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Donkin's World: Christmas Decorations And The Law Of Eternal Buggeration

Richard Donkin tells of the hassle of acquiring and decoating the must-have Christmas tree.

Christmas is all about timing. There should be a law against putting up decorations at any time before the second week of December. Those who jump the gun in November should be thrown in to jail without trial and not released before the New Year, by which time they would already be thinking about Valentine’s Day and looking for Easter eggs, having booked their summer holidays last July.

Sadly only one law applies at this time of year and that is the law of eternal buggeration. The effects of this law are progressive and cumulative. For example, when we called by the local garden centre for our Christmas tree it seemed no more than a minor inconvenience to discover it was closed until May.

Another garden centre close by would do fine, we thought, until we saw the prices. Christmas trees priced at £50 each might seem reasonable if you’re a banker who has just cashed his Christmas bonus or an MP who can claim it on expenses. But for mere mortals it smacks of daylight robbery. No wonder the place was empty apart from the odd pin-striped suit.

We moved on to the outskirts of town to a Christmas tree farm that had a big range of trees from £10 to upwards of £50 with various colour codes denoting the prices. But how to remember the price against the colour? George solved the problem, photographing the list with his mobile phone. Teenagers do have their uses after all.

The place was teeming with people and cars. One chap was holding up a tree in the throng, calling vainly for his wife.

“Nice tree,” I said.

“I know. But we’ll have to look at thirty more before she’s happy,” he said, casting the tree aside and walking off, shoulders hunched, to rejoin the melee.

We didn’t spend too long choosing and found a reasonable specimen for £25. When we got it home we found the trunk was a bit bent at the bottom, giving the tree a pronounced lean in its pot. Mind you, in more than thirty years we have never been able to erect our tree without a pronounced lean, owing to the law of eternal buggeration.

The principles of this law mean that when we go in to the loft and get the Christmas lights out of their box, they don’t provide so much as a flicker when they’re plugged in, even though they worked perfectly when put away the previous year. No amount of familiarity with the law of eternal buggeration is capable of preparing me for the crushing sense of disappointment when I flick the switch and nothing happens. Deep down, I know what’s going to happen. Perhaps this is what creates the churning anxiety that accompanies this ritual. Something in our evolutionary journey instilled in us an innate – but foolish – optimism.

So I’m left with that other tiresome ritual of fixing the lights. I cast around for spares. I know we have them since two Christmases ago Gill tried to preempt this seasonal problem by getting some extra lights. Have you ever tried to buy spare Christmas lights bulbs? Logic would tell you that the spares would be available at the shop that sells the light packs. But that is a logic that fails to account for the law of eternal buggeration.

Through a process of trial and error George managed to get every fourth light blinking, so we have lights of sorts. The decorations are looking a little careworn like their owners by this stage of the day. Now just where did we put those spare lights? Common sense would point to the light box. But, as we know, there’s a law against that.

By late afternoon the Christmas tree was fully tinseled and baubled and the lights (well, some of them) are winking away merrily. I'm trying to tell myself that the tree is filling the hall with fragrant wafts of pine wood. But no-one else thinks that. There's a pungent smell all right, but it doesn't need the family to tell me that if this is pinewood then it bears a remarkable similarity to something less wholesome.

It recalls that traditional German carol, O Tannenbaum:

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!
For every year the Christmas tree,
Brings to us all both joy and glee.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Why must you smell of cat pee!

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