THIS YEAR, the man living next door but two has really gone to town with his Christmas fairy lights. Not content, like the rest of us, with a couple of strings chucked over the Christmas tree and perhaps another welcoming one around the front door, this man has covered his three-bedroom semi with enough bulbs to light a carnival float. After dark, every angle and feature of his house, up to and including ridge tiles and chimney stack, is starkly delineated by rows of coloured light bulbs. Many of these are flashing on and off, either in unison or in mesmerising symmetrical patterns.

The front garden, too, is ablaze with multi-coloured, artificial light. Trees, lawn, shrubs and boundary hedge are floodlit in ghostly, unnatural colours. It's completely over the top, but the overall effect is fantastic. Although the lights have been up since 1 December, I still stop and admire them every time I go past his house.

It amazed me, however, that anyone should go to so much trouble over their Christmas lights. This year, it took me the best part of two days of fiddling around just to get two strings of Christmas tree lights up and running. To start with, they weren't working when I got them out of the box. This was not totally unexpected, however. For it seems to be an iron law of physics that your Christmas tree lights which work perfectly one year, and are taken down carefully and kept undisturbed in a cardboard box in the attic for 11 months, will always fail to work first time when plugged in again the following year.

Expecting the worst again this year, I plugged them in to make sure they weren't going to work (not a glimmer) and then I proceeded to work along the wire, tightening any bulbs which had worked their way loose from the sockets. I broke off only four as I did this, and then trod on a further two when I put them down to answer the telephone.

But I remained calm. I dug the remaining pieces of the broken bulbs out of their sockets with a pair of nail scissors and put in replacements. Then I gave all the bulbs a final little twist and switched on. And behold, there was light. I punched the air and hung the lights on the tree. As soon as I took my hand away however, the lights went out again.

I stretched out a forefinger and lightly touched one of the bulbs. They all came on. I withdrew it. They went out. It briefly crossed my mind to stand there for the next two weeks with my finger on the bulb, but I discarded the idea as absurd.

A faulty plug perhaps? As I took it apart one of the tiny brass screws dropped out. I couldn't find it anywhere. While I was searching for it, I knelt on a piece of broken bulb and cut my knee. Blood on the carpet. Eventually I found the screw, which was about 12 feet away from where I had dropped it. How it had got right over there must be one of those inscrutable mysteries, which the Bible says will be revealed to us on Judgement Day.

Eventually, after two trips to Woolworth's for replacement bulbs, and fusing the lights all over the house twice, I got the tree lit up. Then I heard the terrible news that the man down the road who had put on such a terrific show with his Christmas lights had been killed in a car crash on his way to work. He was killed instantly, they said.

There was an article about it in this week's local paper. Jim he was called. I'd not met him, but sometimes I'd see him in his driveway, cleaning his car feverishly. I wish I'd taken time to say hello to him now. Above all I wish I'd told him I liked his Christmas light show.

His family haven't taken the lights down. They've left them up for Christmas. After the interment, the relatives went back to the house for a cup of tea and a sausage on a stick. I watched them coming and going for quite a while. The odd thing about seeing a funeral party entering and leaving a house that is entirely covered with fairy lights isn't so much the lights themselves. It was the fact that some of them were flashing on and off in pretty sequences that I found, well, slightly unsettling.