Christmas is about peace and goodwill and food and sharing and family and, well, it’s a damn risky time really. I’m not saying it’s up there with Donald Trump’s double or a Chernobyl chimney sweep in terms of taking the gloss off your day but in my time I’ve had a few close encounters of the cracker kind so let this be a warning
1. I have this thing about mantelpieces. They look pretty all decked out in tinsel and yew with stockings hanging off the end but, see, they have two flaws. First, they stick out and second they are bloody hard. So when I’m bending over, retrieving a chestnut or placing a Yule log, the chance of me returning to the horizontal exactly where the edge sits in the space time continuum is directly proportional to my lack of spatial awareness. As in this equation:
(my vertical velocity from a squat + the density of the mantelpiece) x S (where S is a standard unit of stupidity) = a concussive impact of 13K (where K is bloody painful).
2. Tinsel looks nice in a blingy, glitter-boa sort of way. It can dress a tree, an ornament and a dozing relly in a post-prandial snooze. It can double as a belt, a dog lead and a functioning garrote if you find your in-laws invited for more than two sleeps. It is however not a useful substitute for tying a piece of gammon before baking at high temperatures as it will (a) combust and (b) set off the smoke alarm leading to (c) remonstrations of the squeezed fist kind from the nearest over-imbibed spouse.
3. The classic present for L’homme d’un Certain Age in my house comes in a packet of three. Once a set of novelty prophylactics might have been included but these days it will be either socks or the much maligned handkerchief. In my family one of the many immutable Christmas rules is you must wear every piece of clothing gifted to you at Christmas. As a consequence there can be several socks discarded. If such discards find themselves close to, say, an abandoned mince pie and an acquisitive dog the result might be an ingested sock and a pet needing a rapid visit to an emergency vet.
4. It is a given that the Christmas lights you put away carefully the previous January with 100% working bulbs will have at least 3 now not working. It used to be the case that, like Arthur Scargill’s striking philosophy, one out, all out. Nowadays you can at least see the duds but in my experience trying to replace them is not easy. However frustrating things become, under no circumstances should you check the power is flowing by the application of your tongue to the bulb holder.
5. I don’t know which enlightened Victorian came up with the idea of inserting a threepenny bit into the Christmas pud so some lucky soul had a small windfall. But he didn’t count on a moronic child gobbling his food to try and finish his Christmas lunch in time to see the Christmas Top of The Pops and swallowing the gizmet. Nor did he necessarily anticipate the gleeful Archaeologist attempting his newly learnt Heimlich manoeuvre that both dislodged the coin and two ribs.
6. While on the subject of asphyxiation there are a number of small, perfectly shaped bungs that are ubiquitous at Christmas: variously – lego, cracker gifts, artificial holly berries, polystyrene packaging, and many of the skeletal elements of the turkey. If you have children under seven expect them to turn blue at least twice over Christmas.
7. Present Rage is also close to the surface. It’s like an enhanced Ikea experience with many gifts requiring some combination of assembly, power provision (and you never have the right battery), a number of players greater than the available family members and, these days, the requirement to download an app that instantly corrupts your home network, rendering the internet unavailable, the TV permantly tuned to a Serbo-Croat porn channel and sets your electricity meter onto a spin cycle.
8. Bringing together a wide selection of family members can create the sort of frisson last seen when Hamas found itself in the final two with Mossad at the UN’s International Drag Queen Bingo Challenge. Aunty Paula hasn’t spoken to Cousin Betty since Brother Martin compared Great Aunt Eloise’s eyebrows to two ferrets emerging from a set of dungarees. Table placement takes the diplomacy of a Kissinger and the Chutzpah of a Kardashian. Get it wrong and one’s chances of siring further offspring will be dangling like a Christmas decoration.
9. These days Christmas trees come ready wrapped in a sort of crazy EL James fishnetty thing made of the sort of plastic that circles the world oceans trapping dolphins like extras in a sea porn extravaganza. To remove it you need something sharp and bladed. Scissors would be most people’s choice but I always think you should do something that challenges you. Sadly that often results in me accepting a challenge at the expense of common sense. So a wide carving knife inserted, blade up while you rip upwards toward your hand does what exactly? Oh yes. This – the scar is ten years old but the ten stitches will remain a memory of one moment of madness.
10. Many other incidents have not made this list. Being held under a mattress on Christmas morning by ones sibling and suffocating rates an honourable mention. The burn from the cinder that landed on my thigh while putting on my fourteenth pair of underpants was ultimately solved with some skin grafting. I managed to paper cut a testicle (really, don’t ask), impale myself on a staple randomly abandoned from some present, and find the missing glass tree decoration when the pieces entered my foot. But singularly the most painful was falling asleep post-eats and waking up in such an odd position I mimicked my own DNA. I could barely move for a week. I’ve never enjoyed the Sound of Music as a result.
So as they used to say on the glorious Hill Street Blues.