Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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Want tO have a great Christmas? Got the in-laws coming? The grandparents who disapprove of your parenting skills? Here's a set of house rules. Stick them on the front door and don't let anyone in until they've learned them by heart.

Rule One. Do not arrive laden with bulky or numerous items of food. Your host's fridge will already be so full that the turkey has been banished to the garden shed or garage. Your contributions will only stress them out. Particularly if it's another turkey. And never, ever turn up with the contents of your own fridge "because it seemed a shame to let it go to waste." Endless bottles of booze, on the other hand, are more than welcome. Especially champagne.

Rule Two. Do not package up three sprouts, a slice of smoked salmon, a wedge of Christmas pudding or any other gruesome leftovers in crumpled bits of kitchen foil and leave them to fester at the back of your host's fridge. My mother is a major offender when it comes to this particular crime, so here's a message specially for her: The Second World War Is Over, Woman. Rationing Has Finished.

Rule Three. The moment that your host inserts the carving knife into the turkey or dishes up the goose is NOT the time to announce that you are now vegetarian. As for diets, I don't care if you're on the Glycaemic Index Diet, the Daytona Beach Diet or the Load of Old Cobblers Diet. Start it on New Year's Day like any normal person.

Rule Four. If your child can only be induced to eat peanut butter sandwiches with mashed tuna or sausages dipped in orange squash, bring the ingredients with you (your little horror will only turn up their cute button nose at the host's organic chipolatas). Try not to get under the feet of the cook while you heat up whatever muck it is your child prefers. If elderly relatives (see below) worry that little Hugo or Seraphina isn't eating a balanced diet, tell them it's a choice between an unbalanced diet or a totally unbalanced tantrum. That should shut them up.

Rule Five. Do not spoil Christmas for everyone else by remarking on how materialistic it all is, how much more children seem to have these days and how in your day you were expected to amuse yourself with a good book. If you want to relive your impoverished youth, there's a perfectly good road outside. Take yourself off with a cardboard box and a threadbare blanket and don't come back inside until you've worked your way through the complete works of Plato. In Greek.

Rule Six. Do not expect your host to arrange Christmas dinner to fit in with the Queen's speech. Who on earth wants to hear Her Maj holding forth when you could be watching It's a Wonderful Life? Get over it.

Rule Seven. Unless you know your hosts share your obsession with EastEnders, The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Bleak House or whatever, do not expect them to arrange Christmas dinner around it. Conversely, if your hosts want to watch It's A Wonderful Life, do NOT talk all the way through because "everyone's seen it dozens of times anyway".

Rule Eight. Do not expect your host to ferry you to church, unless they happen to be going too. No sane person wants to get in the car on Christmas morning when the alternative is a glass of Bucks' Fizz and a smoked salmon sarnie, possibly while watching It's A Wonderful Life. Walk to church, if you want to go. It's better for you anyway.

Rule Nine. If you're ill - I mean high-fever, projectile-vomiting ill - please cancel. Your host does not want to spend Christmas shushing the whole family because some idiotic martyr has decided to inflict their flu on the household. You won't be letting anyone down. You'll be sparing them your germs. Not to mention your tendency to feel sorry for yourself.

Rule Ten. Never, ever, use the phrases: "I don't want to put you to any trouble" or "Only if you're having some anyway." The correct response to the offer of anything from a full English breakfast to a glass of champagne is: "Oooh, how lovely." Your host won't mind if you don't eat or drink loads. It's the joining in that counts - and anyway, they'll probably be too pissed to notice.