For Christmas Sake

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that last time I checked it was still October. That month slap in the middle of AUTUMN. Venture into the shops though and you’d be mistaken that you’d fallen asleep for 6 weeks and had woken up as Christmas was here. Fairy lights and baubles have started to appear. Signs  and shop windows declare the looming imminence of Christmas in a way that would make a host of angels on a hillside look subtle. In M&S I heard staff discussing the need to put a poster up of David Gandy in his pants though, so it’s not all bad.

  
But at the same time the shelves have been cleared of practical things you might actually want to buy in favour of the Christmas gift set.

Last week I was shopping with Noodles in Mothercare. (By “shopping” I actually mean following Noodles up and down the aisles until he decided we could eventually go home.) The store was festooned with festive decorations: tinsel, fake presents, clothes with Christmas puddings and snowmen on them. Simply stepping across the threshold I got Noddy Holder tinnitus: “IT’S CHRIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAS!!!”

And then I heard it…the sound of Jingle Bells!!! The store was already playing Christmas music!!!

“Oh my God,” I said to an assistant. “I can’t believe you’ve got Christmas music on already.”

I expected her to roll her eyes at the prospect of having cutesy kids Christmas tunes played on a loop for the next two months. Personally I was already starting to twitch on her behalf.

“Yeah, but it’s the season, innit?”

Well, here’s the thing, world of retail, it’s really not! I’m lucky to get 6 hours undisturbed sleep, not 6 weeks. I may be sleep-deprived but I’m definitely sure it’s still October and thus very much NOT the season.

  
Don’t think we see what you’re doing too. We see you sneaking rolls of Christmas wrap by the tills in late August. We realise that September brings the first sightings of the Roses selection box. We know that the second you whip the school uniforms away the day the schools go back (which is beyond annoying as it’s only then that you realise that you’ve bought the wrong size/the knees in the trousers have failed survive the playground/they’ve already lost their jumper and need a replacement) the Christmas onslaught is going to begin in earnest.

And here’s the thing, retailers, we’re not stupid. We know when Christmas is. It’s the same every year after all. Those who want to get organised can do so just as well without the decorations going up before the leaves on the trees have turned brown. We don’t need the gift sets out until December because those things are only bought as panic buys for the great aunt you only see once a year/Secret Santa purchases for the colleague you don’t know very well/donations for the school fête. None of those purchases happen until they really desperately need to, so none of that stuff needs to be given precious store space until December. Put your Racing Grannies and lavender drawer sachets away for now and let us carry on as normal.
 

I haven’t needed an inflatable hipster beard so far this year
 
Ditto the food. Are people really stock-piling frozen sausage rolls and turkey? If they are, how come Christmas Eve is a battleground of supermarket shopping. That’s when you need the abundance of Brussels sprouts. Not now.

And Mothercare…please please don’t get the kids uber excited about Christmas yet. It’s like starting a long car journey and telling them we’re nearly there as we back out of the drive.

Kids know what toys there are. They’re also greedy and fickle. We know, retailers, that you are also greedy and have a lot to gain from force-feeding images of all the wonders Christmas can bring. But have some sympathy for the parents. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re organised with gifts hidden in the loft by October only for the Number 1 Item of Desire to change on 23rd December. And if you do insist on luring our kids into really really really really really really wanting whatever’s the top of your let’s-shift-this-shit marketing campaign, for the love of God make it readily available and in plentiful supply. Toy frenzies might make good news stories, but they make for miserable Christmases.

  
It’s too late for this year. But have a thought before 2017, retailers. Let us have an autumn. We’ll still buy just as much tut by the time Christmas rolls round, but we might be less inclined to turn into the Grinch about it all. Plus, Mothercare, Noodles got so excited about your fake presents he destroyed two of them hoping to find goodies inside. Good luck having any left by Christmas.

It’s not hard: just hold back on the Jingle Bells in October. The David Gandy poster can stay though.

  

Running in Heels: a Festive Workout

Ah, Christmas: the time of over-indulgence. But for the under-prepared it also offers a chance to improve stamina and weight-lifting ability and elevate the heart rate…which all have to be good things, right?

What’s more, this simple exercise programme can be squeezed into your lunch break. Ok, it has to be squeezed into your lunch break, because when the hell else are things going to happen?

Step 1: Hit the High Street

You have one hour to make multiple purchases. On an ordinary day this would be no problem – you’d even have time for a latte/flirt with the nice barista with the twinkly eyes. But this is not a normal day. If Hell is other people then the gates are right here on your high street.

They say the high street is dead? If people don’t get the fuck out of your way a lot of the people on it could well be.

Using key coordination skills and engaging major muscle groups, dodge all the slow idiots who don’t realise what a rush you’re in, building your pace as you go. Remember to breathe: in through the nose, out through the mouth with under-the-breath expletives.

Step 2: The Price-Hike Heart Rate Increase

Hang on a minute. That Elsa doll*/games console/bottle of perfume was half the price last week. And you know it’ll be reduced by 70% by Boxing Day.

But you can also sense that mad-eyed woman still wearing her slippers is after the very same item. You can feel her breath down your neck. She’s prepared to take you down if you don’t decide within the next 30 seconds.

You may as well place yourself under a burning spotlight in front of a studio audience, ominous music underscoring your emotions. Except you can’t phone a friend. Your heart could well explode at any second. Gah!

*Elsa doll? Who are you kidding?! They sold out weeks ago! You may as well waste your lunch hour looking for unicorn tears. And no, your own tears don’t count.

Step 3: Carry Half Your Body Weight in Gift Purchases

Concerned about muscle strain/leg bruising/flesh wounds to the fingers as those over-stuffed carrier bags weigh you down and crash about your legs, sharp corners of boxes tearing through both the bags and the top layer of your skin? Suck it up! No pain no gain!

Step 4: Running in Heels

Your lunch hour is almost over, there’s five minutes until your boss’ Spidey senses will be twitching at your tardiness. But you’re the wrong end of the precinct. Time to leg it for all your worth, taking out any and all OAPs, ditherers and carolling buskers in your wake.

On the plus side, running in heels burns more calories than running in trainers. Fact! (Unless you trip over a toddler and break an ankle.)

Step 5: And Stttttrrrrrrretttttccchhhhh

Last-minute Secret Santa gift amongst your purchases?

Then use your cool down to wrap said gift. Single-handedly contort your body to hold down curling paper whilst fixing the stationery cupboard door shut with your foot. Realise you don’t have scissors/sellotape/that you need to answer the goddamn phone thus increasing the exercise to a minimum of 25 reps and multiple swear words.

Step 6: Unusual Bruising

Ah, yes, that’ll be from you kicking yourself for not doing the whole thing online with a company who offers gift-wrapping services.

The Bonus?

You’ve had NO time for lunch, resulting in you NOT purchasing the 560 calorie M&S Turkey Feast sandwich and 135 calorie Festive Brownie Bites. Now all you have to do is stay away from all the boxes of biscuits and chocolates kindly gifted by grateful clients/feeder colleagues who want to look skinnier than you in the Christmas party Facebook pics. Oh. Too late.

The Advanced Programme

For extreme endurance repeat said Steps but change the setting from the office to the home and include a nosy child released from school for the holidays and an errant toddler. The toddler also offers additional weight-training as he/she will refuse to go in the buggy on the trip into town, but will require carrying the second you’ve made your purchases. And, no, your older child will NOT help carry any of the shopping as it all needs to remain a firm secret. Once home, multiply both amount of presents that need urgent wrapping AND scale and frequency of interruptions. Not for the faint-hearted.

Follow this programme and you’re guaranteed to lose pounds. But only in the UK, otherwise you’ll lose dollars/yen/euros…probably because you’ve left your purse in the last shop and the Christmas temp assistant is about to go to town with your bank account.

Ok, so you still don’t fit into your party outfit without the judicial application of multiple Spanx options, but the drained, windswept look is so this season. Or at least you tell yourself that. Just avoid Facebook for a bit after the Christmas party.

Good luck! May Santa be with you!

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Five Minutes

Three more sleeps! That’s all – just three more sleeps til the big day! (Well, unless you’re from Scandinavia or Eastern Europe or anywhere else that celebrates on Christmas Eve, in which case it’s only TWO more sleeps. Or if you’re Jewish, in which case you’re mid-celebrations and I can only admire your stamina and lust after your deep-fried goods. Or if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, in which case, bah humbug.)

Here in the Gluestick house the decorations remain unfinished, none of Teflon Man’s friends will be getting a Christmas card and nothing is wrapped (partly because it would be inappropriate to wrap stuff whilst it’s still sat on the shelf in the shop and I can’t be bothered to wait in a queue for more than five minutes to actually buy anything without wanting to kill someone). Because, although the pressure is mounting as the deadline looms, at the same time it only takes five minutes before the novelty and excitement of ‘oooh, let’s get ready for Christmas!’ changes into a massive ball-ache.

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It LOOKS like he’s helping. He’s not.

Eve helped put the lights on the tree and then sat back down. Boo helped put the decorations on the tree and then went back to her Kindle. Teflon Man…well, you can probably guess what Teflon Man contributed , but it didn’t stop him from complaining that I hadn’t offered up any suggestions for what presents he should buy. When I’ve already got to choose from both myself and the kids. And he’s banging on for ideas when I’m in the middle of making party boxes for Noodles’ birthday party.

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The minion cupcakes were a success though.

And then, when I take into account time left minus commitments to work/child-wrangling/socialising/sleeping (sleeping? Who am I kidding?) I’ve got approximately five minutes left to get everything sorted.

Oh well, sweeping under the TV and getting the ironing mountain done will just have to wait. After all, it’ll only take five minutes of present-unwrapping for the living room to be covered in paper and toys so that you won’t be able to tell the difference between the old clutter and the new. And maybe I could hang tinsel on the ironing and call it a Christmas feature?

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Fairy lights and glass baubles in a desperate bid to detract from the desperately-in-need-of-work kitchen

Five minutes after the breakfast champagne and I don’t suppose it will matter a jot anyway.

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Christmas Spirit

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In exactly one month’s time it shall be Christmas Eve night and I shall be stressing over how Noodles and Boo won’t go to sleep because they’re too excited, how I’ve forgotten something vital for the next couple of days and the shops are all shut or how I wish I’d wrapped my gifts as I’d bought them rather than leaving it til the last minute and risking running out of wrapping paper. I’ll be upset that ‘Santa’ in our house will be behind the Santa we’ll have tracked all day online. I’ll be grouchy and feeling put-upon, but at the same time it’s part of the Christmas ritual. And besides, there will be Baileys.

IMG_1255.JPG Share?! Not likely!

But anyway, one month to go. Surely it’s ok to start feeling that warm festive tingle, the anticipation of all that’s to come? The diary’s filling up, the TV ads have had me blubbing at the sheer sentimentality and I’ve got the shopping in hand. (‘Don’t go overboard,’ Teflon Man says every year. Pah to that! Although it’s mostly his excuse to buy crap presents, so I guess we all have our priorities.) It’s all kicking off and I love Christmas. I should be gagging to don a Christmas jumper and get all merry. (Yep, more Baileys!)

Except I’ve sort of just felt flat. Despite the omnipresence of Jamie’n’Jools/Nigella/Kirstie Allsopp (a bloody annoying British Holy Trinity of Martha Stewart-ness) and their perfect Christmas suggestions.

IMG_1256.JPG Whaddya mean you don’t use the convertible exclusively to get the tree home?!

Despite the town’s Christmas lights being switched on and caroles being played by a brass band and Boo meeting ‘Elsa’ and being all thrilled.

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Despite normal stuff being jettisoned from shop shelves in favour of gift sets for those in need of a desperate present. Despite having made office party menu choices and Secret Santa selection. Despite panto tickets having been pinned to the pin board.

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Despite having bought my Christmas dress.

Despite all of this I’ve just felt a bit Bah, Humbug.

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But surely the weekend was to change that. A necessary trip to London for Boo on Saturday gave us the opportunity to see the Christmas lights on Regent Street and Oxford Street and then Grandy came up with the suggestion of visiting Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. What could get me to feel some festive spirit more than a Winter Wonderland?

Except, it turns out that London on a Saturday afternoon in the run-up to Christmas is nothing like a scene from Love Actually.

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No, it’s more like a mosh pit!

Outside Hamley’s:

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At the Winter Wonderland:

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It’s amazing how nimbly a toddler can dart through a crowd too! A septuagenarian with a pushchair, not so much. And because Grandy is a somewhat-deaf septuagenarian it meant we lost him for a couple of hours. I was literally contemplating going home without him and hoping he’d eventually think to check his text messages. With the focus on not also losing smaller clan members and balking at the daylight robbery in operation (£8 for Boo and I to go in the funhouse, £5 per go on the sideshow games – I wished I’d had Gru’s firepower to win a fluffy unicorn!) I wasn’t feeling the festive warm-and-fuzzies.

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Oh, and a festive bus ride along Oxford Street isn’t as wonderful as it looks in the John Lewis advert.

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No lovelorn penguins for me, just a woman having a go at me for not being able to put Noodles’ buggy in the allocated pushchair area what with it being rammed with shoppers and all. (‘You should get them to move for the health and safety of the children.’ But, then, she deemed it better for her 4-year-old daughter to swing from the bannister of the staircase rather than having her sit on a step on the staircase like I suggested. You know when you want to tell someone to take their head out of their arse? Well, that. And I’m not sure that’s the true spirit of Christmas.)

But then, in the early hours of this morning I found myself awake and with a definite Christmas feeling. But not one induced by mulled wine and pine needles, nor familial joviality and over-spending. No, I awoke with a sore throat. The same sore throat feeling I’d have every Christmas a child! I felt as though I was 6 again and waiting in the dark for the present-rustling of Santa.

So now I’m ready to launch myself at the season! Get me a set of fairy lights and a jumper with a Christmas pudding on it and I’m there. Just excuse the husky voice and irritating cough. Maybe a glass of Baileys will soothe it.

Now, that’s definitely my idea of Christmas spirit!

And So This Is Christmas?

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Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but I thought it was November. When I look at my calendar it’s November. My phone says it’s November. Even Suri and Google agree that it’s November.

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So why is it that every time I walk down the high street or turn on the TV you’d think it was mid-December and Christmas is just around the corner?

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I’ve not even looked at Facebook or Pinterest because I know I’ll be swamped with people who’ve put their decorations up the second the bonfire burnt out last week or who’ve posted pictures of their kids dressed as elves and of image after image of Christmas perfection that would put the combined efforts of Harrods and Liberty’s to shame.

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And don’t get me wrong, I’m no Scrooge. I LOVE Christmas. But I think it feels more special if it’s kept to just Christmas, rather than encroaching into autumn with all its tinselly glory.

I don’t mind a degree of Christmas. The magazines hitting the shelves with ideas that make you think ‘oooh, I’ll definitely do that’…until you realise the expense of it all so stick with things as they are and have always been.

I get excited by the arrival of M&S Turkey Feast sandwiches.

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So many calories, but at least some of the profits go to charity, so it’s ok (in my mind) to trough them at will.

I don’t mind the early preparation of Christmas lists and the purchase of presents. And I genuinely got excited last week when I bought this stocking for Noodles:

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So, if shop’s want to send out their Christmas catalogues and fill their shelves with sparkly things that’s fine.

But keep the window displays on hold and the lights switched off until the end of November/start of December. We know Christmas is coming. But starting the hype early only creates panic, which then gives way to apathy once you realise it’s not imminent…which then becomes panic again because then suddenly Christmas is here, but you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.

Let’s save the Christmas ads until December too. We know what you sell and as shoppers we’re pretty loyal. Even if the Waitrose ad is classy and the Aldi ad features Jools Holland I’ll still do my shopping in Sainsbury’s.

Monty the Penguin is super-cute for John Lewis this year, but I’ll be sick of the sight of him by Christmas Eve.

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And it’s definitely too early for Coke’s Holidays Are Coming ad! It should be illegal to show it before mid-December as it just screams CHRISTMAS IS HERE!!!

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And much as the reindeer on the McDonalds coffee cup is cute…

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…and ho ho ho, isn’t it festive to have Cupid and Rudolph on the named bottles of Coke…

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…I’d just rather it wasn’t all out there just yet.

Let’s keep things in perspective: Christmas is great, but it’s still just a few days. And the magic feels all the more magical when it is fleeting.

So let us plan and prepare, but let’s not have our faces rubbed in it. Because it’s a long time to sustain the excitement for. Let’s keep it on the down low and bring out all the bells and sparkle when it’s truly time.

Although, sadly there’s not much chance of that happening. Not when those in charge are deafened by the sound of Christmas songs and blinded by pound signs.

Bah, humbug!