Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas mysteries

This Christmas, as always, is a time of mysteries. One of the more mysterious of which being the news that a young grey seal has fetched up in a field in Merseyside, 20 miles from the coast and looking extremely grumpy.

Sammy, or Suárez, or Cilla, or whatever they ultimately decide to call him (or her), appears to have taken a wrong turning during a Christmas shopping expedition to Liverpool from his (or her) home on the River Dee, swum up the brook to Newton-le-Willows, and eventually got stuck against a fence post.

(And we’ve all been on shopping trips like that, haven’t we, readers? Sounds like The Mall at Cribbs Causeway. On a good day.)

Sammy/Suárez/Cilla was eventually persuaded on board a trailer by animal rescuers equipped with brooms and a chunk of mackerel, and hopes were expressed that he (or she) would soon be gambolling once more in the choppy waters of the Irish Sea.

If only Christmas at Dixon Towers could be sorted out as simply as that. We don’t need a broom, though: we need an industrial strength vacuum cleaner to pick up the pine needles that are already falling in drifts to the sitting room floor.

And we cannot live by a slice of mackerel alone. Mrs D’s festive preparations demand smoked salmon, crab meat and several jars of Elsinore lumpfish caviar. Which, if you’re interested, is a bit like real caviar, but smaller, blacker, and significantly cheaper.

Which leads leads us to a second mystery: where can you buy it? Two days before Christmas? In Bath?

OK, it’s the biggest middle-class, first-world non-problem since the lady on Twitter who couldn’t find mini-pannetone. But when it’s your problem, it’s serious.

There is an answer, though, to the missing fishy bits crisis: Keynsham. And such is yours truly’s devotion to family bliss and harmony this festive tide, that he got in the car and drove there to pick some up.

Pausing only to look at the ingredients on the side of the jar and to discover that one of them “may have an adverse effect  on activity and attention in children”. So who needs brandy butter when you’ve got E110?

The third mystery presents itself on the way back from the Bath/Bristol borderlands: what are those two blokes from Wessex Water doing, standing at the bottom of the road, tapping the Tarmac with long metal rods with the general demeanour of people who are about to cut off your supply?

The mystery deepens with the arrival of the massed pipes and drums of the band of the Scots Guards, who proceed to muster at the corner and drill. Assuming they’re not an advance scouting party for David Cameron’s Own Highland Frackers, then the chances of extracting even a drop of water from the taps come Christmas Day look vanishingly slim.

Mystery piles upon mystery. What was it Mrs D asked for when she made up her Christmas list back in October? And can you still buy it at 3.30 on Christmas Eve?

Will the Amazon van get through on time?

And what will we do without Hugh?

This, sadly, was my last published column for The Bath Chronicle. Goodbye, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Let there be light. Please...

Christmas, as well as being a time for rejoicing, for celebrating, for  four- and even five-bird roasts, is also a time for remembering.

Especially, in our family’s case, for remembering where you put the Christmas lights last year when you packed them away so neatly and tidily in a labelled box up in the loft.

In the intervening months, through some supernatural force that only inhabits the upper storeys of family homes, that box has somehow got mislabelled. And  your task is to find it, or Christmas  won’t be Christmas chez Dixon.

So, after a neck-twisting, knee-piercing, elbow-scraping scramble through the outer recesses of the attic, you  retrieve three boxes.

The first looks quite promising. It has “Xmas Stuff” scrawled on top in thick red felt pen, but when you  delve inside all you find is a couple of baubles and   the kids’ old soft toys.

The second box is tagged “Miscellaneous”, and is most definitely not the one you’re looking for, containing as it does embarrassing pictures of yourself when you were 20 and didn’t know any better, which must remain hidden from the rest of the family at all costs.

The third box is labelled “Bank Statements 1995-7”, and deep within – Gloria in Excelcis! – are the Dixon festive illuminations.

Ignoring the protests from your maltreated joints, you stagger downstairs and proudly present your spoils. “That’s funny,” says Mrs D. “What’s happened to the ones we hung over the mantelpiece last year?”

After a brief but vain struggle to recall what they even looked like, let alone where they might be, you offer manfully to put up the special weatherproof strand that traditionally garlands  the spindly shrub by the front door.

But the malevolent force that switched round the labels on the boxes has another trick up its sleeve.

Some time last summer it must have got hungry, because it has chewed through one of the wires, with the result that only about half of the lights actually come on, and those that do  work don’t twinkle, pulse, glimmer or throb, but simply flicker despondently.

Two solutions spring to mind. The first involves a soldering iron and a lot of swearing; the second a trip to Homebase and a lot of money.

Not wishing to sully the air with expletives, you pile into the car. Everyone else comes along too. Ostensibly just for the ride, but more likely to make sure  yours truly buys the right sort. And there, amid a festive electronic menagerie of warbling penguins, gurning bears and flatulent  reindeer, you find a replacement.

On the way home, you can’t help but notice the house down the road. Snow-effect illuminations tumble from  every windowsill. Santa’s sleigh has landed on the garage roof  and is strobing fit to bust. The tree in the front garden is wreathed from trunk to crown with a thick rope of incandescent finery that  must have needed a crane to put up, and puts your low-wattage LEDs to utter shame.

Somewhere in your head, a switch goes off.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Nightmare before Christmas

It wasn't so long ago that if you wanted to get into a fight with a total stranger, there was really only one to go about it: head down to the pub on a Saturday night, neck seven or eight pints of Old Goatstrangler and start casting aspersions about some other bloke's parentage.

Cue a bloody nose, a swift ride in an ambulance and an awkward chat with two sturdy representatives of Her Majesty's constabulary.

These days we have Black Friday. To enjoy the same experience, without the debilitating after-effects of the Goatstrangler, just visit your nearest retail mega-centre and try to buy a 40-inch curved-screen LED TV. The sort that normally sells for £1,599.99 but – today only! – is a mind-bendingly cheap £1,299.99.

Cue a violent entanglement with a similarly-minded bargain-hunter, a long wait in A&E and an embarrassed telling-off by a PCSO who is clearly five years younger than yourself.

Then there's Cyber Monday, when you sit yourself down in front of your computer (nursing a sore leg, and wondering what to do with a boxful of loose LEDs), and try to order all your Christmas presents. Online, in one go.

Only to discover that everyone else on the planet has had the same idea.

The internet has slowed to the pace of a reluctant tin of treacle. The electronic whoozits that your kids have set their hearts on sold out three weeks ago. And all there is left to buy on Amazon is pre-owned CDs of Now That's What I Call Music! Part Six.

Sadly, that's the way the modern festive season crumbles, and there's no point in moaning about it. Instead, you should prepare yourself for the days that lie ahead. Days like:

Sylvan Saturday. You book your family on a sound and light woodland walk experience at a nearby national arboretum. Printing the confirmation and e-tickets consumes seven sheets of paper. You wonder idly how many more trees they'll have to plant to offset that little lot.

Blue Sunday. You settle back, after a splendiferous festive repast, and reflect that a Quality Street would round it off nicely.

You reach for the sweetie bowl, only to find that there's nothing left but the horrible blue ones, and that persons unknown have decorated the floor with discarded wrappers from your favourite purple, green and red varieties.

Damp Tuesday. This is the day you booked off back in September, in a wholly uncharacteristic fit of forward planning, so that you could support small local businesses by doing your Christmas shopping in town.

It rains. And it rains. And it rains.

Sleepy Wednesday. Work. Zzzzzzzzzz...

Nightmare Thursday. You managed to order at least some of your presents on Cyber Monday, and since then you've been feeling just a little smug. But this is the day the truth finally dawns: the goodies won't be delivered until January the 8th, and you most definitely do not have Christmas all wrapped up.

So where's Santa when you need him?