Yuletide fun: Curses, knives and relatives from hell

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The Independent Online
Forget the propaganda - just how much fun is the British Christmas, really? Not a lot, according to a fly-on-the-wall documentary scheduled to be shown on Christmas Eve, and bound to win a Scrooge-of-the-year award. It paints a picture of cat-fighting relatives, spoilt children, and shopping from hell.

Channel 4's The Real Christmas Show shadowed the celebrations of six families last year. The first account finds Mags Ridley and Pat Murray, two middle-aged divorcees, spending Christmas Eve crossly working the phones for a mini-cab firm in Newcastle amid a howling blizzard. Then they head for essential Christmas provisions. But the supermarket is stripped bare. We join Mags's children at home, where the pressure of the next day's shift means they have to open their presents at 1am. Then a frayed Mags discovers she has forgotten the Christmas pudding...

Meanwhile, Debbie Duval is lucky to be having Christmas at all. A kidney and pancreas transplant left her bedridden the previous year and doctors had given her only a 50:50 chance of survival. She spends Christmas with her husband Jonathon and his brother Eddie in Cornwall. All cosy together? No: tradition demands that the men clear off to the pub on Christmas Day while the women cook.

The cameras follow Jonathon as he sneaks off to the garage to make Debbie's Christmas present. She is mystified but optimistic. "There is only one thing I can think he might be making. He knows what I want, and have wanted for years, is a jewellery box," she confides.

Christmas Day comes and presents are opened and ... Jonathon has not made Debbie a jewellery box. It is a plant stand. She glances at the camera but puts on a brave face. "I love it. You're very clever," she tells him.

In the Fowler home in the West Midlands, two little sisters are getting ready for Christmas amid constant bickering. Lauren and Jessica spend a lot of time telling one another how much they get on each other's nerves. Both girls race to open their presents on Christmas Day, but later Lauren laments that some of her presents were a bit "naff", and Jessica sulks because she didn't get enough.

It is a far cry from the Todds' Christmas in Liverpool. Elaine Todd has been saving pounds 1 a week at the butcher's all year for a turkey and has managed about pounds 40 - "I was a bit skint some weeks". She gets the tree on Christmas Eve because "they're all reduced by then". Presents are opened seconds past midnight on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day her children Billy and Joanne sleep in all morning.

Elaine's sister Bernie comes over for lunch - "We used to fight like cat and dog" - and Billy finally surfaces about noon. When Joanne gets bored with waiting for food and starts chanting: "Why are we waiting?" Elaine loses her temper. "'Cos I haven't got a sharp knife clean to cut your throat," she tells her.

Probably the prize for the worst real-life Christmas goes to John Rush, a plain-speaking, hard-drinking Suffolk farmer, who gives a good impression of hating Christmas, his stepchildren, and fun generally. Relations are strained: Damian, his stepson, admits he would not be going home if he were not so poor, and that he has not bought any presents. We begin to understand why when John bans Damian's sister, Abigail, and her boyfriend from the Christmas lunch because she is not dressed smartly enough, and Damian's mother, Sheila, tells the camera that she does not bother to wrap her presents - "it only gets shredded anyway".

As things go from bad to worse Damian promises that he will not be back this year. His plan: "I'm going to have a major beer and pizza event on my own." Happy Christmas anyway, Damian.

Letters, page 13