/ Food & Drink

Restful or raucous: what sort of Christmas are you having this year?

raucous Christmas

Christmas… a time of music, laughter, food and family. As we near that special day, guest contributor Ian has penned a Which?-style guide (sort of) to getting everything right and having a wonderful time.

Tip 1: Organise. It’s important to have a firm handle on how things will go across the four-day period. A box of pencils and a ream or so of foolscap will serve to make a simple plan and preserve that slightly antiquated feeling that we all know and love at Christmas – especially as there’s a good chance the power will go out when the tree lights plugged into that extension socket finally catch fire.

Alternatively, use Excel and format a multi-celled, cost-based optimisation spread sheet and consider investing in your own SQL server. That way, you can retreat to the computer as you watch the plan self-destruct in front of you.

Have a glass of wine.

Tip 2: Presents. The gifts are the main worry around Christmas (apart from whom to invite and how you’ll live through another Christmas Day with Henry’s mother telling you how good Christmas used to be in her day – which was when presents were probably stone chisels…) and remembering where you put the goose to defrost.

If you want to make a real impact this year (and witness first-hand what causes a revolution), tell your family that your present to everyone is to sit them down and tell them what they mean to you. Be sure to have the number of that nice marriage-guidance counsellor at hand.

Have another glass of wine – bigger, perhaps.

Tip 3: The guests. The main issue around any Christmas gathering: whom to invite, how many people and how you’ll survive the day without resorting to a machete-based solution (other implements of slaughter are available).

As well as the nuclear family (and never will that adjective seem as appropriate as it might on the big day), you need to consider which of the more extended tendrils of the clan you’ll want to see. Uncle Rufus, for instance (if he’s finally got that sherry problem under control), or Great-aunt Griselda, widely suspected of being the cousin of Lizzie Borden.

Have a sherry – the wine box has run out.

Tip 4: The foodThe high spot (after present opening) of Christmas Day. There are a couple of strategies here. Christmas Day being the one time when it’s not openly frowned upon to drink Champagne before lunchtime (or just after breakfast, if the mood takes you), one fairly well-proven technique is to ensure the guests are sufficiently inebriated to eat warmed-up canine genitalia and still find it delicious.

Christmas dinner preparation can be life-threatening. Even if you choose to abandon the plan to immolate the figgy pudding with the bottle of brandy you found in the shed last week, there’s still the matter of coordinating the various strands of the process with the times required.

This is partly because – for some odd reason – we all want to experiment with ‘something special’ for the Christmas meal. Since you’ll probably have been imbibing since breakfast, this isn’t necessarily the best time to innovate.

Have a whisky.

Whatever Christmas you’re planning, tell us how your preparations are going, and if you have a funny story about a Christmas past, please share it with us.


Thanks for the convo, Ian, you made me laugh, and I’m also reassured to see that my family is quite normal, although sometimes not so much nuclear as thermonuclear. I won’t try to be as funny as you because I know I won’t manage it, but a classic: my mother stopped buying chocolate baubles for the tree after the dog nearly ate them all one night, along with bits of the foil wrapping, with some competition from me (but I didn’t eat any foil wrapping).

Have a great Christmas, everybody!


Thanks for the entertainment, Ian. I have added ‘immolate’ to my mental dictionary, and may deploy it when the home-made Christmas pud arrives.


Good stuff in[g] the piece. Well done to work the useful links into the story.


Thanks, folks. Patrick: Mel or Lauren do the links – not I 🙂


Thank goodness. I’m not very impressed by the Which? advice on whisky. You might make a useful comparison of Islay malts or Speyside malts but this seems as pointless as comparing red and white wine and saying one is better than the other. Make mine an Ardbeg or Caol Ila – something that needs to be chewed properly. 🙂


A fellow alcophile! Our youngest bought me a £100 Ardbeg a year or so ago. Still some left.


Quality not quantity. 🙂


Mine’s a bourbon 🙂


I suggest that you choose not to accept substitutions when ordering online. Unless you like biscuits. 🙂


I have to admit we abandoned any and all extended family visits on Christmas Day itself. We discovered it was simply too stressful after the first attempt, which brought us both to the brink of opening a whole new type of Family Butchers.

It’s remained that way for more than 30 years, so I suppose we’re in something of a rut. Boxing day’s fine for the extended family. By that stage you’re in a heightened state of mental euphoria, induced by the previous day’s indulgences and probably sustaining a level of alcoholic inebriation that could prove a fire risk in a blood bank. I blame it all on the fact that as a child I was rather traumatised at a family…occasion when I was exploring the house and happened upon a couple putting a shag pile carpet to the use after which it was presumably named.

But it does seem families are a curious combination of horrors and delights. There’s always at least one with a middle class version of Tourette’s, plus the mandatory alcoholic uncle and a sprinkling of venomous offspring, whose parents will feel they should be given ‘freedom’, which normally equates to a combination of uncontrolled mayhem and the linguistic finesse of an inebriated docker. It can take a lot of self-control to stay your hand from measuring the throat diameter of the most obnoxious representative of that little group.

On the other hand we love having our kids back for Christmas (we’ve just been away with all of them) and it’s oddly nice to find they’re still happy to return each year.


LOL !!!


Thinking about Christmases past I suspect I know where my warped sense of humour originates.

As a child we were poor. We really didn’t have carpets – just wall-to-wall dirt, and I’m sure my father used to leave out mousetraps with begging letters in them. But Christmas was the one time of the year when a big effort was mounted. For a start we had fires in two rooms – the front room – usually cold, dark and deserted and the Living room – normally small, cramped but heated – if you could see the fire through the billowing smoke. But one Christmas I remember clearly.

It was a cold Christmas Eve, the sparrows had even stopped coughing (birds didn’t sing where I was drug up – they hung from the backyard clothes line and coughed) and my father was sorting out the paraffin heaters. There were around three or four of these things, and he would religiously ensure at least one was in the outside toilet, otherwise it would freeze solid, and the remaining ones were used to augment the two tiny pieces of coal that smoked peacefully on the living room fire in the perfect manifestation of an endothermic reaction.

Filling the paraffin tanks in the heaters was always tricky, so naturally he chose the best place to do it: on the kitchen food preparation surface. The process involved pouring paraffin from a bulky canister into an impossibly tiny hole on the top of the tanks in question. Naturally, it spilt, but my father was nothing if not the eternal optimist. I entered the kitchen quietly to see him surreptitiously wiping down the table with an oily rag, the pungent smell of paraffin hanging in the air like an aerosolised Sword of Damocles. In that instant I knew he was destined to be apprehended and, as sure as death follows decapitation, my mother abruptly materialised, almost as though she’d been mysteriously shrouded awaiting vengeance.

Her terrifying shriek, a sound that could bring grown men to their knees, shatter glass and instil terror into the hearts of the recently departed, caused my father to jump, whereupon the paraffin can dropped, shedding paraffin as it did so. Fortunately, my father had moved the Christmas day meal – a large chicken – to the floor for safekeeping, so it provided a nice handy place for the paraffin can to land.

The last image I had, before running up to my bedroom, was the sight of my father wiping the uncooked chicken with the same oily rag and saying to my mother “It’ll be fine; you’ll never notice anything.”

The following day I can attest to the delights of fried spam with roast potatoes for Xmas lunch.


I may be on my own here, Ian, but I never thought you had a warped sense of humour. I read all your contributions and take them at face value. You have had a harsh life and I wish you a Merry Christmas. You may not realise your father’s creativity but watching Heston’s Christmas he features a recipe for paraffin-infused festive fowl that, like the bricks made using Oxford clay, self-cooks. I have tried it and, to rekindle your memories, am sending you a slice…….no, on second thoughts, the whole thing. Like a Phoenix, it has arisen.


I don’t think – or didn’t at the time think – it was especially harsh. Possibly about average for the years in question. My big problem was I had a religious mother which translates into a demonic self-righteousness. But paraffin-infused festive fowl, eh? Sounds a bit on the lines of getting some wire wool and knitting a kettle 🙂


Interesting you mentioning my father’s creativity. He’d been a Navigator on Lancasters during the war and became a commercial artist on demob. That didn’t last, and he ended up as a semi-skilled machine operator in Plessey’s.

He used to enjoy taking things apart: radios, TVs, Irons – if it was electrically powered, he could destroy it, but my abiding memory is of the uses he had for the humble roll of sellotape. Every repair imaginable was done with Sellotape. When clearing the backyard of snow one year, he crackled the living room window with the spade handle, and sellotape was quickly placed over the crack.

Over time the crack extended (the way they do) and became a small hole, and more sellotape was marshalled into covering the slowly expanding cavity. I can’t actually remember when the pane of glass was replaced, but I remember the patchwork of radiating sellotape strips was a talking point for many months.


I use masking tape a lot when I’m making furniture. For holding wood trim in place while the glue sets for example,or holding assemblies together for trial fits.


Nice one – Ian thanks very much for that.


Thank you 🙂


Today is the busiest day of the year for wine bars, pubs and many restaurants and it’s also the busiest for Traffic Police. But all these aspects of Christmas have their funny side:
A policeman stopped a driver for swerving in and out of lanes on the road. He told the chap to blow into a breathalyser.
“I can’t do that, officer — I’m an asthmatic. I could have an asthma attack if I blow into that tube.”, the driver said.
The officer fixed the chap with a knowing look and replied “OK, we’ll just get a urine sample down at the station.”
“Can’t do that either, officer,” he said. ” I’m a diabetic. I could get low blood sugar if I wee in a cup.”
The Officer sighed, and responded “All right, we can get a blood sample.”
With a slight grin, the man replied “Can’t do that either, officer. I’m a haemophiliac. If I give blood, I could die.”
The Officer had, by this time, endured enough and took a firm stand. “Fine then, just walk this white line.”
“Can’t do that either, officer.”
Squaring his shoulders, the officer asked “Why not?”
The man smiled, lopsidedly. “Because I’m drunk.”


On the busiest grocery shopping day of the year (?), within these hallowed portals most folk still seem exercised by Whirlpool and equipment longevity. I, meanwhile, shall continue trying to lighten the mood as we approach the big day with more recollections of past Christmases (doens’t anyone else have any? Loved Sophie’s).

As an only child (I’m convinced my mother regarded sex as somehow wicked and certainly un-Christian; she missed a trick being born so long after the Inquisition) I was the focus of parental attention, and looking back it’s interesting to see the sharp differences between my parents at Christmas.

My father was quiet and methodical, and the annual ceremony of digging out the Christmas lights, laboriously draping them over the tiny tree, switching them on, then just as laboriously removing them and then testing each individual bulb, prior to setting out on foot in search of the nearest replacement bulb-purveyor has created an indelible memory.

Like I imagine many in the early ’50s, our bulbs were the pear-shaped coloured variety and they never, ever worked first time. Why it never occurred to him to buy several spares in readiness for the following year I don’t know.

I also remember that our tree was one of the early synthetic kind – and not at all tree-like in shape or texture. As the years went on, he managed to find light sets that were shaped and used smaller bulbs. In the late ’50s, Woolworth’s offered a 20-string tulip set, which used screw-in bulbs. No doubt to the horror of the electrical fraternity in here I sill have that set and it still works, albeit having been re-wired and re-lamped (I managed to source around a 30 year supply of the screw-in bulbs from an old corner shop some years ago. ).

But now we can get lights in just about any configuration we want, and LEDs are now prolific. But I have one question: why doesn’t any manufacturer who offers the non-static type (which most are) have the system set so they come on with the static option initially? When I switch all the lights on in the morning (I use the iPad) I then have to go round and press buttons to cycle through the infuriating and seizure-inducing flashing which they all exhibit at some point, until you manually select the slow-dissolve functions (my favourite).

However, nothing can replace the experience of seeing the Christmas trees in our church lit, as they were on the first Sunday of Advent. No lights were used: instead, individual candles clipped to the branches of a real (and thus tinder-dry) fir tree were used. It certainly wasn’t even approaching safe, but the sight of the tree lit with real flames was something to behold and probably something our own children will never experience.


My lights do come on in the static mode, so there is hope, Ian. I recall that they can be set to flash, fade and goodness knows what else, but I’m not going to change the setting. Thanks to your post I have made a mental note that this will be the most important thing to look out for if I’m in the market for more.


I’d be interested to know the make, Wave; it never seems to tell you on the box in what mode they’ll come on.


We were very disappointed with a rather stylish but unconventional tree that we bought a few years ago from John Lewis. It had bare white branches that were fitted with white lights at the tips and along the stems. It did look good in front of the house. It had a multi-function control switch but we only wanted the static or slow fade programmes, and initially it performed well in those modes, but coming back home one evening we noticed that the tree had developed a manic cycle of flashing and blinking that must have been intensely annoying to the residents opposite and a serious road safety hazard for anyone driving past. I disconnected it and left it until the next morning when I reconnected it and reset the programmer; it behaved itself at first but soon went into berserk mode again. I suppose I could have cut out the programmer and re-joined the flex to leave the lights on in static mode but we decided we didn’t like the tree that much anyway and consigned it to the back of the shed where it languished unused for two more Christmases. This year I took the opportunity of having a skip for some waste clearance to dispose of the modern image tree and we have gone back to having a conventional tree adorned with lots of coloured lights and no flashing, jumping, chasing, fluttering, winking or blinking, so all is now serene. Some local residents have artfully covered their frontages with batteries of light shows and effects which please the children who walk round looking at the Christmas illuminations. We don’t compete.


Around 25 years ago Noma lights produced a modified extension socket bar. Essentially, it treats each socket like a light set and you can adjust it to fade, dissolve or flash at varying speeds. It soon stopped being sold, probably because almost no one can work out the relationship between watts, volts and amps and it was maximum rated at 800 watts. I suspect some people were trying to fade their fan heaters…

Curiously, it’s still in perfect working order. We put eight coloured sets of tungsten lights on the tree (two of each colour – Red, White, Green and Blue) – and one of the sets is linked to the star. Once on, it defaults to the last known setting and restfully dissolves one colour into the next, with the star gently brightening at the end of each cycle.


Sounds lovely, Ian. I think that is the perfect effect – any chance of some images?


I’ve tried, John, but the issue is that as there’s only a single colour reaching full intensity at a given moment, photos don’t really do it justice. I suspect you have to be there. But if your boxing day walk takes you anywhere near Snowdonia feel free to call in 🙂


Since you are at the diametric opposite from our location and about as far away by latitude as it is possible to get in the UK I doubt we shall make it, but thanks for the invitation. Obviously we should have set off last week.

I can imagine your illuminations and like the way you bring the star of the show on at the end with a progressive build-up.

There once was a Texaco garage near us that had a similar effect with its neon signs all year round. Always a good conversation opener with strangers.


Meanwhile, as the family starts to arrive I’ll have less time to post in here so a very

to everyone 🙂