Friday, December 31, 2010

Lights, tinsel and chocolate what??

A few of my acquaintances have suggested that, as a heathen, I have no place celebrating Christmas and, probably because its expected of me, I usually ramble on about how the intrusion of religion into a long established orgy of consumption and consumerism does indeed threaten to water down its magic.

Be that as it may, we like Christmas round here and we always put decorations up. We're almost always late with this, and so a week or so before the big day I'll be dispatched to the attic with a flaming torch and a ball of string to ensure I can find my way back to collect the series of mouldering cardboard boxes in which we have stored a motley collection of tinsel and baubles collected over a period of a number of years. I'll also bring down the lights, and the tree. Its an artificial tree, by the way, we don't actually have pine plantation in the loft, though I have found ivy forcing its way inside in the past. Shame it wasn't holly really.

Those lights... oh how glad I am that LEDs have taken the place of those malicious little filament bulbs we used to have.  It was inevitable, wasn't it, that the first time I plugged in the string of 52,000 bulbs each year I'd be rewarded with... nothing.  One of the evil little buggers would have blown during the eleven and a half months during which they had absolutely nothing to do but sit there. Then I'd spend two hours searching for your spares - which always turned out to be at the back of a cutlery drawer which I'd already searched three times, lacerating myself badly in the process.  Finally, I'd spend what felt like a lifetime swapping each bulb in the string for a new one until I found the culprit before, with bleeding fingers and terminal cramp, I could move on to erecting the tree itself.

Our tree has a 'base' which despite its innocuous appearance, has clearly been constructed from a parts left over after an explosion in a garden shears and spring factory.  It has also, at some point, been gifted with a vicious personality, presumably by a disgruntled voodoo practitioner. One wrong move, one lapse in concentration, and I'm off to casualty with a bag full of fingers.

Finally, the tree's up, and the lights are on.  Now for the tinsel. Which would, in times past, be on the dog. Our tree is 5 feet tall and, unsurprisingly perhaps, green. Our dog is three feet tall, near enough, and yellow.  How the kids could mistake the one for the other, without fail, every year, is beyond me. But they managed. The thing is, the dog seemed to like being decorated and would quite strenuously resist any efforts to untangle him from his shiny accessories.

Finally, it would be bauble time.  Again, there is much to be thankful for now that these are made of plastic. Until recently these would be little balls of blown glass, one of which would invariably escape only to be trodden on almost immediately with predictable and painful consequences.

So there I'd sit, utterly exhausted, sadly trying to pick tiny shards of broken ornamental glass from the sole of my foot with my teeth - because my right hand would be a mass of bandages under which the fingers had been superglued back on by a nurse, and my left had swollen to twice it's size having been bitten by a disgruntled golden retriever.

Eventually, it'd all be done, and be time for my reward - a dip into the brightly coloured tin of chocolates that I brought home from the supermarket not two hours previously.  This is where I'd discover that the kids, immediately after their adventures in canine tinsel festoonery, had eaten every last bloody chocolate in the house, and the exciting rattle in the tin would be explained by the fact that they'd thrown all of the wrappers back in, along with a solitary half eaten coffee/butterscotch surprise, which would have been weighed, measured, licked and found wanting.

But this is all in the past.  The LED lights don't go out, except as a feature of the exciting electronic sequence they're programmed with. Age and familiarity has tamed the tree base to the point where I'm lucky to get it to grip the tree itself, and we have three dogs - too much trouble for the kids to decorate them, so they don't bother.  They still eat all of the sweets, though.

Except I think we may have found a solution to that last problem in the shape of one miraculous box of choccies given to Mrs Grumbler by her sister.  That's right - a collection of tasty soft centres; dark, milk and white chocolate, all lovingly filled with creamy ganache by a lady called Ann Summers, and totally impervious to the kids. The simple fact is that each of these delicate little treats is shaped like a little "meat and two veg". Yup, confectioners "wedding tackle". The embodiment of the "wife's best friend" in, er, "the wife's best friend".

So, I can guarantee the availability of chocolate at all times next Christmas by the simple expedient of buying a box or two of chocolate Willies. They join Brussels Sprouts on the very small list of things my kids wont eat..

Thing is, though, neither will I...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reader's bloody digest...

Reader’s Digest
PO Box 5,
Isle of Man,

Dear Reader’s Digest,

OK, I surrender.  I’m sorry, truly I am, but I just can’t take any more.

It’s my own fault, I know, for ever responding to the mail shot you sent me a little while ago, but since then the rain of completely incomprehensible tosh which you have poured through my letterbox has bean unceasing.

I mean, honestly, how many prize draws, which, if the implications in the glossy missives that arrive on a more than weekly basis are to be believed, I have almost certainly won, can you actually run?  There’s the immediate £5,000 draw; the immoderate £10,000 draw; the infeasible seven shillings and sixpence early bird bonus and the incontinent £120,000 draw.  OK, I may have made one of those up, but you know exactly what I mean and don’t you dare to pretend otherwise.

Furthermore, have you ever tried following your own instructions? Good grief, people!  Look, I’m no slouch at being able to cook up a process so complicated that a four digit IQ is required to stand a whelk’s chance in a supernova of successfully completing it. This will be attested to by, quite literally, legions at my place of employment who have been faced with the prospect of completing one of my fiendish puzzles or having their arms metaphorically ripped out and being beaten to death with the wet and bloody stumps.

I can even do a Sudoku puzzle in less than a week without getting my children to help me. But I am left bereft and gormless in the face of the convoluted directions in each and every letter you send me.  Stick the green sticker on your post-code at precisely four o’clock next Tuesday if you don’t want to buy a book full of red stickers every three weeks until hell freezes over, or alternatively put the gold sticker in your left ear while whistling the stars and stripes forever.


You make Ikea flat pack instructions look like a particularly instructive nursery rhyme. My irritation at being unable to follow your insane ramblings is only eclipsed by my grudging admission that you are clearly in a different league to me when it comes to forcing innocent people to perform mind-warpingly pointless menial activities.  I salute you, while simultaneously detesting you.

The funny thing is that, at first I didn’t mind, because we have an open fire and I heat my home almost entirely on pulped junk mail because, in Bracknell, there is no council waste collection service. Instead of this, every two weeks we are lined up in the street by machine gun toting fascists and forced to eat the contents of our dustbins (which is why I have taken to putting the dog’s turds in my neighbour, Bob’s, trash).  Oddly, perhaps, he’s looking well on it.

The thing is, yesterday was a bad day.  You sent me so many offers to burn that when I came home from work the dog had roasted in her basket and my wife had melted. On the plus side, I don’t have to buy a turkey this Christmas, and I’m not being nagged, but I was quite fond of the old girl. I didn’t mind the wife much either.

Anyway, the thing is, I’d like you to stop now, please.  No more. Unless you’re writing to acknowledge that you’ll stop, forthwith, or the next envelope from you contains a big fat cheque, I don’t want any more mail from you.

I fervently hope that this letter finds you well, and happy, and delighted to comply with my request to cease and desist all mail forthwith.

I remain your faithful and admiring (but preferably from a long way away) servant,

The Grumbler