Friday, December 21, 2007

Tis the season to be boring

"Dear family, friends, former colleagues, passing acquaintances, folk who can't even remember what we look like, never mind when we last saw each other..."

It's that time of the year again. With a heavy thump, Postie deposits another bundle of seasonal round-robins onto your doormat and moves on, a little less encumbered than before.

And as if there wasn't enough to do at this particular time, you do feel yourself obliged to skim through them.

"It has been a mixed year."

(Not a good start. But with a heavy heart, you press on.)

"You may have read in the papers that Roger was arrested for fraud so, of course, Marjorie's long-awaited operation had to be postponed and his mother (bless her) insisted on getting the bus down from Shetland (minus the donkey!) to look after Jem and Nick who have just passed Grade Five piano and Grade Seven crumhorn respectively and who toured Japan last March with the county ice hockey team before joining up with their Uncle Bill for a couple of weeks on the Australian sheep station where he lives with Miriam whom some of our older friends may remember from that wonderful school production of ..."

Too. Much. Domestic. Detail.

Not. Enough. Full. Stops.

Who are these people of whom she writes? You may once have chatted idly to the soon-to-be-banged-up Roger over a pint in the college bar, but what excuse is that for his wife - assuming it is his wife, you thought he was divorced - to lumber you with more information than you ever wanted to know about his unfortunate family circumstances?

You've never exchanged a word with his unnaturally talented and much-travelled children in your life, although you have a vague suspicion that you might be Jem's godfather.

And Roger's mother sounds like the sort of woman with whom it would be best to avoid even the briefest period of eye contact.

So don't feel too guilty about the ripple of schadenfreude you feel at Roger's imminent incarceration; he probably had it coming all along.

What's really annoying about this kind of letter, though, isn't that the sender and their extended family always seem to have done much more than you have over the past year.

It's their unshakeable belief that you might in some way be interested.

These days, of course, you're just as likely to get your festive overdose as an email, or even as three separate emails from the same person.

The first will come with an attachment created on a word processor so rare and ancient that only those few people still bumbling along on Windows '93 will be able to open it.

Unfortunately for you, some smart Alec on the original mailing list will fancy himself (it's always a him) as a computer expert and will reply to the original sender telling them in helpful but sanctimonious tones what they've done wrong.

So a couple of hours later you get a second version, this time consisting of a single line of 6-point Times New Roman stretching off the right-hand edge of your screen and a whole load of white boxes where the pictures ought to be.

Smart Alec will, of course, see his chance of renewed glory and swing back into action.

Third time lucky, you get a readable message along with a festive note from your broadband provider telling you that because your mailbox has exceeded its size limit you will have to pay another £5 this month if you want to get any more Christmas greetings.

For people who don't know what to say, there's always the option of

It's simple: just upload a few headshots of your family and they will be converted by the electrical magic of the internet into animated elves, who will jive and cavort endlessly for the pleasure of all on your Christmas list.

Funny once, perhaps, but the originality wears off pretty quickly. And who's keeping those pictures after the tinsel comes down?

No, stick to cards this festive season, and if you're sending one to your boss then make sure your signature is legible.

Because the true message of Christmas is: keep it short, keep it sweet and keep to the point - there's only so much good humour to go around.

Have a good one!

This column was first published on and is copyright 2007 Bath News & Media.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cycling on the pavement

A reader of thisisbath claims that they tell their children to cycle on the pavement of Great Pulteney Street because "there's plenty of room there, and motorists seem to think the road is a race-track".
So now it's up to us which laws we choose to obey, and where and when we choose to obey them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

All in a tangle

Excitement – and tension – about Christmas are mounting in equal measure at Dixon Mansions.

With less than two weeks to go, little has been done in the way of preparation by yours truly, who has instead hidden under a cushion and watched through a half-closed eye as Nativity play costumes are sewn, card lists are written and lost, and teddy bear grottos are artfully contrived out of last year’s tinsel.

No, your columnist’s only contribution so far has been the traditional task of Untangling The Outdoor Lights, a task he thought he had made simple for himself when he put them away so carefully and tidily last Twelfth Night.

Infuriatingly though, while we were away in August a gang of mice had a five-day rave in the loft and tangled them all up, and it’s taken several hours of choice cursing to straighten them out again.

Special mention at this point must go to the cat, who had a good stab at turning herself into an endangered species during the untangling procedure, and now knows more rude words than a sailor on shore leave.

These lights aren’t your ordinary Christmas tree jobs, either, though the bulbs are the same size.

There are eight strands (or at least there were until muggins here cut through one of them last year – now we’re down to seven) and each stretches some 40 feet: long enough to reach out of the back window and across the rolling acres that extend behind the mansion, with cable to spare to wrap several times around the mighty shrubs that proudly wave their heads at the bottom.

Ho, ho, ho, all very festive. Or at least it would be if half the bulbs hadn’t failed since last Christmas – presumably while the mice were having that party.

All of which presents us with something of a dilemma: do we attempt to track down 47 replacement bulbs (the distinct noise of teeth-sucking from electrical suppliers across the city persuades us not) or do we chuck the lot and start again?

Never mind: Christmas is a time of music and song, too, although the tunes – and the lyrics – have been changed.

In the Good Old Days we were quite happy with a slightly off-colour version of We Three Kings of Leicester Square.

Sadly, the modern child is a bit too cool for such traditional pleasures, although it will still laugh raucously for a good half-an-hour at the bit about knicker elastic.

No, these days nothing short of a smutty reworking of the entire “Give a Garmin” TV and radio advert will suffice for our lot’s musical fun.

Once you’ve heard it three or four times, you’ll know exactly what to do if somebody gives you one on December 25.

And if you need a clue, it doesn’t have anything to do with GPS.

Questions abound, and it is right that they should, for Christmas is a time of magic and mystery as well as music.

“Father, father,” cry the children (we insist on formality even at this festive time of year). “How will Santa get down the chimney with the gas fire blocking up the hearth?”

Don’t worry, little ones, we’ll leave a window open: who cares if we spend half our energy budget heating the sky?

“How will Dancer, Prancer, Mincer and all the other reindeer guide his sleigh round the skip in Weston Lane?”

Much more difficult – answers on a postcard, please.

“Why are there so many bottles in the recycling box?”

Because Mummy and Daddy have been doing lots and lots of washing up, OK?

“Who’s Uncle Roderick?”

Damn, damn, damn. He’s the rich one we forgot to send a card to and the last posting date for the Cayman Islands was the middle of November. Bang goes your inheritance, my darlings.

“And are we really getting those iPhones you told the nice readers about last week?”

Probably not, as it happens: last week’s column was a mere tissue of fantasy.

But it’s hard explaining that sort of thing to kids.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on December 13 2007. Copyright Bath News & Media 2007.