Well, that wasn’t too bad. I can’t believe I’ve reached Christmas Eve without completely tearing my hair out.
I put it down to two factors: first, our wonderful and generous neighbours Dick and Linda have invited us (and Mum) for lunch on Christmas Day, so for once I’m not panicking about whether the turkey is the right size, or whether I’ve remembered the goose fat, because now we don’t need either.
Thank you so much, Linda. I just hope we’re still friends after the charades.
Oh, didn’t I tell you about that? Mum, who’s nearly 92, has to play charades on Christmas afternoon.
And toast The Queen. And we have to have the traditional family argument about the problems of the National Health Service. And don’t forget to put real old-fashioned sixpences in the pudding – no Heston-Blumental-orange-in-the-middle nonsense.
I’m kidding of course: Mum is an absolute pussycat – a couple of glasses of red wine and she’ll be sweet as mince pie. With runny cream please, none of that brandy butter stuff.
The second reason for my unseasonal serenity is that Jo’s laid-back attitude to Christmas has finally rubbed off on me. My wife can’t understand why British people put themselves through such torture each year, so she insists on adopting the practical American approach, buying presents in October, and having them wrapped and ready long before the first chocolate pops out of the advent calendar.
Bitter experience has also taught Jo never to let me buy her anything that she hasn’t specifically asked for. For months, magazines are placed strategically around the house, with circles around both objects and their sizes, leaving no room for error.
“Your wife is such a lucky lady,” astonished shop assistants say, as I reel off precise colours and measurements. “You even know her bra size – I wish my husband was like you.”
“Oh, I do hope it fits,” I say smugly, presenting a false vision of new age man, and filling my entire shopping basket in half an hour.
It wasn’t always so. I used to be just another victim of the traditional male Christmas nightmare: trying to please, but fearing rejection (actually, that’s not strictly true – every year, men rush round John Lewis in a single panic-stricken afternoon and buy a load of stuff which they pray will do, but deep down they suspect will be loathed).
In the past, Jo put on a brave face, but not the clothes I bought her. Now her innate Californian honesty has prevailed and she never calls a spade anything but an ugly shovel. Also, being a 21st century woman, she understands that the war for the perfect present can only be won by aiming high and dropping large enough hints. Apparently that’s the best way to get a diamond amongst the satsumas at the bottom of the stocking.
A week ago we were just buying each other Boots the new puppy. “Let’s not waste money on other presents,” we agreed. Boots was duly bought. Then I found a magazine open on my desk, with a single tell-tale circle. “It’s just in case you were thinking of a tiny little stocking-filler,” she said, sweetly but firmly. I got the message.
As for me, this year I genuinely want nothing at all, for I’ve already been given the ultimate Dad’s gift. It arrived on Saturday evening, just as I was tucking up Izzy in bed. For once, there’d been no need for bribes or threats of Santa not arriving; after a single round of Winnie The Pooh, she snuggled down quietly beneath her duvet. Then, suddenly, she smiled up at me and grabbed my hand tightly.
“Daddy, I need to tell you something”.
“What’s up, Twinkle?” I said.
“I am never going to let go of your hand. You must stay here in my room for ever and ever”.
“Because, Daddy, I love you so much.”
And with that she pushed her little hand even tighter into my palm, and closed her eyes. What a perfect present!
Do have a very happy Christmas and New Year, everyone.