Wait until I get home, there'll be trouble

"WHEN Mary and Joseph finally arrived, Bethlehem was very busy" says the little window on my advent calendar this morning.

And for a second I actually find myself thinking "Ah, just like Oxford Street then", before feeling thoroughly ashamed for thinking such a terrible, corrupt and consumerist notion as this, and going off to light a cinnamon candle and meditate on goodwill to all men for a bit.

London in December is rather like one of those straight-to-video movies with the Olsen twins or suchlike, in which they discover that the true meaning of Christmas is togetherness by frolicking through New York in a series of cute wintry outfits '” in other words, it has the appearance of glossy festive loveliness, and underneath everyone just feels stressed and slightly sick.

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There's also, and I don't remember feeling this nearly as much back home with you folks, this tremendous feeling that whatever you are doing is not nearly as Christmassy and magical as something you could be doing. Queuing in HSBC?

Pah, you should be ice-skating at Somerset House in a long coat and fur muff, like something in a Victorian scene on a biscuit tin.

Or singing along to the Pogues in a pub with an open fire, waving a flagon of ale in the air.

Or playing the tuba in a Selfridges window display, covered head to toe in gold glitter. Or something.

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However, despite the hours I've spent this week shoe-horned between power shoppers yelling "but does he want the Dr Who activity sticker super-cosmic alien case files book, or the Dr Who super-cosmic case file alien sticker activity annual?" into a mobile, I am very, very excited about Christmas.

I keep finding myself lost in little dreams about cheesy footballs and marzipan when I should be writing an essay on Wordsworth, or crossing the road safely.

It's amazing what liberal application of mulled wine, posh cheeses and re-runs of the Vicar of Dibley can do for the mind.

They erase all memory of the portion of last year you devoted to assembling a Barbie Dreamhouse or other such plastic concoction from instructions entirely in Taiwanese, or being alternately burnt and electrocuted by fairy lights that never had any intention of working before you started untangling them, or slaving over sprouts that nobody will eat but everyone wants on the table for "tradition's sake", and instead make you think the whole season was a rose-tinted bundle of joy from start to finish.

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Which, of course, it was, because I'm still young enough to avoid all of the above and just watch telly.

Living away from home is making the prospect doubly exciting, as alongside the usual excuse of festive decadence, I now have "Oh, but I've been living in a vermin-infested student hovel for three months, take pity on me" to ensure I have sole ownership of the remote control and dustbin-sized tin of Quality Street well into the new year.

However, there is also the worry that by the time I roll in on the 17th, the Bravo Christmas will be well underway and I will have missed my part in it.

Thus strict instructions are being issued governing the exact amount of yuletide merriment allowed in my absence (take note, family, as I'm not ringing to repeat this): minor decorations may be put up in the house '” wreath on door, tinsel round the picture frames, hopeful strings pinned up for the predicted flurry of cards from people whose association with us we can't entirely remember, etc.

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However, absolutely NOTHING must be done in the way of tree decorating until I get home.

Flouting this rule will be pointless, as I will inevitably take everything off and do it again anyway.

Likewise, nobody may annotate the special bumper Radio Times in red biro until I am available for consultation, and nor must the Perry Como Christmas LP be removed from its sleeve for ironic playing until I am there to appreciate it.

Nobody may partake in our family tradition of visiting all the garden centres along Littlehampton Road, for no particular reason except that we did it one year and so now it feels Christmassy.

And nobody may watch The Santa Clause without me. This is the law.

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