I enjoyed Boyd Tonkin's article on stifling consensus in Saturday's Independent. It comes at a good moment in the year when those of us who don't particularly wish or see the need to conform to Christmas traditions and expectations are feeling uncomfortable and/or under pressure.
For years I amused myself by not even mentioning the subject of Christmas on the blog (I didn't use the word once in about seven or eight years). I wanted to have somewhere I was free to ignore it, and it was useful and necessary therapy. Now though, I'm ready to talk about it. Well, OK, maybe not talk about it, but at least think about it.
Until recently, Christmas turned into a fraught and emotional time which I found difficult. Now, though, it lovely it is to be free of such baggage and to be able to enjoy this time of year in a completely unfrantic and uncommercial way. I've finally reached a time in life when I can not give a stuff about what other people think and tell me I should be doing, and instead decide with my own little family how we will spend Christmas.
So there is a ridiculously tinselly tree because Phoebe was in charge of decorating the tree, and she adores tinsel. There are also lots of little lights because I love a twinkly tree, and plenty of chocolate decorations, although heaven knows if they will ever be found in all the tinsel. There are recipe books all over the kitchen table because Simon and I use his fortnight off work to try out new things, have a few disasters (the first was a Tom Kerridge pineapple cake - poor recipe-writing and checking, and shocking amounts of butter, sugar and wastage, and who wants three teaspoons of cracked black pepper in a cake?), and maybe a couple of successes. There is white wine in the fridge, clementines in bowls, paperwhite narcissi being brought into flower on a cool windowsill, a pile of good books to read, a stash of Green & Black's sea salt chocolate, and several Christmas cakes absorbing brandy before being iced. There will be stockings with shiny pound coins and useful small presents (no tat, by request), bracing walks, fresh air swims in our favourite pool, fruit and veg from real greengrocers, old films, cheap crackers, and minimal fuss. What there won't be any of is mad shopping, anxiety about cooking, sodding table decorations, and anything 'updated'.
I've also just discovered the pleasures of thinking and reading about Christmas without having to do any of it, a lovely way to experience it. So I'm reading Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries II because he is particularly good throughout December, and Elizabeth David's Christmas because she is fantastically direct about doing what suits you (given the choice, on Christmas Day evening she'd just have 'a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne...in bed'). I know Cider with Rosie, Under the Greenwood Tree, The Mill on the Floss, a lot of Dickens, and Dorothy Whipple's Greenbanks are all on the shelves should I want to think about atmospheric Christmases past, and I never underestimate the positive effect of reading about Antarctic expeditions at this time of year. Anything by or about Captain Scott and Apsley Cherry-Garrard is guaranteed to make you feel warm, cosy and happy to have family, friends, food in the fridge, and a roof over your head at Christmas. And that's all you really need.