Dreading the rellies? Christmas can be a minefield when today’s modern – often blended – families are suddenly brought together. But you can survive them with a little forward thinking…
Make a seating plan. Grannies will like sitting next to their grandchildren and can deal with their runny noses and dodgy eating habits. Second wives can be put at the opposite end of the table to the original spouses, and alcoholic uncles placed away from the wine. (Make a plan even if it’s not your house and enlist an ally to help herd all into position.
There is a fine art to judging how much alcohol to serve and to whom. As a general rule – for anyone likely to fall asleep, as much as you can get down their necks. Those with grievances to air? Hide the whisky!
Prime younger members of the family on suitable topics of conversation, and remind them that while they may consider a baah-humbug farting sheep a hilarious centrepiece, Great Aunt Hilda probably won’t.
Talk of sex, religion and politics can all add spice to the proceedings. Put a ban, instead, on discussion of parenting skills, divorce rates or anything that happened “in my day…”
Invite non-family too. Relatives will behave better, and may offer polite chit-chat instead of bickering over the remote control and dragging up what Uncle Roger did in The Great Christmas Row of 1996.
Prepare a fund of “rescue subjects” to distract and divert if tensions are rising. New babies, holiday plans and the short-comings of other relatives not present, will usually go down well.
Serve all food in quantity. It is harder to be argumentative when stuffed to the gills.
If you have a cream sofa – cover it.
If all else fails, whip out the Trivial Pursuit.
Try deep breathing, mindfulness techniques, meditation or yoga. Repeat to yourself: “I am relaxed, I am calm, I am enjoying this.” Then hit the gin early, grin a lot and remember in a few hours it will all be over.
Extracted from the back of Mum in the Middle (HarperImpulse) by Jane Wenham-Jones.
(If you now feel so moved to treat yourself – or one of those relatives – to a copy you can download or get the paperback here.) Happy Christmas!
OUR columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce don’t need a certain supermarket to remind them that Christmas is for sharing.
Every year, she gets out her sparklers, he dusts off his baubles, and they get together to wish you a joyful Christmas.
This year, they look at having fun – whether you’re a Jolly Jane or a Moany Mike.
Jane: Carols make Christmas. Whether it’s the Salvation Army in the High Street or the Thanet Male Voice Choir in The White Swan pub. I don’t get to church very often but I like a decent sing-song when I do. Midnight mass is an uplifting way to start the festivities – if one is still awake by then. A plea our good reverends: candles not light bulbs? The last time I went to a certain church late on Christmas eve, it was lit up like a supermarket.
NB If you can find a spare child take them to Christingle – a recent survey shows that one in five children think Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea!
Mike: It doesn’t matter which carol service you choose, there will always be a bloke in the pew behind you who is a bellowing bull, a Pavarotti wannabe. He will be with a screech-owl woman, sounding like a Spice Girl in a cat fight. Try starting each verse a second early – throws ’em every time.
Jane: Should just be for kids. We all spend too much on things nobody really wants or needs, but were handily on offer (after Black Friday the whole nation is getting a coffee machine or electric toenail clippers). But if you insist, consumables are best and won’t require a declutter. Champagne, chocolates, bath oil or perfumed candles will usually hit the spot (it’s not too late – my birthday’s next month).
Mike: Infuriate any intelligent relatives you’re not too keen on by giving them a Russell Brand book. As with all things, the pleasure is in the anticipation, so raise expectations among teenagers by putting socks in an enticing Apple Store bag. For ghastly kids, stick a Cilla Black CD in a One Direction cover.
Jane: Is the antidote to all those relatives. Be generous and helpful, take a nice gift and a moment to remember how lucky you are to have people in your life who are not from the same gene pool.
Mike: Arriving in a haze of alcohol fumes and incontinence is poor form, but effective. Sneezing or scratching guarantees you can get away with an early exit. Explain you have only popped in for a minute on your way to somewhere fabulous.
Jane: Brings me out in a rash. To be attended only under duress, when one has small children in tow, and a hip flask about one’s person. I hate audience participation. Oh yes I do… etc.
Mike: If you’re dragged along, cheer the villain, boo the good guys. I tried it once and the embarrassed lady I was with banished me to the bar. Result! Think of it this way – The more boos, the more booze…
Jane: Last year after a late change of plan, I got the turkey at 4pm on Christmas Eve. What a bargain!
Days “between the years” can offer up good reductions too. Don’t buy too much of anything – not only will it get wasted (who actually eats nuts and dates and marzipan biscuits in the shape of a reindeer when they’ve already pigged out on roast potatoes and pudding?) and cost a fortune but you need to run out of something for an excuse to get out of the house (relatives! Remember?).
Mike: Have fun getting a month’s worth of supplies on December 10. Yes, I know that’s too late for this year, but remember it for next time. Stuff your pantry, stuff your freezer and stuff the do-everything-at-the-last-minute laggards who grizzle about aisles packed tighter than Santa’s stockings. If there’s one thing better than being stocked-up for Christmas, it’s being smug.
Fun presents for each other
Jane: This year I’m giving dear old Mike his own Himalayan Goat, a “Save Manston” T-shirt and recognition in the Hall of Fame at Turner Contemporary (he lives in hope of a kiss under the mistletoe with Iris Johnston, but as I always tell him, he can’t have everything…).
Mike: A pile of her novels piled high in prime position at Waterstone’s. Or better still, an empty shelf, where they were stacked before they were all snapped up. Right, that’s more than enough goodwill for one Christmas.
My latest Isle of Thanet Gazette column – the annual joint offering with fellow columnist, my mate Mike 🙂
EVERY year, Jolly Jane and I meet for lunch to discuss the theme for our seasonal collaboration, followed by the traditional humiliation in which her pal Bill takes the photos, the brief she’s given him being to make her look young and me look stupid.
Later she chooses the youngest / stupidest one. You get the picture? If not, see the one with this column.
“We could write about our perfect Christmas,” coos the cherub of cheerfulness.
Asking me to do that is like asking a vegan to cook the perfect steak and kidney pudding.
But perfect Christmas it must be, so I shall put aside the reality – sitting alone watching grinning goons on the telly wishing me merry; the impending December credit card statement; the impossibility of even going to a pub without stumbling over carol singers, kids, and charity collectors.
There is fun in choosing the perfect dinner guests. I’m just no good at it. I’ll plump for Isambard Kingdom Brunel (unoriginal – and he’s dead), Robert Jay from the Leveson Inquiry (unknown quantity, but what a brain), a 17-year-old Bridget Bardot (obviously) and Jerry Lee Lewis to entertain.
Best present ever? The Minic wind-up London Transport red bus which had me in tears when it vanished from the toy shop window. I was too stupid to realise my parents had bought it for me.
Worst? That’s ungrateful, but for 20 years I received a subscription to Reader’s Digest. The magazines never came out of their wrapper, but I never dared tell the giver.
Perfect Christmas dinner? Anyone who says it isn’t turkey and all the trimmings should be stuffed and roasted.
As a child, I waited each year for that moment exactly 12 minutes into the meal when Auntie Ethel would raise her little bird-like head and ask: “Are you enjoying it, Michael?”
To my pride, I never let out a mischievous “No!”
And my perfect present to Jane this year?
I considered a model of her beloved Manston airport. But on second thoughts, it might be cheaper to buy her the real thing.
DON’T listen to him, dear reader – he’s as vain as I am. This year he rejected a perfectly good photo of me smothering lipstick all over his chops because, says he: “I look as if I’m dead.” (Nice to know I haven’t lost my touch).
Perfect Christmas? Easy to say when I’ve never done it but I’m tempted to say no guests at all – there is something quite alluring about the notion of a day in my pyjamas, watching mindless TV, possibly with a bottle of champagne. On the other hand I do find Jeremy Paxman deeply attractive and if Carson the butler from Downton Abbey turned up to pop my cork, I wouldn’t shut him out…
Can’t be doing with sprouts or Christmas Pud – but what I do like is a wonderful turkey sandwich the next day – good bread, mayo, upmarket crisps, chilled bottle of Macon Blanc Villages…
Presents? Without wishing to be too sickeningly Pollyanna-like, it is gift enough not to have died yet, and to know my nearest and dearest are still kicking too.
My offering to Mike (I include him in above list)? A year’s subscription to The Guardian, a vegetarian cookbook and his very own corner of Turner Contemporary in which there will be an installation comprising an unwashed sock, a rotting parsnip and three wound-down watches (symbolically halted at a minute past midnight) entitled Yuletide Reflections from the Edge. On sale for half a mill.
But I expect I’ll get him bath cubes again.
Whatever you are doing on Wednesday, may Santa make your own dreams come true (or at least keep the relatives from squabbling and the sherry flowing) and may we BOTH wish you a VERY merry Christmas.
This might not make entire sense to those not blessed with living on the Isle of Thanet but perhaps you would would wish for similar for your town too…
Happy Christmas anyway!
What would make a perfect gift for Isle?
THE GAZETTE’s regular columnists Jane Wenham-Jones and Mike Pearce have been set a Christmas challenge by editor Rebecca Smith.
It’s better to give than receive, we are told, so what could glass-half-full Jane and glass-half-empty Mike come up with as the perfect gifts for Thanet?
WHO’S BEEN GOOD? A bumper parcel for Jane and socks again for Mike (photo by Bill Harris)
JANE: What would I give Thanet this Christmas? Some positive vibes! Thanet has its problems but it’s got a whole heap of potential too. So I’d like to see less negativity from the disaffected quarters and no scaremongering. I wish the Isle further art galleries and creative ventures (to quote Ms Emin: where art comes, regeneration follows); a few more restaurants you can sit outside; and bars that face the sun.
I want the new micro pubs to do well, the older pubs to survive, the High Streets to hang in there and huge success for Manston Airport, (yes, yes, during the day! Don’t start that again).
I’d like to see certain councillors stepping down and others stepping up. I’d like derelict properties restored and landlords held to account and bad housing sorted.
Had I a magic Christmas wand, I would of course bring more employment and prosperity, fewer punch-ups and help for smaller shops and businesses. I’d say no to superstores and give a fat grant to anyone opening up an empty retail space and making jobs.
I’d have an open police station in each town, no more ridiculous “traffic-calming” and put Richborough Towers back where it was. I’d see the theatres full, the churches unvandalised and the loos unlocked. But in the sad absence of my fairy wings, I’ll just send a group hug. Have a good one!
And for my dear colleague Mike? I would give him a season ticket to Turner Contemporary events, a hot night out with Iris Johnston (his favourite!), a night flight from Manston and a signed, life-size photograph of Tracey Emin. Happy Christmas mate!
MIKE: AS A child, I would plead for expensive toys and receive a gift-wrapped box containing a battery and a message saying “Toy not included”. I offer my presents for Thanet, but remember – Santa is an anagram of Satan.
For Margate: A new road behind Dreamland, allowing a pedestrianised seafront paradise with a cafe culture in its true sense. Not just a few late-night boozers, but coffee bars, eateries and a tip of the hat to the glory days, with ice cream parlours, candy floss and family-friendly amusement arcades.
For Broadstairs: A large field, miles from anywhere, where morris men can beat each other with sticks, and lank-haired minstrels of indeterminate sex can whine about Strawberry Fair, Widdecombe Fair and Betfair for all I care, without providing an excuse for every yob this side of Tilbury to converge on the town centre and cause mayhem.
For Ramsgate: A fairy godmother to sprinkle stardust on the precious Ramsgate Sands site, shoo off would-be developers and turn back the clock to when it was a tourist magnet – or at least a car park.
For Thanet: A spaceship to descend and take away this hapless council. And then (oh Santa, if only) for 56 good men strong and true to come forward – people who will spend more time discussing agendas and less time discussing genders; people with intelligence and enthusiasm; people less concerned with causes and more concerned with the common good.
For the High Streets: An end to hand-wringing, silver-tongued soothsayers offering false dawns.
For the Turner Centre: A ticket machine, so they can finally admit there’s no such thing as a free Munch.
And following Margate’s inclusion in the Rough Travel Guide as the world’s seventh best tourist destination, an early copy of next year’s, showing Cliftonville has the world’s best forests, Manston the most successful airport and Westwood Cross the most efficient traffic system.
For Plain Jane?: A film company to buy up one of her novels. And an address book with the page for D torn out, so she avoids the duckies and divas and darlings who turn her pretty little head!
As some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.
So we’re almost at December and the time, I gather, to start thinking festive. No, I don’t know where this year’s gone either, but if one more person tells me they finished their shopping weeks ago I shall slap her with some wet tinsel. It can only be a She. Men don’t get involved with presents at all if they can help it and when finally forced to face the inevitable, hare round on Christmas Eve, panic-buying gift packs. I sometimes wonder if I have male hormones. The joys of wafting around in a pinnie, hand-pressing cranberries and making my own mince meat, have passed me by but at least I have learnt to keep stress levels low.
The way to approach C Day without fear and dread, is to keep one’s head firmly in a bucket and acknowledge nothing until December 23rd. When you’ve been self-employed as long as I have, with a tendency to let the entire year’s deadlines accumulate, leaving one no option but to be welded to the computer instead of counting down the retail days, the whole build-up can very easily slide past. Especially since nobody has Christmas parties any more. Or if they do, they don’t invite me.
Once upon a time, journalists wrote wearily about mantelpieces stiff with gold-edged cards (be an email these days of course) – too many to possibly ever attend all – while double pages were devoted to how to choose a little black dress and the best way to get through three weeks of champagne and canapés and still fit into it.
Now in these dark hours of austerity and gloom, it’s a buy-your-own down at the local chain pub or a memo urging staff to contribute half a goat for the third world instead. Friends who still have gainful employment with companies that turn a profit (three at the last count), tell me to thank my stars, but it is a small regret to me that never having had what you might call – and my husband does frequently – a “proper job”, I have never attended a traditional office party. I can only imagine the lecherous, bottom-patting general manager and the droopy typist who adores him. The dropped jaws when Doris from the canteen turns up in tight satin and fishnets; the sobbing after too many advocaats, the throwing up in the waste-basket, the passing round of intimate-body-parts-taken-on-photocopier hilarity and the secretary found in the stationery cupboard doing something inappropriate with Stanley from accounts. I can’t help feeling that at some fundamental, formative level, I have missed out.
So it was perhaps with me in mind that my dear friend Lisa Payne, of the Perfectly Dreadful Murder Company, set the theme of her next Murder Mystery evening as “1970s Office Christmas Party”. I have been in a few of Lisa’s mysteries before and they are enormous fun. I am invariably cast as a cross between Barbara Windsor in EastEnders and Les Dawson in drag, allowing me to trip about in fishnets myself – with perilous heels and inadvisably short skirt – and Lisa to murmur sweetly: “and all from her own wardrobe too…” If you’re feeling festive already with no invites either, dressed up and no place to go, why not come along? Just remember ignorance is bliss for a little longer and don’t mention the sh***ing…