I'm a sucker for Christmas. In the past, particularly when I was a hardbitten newspaper hack and cynicism was my God, I would do all the eye rolling and tut-tutting when the decorations went up in stores and shops before the last leaves of Autumn had fallen. But my heart was never in it. Deep down, at the first sign of tinsel, I'd experience a childish thrill. This year, not least because the baby is happy to stare at the lights, we had the decorations up on December 1st, Vince Guaraldi playing the theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas in the background as we put the trimmings on the tree, me trying not to wince at what some of my unreformed jaundiced journalistic pals might say at such a wholesome family scene.
Balls to it, though. Now I have kids there is no need to hide my love for Christmas. Back in my hack days, as a single man, Christmas meant one thing, the same as it does for vast swathes of my countrymen and women: downing enough booze to float an armada. We Brits have a reputation for heavy drinking that is not unfounded. One of the first non-fiction projects I was commissioned to do as a writer-for hire was a book to accompany the first series of the reality TV show Survivor (now out-of-print. Thankfully. Still, might net me a few quid in the Google Settlement...). The sole redeeming feature of the project, the advance aside, was a week's paid trip to an island off the coast of Borneo where the series was being filmed. The crew had been there for ten weeks by the time I arrived and in that time things had got very Kurtzian. Tensions were rife and most had resorted to heavy drinking as a coping mechanism. The island's owner was the only happy man. He imported and sold the booze at a decent mark-up. The Americans had filmed their version of the show there a few months before. He informed me that the Brits had drunk more in one week than their brothers and sisters across the pond had managed in 11. At least we're still good at something, I thought.
Christmas is the time when alcohol consumption reaches gargantuan proportions over here and London is awash. I'm always wary of statistics, but I read the other day that over the festive season it was estimated the equivalent of 265 million pints of beer, 602 million shots of vodka or 286 million glasses of mulled wine will be consumed. That's some hangover.
I won't be too judgemental because I dare say I will contribute more than a few glasses of wine to that total. (Though seeing as I live a only 35 yards from a pub, it's barely mid-December and already the noise of the revellers forced to spill out on to the pavement to feed their nicotine habit as a consequence of the smoking ban is at an uncomfortable level, it will be difficult not to get too old man-ish about it. And I do resent those people who go mad at this time of year after 12 months of relative abstinence, being a believer that good alcohol is for life not just for Christmas. I'm reminded of someone I know, a hardened year-round imbiber, who refuses to go to any bar or pub on New Year's Eve because it's full of what he calls 'amateur drinkers,' singing, shouting, fighting and puking instead of staring into their glass in silence.)
However, I'm glad that when the day itself rolls around I won't be too pickled. Not least because for the first time in my 37 years on the planet I am hosting Christmas, which means as the chef of the household, I will also be cooking my first ever Christmas dinner. I am looking upon this endeavour much as I did my first reading: with much trepidation.
So, Turkey for ten. Or nine, excluding my vegetarian teetotal Indian mother-in-law (now that is a tough one). Any tips, recipes, or coping strategies welcome (other than working through 286 million glasses of mulled wine...)