There comes a time, every year, when the calls start arriving. “Hi, is that Alice?” they say, bubbling with good cheer.
To be honest, I know by then. Four and a half years of receiving them have bestowed upon me a sixth sense, an ability to detect what’s coming approximately three minutes before it hits. As yet, I’ve never given in to the urge to lie. I’ve never said that no, Alice isn’t here but if they call back later (or, preferably, never) she might be. I wish I had the guts. Instead I mumble, hoping they will mishear me: “Yes, Alice speaking” (Oh – by the way – this usually happens at 4.30 in the afternoon, otherwise known as “deadline time” but apparently not in the land of perpetual goodwill).
And then they say it: “So, um, are you working on any Christmas Gift Guides?” For well over a month now, it has been happening. It started slowly, and now I get asked almost every day, sometimes two or three times a day. I don’t know anyone else who gets these calls, which makes me suspect that someone, somewhere, is playing an enormous practical joke (in which case hah bloody hah, mister). For I have never in my life been involved, even remotely, in a Christmas Gift Guide. Or any kind of gift guide. I have, it has to be said, been involved in a few guides of the decidedly nonfestive variety: a jewellery box guide, some three years ago, a wine and cheese guide more recently. But Christmas Gifts? No sir-ee.
There is an added irony. I am a festive-phobe. Don’t get me wrong – come 19 December, I’ll get as misty-eyed about mulled wine and mince pies as everyone else, convincing myself that this year’s Christmas tree really is the prettiest yet, and that the carol singers at my local Tesco undoubtedly do have voices of angels. But start wishing me a Merry Christmas in October, and it makes me wince. Because there is nothing more budget-busting that an early Christmas. You see it in the shops: they start pushing the snowy napkins and decorated stockings weeks in advance (there are multiple guilty offenders on the high street already).
Why? Because it’s the best way to maximise their profits. Which translates as the best way to minimise our savings. The earlier they start, the more we spend. So next time you roll your eyes at a prematurely frosted winter, think of me please. And no, for the record, I won’t be doing a Christmas Gift Guide.