October is when the earliest Christmas catalogues will arrive in your mailbox and you can turn this into retail symbiosis by keeping them to provide you with useful present ideas.
You can also hand the catalogues to the people on your present list and ask them to initial anything that appeals. Encourage them to go hog wild, saying it’s nice to have some lavish options in case you come into a fortune because even their extravagant choices may give you ideas for affordable gifts: If they’ve mentioned that they’d like a yacht, perhaps they’d also like a tide clock.
My nephew Ben has scored an interview with Palmer & Sons. He told me the names of the people on the panel and I do know one of them: he happens to be the husband of my ex‑colleague Donna who stuffed up the birthday cake roster! I told Ben that it was lucky we have different surnames so that Larry doesn’t spot the connection but I actually only met Larry a few times so Ben should be right. (And being the nephew of a woman who does a better cake roster than your wife shouldn’t be a mark against you in a job interview!)
 My old neighbour Gustav used to impale them on the spikes of his iron railing fence. But it didn’t deter the people who delivered them and it just made his house look messy so it’s not a good idea, even if you’re annoyed that your “No junk mail” sign isn’t working.
 This can surprise you. I would never have guessed that my brother-in-law Don wanted a pewter pot pourri dish (and it’s just as well I smelled a fish and got him novelty socks instead because it turned out that Jack had forged Don’s initials on quite a few items in that catalogue, including a rose-patterned hammer for ladies and a solar-powered garden gnome that disconcerts passers-by by targeting them with a spotlight and singing merry ditties).
If you’ll be making pudding and if you’ll be putting silver into it:
Gather your coins
You’ll find plenty of instructions to pour boiling water over them to kill the germs, but they’re going to be steamed for hours inside the pudding so I can’t see why this is necessary
Set them aside for pudding day
I had a long chat with Meredith from Accounts today. She was the social club treasurer before the schism and she explained how the books and the budget work. It turns out that the money the company puts in for the Christmas party every year covers sausages and beer and ice cream but there’s no way it will stretch to upmarket strippers and circus acts. (I am contemplating asking for danger money for this assignment.)
 I’ve never heard of anyone putting gold coins into pudding so, although plum pud is usually described as “rich”, it’s not that rich.
 My Uncle Bill once said that the oils from all the shoppers’ hands added to the flavour. So then Auntie Pat offered to make him some tea by pouring boiling water over small change and he backed down immediately.
When should you start eating Christmas food? Popular answers are:
As soon as you see tinsel in the shops
On any official festive occasion in December (like school break-ups and office Christmas parties) but not until Christmas Day otherwise.
Christmas Day – except that you need to do a fair bit of quality sampling beforehand.
I’m mainly on the side of 2 (with a bit of 3) but I do make an exception for mince tarts: it is good to have some festive fare when there are carols in the air and I can tell you that three of my delicate beauties a day will do wonders for your digestion. (They taste like Christmas and they work like bran).
My nephew Ben mentioned he’s applying for a new job. It’s at Palmer & Sons where I used to work and he asked me if I had any contacts there. I do but they’re unlikely to be on an IT selection panel. However, I did give Ben some pointers on how P&S conduct their interviews. (Fast, furious and taking no prisoners.)
 My colleague Murray makes an exception for shortbread. In fact, he deliberately overcaters so that he has enough shortbread to last him to at least July.
Swing (the old plank and rope model still works as well today as it ever did)
Also, since tots usually love lots of presents, a plethora of little stocking stuffers usually goes down well.
I had my first social club committee meeting today. The young things were a little wary of me but were relieved that I wanted to be treasurer. The Christmas party was the only item discussed and the rumours are true: they’re planning a black tie, burlesque cocktail party and now they want fire eaters, red velvet draped around the room and carnival masks for all the guests. If the three experienced, pragmatic old-stagers couldn’t talk them out of it, I do not know what I am supposed to do.
 Not that I have ever seen a rubber duck made from rubber.
 My friend Jill forbade her son William play dough because he ate too much of it. (“I know it’s not toxic,” she said, “But it spoils his appetite for dinner.”)
 They adore them so much that you should consider equipping them with rechargeable batteries.
 But do filter out the choking hazards because small toys sometimes go down too well with small children.
 They told me that they’re all ideas people, as if that exempted them from having to deal with day-to-day matters. I assume that means that they’re all living at home with their parents, otherwise they’d know that even the most creative adults still have to choose between cleaning the toilet or living with a stink.
 I was going to say “on the agenda” but there wasn’t one: ideas people won’t be tied down by papers.
If you were planning to do the paper plate version of Christmas, here’s a crafty way of being both economical and stylish: buy cheap, basic cups and sketch your own pictures on them with coloured markers. You could go for classic Yuletide designs like stars or reindeer or you could write everyone’s name in flowing calligraphy or you could outsource this task to the children or you could get everyone to design their own when they were milling around, waiting for the turkey to cook.
You can draw on disposable tablecloths too (or maybe scatter markers along the table as part of the decor and let the diners doodle) but confine decoration on paper plates to the rims: you don’t want to be eating ink.
I invited my friend Carol round for lunch and she was delighted to see a box of books in my hallway… until I told her they were the books I’d bought from the school fete. I really should have thought to get them out of sight before she came round. (Maybe we could meet in cafes from now on.)
 Yule cats feasting on children are also classic but don’t count as suitable subject matter for family gatherings.
 To whom you may need to issue some design guidelines, if there’s any chance they’d choose to sketch Yule cats.
 My niece Emma painted paper plates with food dye for a birthday party which looked lovely stacked up ready to go but became a muddy mess once the gravy was dished out.
It can be hard to choose a Kris Kringle present for a colleague because there’s often a low price limit and you may not know the recipient well but one of these suggestions might work:
Any of the Small Present ideas from 30 January and 19 April
Food in general: chocolates, condiments, exotic ingredients
Small items used in your particular industry (Eg: office workers can go for novelty staplers, amusing USB sticks, comedic sticky notes etc.)
Calendars (which come out in force in December and cover every interest group and every price range)
Small kitchen gadgets (if you know the proclivities of the recipient): a zester for a keen cook, a muddler for a cocktail fiend, a cute biscuit cutter for a parent of young children
What a lovely birthday! Jeremy’s sausage rolls were pretty good (as the birthday girl, I didn’t have to eat any of the burnt ones) everyone came round for cake in the afternoon which was very jolly and then Matthew and I headed out to see “The Girl on the Train” in the evening. Add a handful of well-chosen presents to that and it was close to a perfect day!
 That’s exotic, like dragonfruit crisps, not erotic, like chocolate body paint, which was specifically banned at Palmer & Sons after a lamentable episode.
 My cousin Peter (the one who gives his whole family the same book each year) bought a box of rain gauges at a knock-down price a decade ago and he gives one to his Kris Kringle nominee each year regardless, including the time he got the same person two years running.
 I did have to field jokes about my ancient age but, as the oldest sibling, you get used to that.