The holly and the ivy and the mince pies

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, December 20, 2013


THE VIEW FROM HERECHRISTMAS is a time for — oh, so many things. It’s tinkly and shimmery and rush-around. It’s also argumentative and stressy and for too many it can be lonely and cold and hungry.

Sometimes it’s ending up with people you don’t much like in places you don’t want to be but then it’s carols and cosiness, at least until the next crosspatch moment.

All in all, it’s a mixed bag. But we keep doing it year after year, even though Little Lord Jesus is largely hopelessly tangled up with greed and consumerism and you’re more likely to be on hand to give him top tips for a perfect turkey (as recommended by Heston Blumenthal in Waitrose Online) than your heart (which is what Christina Rossetti suggested as a more suitable offering in her poem In the Bleak Midwinter).

Still, Christmas is upon us, whether we like it or not, and we must all do our best to make it go as smoothly as possible. Here in the columnar premises on this page, we are in fine festive spirit, although, as usual, Mr Newbery’s penthouse arrangements do not entirely accord with my own tasteful schedule.

The tree which he has attached to his flagpole is possibly even more vulgar than last year’s, a simply hideous construction of day-glo tinsel branches hung about with flashing Santas and plastic reindeer sporting lurid baubles on their antlers.

His mates crash in every night, full of beer and wearing the most appalling Christmas jumpers and ho-ho hats and, frankly, if I hear Mr Newbery’s rendition of White Christmas once more, I may strangle him with his own multi-coloured fairy lights.

Still, thank goodness for England’s performance in The Ashes. I merely have to shout through the ceiling, "Cook, bowled Harris for 0, first ball" for the Penthouse Paralytics to cease their carousing as they reflect on this unfortunate episode.

My own little basement is, of course, charmingly decorated with discreet white lights and tiny crystal angels, which swing gently to and fro on wires of spun silver as I play a selection of seasonal oratorios and write my Christmas lists.

Lists are absolutely vital if one is to get through Christmas with any semblance of order and I certainly couldn’t survive the festive season without them.

I have always been a big fan of lists. Even to write the word "List" in big letters on a piece of lined paper, and then to underscore the word several times, convinces me the chaos playing out around me has already started to dissipate.

The compilation of the list itself is similarly cheering. Merely to write down the thing to be done somehow creates the illusion the process has already begun. And then, as you work your way through the list, the joy of striking through each completed item brings the most marvellous feeling of efficiency.

Sometimes, alas, one gets lister’s block and finds, even after several hours, not a single thing has been crossed off. This can result in severe depression and the need to do something that is not on the list — viz, sitting gloomily at the kitchen table and eating several chocolate biscuits.

I have, however, discovered a remedy for this. Just sharpen your pencil, take your list, and write on it something you have actually already done.

"Brush teeth", maybe, or "get dressed".

You can then, with a triumphant flourish, cross off that item, making your list immediately look as if it’s in full operating mode. This will shift your lister’s block and you will soon find yourself embarking on all the other things you must do.

You’ll never get anywhere in life if you don’t make lists. If you’re a novice, just start with a simple catalogue running down the page. Later on, you can advance to sub-sections (especially good for supermarket lists) and even arrows and time schedules, providing optimum time-motion effectiveness for your list.

Start a list now.

Write "List". Then write "Christmas". And then write "Have a happy one".

Enjoy yourselves. There’s always the chocolate biccies to fall back on.

...and perhaps a rifle or two would be good

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia was a natural at lists.

I MIGHT be good at lists but I’m an amateur compared to Lawrence of Arabia. The British Library (well worth a visit by the way, being both free and fascinating) houses among its treasures a list he made in 1917 for supplies needed for his impending desert campaign.

It includes 2,000 rifles, 100 boxes of ammunition, £16,000 in ready money, 6,000 cigarettes, three sacks of coffee, 20 teacups and two pairs of socks.

Now, that’s what I call a list. The socks were presumably just for hanging up at Christmas.

Now I must get back to my own list of arrangements for that annual occasion when Mr Newbery and his friends visit my basement to exchange seasonal greetings.

So far, it’s got "Small pack mince pies" and "wine (not much)" on it but I might take a tip from Lawrence of Arabia and add rifles and ammunition as well.

Best to be on the safe side with that lot.

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