Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No smoke without fire

All around us is the sound of things going pear-shaped. The season of good cheer is fast becoming a chaotic mess, at least for one Bath family.

First in the list of Christmas catastrophes was the Great Advent Candle Disaster.

The Advent Candle is a flammable version of the Advent Calendar: it's marked from top to bottom with the numbers from 1 to 24, and every evening you light it and count down the days to Crimbo. It's all jolly festive and enhances the seasonal excitement no end.

It's also a valuable educational tool: it teaches numeracy (very basic, it must be confessed. Adding up and taking away just about covers it); it teaches elementary physics (How many ways can you think of to extinguish a flame while producing as much evil-smelling black smoke as possible?); it teaches diplomacy and debating skills (Whose turn is to watch it burn down? Whose turn is it to blow it out? Mine. No mine. No it's mine, you did it yesterday. No I didn't, you did. You get the picture.)

But the great flaw with the Advent candle is that it isn't self- extinguishing, and if some bright spark (hem hem) forgets to blow it out, then all of a sudden you've missed December 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22, and instead of family joy round the dinner table every Advent evening you're faced with the accusing stares of a wife and two kids. "You did it," they seem to be saying. "You did it, and we'll never let you forget."

Never was there more need for a hole in the ground into which to creep away.

Then there was the incident with the bathroom tiles.

These, as Mrs D had been pointing with increasing urgency for the past couple of months, needed someone husbandly to remove the nasty brown stains all over the grouting before the relatives descended on us for our annual feeding frenzy. Oh, and perhaps someone husbandly could sort out the mould on the windows while they're at it.

Ho for Homebase, not for their own-brand mould remover (historically and scientifically proven to do absolutely zilch except encourage the stuff to breed) but for the industrial-strength variety in the professional-looking white squirter, liberally decorated with skulls, crossbones, DO NOT DRINK warnings and the address of the nearest casualty department.

"This product is bleach-based," said the small print on the back. You'd better believe it.

It worked a treat: what was green and slimy is now white and shiny. The downside, though, is that the whole house smells of chlorine, and not all the frankincense, pine and rosemary aromatherapy oils and pine essence in Mr Culpeper's sparkly emporium will put it right.

And so, it would seem, we are about to discover what it's like to spend Christmas in a swimming pool.

It gets worse. It would be nice if we could forget the whole episode of a certain husband who took the car keys to work on the day his wife wanted to do the shopping.

It would be nicer if we could ignore the fact that half the family appear to be going down with a virulent and debilitating form of the dreaded lurgy.

And it would be nicest if we could avoid the lurking suspicion that the credit crunch is having its own little Christmas break but will back with a vengeance on January 2.

Then there's the weather. TV, radio and online forecasters all say it's going to be a cold one, with temperatures dropping to -4 and wall-to-wall icicles.

Empirical evidence (ie looking out of the window) would suggest otherwise. It's damp, it's drizzly, it's unseasonably mild.

Just as well really, given the propensity of our boiler to stop producing hot water when the central heating's on.

Still never, mind, brother-in-law's a plumber, he'll fix it. Or at least, he would if he wasn't one of the ones who'd gone down with the aforementioned lurgy.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

This post first appeared in my Bath Chronicle column on Wednesday December 24. Ho ho ho.

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