Sing we joyous, all together Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la Heedless of the wind and weather Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Christmas. Yule. Winterval. Whatever. Every year it gets harder to summon up the blood. There’s a general expectation that we’ll all do our best. We’ll sing the songs. We’ll get the food in. The cupboards will groan. Quotidian life will pause. We’ll eat, drink and be merry. Ghosts of Christmas Past will visit. The Scroogiest of us, given enough schmaltz, will cave in.
If Dickens doesn’t work, Frank Capra can’t fail. It’s a Wonderful Life will have everyone, even Scrooge, weeping buckets and gift-wrapping last-minute stuff from the garage: bottles of plonk, microwavable doner kebabs, cans of WD-40. It’s the thought that counts.
Christmas prep – it’s a killer
By late November there’s a form of interrogation going on. ‘Have you been to the Christmas Markets? Have you got your decs up yet? What’re you doing for Christmas?’ It’s a killer.
It’s no longer anything to do with the alleged birth of a putative son-of-God in a desert region two thousand years ago. It’s got little connection with the ancient Norse/Germanic festival of Yule. It’s great, of course, for Amazon, Asda and Amanda at No.47 – always so competitive with her lights – but it’s a bit harder for people working two or more jobs, or crossing the Channel in an inflatable, or sleeping rough on the streets of Preston. Still, you’ve got to make the effort. For the kids, if nothing else.
I just went on the Swarovski website. Their advent calendar costs just £630. You can get one of their tree ornaments for £55. You’ll probably need about 30 of them for the tree but if you’re shopping the Swarkovski website this probably seems quite reasonable. You more than likely got an advent calendar for each of the kids, so a couple of grand on tree baubles is nothing. You’ll spend more on crackers. I can’t think of a better, more appropriate way of celebrating the birth of the Baby Jesus.
It’s all relative
Still, we cut our coats to suit our cloth. If we can’t manage Swarovski, we can perhaps do B&M Bargains. They do a 51 pack of Christmas baubles for £7. A trio of Snowy Trees for £10. They have a Knitted Cream Christmas Gonk for a fiver. And crackers? Six Kids Crafted Luxury Christmas Crackers will set you back just £8.
But that’s such an obvious swipe, isn’t it? There have always been people who have a Swarovski Christmas. Some – the recipients of PPE contracts, presumably – even manage an Asprey Christmas (set of six crackers a snip at £1,400).
Not so long ago the tabloids howled – in outrage or admiration, it wasn’t always clear – at VeryFirstTo’s set of £4mn Christmas crackers. Prizes included a Breguet Tradition watch, a Cartier necklace, tickets for an around-the-world cruise and the keys to a £190k Aston Martin. Pull one of those and you probably wouldn’t be too disappointed if it didn’t bang properly, or the joke was rubbish. They cost 500,000 times more than the B&M crackers. It’s all relative.
It somehow seems much, much worse this year. We’ve descended into a socio-economic hellscape of rising unemployment, rampant inflation, public services stretched to breaking point and an NHS on the brink of collapse. Food bank use has sky-rocketed while donations have dropped. All overseen – no, sorry, all orchestrated – by a disastrous succession of quick-change Conservative governments whose consistent, overriding concern seems to be to ensure that the wealthy get wealthier – Baroness Mone can confirm – while the rest of us watch Bedford Falls turn into Pottersville.
The Royal College of Nursing has, famously, never called for strike action before. They have now. They’re demanding, quite outrageously, that their pay be kept in line with inflation. Turns out that all that Thursday night clapping wasn’t enough for them. No, they clearly want Asprey crackers.
Rail workers have been striking, too. Border Force workers and bus drivers have come out. Driving examiners, civil servants, teachers and Highways Agency workers are withdrawing their labour. And most of us, it seems, support their claims. I certainly do. Even the Daily Express has been haranguing Rishi Sunak to strike a deal with the nurses. Let that sink in. I know.
Cost of living in Pottersville
Until quite recently people doing support for service-users with learning disabilities were paid £8.73 per hour before deductions. The rate went up a few months ago to £10 per hour. For a 37.5 hour week a support worker can expect to take home about £1,200 per month.
The average monthly UK mortgage payment is now north of £1,000. Energy bills, obviously, have shot up. Food price increases have been savage. Council tax is about £130–£150 per month. Even after the pay increase, a single support worker can’t afford to pay all their bills. Food has become a luxury item. Netflix, avocados and soy lattes? Forget about it. Christmas? You’re having a laugh. A Swarovski Christmas? In your dreams.
I’m feeling less than festive, I have to say. Bolton, Wigan and Chorley these last few days have seemed like the troubling, noirish last act of It’s a Wonderful Life. Tired, worn-out people resignedly brave the crushes in B&M Bargains, Aldi, Lidl, Wilko and Poundland, clearly doing their best to make a meagre Christmas budget go as far as possible. People at checkouts realise they’ve not enough money for the stuff in their trolley. There are marks of weakness, marks of woe. Not a Clarence in sight.
Never mind. In a few days it’ll be Christmas Eve. I’ll stream It’s A Wonderful Life, download a few whiskies and briefly enjoy the illusion that as long as we all nurture our inner George Bailey, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Mr Potters of this world can never really win.