Emerging from A Christmas Carol in 3D last week, and acclimatising to the real world – which, disappointingly, is not quite as three dimensional as that of the film – I asked myself the question prompted in my mind every time I see a version of that story: "How Scrooge-like am I?"
The answer is that, if some stranger stopped me in the street and said, "Merry Christmas, sir!" or – less Dickensian but more likely – "Merry Christmas, mate!' I wouldn't reply, "Bah! Humbug!" but rather, "Merry Christmas? Oh yeah, definitely. Same to you." It's not that I anathematise Christmas – I'm just bored by it. Obviously, Christmas is meant to be always the same. It is a religious event for most of us, at least in the sense that it is ritualistic. That's why the current Radio Times is modestly billed as "The Legendary Christmas Issue".
If you hear one bloke saying to another in the pub, "What are you up to at Christmas?", you never hear the answer, "Don't know.... Play it by ear, I suppose." Instead, the answer is in the present tense, "Well, the wife's mother comes down on the morning of Christmas Eve, then we ..."
If I wanted to ruin my own wife's Christmas, I'd just have to say, "Why don't we have smoked salmon with the scrambled eggs on Christmas morning, instead of just scrambled eggs on their own?"
Perhaps it's just mid-life, but I have the sense (a) that my Christmases are never as good as they were the year before and that (b) they weren't that good the year before, either.... So there's no point trying to emulate the year before.
I've had a few New Years when unexpected things occurred. On New Year's Eve in about 1984, I was in the Lamb and Flag, Blossom Street, York, when a plausible, charming man came up to me and my mate, and handed us an address, saying, "Want to come to a party? You have to bring a bottle." "But we've run out of money," we said. "Oh well," he said, "Come anyway."
A little while later we turned up at the address given – a stylish Georgian house – and the door was opened by a beautiful, laughing young woman dressed in a slip, and holding a bottle of whisky and a cat. In the background was a selection of the most glamorous people from York University (as I subsequently discovered) dancing to "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones. It was a good party.
And last New Year's Eve, I found myself on the beach at Southwold with some children I liked (don't worry, I'm CRB cleared, and they included my own) watching fireworks being let off. This was good because we didn't know there were going to be fireworks.
But it's less likely that different things will happen on Christmas Day, because Christmas Day is a lockdown. In my childhood, there was only one that was different, and that was when Uncle Cliff came round to us. Normally, you see, we went round to him, but Uncle Cliff was a bachelor, and had better things to do than spend quality time with his extended family at Christmas, so he came round to us because this – I see in retrospect – this would allow him to leave our company at a time of his rather than our choosing. But I believe his motivation made him guilty, so he went over the top with the presents. Instead of a selection box (his usual), he bought me what remains the most exciting present I have ever received: a Dinky Model of a Chipperfield's Circus transporter lorry.
This Christmas I'm hoping for a jolt of some kind: a power cut on the big day, perhaps, or Uncle Cliff himself turning up on Christmas Eve. That certainly would be a jolt, since he's been dead for 30 years.
Andrew Martin is the author of The Last Train to Scarborough (Faber)Reuse content