Nearly two weeks after Twelfth Night might seem a bit late to be talking about Christmas, but this winter's festive season has acquired a fashionably long tail. Which is some compensation for the fact that the space under the Dejevsky tree at least was distressingly bare on Christmas Eve. This was when it suddenly dawned on me, having delivered the customary parcels around the relatives, that the giving had fallen somewhat short of reciprocal. All right, so the economy was in bad shape; there had been emergencies and bouts of illness, and the clan, in the manner of families these days, is far flung. It was also possible that we had unwittingly done something dreadful and that no one loved us any more.
Still, it seemed strange that no one had mentioned anything. We all of us speak at least once a week. With more family visits in the week following Christmas, rather gingerly some top-flight diplomacy began. I asked my mother whether she had received what we had sent, and what the nephews had received on the day. She mentioned that my brother had been very pleased with the wine she had sent, and, by the way, how was our wine and what did we think of the bright idea he and his brother had had for our present?
At this point it became clear that something had gone sorely amiss. When my sister arrived last week to discover that a calendar she had ordered way before Christmas had not arrived, and a china mug – appallingly packaged by the internet company – had turned up in shards, the picture became more complete. All the missing presents were internet transactions; but how was the giver to know that they had not arrived, or the recipient to know that a gift was in the pipeline? This would seem to be a serious flaw in the system, and one which puts customers at a big disadvantage.
Last week – finally – there were pictures of depots stuffed with as yet undelivered presents, looking rather like the early days of Heathrow Terminal Five. The unseasonably (!) cold weather was blamed. But the difficulty is that, if you don't know a present is on its way, you don't know to complain when it doesn't arrive. And, with the thank-you note obsolete, the giver will assume that all is well.
We are just two adults in our household, so if the space under our tree is bare, we can pour ourselves an extra glass of port and "move on". But how many children were disappointed by the delivery failures before 25 December? And in how many households has the present dearth of Christmas of 2010 precipitated a family feud that will see out the decade? The upside is that in the last week or so, we have been the happy recipients of a case of wine, a calendar and a generous hotel voucher. The tree may have been dismantled, but Christmas just goes on and on.
Buffets – not naff, just bad for digestion
So William and Kate have plumped for a buffet at their reception, and the public response has veered from a dismissive "how naff" to approval for this nod towards national austerity. If the wine is presentable and the repast is high-class finger-food, so the guests can circulate while partaking, I'm sure it will work out absolutely fine. For the most part, though, I have to say, I hate buffets.
I especially hate them in holiday hotels, where they are an invitation to load up on all sorts of incompatible everything, and after a few days all the meals merge into one. Cheap and bland ingredients are the majority, catering to the lowest common denominator; hot food quickly gets cold, the plates are either too big or too small, and you can never find a tray.
Most of all, though, I simply do not want to keep getting up and down during my meal. I don't do that at home, even though I'm generally cooking it. Why should I pay to be my own waiter? The French, in my experience, are terrible at buffets: they don't know either how to present them or how to behave at them. On the other hand, they can serve a delectable three-course sit-down meal for a couple of hundred in an hour flat. Well done them!
The broken windows of Whitehall
In the latest update on the London Olympics, I was delighted to learn that Westminster council has given planning permission for beach volleyball to be played on Horse Guards Parade and the Marathon to finish in the Mall.
There should never have been any doubt about it – the venues will look wonderful, on television as in reality. But I hope that the Treasury manages to get its windows repaired in time not to disgrace our capital on the sports channels of the world. It is almost eight weeks since student protesters managed to smash most of the ground floor windows, and each time I pass, the windows are still boarded up. Now the boarding looks expertly done, nice and neat, no rough edges.
But what does it say that HM Revenue and Customs, as I still have difficulty calling it, has not yet had its windows re-glazed? Are the mandarins, perhaps, worried that more demos are in the offing and any repairs might be a waste of money? Is the state of the Exchequer such that nothing can be done before the new financial year? Or could it be that HMRC experiences the same difficulties as most Londoners when they want some small household job done urgently at a reasonable price, especially if it has ethical qualms about paying cash-in-hand?