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...