must work, otherwise why would they keep doing it?

I'm more than happy for Uncle Ninty and Auntie Microsoft to keep fighting, because that means I get more shiny new gifts to tempt and toy with my heartstrings every winter. And what’s better than getting gifts?


Oh yeah, you didn't think I’d let you get away without another dose of seasonal diabetes. It sure is nice to get shiny new things: there’s nothing like being handed a present covered in shiny paper for you to rip open and squeal over.

But then there’s also something so nice about giving. There’s something about going shopping with Mum and watching her finger something longingly, then sneaking back while she’s distracted and handing it to a winking shop assistant. Something magic about listening carefully to the little hints my Dad gives me and surprising him with something even he didn't know he wanted. Watching someone open a present they've probably already guessed you’re getting them; the glint of relief and gratitude in their eyes.

I groan when I hear Roy Wood belting that he wishes it could be Christmas every day, but then I kind of get his drift: if I could make my friends and loved ones as delighted without giving them something in a glittery bag, I’d be happy. So even though you don’t have to be happy or jolly or love everything about Christmas, be mindful of those around you and the things they give to you and what you might do for them in return.


“Is that good enough?” I asked, exhausted.

The ghost nodded. “Yeah, I think that’ll probably do. It’s not going to win you a Pulitzer, but it's fine.”

“So am I saved?”

“For now,” said the spirit, reaching for my decanter once more. I flung my remaining slipper and it passed through its stomach with a whoosh.

“What was that for?”

“You said you’d leave if I got all holly jolly,” I said, slinging my feet up onto the sofa. “Now beat it, before I call the Ghostbusters.”

The ghost smirked. “You’re still a hell of a Grinch,” it drawled, fading away. “But you’ve got good taste in whiskey.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Worst Days of Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There’ll be screaming and yelling and everyone telling you “Fuck me, it’s November already?! Oh God, I haven’t done my card list, I’ve no clue what to get the in-laws, and is that bloody Pogues record on again? Give me strength.”

Well spotted: those aren't the correct lyrics, but they are an amalgam of what pretty much everyone I've spoken to recently has come out with. Christmas isn't one of those irritating jumpy holidays like Easter that falls on different dates every year, but it sure takes everyone by surprise. And it’s not always a pleasant surprise, much like your gift from the weirdo that drew your name in the office Secret Santa (“Aww, a comedy reindeer that poops chocolate-covered raisins? Lovely! I've always wanted to fake-eat faeces straight from a grinning cartoon animal’s bum-end!”) 

I've not been around forever but I like to think I've had a decent grab-bag of Christmases: good ones, naff ones, ones I’d rather forget, but by far the worst bit of Christmas is the run-up to the actual period. December 25th seems like a huge unconquerable beast leering at us from a distance, and you both know you’re going to have to fight it eventually. So what’s the worst bits of the Christmas lead-up? I've come up with a few of my own for you to enjoy; maybe while you’re writing out your Christmas card list because you just got your first one from a girl that wasn't in your department but you should probably send one back just to be polite and then you have to send one to the whole team or you look like a rude dick and then you AAAAAAAAARGH.


Every year it’s the same. The Pogues get voted “UK’s Favourite Christmas Song” once again, despite being more dysfunctional than the Osbournes, and the nation celebrates by playing it again and again and again. There are roughly twenty popular Christmas songs in heavy rotation, and you have to listen to them wherever you go. And God help you if you work in retail - you get sent a CD or tape from Head Office, and that tape goes live on Nov 1st and stays on, looping the same songs until Dec 25th. If you’re really unlucky that tape will contain less than an hour’s worth of songs, which means in the average working day you will hear the same set of songs nine or ten times!

You could argue that it’s not fair to single out Christmas songs for this behaviour. Most shops and radio stations normally play Hot 40 hits, so if you hate pop music while you shop, you’re screwed. But the problem with Christmas music is the greater lack of choice. Let me explain: think of twenty of this year’s biggest hits, right now. Now get your friend to do the same. I'm willing to bet that your lists differed quite a bit. Now both of you think of twenty Christmas songs: did you both get the same songs, more or less? Yeah you did, don’t even lie.

And the boring increases: top ten hits tend to be about love/sex or the absence of it, which is a hugely broad subject, whereas Christmas songs are And they tend to come in a very limited selection of flavours:

Not included: Songs with Winter/Christmas-Themed Music Videos, X Factor Winners, Novelty Bollocks, Religious Standards
Not included: Songs with Winter/Christmas-Themed Music Videos, X Factor Winners, Novelty Bollocks, Religious Standards

And just like a really exclusive club, the Christmas song clique is hard to break into, so anything new or not in those three popular categories doesn't tend to get any airplay. So it’s the same old same old, year in, year out. Hurrah!


Christmas time is family time, and no, I'm not talking about that when I mean ‘obligations’ - I genuinely find family time a great thing about Christmas and don’t feel pressured to be all up in my family’s grille as of midnight December 24th.

What I mean by ‘obligations’ is this: the little things that are forced upon us at Christmas time. Since when did it become a prerequisite that you have to be cheery at Christmas, because it’s Christmas? Bah humbug. And please don’t tell me that you’re the kind of person who pressures others into going to church. By all means go if you want to go, but don’t guilt-trip people into participating in something that is no more a tradition to them than stuffing pickled eggs up your arse is to you. Nowadays people have different ideas about what Christmas means, so have a little festive tolerance.


If you want to go out shopping in December for anything non-Christmas related: pint of milk, pair of knickers, AA batteries, you can forget it. As soon as Halloween has been cleared from the shelves, gift sets and novelty items rule, and people are flocking into town to grab what they can. I work in the town centre and quite often have to pop into town to grab supplies or lunch, and it suddenly becomes a blood sport. Kids run everywhere like shin-seeking missiles, harried men clutch fluffy slippers, mothers tear each other’s faces off over the last Moshi Monster on the shelf.

I suppose I should be thankful that I live in an age where there really is something for everyone. In fact, there’s more than just one option, which makes shopping for that awkward friend or relative a little easier. Plus, what with online shopping, I only have to brave the High Street when I've forgotten tags or run out of paper. And if you really can’t find something for everyone, there’s always...


The delightful aforementioned chocolate-shitting reindeer is a prime example of this. Seasonal crap, the likes of which you are going to wear/eat/display for approximately half a day before your tolerance wanes to nothing, festoon the shelves at Christmas like never before. I don’t mean useful things like Christmas lights; I mean 100% flimsy plastic, singing, jiggling or otherwise gimmicky rubbish that you would never in your right mind give to anyone, were you not still desperately shopping at 4:45 on Christmas Eve. I hate having to feign delight and enjoyment when I unwrap something like this (and thankfully all of my best beloveds are thoughtful, so I haven’t had to do this for years). But every year I see the shelves of Jingle Bell Rock-singing chipmunks and I feel sorry for all of the poor people who will be forced to coo “Aww, so it sings every time you come near it? That’s not going to get annoying at all!”


I am a terrible yo-yo dieter. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not one of those people that’s always on the South Beach this or the 5:2 that, I mean I am always losing six pounds and then gaining eight. I now know exactly what to do to stop putting the weight on: stop eating whatever I like and start doing a little more exercise.

Christmastime is not the friend of exercise. But it is the friend of sausages wrapped in bacon, and stews, and chocolates in the break room, and lush German biscuits and gingerbread and whiskey and custard. It’s everywhere! And it’s all massive, American-sized portions, drenched in butter and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon! And then there’s the excuse: “It’s Christmas!” What the Hell, everyone. Because nobody tucks into a whole cheesecake washed down with a pint of cream, saying, “It’s Vernal Equinox!”

Saying “We’re going to have a trim Christmas” is like the captain of the Titanic putting down his binoculars and saying “We’re miles away, it’s just going to graze us.”

Tune in next time, where Wibs is visited by a familiar Seasonal spirit...