Bryson's America: Own up: who's seen the Christmas decorations?

WHEN I left you last week I was expressing a certain queasy foreboding at the thought that at any moment my wife would step into the room and announce that the time has come to get out the Christmas decorations.

Well, here we are, another week gone and just 18 fleeting days till Christmas, and still not a peep from her. I don't know how much more of this I can take.

I hate doing the Christmas decorations because, for a start, it means going up into the loft. Lofts are dirty, dark, disagreeable places. You always find things up there you don't want to find - lengths of gnawed wiring, gaps in the slates through which you can see daylight and sometimes even pop your head, and crates full of useless oddments that you must have been out of your mind ever to have hauled up there. Three things alone are certain when you venture into a loft: that you will crack your head on a beam at least twice, that you will get cobwebs draped over your face, and that you will not find what you went looking for.

So you lower your legs through the hatch and blindly grope for the ladder with your feet. If you stretch your right leg to its furthest extremity, you can just about get a toe to it, which is not much good, of course. Eventually, you discover that if you swing your legs back and forth, like a gymnast on parallel bars, you can get one foot on top of the ladder and then both feet on. This, however, does not represent a great breakthrough because you are now lying at an angle of about 60 degrees and unable to make any further progress. Grunting softly, you try to drag the ladder nearer with your feet, but succeed only in knocking it over, with a crash.

Now you really are stuck. You try to wriggle back up into the loft, but haven't the strength, so you hang by your armpits. You call to your wife, but she doesn't hear you. This is both discouraging and strange. Normally, your wife can hear things that no one else on earth can hear. She can hear a dab of jam fall on to a carpet two rooms away. She can hear spilled coffee being furtively mopped up with a good bathtowel. She can hear dirt being tracked across a clean floor. She can hear you just thinking about doing something you shouldn't do. But get yourself stuck in a loft hatch and suddenly it is as if she has been placed in a soundproof chamber.

So when eventually, an hour or so later, she passes through the upstairs hallway and sees your legs dangling there, it takes her by surprise. "What are you doing?" she says at length.

You squint down at her. "Loft hatch aerobics," you reply with just a hint of sarcasm.

"Do you want the ladder?'

"Oh, now there's an idea. Do you know, I've been hanging here for ages trying to think what it is that's missing, and here you've cracked it straight off.'

You hear the sound of the ladder being righted and feel your feet being guided down the steps. The hanging has evidently done you good because suddenly you remember that the Christmas decorations are not in the loft - never were in the loft - but in the basement, in a cardboard box. Of course! How silly not to have recalled! Off you dash.

Two hours later you find the decorations hidden behind some old tyres and a broken pram. You lug the box upstairs and devote two hours more to untangling strings of lights. When you plug the lights in, naturally they do not work, except for one string that hurls you backwards into a wall with a lively jolt and a shower of sparks, and then does not work.

You decide to leave the lights and get the tree in from the garage. The tree is immense and prickly. Clutching it in a clumsy bearhug, you gruntingly manhandle it to the back door, fall into the house, get up and press on. As branches poke your eyes, needles puncture your cheeks and gums, and sap manages somehow to run backwards up your nose, you blunder through rooms, knocking pictures from walls, clearing tabletops, upsetting chairs. Your wife, so recently missing and unaccounted for, now seems to be everywhere, shouting confused and lively instructions - "Mind the thingy! Don't go that way - to that way! To the left! Not your left - my left!" and eventually, in a softer voice, "Oooh, are you all right honey? Didn't you see those steps?" By the time you reach the living room the tree looks as if it has been defoliated by acid rain, and so do you.

It is at this point that you realise that you have no idea where the Christmas tree stand is. So, sighing, you hike up to town to the hardware store to buy another, knowing that for the next three weeks all the Christmas tree stands you have ever purchased - 23 in all - will spontaneously reappear in your life, mostly by dropping on to your head from a high shelf when you are rooting in the bottom of a cupboard, but occasionally in the middle of darkened rooms or lurking near the top of the hall stairs. If you don't know it already, know it now: Christmas tree stands are the work of the devil and they want you dead. While you are at the hardware store you buy two additional strings of lights. These will not work either.

Eventually, exhausted in both mind and body, you manage to get the tree up, lit and covered with baubles. You stand in the posture of Quasimodo regarding it with a kind of weak loathing.

"Oh, it's lovely!" your wife cries, clasping her hands ecstatically beneath her chin. "Now let's do the outside decorations," she announces suddenly. "I bought a special treat this year - a life-sized Father Christmas that goes on the chimney. You fetch the 40-ft ladder and I'll open the crate. Oh, isn't this such fun!" And off she skips.

Now you might reasonably say to me: "Why put yourself through all this? Why go up to the loft when you know the decorations won't be there? Why untangle the lights when you know they haven't a chance of working?" And my answer to you is that this is part of the ritual. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Which is why I've decided to make a start now even though Mrs Bryson hasn't ordered me to. There are some things you just have to do in life, whether you want to or not.

If you need me for anything, I'll be hanging from the loft.

Extracted from `Notes from a Big Country', published by Doubleday. price pounds 16.99. Available at bookshops and by mail order from 01624 675137.

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit