Alex James: The 15ft whopper – Christmas on a stick

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

Since we've been living here, we've always had a huge Christmas tree. A forester on one of the inconceivably vast baronial estates nearby used to charge 50 quid for a 15-footer, a two-storey whopper including delivery on his flatbed truck. It always seemed like a fantastically good deal. Such a good deal that I've never bothered planting any Christmas trees. I mean you could get lost and die of starvation in the Christmas tree forests on that estate. Miles and miles of them; a whole other world of pristine green symmetry that I assumed would keep us in Christmas trees forever, but now it seems it actually was too good to be true. The Christmas tree man is apparently in all kinds of trouble with the authorities.

Well, I still wasn't going to settle for a small Christmas tree this year. Nothing else would do now so I went after another big one. Although there is scarcely a square mile of the English countryside that doesn't harbour an overgrown Christmas tree plantation, I couldn't find anyone selling trees beyond eight feet tall. I soon discovered that if you approach a man who is selling Christmas trees and tell him you want a big one he rolls his eyes and gets out a calculator like you just asked him for something ridiculous, something almost impossible to engineer, something utterly absurd. It actually only takes about 12 years for a spruce to grow to 15 feet, and they will all do it, if left completely undisturbed. It probably takes eight years to grow an ordinary one.

Fortunately as is often the case in the parish, something that money apparently couldn't buy was available from a friend for nothing. Paddy said we could come and choose one from his father-in-law's belt and he'd chop it down and bring it over on the horsebox. Oh, joy. The children were beside themselves, crying "timber" as it fell, and once installed the smell of the thing was unbelievable: resinous, sweet, floral, festive – Christmas on a stick.

Carols to rival Glastonbury

Carols in Oxford on Friday. Took my parents. It was almost as good as Glastonbury, especially the choir singing the descant parts in the last verses. Losing myself in those ancient tunes, songs I've known and loved since childhood, some of them hundreds of years old, well, I never thought I'd enjoy church more than opening presents, but it was almost heaven.

Cosy candles beat tungsten

A home is never more of a home than when it's wet and windy, dark and dirty out. The house looks so pretty during the long nights, warm light glowing in the windows. Mind you, gas light was probably even prettier, and candles prettier still. The past was beautifully lit. All these new light bulbs are so lab-like, clinical. Will this, I wonder, be the last tungsten Christmas?