Though I doubt if a similar treat lies in store this year, a rich and inventive feast is already filling the columns. One regular yuletide advertiser ("Our 18th Year") is Rent Mother Nature of Cambridge, Massachusetts: "Lease a Sugar Maple Tree or Sap Bucket for One Year". For those Manhattanites unable to observe the performance of their sap buckets in person, the company offers the assurance that "during the harvest each lessee receives progress reports full of fact and folklore, thus sharing in the adventure of sugaring". A promising newcomer is Potato of the Month of Presque Isle, Minnesota: "certified organic potatoes in many of the old-fashioned, flavourful varieties - delivered to your door each month".
Pet lovers are exceptionally well-served at this season. Moggy owners may consider investing in Kitty Safari, "a video cats really watch, full of busy birds, mice, squirrels and more", while pals of poochs can decorate their Christmas trees with man's best friend in angelic form: "Bark, the canine angels sing! Each features a hand-painted resin head and paws, lace dress, silver wings and a shiny halo. Offered in over 120 American Kennel Club breeds, $37.50."
In case anyone is feeling overly complacent at the absurd profligacy of our transatlantic cousins, perhaps I might point out two Christmas present ideas featured in the editorial pages of the British press. The Telegraph Magazine recently suggested "silver- dipped scallop shells" for use as "decadent ashtrays or dishes for hors d'oeuvres" at pounds 34 each or pounds 60 a pair, while Tatler drew our attention to the silver lids designed by fashionable jeweller Theo Fennell for Marmite jars. Adding a touch of luxury to the yeasty spread, they cost pounds 60 (small) or pounds 90 (medium).
My gripe last week about the prevalence of piped music on the continent prompted a gratifying response. Several people pointed out that the situation is just as bad over here - worse even, because the volume is significantly higher on this side of the Channel. I couldn't agree more. While once I plunged fearlessly into almost any kind of London boozer, I now tend to hover outside, checking on sound levels in case Jarvis Cocker or Liam Gallagher should turn out to be my undesired drinking companions. Hotels are almost as bad. It's odds on that Tony "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" Orlando or The Carpenters will be filling the air with their insidious aural syrup.
So why don't we complain? Well, I did so twice and it turned out badly both times. Taking lunch in an otherwise pleasant hotel bar overlooking the sea in North Yorkshire, I summoned up my courage and gently informed the barman that the New Seekers (or possibly Pickettywitch) were curdling my pint. "IT'S NOBBUT BACKGROUND," he bellowed in response, but turned off the music with a sharp click. A terrible, icy silence fell. For the rest of my meal, everyone in the room spoke in whispers, glancing nervously in my direction. Knives scraped painfully against plates. Bolting down my plaice and chips, I scarpered for the exit.
Staying in a pub at Appleby-in-Westmorland several years ago, I was driven to distraction by Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hits, which played constantly throughout dinner. I attempted to remonstrate with the staff but was shushed by Mrs W. "Don't be an embarrassment," she hissed. "It's only for one night." But it wasn't.
Next morning, as I sat down for my full English, my blood pressure roared into the millions. There they were again. "Like a bri-ii-ii-idge over troubled waters..." wheedled out of the loudspeakers. When our waitress came near, I blew my stack. "I can't stand this song," I yowled, "for God's sake stop it." She looked alarmed - and no wonder. For at that precise moment, the tune ended. Instead of another S & G waxing, there was a familiar grating voice. "Mornin' everybody, Jameson here." We had been listening to Radio 2.
It is always pleasing to quote an unusual authority. This is how the incomparable Bertram Wooster describes two items which occupy a central position in the Victoria & Albert Museum's new Silver Gallery: "Don't go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow. This was a sinister, leering Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for twopence." It is, of course, an 18th-century cow-creamer.
You might recall from The Code of the Woosters that Bertie was obliged by his Aunt Dahlia to disparage such an object in a Brompton Road antique shop by announcing that it was "modern Dutch". I'm sure it is pure coincidence that the V & A's silver cows (bearing London hallmarks from 1767) were made by one John Schuppe who "may have imported the form from Holland". Other entertaining items in the handsomely refurbished gallery, which houses the National Collection of English Silver 1300-1800, include a tongue- scraper, an ear scoop, male and female snuff graters ("hers" is in the shape of a heart) and an "unplayable trumpet" cleverly designed by a modern conceptual artist.
Another highlight is a 1730 kettle decorated with both freshwater creatures (Bertie's pal Gussie Fink-Nottle would be interested in the newt) and sea gods in order to symbolise the wonderful metamorphosis involved in tea-making. With over 1,200 items, I wondered if museum staff were obliged to apply Silvo every night. No, a curator assured me, because the cases were virtually airtight, the collection would only have to be cleaned once every 15 years. (Much the same interval applies at Weasel Villas.) The head of the department, Philippa Glanville, revealed one unexpected application of silverware. In a leading London silversmiths, she saw the ornate lid of a great footballing trophy being carefully repaired. "It happens quite frequently," the workman explained. "Someone always wears the lid as a hat."
As the recent mishap made plain, it is a Tunnel of Babel which links Folkestone with Calais. One is scarcely reassured by the gobbledegook which fills the pages of Eurostar Magazine. "Everyone gathers round when Sapho [sic] sings her intense, passionate music," the Paris-based journal announced in its November issue. "Hers is a strange world of mixed sounds and cultural harmonies; she sings of a world in upheaval, of countries uniting, slippery pavements, glowing nights and the cruel, but nostalgic colours of the sun." Maybe something was lost in translation, but this nightmarish vision of glowing nights when countries unite on slippery pavements now appears to be uncannily prescient. Similarly, the magazine may wish it had omitted a prominent plug for the musical Smokey Joe's CafeReuse content