The season to be jolly – which invariably induces in my soul precisely the opposite mood – will kick off this afternoon, in our household, with the annual ritual of selecting a Christmas tree. M has invited me to attend.
I find this particular custom saddening, not to mention exhausting. Saddening because I happen to like trees and would feel far better if they’d been left to flourish in what remains of this island’s, or Norway’s, shrinking pine forests; exhausting because my wife’s search for the perfect coniferous specimen will prove to be, as in years past, a marathon of indecision.
My sole contribution to the melancholy process, which takes place at a local garden centre, and is directed by M with her familiar attention to detail, will be an occasional distracted enquiry: “So what’s wrong with this one?” Followed by, “They all look the same, for God’s sake. Just pick one.”
“Nah, much too narrow,” will be the most common objection. Variants include, “Too stringy at the top” or “There’s a hole on one side” or “Look, it’s dropping already”.
Familiar with the routine from previous years, and warned by telephone in advance of our arrival, the staff will prepare by pulling out a few trees they think will meet my wife’s exacting standards, which, I might add, they rarely do. A bribe will be offered in the form of a large tin of Quality Street, jokes are exchanged to break the tension.
The real joke is that I’m an atheist humbug and M is Jewish. “You’re dad will be turning in his grave,” I always say, another ritual. “And wouldn’t a Hannukah bush be much cheaper?”
“Don’t be silly,” I’ll be told. “The Jews love Christmas.”
PS It’s over now. Bingo! We’ve bought our tree – a mere sixty bloody quid’s worth, excluding tips to the delivery men, and at least big enough to fill half the living room. And this year it took less than an hour. We’ve all got off lightly.
Attractions still to come: the expletive-filled unraveling of the vast mare’s nests of Christmas tree lights; the day-long expletive-filled search for the errant dud bulb that renders the rest inoperative; and finally the arguments over which baubles to hang where.
Where’s that whisky bottle?