I associate Christmas with pressure mostly – pressure to see people I don't really want to see, pressure to buy things that people don't want for people you don't like, pressure to give your kids the full "Christmas experience", bah humbug.... This was why I found myself in the admittedly glorious Mandarin Oriental hotel in London – slap bang in between Harrods and the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. The last time I was at this hotel, I was outside as a paparazzo, waiting for Pierce Brosnan to emerge. When he eventually did, he stamped on my foot and called me an "annoying fat fuck" while still smiling sweetly for the camera.
The idea was to give our kids a full-on London Christmas experience. The first things they saw were the famous Harvey Nichols windows – they were terrible. It looked as if they had let the office intern have a go this year and he'd got really drunk and done the whole thing in five minutes. Harrods' were far better. I don't know why, but I hadn't been to Harrods for ages – the last time was when I chased Barry Manilow as he sat in a horse-drawn carriage on his way to open the sale (I was trying to interview him with a glove puppet, but Dennis Pennis was just behind with a much better joke that involved proffering a huge sheet and asking him whether he'd dropped his handkerchief). I think Mohammed al-Fayed always put me off the place, but I have to admit it is the perfect Christmas destination. My kids went crazy in the food halls and nearly had fits in the Toy Kingdom, where demonstrator after demonstrator showed us something that we then "had" to buy.
It's far superior to Hamleys, which forces its shoppers to move in a tight traffic jam spiral around the packed building. My only remaining beef with Harrods is that there were still Nazi-like security people looking everyone up and down as they entered to see if they "passed" the rather stringent dress codes. At the end of the day, it's a shop, not the opera.
We completed the day with a meal at Mr Chow, my favourite Chinese restaurant. Then we retreated to Paddington to try to carry all our loot home. It was not to be: something bad had happened in Didcot, and all the trains were cancelled.
Didcot is plaguing me at the moment. Last week, I took a late train home and was assaulted by a man just as we rolled through the conurbation. The drunk sat opposite me took offence that I didn't want to talk to him for two hours, so he broke my glasses. We were just about to engage in full fisticuffs when the train stopped at Didcot and all the doors were locked until the police arrived and took him away. When they rang me the following day to take my statement, the policeman told me that the "gentleman" had apologised the following morning when he woke up in a police cell. He claimed to have been "starstruck". If this is how the good people of Didcot behave when they like someone, God only knows what they do when they disapprove.
I eventually hired a car to drive us home through the snow, as I had to be in Swindon that evening to attend the WH Smith Christmas party. I had to try to persuade them that my book was worthy of gracing their shelves. I made what I hoped was a persuasive argument – I reminded them that since they must be busy pulping all of Gillian McKeith's books, they would have plenty of space for my opus. This seemed to go down well, and I disappeared off into the night to try to dig my way home, safe in the knowledge that I had done my authorial duties.