Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’


Apparently, other than “money”, “Christmas” is the most dangerous discussion that a couple hoping to stay together can embark upon. If they choose to have this conversation whilst in the car park of IKEA, they are well and truly fucked, to the extent that initiating the conversation may be considered inflammatory and grounds for granting custody.

Anyway, Wife and I DID embark on the conversation this week: her half-sister has invited us, and my sister has invited us. On the one hand, I haven’t spent Christmas with my family for the last three years, given that they were in New York. On the other hand, we have never spent Christmas with any of her family (although her parents were divorced very early on in her life and lived entirely separate lives, so it’s not as if we were turning our back on a Rockwell-style offering) and so it could be argued that the time has come.

We haven’t resolved it yet: what IS clear is that we will manage to get to both families on “The Day”, with the handy deployment of the “Drinks” and “The Meal” being taken as two separate events – but we need to get clear pretty swiftly, out of respect for our two hostesses, one of whom is going to have to find a piece of meat that serves somewhere between 16 and 20…

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We’re nowhere on a pudding.

This phrase “we’re nowhere on…” comes from a time when Best Friend, Old Friend at Work and Heavily Sweating Planner (as well as Account Director Who Over-Shares About Her Menstrual Cycle) worked at an Agency whereat the Managing Director enjoyed nothing more than running into the Creative Department the day before a big meeting (ideally a pitch) to return some time later screeching “We’re nowhere on [insert relevant brand here]!” with a mixture of smugness, panic and awe. He loved the sheer drama of being lamentably under-prepared for a meeting, which was lucky, as he presided over an Agency that was unprepared for anything at all… Old Friend at Work and I (in particular) have adopted “We’re nowhere on…” as a handy descriptor of our position on, readiness for, or attitude towards any number of subjects: thus “I’m nowhere on this four hour research review”, “I’m nowhere on Mondays in general” and “I’m nowhere on the entire judging panel of “Strictly Come Dancing”.”

Anyway, the fact remains that we are nowhere on a pudding for Christmas Day.

The main course is Goose (although quite how we’re going to cook it is up in the air, as Wife is very anti any “fruit plus meat” combination – and trying to find a recipe that doesn’t use apple, orange or even apricots is like finding a heterosexual at a Bette Midler concert – so any suggestions would be gratefully received), and it’s coming with the usual accompaniments of roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, red cabbage, carrots: so it’s not like everyone won’t be pretty well fed by the time pudding comes round.

It’s partly for this reason that we have eschewed Christmas Pudding. Quite how anyone could eat anything quite so leadenly heavy after such an enormous meal is slightly beyond me – especially if one’s going to have cheese, and if you’re not going to have cheese then WHAT is the point of doing it at all? I can’t remember what we did last year, when Father in Law, Bearded Decorator and Good Friend in PR were here – I’ve got a strange feeling that it might have been ice-cream, or sorbet (which though unseasonably cold is more refreshing and light than anything else I can imagine). Oh well, fuck it. We’ve got our work cut out this year already, with an apparently endless string of invitations, which appear to overlap (which is lovely) and leave no time at all to do stuff like cook the food, or wrap any presents (which isn’t).

Don’t worry: I know all of you look to this site for many things other than a sardonic smile, a wistful dream that you actually knew me, and a laser-like analysis of the communications industry – and one of those things is an update on what my family and I eat. I shall NOT disappoint you.

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I am the Workplace Christmas Skulker.

In simple terms, this means that when “required” to give a Christmas present to someone at work, I fudge the issue completely.

There are a couple of approaches to the presentation of gifts in the workplace, all of which I have encountered recently, none of which I can “pull off”:-

The Gleeful Bully

As practiced by Fearless Leader, this is the approach that follows the gracious presentation with a set of barked orders and useless information: “Open it!”; “It’s Real Wool!”; “Try it On. Take Your Jumper Off and TRY THAT ONE ON NOW.” This leaves me feeling like I have been publicly humiliated, rather than given a present (but it should be said that I am a strong believer in the Asian gift etiquette of “Receive it with gracious words and open it later in private”).

The Beaming Child

As practiced by Old Friend at Work: this is the approach whereby the presentation is preceded by a slow, silent sidling into the room; and accompanied by a rictus grin so broad that one can see the smiler’s bridge work. The sheer JOY of giving, and of making someone happy overtakes all other considerations – but you have to be bloody certain that your presents are going to hit the mark.

The Terrified Wreck

This is the gifter whom one ends up reassuring even as she hands over a package, wet with tears  accompanied by the gloss “…that you’ll probably hate, but I’ve got the receipt, and I’m perfectly happy to give you ten litres of my own blood instead, if that helps”.

Receiving a present from this type of gifter needs all the skills of a phone operative at the end of a Samaritans helpline – and you can end up feeling like you’ve just played a matinee and evening of “King Lear” as you offer them the loud, repeated and enraptured response that THIS IS THE BEST GIVE YOU HAVE EVER HAD AND YOU LOVE IT. Whether it’s a Cartier watch or a packet of Rolos, you need to respond as if someone has just brought your entire family back from the brink of death – or the giver will be absolutely certain that their gift to you has ruined your life, and they will creep off somewhere quiet to self-harm.

So, I have become The Christmas Skulker. I leave presents on desks, with no ceremony, no personal contact – just a card to denote the giver. That way, they’re spared the pantomime of joy, and I am spared the potential of glimpsing their (very real) misery when they see what it is I have bought.

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A branch of Waitrose has opened on Chiswick High Road – and the ensuing excitement of the well-heeled residents of this marvellous place is exhilarating to behold. Thrill as they stare excitedly at the cheese counter! Smile indulgently as they devour the contents of the patisserie with their eyes! Gurgle as they wonder at the easy availability of undyed glace cherries. It’s the same sort of excitement that an appearance by Britney Spears would generate amongst the paparazzi…

I’m not for one second pretending that Wife and I weren’t as caught up in this frenzy as everyone else: we too were happy to queue around the aisles with our basket of Nigel-Slater friendly food porn; especially as it was this weekend that Stir-Up Sunday fell: the day on which the Christmas Cake is made.

The Christmas Cake is MY thing. Wife is a far better baker than I – but I rock a good Christmas Cake (with the exception of last year, when I got over-excited with the idea of “feeding the cake”, interpreting it more honestly as “bathing the cake in brandy until it sags in a sluiced-up mess”) and this year, with the above-mentioned supermarket in the area, there was no stopping me. Cranberries, DRIED CRANBERRIES! Dried Blueberries, Dried Peaches, Dried Pears, Dried Apricots, Agen Prunes, Candied Peel and – of course – Undyed Glace Cherries. Bought in bulk, because this year, I am double dipping and making a Christmas Cake for Best Friend (who is so heavily pregnant that she couldn’t possibly cook her own, but is very interested in the consumption of one).  Hers is moistened with Earl Grey tea and orange juice, which feels very depressing, but is inevitable for a woman “in the family way” – ours is still Brandy-based, thank God (but I’m going to fall short of immersing it every weekday).

I have mistimed the entire procedure, of course, and am now sitting up for another two hours (taking me through to about Midnight), waiting for the second cake to come out of the oven – but it should give me a good opportunity to write up a few of the most recent events…

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Feeding the Cake

Friday, 23rd November 2007

I can’t bake.

I am an OK cook otherwise, but baking absolutely defeats me. This is not a problem (not simply because it has been possible for some weeks now to BUY cakes), but because Wife is a first class baker.

There is one honourable exception to my “me no bakey” problem – and that is the jaw-droppingly brilliant Christmas Cake that I make. Normally, I don’t even like Christmas Cake: too often it is as if someone has simply stood on a vast amount of currants, forming them into one dark and unexciting mass that would be better used as a vegan’s football than as something that you might eat for enjoyment. My recipe changes them for sultanas, cherries, apricots, hazlenuts and prunes. Soaked in a bottle of brandy. It’s fucking awesome – aided somewhat by the fact that after all that brandy, I feed the cake with more brandy, every three days.

It is the beginning of the preparations for Christmas (apart from the cheese, which was ordered months ago) and that in itself is HUGELY exciting.

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