Today, with one Christmas pantomime down (it’s behind you) and another one to come, I am seizing the day. Most of the presents are bought, some wrapped and we’re off to do the big food shop this morning. We would have got it yesterday, but I was out visiting my gentlemen friends, Mrs J Lewis and H Selfridge up west yesterday and came back to find that Mr J Sainsbury doesn’t entertain lady callers after 5pm on a Sunday afternoon!
How quaint, I thought, but slightly pleased that the internet, and 24-hour shopping, hasn’t entirely removed the flap out of bringing home the Christmas bird.
I’ve been re-reading Jilly Cooper’s fabulous How to Survive Christmas book this week, which I bought in 1998 and, though updated a couple of years ago, the original is a wonderfully evocative portrait of a time, not so long ago, pre-email, pre-internet shopping and pre-mobile phone when people really did order turkeys, gave a Christmas box to the postman and had to stock up on milk and bread.
I was beginning to feel that nowadays, buying a tin of Quality Street and a lottery ticket is about as much of a Christmas tradition that some families can muster and felt a pang of regret at the loss of such old-fashioned errands – until I began ticking things off my list. First up was a trip to the post office to finally send those cards, where inevitably I bumped into my neighbour and we had a grumble and a giggle about everyone else in the street. Then, it was off to the cobbler’s to have my silver party shoes re-heeled, followed by a trip to the garden centre to pick up yet more bargain cyclamen and a bunch of mistletoe, one of the few really seasonal goods that still exist. Then it was off to see Alex in the bead shop to see if I really could create a hessian and ribbon look for my plants for under £6 a pop. The shop is a mother, daughter, granddaughter affair and Alex (the daughter) was happy to reassure me that I could use a combo of sacking and gold ribbon to create a look of which St. Kirstie of Allsopp would be proud. But did she have any hessian? “Yes, of course,” she said, “It’s over there in the basket, with the muslin and calico.”
Muslin and calico? Never mind the Quality Street – I felt as if I’d jumped straight out of the tin and into a real-life Jane Austin novel, mud-splattered hems and all. And without further ado, I ordered enough for eight pots and a length of gold ribbon to go with it, swishing out of the shop with Katy and feeling slightly under-dressed without a bonnet and a cape. On our way home, we popped into Seles and Nila’s paper shop where Katy whispered: “Mum, I think it’s time,” and picked up the Christmas double issue of the Radio Times. I agreed, and she handed it over the counter with a five pound note whereupon Seles, as is traditional, asked Katy to work out the change before he handed it over. It’s a Wonderful Life.
A metre of hessian at £1.99 a meter
1m of gold ribbon at £1.49 a meter
Eight cyclamens at £2.50 each
A slight improvement on the one Mr Sainsbury was offering for £8 each
Forty first-class stamps at 60p, rather than the 46p second class I could have sent them for three days ago.