11 December

Wrap party

If children are crafting your wrapping paper, they’re likely to make a mess, so dress them in aprons or sacrificial clothes,[1] spread newspapers out to billy-oh[2] and don’t let the kids out of the space until they’re scrubbed clean. (You don’t want scarlet handprints on the walls and glitter footprints in the carpet. Not even at Christmas.)

Start at least a few days before you plan to wrap the presents because if you’re using glue or paint, you’ll need time for it to dry.[3] You’ll also need a drying space: the clothesline will be fine if the weather is fine, otherwise you may need to set up clothes horses on the veranda or in the garage.[4]

2016-12-11
Sticky, but not tacky.

Although it’s Sunday, the party cubs and Gemma and I were in the office by 10am and we pulled down all the holly and the ivy and the pine boughs and gathered up all the punch cups and pickled onion jars and gradually turned a bacchanalian forest back into a conference room. When our colleagues come in on Monday, it will be as if the party never happened. (And from the amount of wassail consumed, it’s fair to bet it won’t even be a fond memory for some of them.)

[1] Old T-shirts that you’re happy to throw out if the paint won’t wash out, for example.

[2] Aren’t we going to miss the actual paper of newspapers when they’re finally all digital?

[3] You could argue that putting parcels with wet paint under your tree is a way to ensure that the carpet harmonises with the colour scheme of your wrapping, but it’s not a good way.

[4] But not in the kids’ rooms, even if you’re short of space. My friend Jill’s busy son William escaped from his cot one naptime and rolled in wet paintings until he looked like fairy bread and then cuddled up to every soft toy he had and gave them all multi-coloured measles.

9 December

Gingerly

Cook your gingerbread. It will easily last till Christmas[1] and it’s good to have some on hand for unannounced Christmas guests.[2] Also if you package some up now (in festive cellophane or whatever), you’ll have some Small Presents ready should you suddenly need them.

2016-12-09
We three stegosauruses.

The board room looked like a medieval forest and the astonishment on the party-goers’ faces as they walked through the door was worth all of the holly pricks. I’d just finished adjusting some shaky foliage when Mariella from Corporate Comms shouted out to me from the opposite corner of the room.

“Janet!” she cried. “There’s something I have to tell you!” And she broke away from Meredith and Murray and headed toward me.

“What is it?” I asked when she reached me.

“Nothing,” she replied. “But I had to escape from Meredith. She’d already told me about every azalea she has ever planted, and she was about to start on her compost secrets.”

“Glad to be of service,” I responded.

“No, wait, there is something after all: have you tried the cheese?”

I hadn’t. (I’d been too busy anchoring the shaky pine tree by the window, which was threatening to crush the guests and turn Merrie England into the tragic chapters of Seven Little Australians.)

“It’s awful,” she said.

Jessica organised a bulk discount on cheese, and I hadn’t thought to tell her that quality is still important, even when you’re negotiating on quantity.

“People who don’t like cheese are refusing to touch it, and people who do like cheese are taking one bite and then backing away.”

I looked around and saw that Mariella was right.

“Maybe they’ll fill up on bread and pickled onions,” I said, hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” said Mariella. “You’ve done a good job with the wassail, and they’ll fill up on that instead.”

And she was right, but everyone was seemed to have fun (and the shaky pine tree stayed in place) so I’m counting it as a successful party.

[1] Although my friend Jenny had to keep Christmas treats in the linen cupboard to stop her kids finding them and eating them all in one sitting.

[2] This is the excuse my colleague Murray uses for buying an entire trolley-load of shortbread each December.

8 December

Do re mi

Would you like to sing carols on Christmas Day?[1] If so, it’s time to start brushing up on them:

  • Choose very familiar carols and print off plenty of copies of the lyrics: practically no-one knows the second verse of even the most famous carols.[2]
  • Practise your piano playing or guitar strumming or glockenspiel tapping or remind your accompanist to do so. Or get out your karaoke carols.
  • If your gang are slightly musical, you might like the rounds mentioned on 25 June.
  • If your gang are more musical, here’s a comparatively simply but very effective SATB[3] arrangement of “Silent Night”. (You’ll probably need to distribute this today to give people a chance to practise.) silent night
  • If your gang can be persuaded to sing but are not particularly musical, you could do “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a memory song (so you’ll be making up your own gifts around the circle)[4] and emphasise that it’s about memory and not pitch to remove performance anxiety.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing about carols this year. Wendy and I usually do a sing-along but Matthew seldom sings the right note[5] and I haven’t a clue if Auntie Gwen or Susan or Gemma or Paul are willing to warble “Wenceslas”.

2016-12-08
Not so silent when you sing it with a full choir.

The social club committee blocked out our calendars this afternoon so that Laura and Gemma could go to Laura’s uncle’s farmlet to cut down pine saplings and Adam and Jessica and I could drive to my house to bring back huge quantities of holly and ivy. I had recommended that they all wear gardening gloves and I would have taken such an instruction to mean that I should even cover up my hands but Jessica pretty much only covered up her hands and was wearing a skimpy top and a tiny skirt and suffered dreadfully (but manfully – she didn’t complain) with the holly.

[1] This is the plural “you”, not the singular “you”: the evening Uncle Geoff tried to pressgang his unmusical children into doing carols did not go well.

[2] But I like to sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground,” while I’m pulling up blackberries. (It’s from one of the less joyful verses of “Joy to the World”.)

[3] Consider “SATB” a shibboleth: if you don’t know what it means, you may not be ready to conduct this version of “Silent Night”.

[4] We once ended up with, “Five runner beans, four sides of beef, three mince tarts, two turkey rolls and a partridge in a pantry”.

[5] Matthew claims that he does hit the right note, just not at the right time.

4 December

In chains

If you have kids, get them making paper chains because they are fun and festive.

The old-fashioned way is to glue strips of paper into loops, linking them as you go, but it’s easier, faster and less messy to use staples. And it’s easier again to use streamers (the boat kind rather than crepe paper) as links: just tear them off into the appropriate lengths and staple them together and you can churn out metres and metres of chain per hour. (This will be part of the appeal: small children will be thrilled that they’ve made something long and larger children will want to hang chains in every room. I draw the line at the wet areas myself but why not let them go gangbusters everywhere else?[1])

To be green, cut up old glossy magazines for the links and use paste made of sustainable flour as the glue.

2016-12-04
Jeremy made these chains from magazines when he was in high school: he targeted pictures with strong colours and got quite a colour scheme going.

I roamed around my back garden this afternoon[2] noting where the best holly was and I’m glad to say that I have some spitefully prickly stuff that looks very Christmassy. In fact, I’m wondering if I should clear it with Health and Safety before we decorate.

[1] My father came home late after an office Christmas party when I was a kid, sneaking in the front door without turning on the light so that he wouldn’t disturb anyone, and a paper chain came adrift from its mooring and tried to strangle him. He fought it off successfully but the surprise attack unnerved him and he wouldn’t let us drape paper chains over anything he counted as a fire exit from that point on.

[2] Or, as I more commonly refer to it, my back jungle.

18 November

In print

Polish your letter until it sparkles and then proofread it carefully to catch any mistakes. If possible, ask someone else to proofread it too (since it seems to be impossible to catch all of one’s own errors)[1] and then format it attractively.[2]

Finally, print out the right number of copies of your letter and remember to do one for your archives.[3]

2016-11-18

The office Christmas party plans are beginning to crystalise: it’s wassail and fruit punch with a “King Winter” theme and we’ll decorate with the holly and ivy that I still have way too much of in my backyard. We’ll describe the food as “medieval” and it will be bread and cheese and pickled onions (which means it could also be described as “cheap”) leaving the bulk of the budget for the wassail.

[1] Which, unfortunately, seems to be true in life in general as well as in writing.

[2] Having too much text to fit on two pages is not a cue to use a tiny font: it’s a cue to cut.

[3] Or not. Carol’s hoarding mother has carbon copies of every letter she wrote in her youth and, although these may potentially have historical value one day, the copies of every bill she has ever received have less narrative interest.