Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

Some parents get told to "talk to the hand". I only have to contend with the "head in hands". It doesn't take much to bring on the full performance. All I have to do is to announce that I'm going to do something potentially embarrassing - sing in the school's parents' choir, for example, or address any of my children's friends in a civilised manner ("Hello" appears to be particularly provocative).

My daughter is the prime exponent. The eyes roll heavenwards, before the head flops forward into the hands, hiding the face completely. (Amazing how she does it: I'd crick my neck if I tried.) Then the hands are thrust outwards, palms up, in a movement that manages to convey extreme patience (yeah, well, I know all about that) combined with a world-weary wisdom. "Mum. It's like this..." she'll begin.

At 15, my son's too laid back to indulge in such histrionic demonstrations. His protests take the form of a feeble wave of the hand that dismisses me with a muttered, basso profundo "mnhm, mnhm" before the iPod gets turned back on and I've lost his attention for another 24 hours.

The latest bout of head in hands was brought on by my annual announcement that I was thinking of buying some new decorations for the Christmas tree. When the head-flopping and Woody Allen-style hand gestures had finished, my daughter said: "Mum. It's like this. You're supposed to keep the same decorations and bring them out each year. Including the ones I made when I was in Year 2. And it doesn't all have to match or look tasteful. And you're supposed to have a green tree. With a fairy on the top."

Who is it makes up these rules? It all seems to be part of some great British plot to eradicate any sign of celebration and turn Christmas into the season of sneer rather than cheer. Snide politicians might write about it in their memoirs to destroy the reputations of their rivals: "I wouldn't say she was an arriviste, but she bought new Christmas decorations every year."

I admit I'm a tart when it comes to tinsel. I only have to see a bit of glitter to get a gleam in my eye. I would have the whole house covered in fairy lights, Christmas With The Kranks-style, if I wasn't so worried that my husband would fall off the ladder putting them up. Luckily for my family, I'm scared of heights: God knows to what excesses they would be subjected if it wasn't for vertigo.

Some years I'm in the mood for a New England/ Scandinavian tree, with homespun wooden decorations and home-baked gingerbread stars. Other years I might yearn for a minimalist tree - black tinsel, perhaps, with just a few monochromatic baubles from the Conran Shop. Then again, I might want to ditch the tree altogether and just have masses of generous armfuls of silver twigs artfully bunched in florists' galvanised buckets. (This look didn't work, by the way, if you're thinking of emulating it. Far from looking like something out of Living Etc or Elle Decoration, it looked as if a florist had had an over-supply of silver twigs and dumped the surplus in my living room.)

The prospect of bringing out the same sad old decorations year after year - the spun-glass birds with their missing tails and mangled feet, the fairy that the cat got one year, the Saint Nicholas medallions from Bruges that always remind me of spending an entire weekend in pouring Belgian rain - is just too depressing for words. Then there's the timing. Some people believe the tree should be purchased no sooner than Christmas Eve and decorated in time for Christmas morning. You've got to be kidding. Who on earth wants to be trailing round the market on Christmas Eve buying some bedraggled conifer no one else wants, then getting it home to find the lights don't work and all the shops are shut for three days?

Ours will go up two weeks before Christmas, the same day that we go to the pantomime (Aladdin with Ian McKellen at the Old Vic, since you ask).

On Christmas Eve, I shall be sitting in my house with a glass of something and a mince pie, watching Some Like It Hot for the 149th time. After all, one does have one's traditions to maintain.

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