The Essential Saturday-Before-Christmas Survival Guide (In Eight Easy Steps!)
Round about now, you’ll start seeing newspaper columnists offering their own personal ‘tips’ for ‘surviving’ the Festive Season. Usually these will involve ingesting specific herbal remedies and particular blends of tea or coffee, turning off your router to get ‘headspace’, recommendations of some heavyweight thing on Netflix and what have you… and really, seriously, what use are any of these to any of us? When you’re haring around Primark on the last Saturday before Christmas trying to find that last elusive present for that difficult-to-buy-for relative, do you really want the organisationally precarious pointers of some iPad-toting metropolitan type reverberating round your head as your last hope for inner peace and quiet?
Of course you don’t. You need an alternative. So join us as we go back in time. Not half-heartedly back in time like those trendy berks who pretend that they think VHS is a ‘superior format’, but way back, properly back. Back to a time when Christmas seemed less frantic, even though it probably wasn’t. And how do you get into this tranquil yet lazily uncritically nostalgic thoughtzone? Easy – by following these eight simple steps!
1. PUT UP SOME OLD-SKOOL DECORATIONS
Forget those enormous mazes of sequenced flashing lights that provoke constant baffling questions from elderly relatives. Ignore that battery-operated poinsettia that rotates and glitters while playing O Come All Ye Faithful. And whatever you do, don’t stick any of those signs outside your house saying “SANTA – PLEASE STOP HERE”, “WORLD’S BEST CHRISTMAS DAD 2000 XTREEM” or “MY OTHER SEASONAL OBSESSION IS TAKING MY COUCH OUT ON THE PAVEMENT AT THE FIRST SIGN OF SUMMER LIKE I’M SOMEONE OUT OF THE WIRE”. It’s costly, it’s unnecessary, and it’ll get you into an arms race-esque battle with the van driving geezer across the road and his inexhaustible supply of eight foot inflatable Rudolphs.
Nope, if you want to show everyone how much you like Christmas, you’ve got to go seriously old-skool. If you’re about to start decking the halls, get yourself a load of multi-coloured gummed paper and cover every room in the sort of lo-fi decorations that children used to carry home from school at odd angles on the last day before Christmas, which parents would then have to put up out of politeness while that expensive moulded glittery gold relief they got from John Lewis sat unused in a drawer telepathically reminding them of its disproportionate price tag.
2. REMAIN UNMOVED BY HI-TECH CHRISTMAS TREES
Never mind the debate about ‘real’ vs ‘artificial’ trees - your position on that really does depend on your capacity for coping with excessive vaccuming and visits to the vets as your cat/dog/toddler inevitably gets all pine-needles in their feet. The retailers want to push you though; what’s left of Habitat have something that looks like a party hat, and it glows and everything, AND it fits on your desk. Maybe you want one that looks like a marble-run, or a catheter tube with lights in it. Perhaps one that stands in something resembling a French urinal, while it plays music and actual snow falls around it. It probably spins as well. That’s what they tell you that you should get.
No. Make Christmas magical again. Dig out the PROPER tree. Yes, it’s artificial. Some of the fake needles have fallen off again, and the branches are increasingly brittle. That stand is still a nightmare to put together. And it’s wonky once assembled. Doesn’t matter. Just make sure that it’s a pre-lit one, where the LED lights are tastefully wrapped around the branches for you. You don’t want to fall into a lazy comedy trope, after all.
3. RESIST THE FESTIVE LATTE
It’s an unending risk for the modern Christmas Shopper – every last coffee chain, sandwich shop and whatever you generically call those places where they do pasties and stuff is forever trying to lure you in to sample their festive wares to a soundtrack of jazzy reworkings of something that sounds almost but not quite like Once In Royal David’s City. Usually starting from the second week of October if we’re being honest about it. Angularly-syruped lattes! Caramel and Sticky Toffee ‘Christmas Slices’! Turkey, cranberry, bacon, bread sauce and stuffing slip hazards in waiting! Some would doubtless have you believe that such fripperies are the very fuel on which the harassed Christmas Shopper runs. But not us.
Save yourself at least some of that three pounds twenty and make some instant coffee at home, taking care to ensure it’s weak, badly stirred, and overall the sort of quality you’d expect from a vending machine that has been meticulously programmed to poorly replicate the coffee-making facilities of another vending machine. Take it with you in a flask, then pour it into a cheap styrofoam cup as if purchased from a stall run by a bloke in a football hat. Add a Kit-Kat or some other equally no-frills chocolate bar purchased from whatever they have instead of station kiosks now, and you have the perfect culinary accompaniment to wondering how everyone’s going to fit on the next train, and where in the name of Railwatch it is anyway.
4. BUY ONE OF ‘THIS YEAR’S TOP TOYS’ FROM ANOTHER YEAR
The humble ‘Christmas List’ has come a long way from the days when kids would just write ‘LEGO’ on a piece of paper and leave it lying around somewhere they thought constituted subtle. The rise of online retailers and Wish Lists have left us in no doubt as to what anyone from six to sixty wants for Christmas. And yes, probably even Mariah Carey’s got one too. But should you give in and pre-order them that Limited Edition Steelbook of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the twelve pack of interactive coffee pods or whatever it is?
No. They’ll get Boglins and they’ll like it. Admittedly you’ll often have to fork out a fair whack eBay for one of the REAL Top Toys of years gone by these days, but if you opt for something that was highly touted but never caught on, you’re pretty much quids in. Rock Lords, B.A.R.T., Wrinkles, Rubik’s Magic and so many other second division “oh… thanks” Christmas Morning Pillowcase mainstays of yesteryear make an ideal present for that easy-to-buy-for relative who needs reminding that a bit more gratitude every now and then might be a nice thing. Especially at Christmas.
5. SCOFF A RETRO SELECTION BOX
Celebrations. Miniature Heroes. Those Expensive Biscuits Where Everyone Takes The Foil-Wrapped Ones First. They’ve all long since come to dominate autopilot cursory Christmas Gift ubiquity to such an extent that they’ve even started to make Ferrero Rocher look like an infrequently-sighted and impossibly-exotic relic of better days. And does anyone even remember poor old Neapolitans now?
Doubtless you’ll have already acquired an EU Butter Mountain-rivalling stack of them from work – and that’s even before the extended family have chimed in – so take your mind off the endless repetitive choc-scoffage ahead by fashioning a close approximation of one of those old-style branded Selection Boxes that Mars, Cadbury and Rowntree Macintosh used to do. To do this you’ll need, say, a Mars, a Bounty and a Milky Way, plus Snickers and Starburst with replacement Marathon and Opal Fruit labels printed off from Google Images and glued over the top. You’ll just have to use your memory for Spangles, though. Then stick them in an only slightly bigger rectangular box, draw some thickly-lined snow and spiral-eyed reindeer on the front, and a rubbish game about helping Santa get to the Robin or something on the back, and, well, stuff your face before your siblings can get hold of it.
6. CIRCLE YOUR HIGHLIGHTS IN A VINTAGE TV LISTING
We’re not going to snipe at how technology has enhanced the modern viewing planning experience as, well, it’s actually quite a good thing.
Like us, though, you probably still miss the thrill of getting the actual physical double Radio Times and TV Times before the listings had been published anywhere else, having to wait impatiently for your ‘turn’ to look at it, then haphazardly circling anything you might have even the most microscopically remote interest in watching, blithely marking all kinds of non-festive Channel 4 documentaries and Radio 2 salutes to ‘the hits of the seventies’ as you went. There’s loads of scanned pages on the web now, so why not print one off and, in amongst the Coronation Streets and Bergeracs and Etics And Erns, see if you can find something where you’ll have no idea why you scribbled around it two weeks later.
7. DIG OUT NOW - THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM
Nothing says Christmas more than finally sitting down after you’ve done all your shopping, and realising that you have to wrap the presents now, and you really aren’t in the mood. There’s only one thing for it, chucking on the ultimate in mood-setting moneyspinning compilation albums that inexplicably get re-released with slightly different track orders every single year despite the fact that all of the good Christmas songs that people buy these for were released prior to 1990. You sit there trying to find the end of the sellotape while Noddy Holder vies with Roy Wood in the argument for the best of the party songs, but there’s more presents to wrap and it’s only a seventy minute CD. You’ll never get finished in time. Then a decision has to be made; it’s a double-CD album. Have you got one of the older ones full of old-standards? Bing without Bowie, Nat King Cole and Elvis with depressing ballads? Or is it one of the newer releases, all Robbie Williams singing Angels, and something by a fly-by night group hastily assembled on an ITV talent show two years ago. An earnest cover version from a John Lewis advert.
There’s only one sensible decision when faced with that choice. Stick on the original Now - The Christmas Album from 1985 again. Nobody wants to listen to Americans getting Christmas songs wrong, and you won't find Abba on there singing about having a Happy New Year. And don’t skip Another Rock And Roll Christmas by you know who.
8. JOIN THE TEAMS FOR ANOTHER ROUND... OF TELLY ADDICTS!
Given Noel usually turned up on Christmas Day most years, and the House Party famously saw off The Darling Buds of May on Boxing Day 1992, it's perhaps surprising that perhaps the Edmonds series we most associate with the festive season is Telly Addicts, but for some reason it's always been intertwined. Maybe this is because its presence in the schedules every September was the first marker on the long road to 25th December, knowing that it would run right up until Christmas. Which sadly doesn't happen any more, but Noel's ever hawk-like eye for the tie-in cash-in potential saw to it that you can recreate that thrill easily enough.
There were, we believe, two Telly Addicts games. The later one, a conventional board game going under the banner of Family Telly Addicts, we don't intend to dwell on (because we never had it), but the first was particularly exciting as it came with its own Hoofer Doofer! Alright, so it was basically a glorified calculator where you inputted the code number of the question and it gave you the numeric answer, then at the end calculated the score, but it seemed terrifically exciting thirty years ago, so much so that it didn't even need a board. The only other accompaniment was a series of books of questions covering all the rounds, including the Props round (not that exciting, you just read them out). But given you could supply your own sofas, this was probably the most accurate facsimile of a TV game show of them all. Those were halcyon days for Telly Addicts, before the show went shit and was axed, but then in 2003 came the Telly Addicts DVD Game! Recorded during Noel's lost weekend that lasted about five years at the turn of the century, we were delighted Noel introduced it by saying "We're back!", very much like ALF returning in pog form. This time we could actually see the clips, although the limited number and less-then-random sequencing rendered it a bit of a farce, and the only way you could stop the game was to physically eject it from the player as it overrode the stop button. Still, at least it served as a better ending that that awful running around revamp, so we all got a bit of closure.
The Essential Saturday-Before-Christmas Survival Guide (In Eight Easy Steps) written by Tim Worthington, Dan Thornton and Steve Williams. Models: Ruby Cunliffe, Garreth F. Hirons, Vikki Gregorich, Some Tinsel. And is Paul McCartney the real Santa Christmas?