Tag Archives: Christmas

My word of 2016: Luxury

I’ve seen quite a few people choosing their words of the year. Writing words about words – how meta. Most of them have been things like “Brexit” or “privilege” or “post-truth”, but these are all terms packed with meaning; they instantly come to life, teasing out memories and experiences. They’re devastatingly evocative. My word of the year, however, is quite the opposite. It’s a word which is now lost when removed from the confines of a sentence because it has become borderline meaningless.

Luxury.

It’s not uncommon for words to become less effective when they’re used more often. Words like “literally” and “amazing” have long since been dusted off from the shelf of superlatives and dragged down into everyday pedestrian usage, but they do at least retain a certain charm. “Literally” still adds emphasis, while “amazing” has a cute, knowing sarcasm to it. “Luxury”, however, is dead. Here lies Luxury, overused into oblivion, redefined into insignificance.

Luxury used to be unattainable, left only to billionaires, the titled or characters on ’80s soaps. Alexis Carrington in Dynasty lived a life of unrivalled luxury, swathed in furs, with caviar dotted around the room next to the ashtrays, and a gloved hand proffering chilled champagne never more than three feet away.

Historically, us mere mortals in the real world have often aspired to luxury, installing sunken baths or adding conservatories to the back of our knackered terraces, buying Babycham at Christmas, but we never kidded ourselves we were living the lush life. We knew we weren’t superstars with untold riches – and once the novelty faded, we got back to circling shows to watch in the TV Times or buying Wagon Wheels. The trouble with proper luxury was that it wasn’t sustainable for ordinary folk. Real life gets in the way.

But now luxury is something else. We want it so bad we are willing to snatch whatever we can get of it. We are prepared to pretend it’s something else entirely. We are telling ourselves anything even slightly above “bog-standard”, “perfectly suitable”, “basic but functional” or “horrid but appropriate” is a luxury– it is used as a distancing word, rather than a true expression of joy.

See all those “luxury flats” developers can’t help but throw up every time a small plot of land to build on becomes free. Stand still long enough in London and you’ll come to to find an M&S Simply Food built in your knickers with seven floors of luxury apartments above. What makes these flats so luxe? Gold-plated bathrooms?  A personal lift all the way to the top? A helipad? Well, no, sadly. In this case, luxury seems to mean a built-in dishwasher, cream carpets that will fuzz up the minute they meet a sock for the first time and magnolia walls. The shower and taps will be disappointingly chrome, in B&Q’s second cheapest range, and you will share your design of tiles with every other hastily knocked-up overpriced cell from Bermondsey to Bayswater.

A quick search on the Marks and Spencer website for “luxury” is a pretty good thermometer of where the word is going. Luxury canapés include – what else – smoked salmon, that well-known inaccessible food stuffs that proles can only stare open-mouthed at, as it gleams proudly from the shelves in Tesco. A luxury dressing gown seems only to have earned its title thanks to the fact David Gandy is modelling it, and luxury candles have only an inflated price to allude to their luxe credentials.

Supermarkets have long tapped into our snob potential with their silvery-packaged Finest and Extra Special and Taste the Difference ranges, but now it’s not enough for us to merely know we have better sausages than everyone else. We want the faux-luxury experience 24/7. Fauxury, maybe? No? Maybe? No. OK.

A luxury item is now lightly aspirational and reassuringly out of reach of someone who would either use the product wrong or not appreciate it, and thus embarrass the whole concept of luxury and its devotees. On Wednesdays, Luxury wears pink. It Instagrams its starter.

Luxury as a word tells us we can expect to pay more, that the product is not quite as basic as the one £5 cheaper than it and, in the case of most pre-packed food, there’ll be an ingredient within we’re not keen on but won’t complain because we assume it’s a LUXURY ingredient that we don’t understand. The amazing thing about Luxury is that it’s not just othering to people who still buy the basic range, it feeds into our own self-loathing and paranoid that we’re hugely unsophisticated. Case in point: Christmas is coming up and many families will try an “extra special” prepared gravy or stuffing or  pigs in blankets. Don’t bother – they’ll all taste like crap and you will blame your own primitive palate instead of daring to admit that sometimes, just sometimes, things that cost more or pretend to be luxe are actually terrible.

There’s nothing wrong with formerly luxury items becoming everyday. Asparagus! Pumpkins! Mobile phones! Debt! But elevating the standard or passable to deluxe status feels like we’re being cheated.

But maybe I am giving Luxury a bad rap. Is it so wrong to strive for something a little better, your fingers hovering over the prosecco two price-points up because it has a silver label and says it was “specially selected” for the supermarket? Why shouldn’t we reach for the stars and pretend that bottle of fizz is going to be uncorked after a seven-second ride in the express lift to our penthouse? Perhaps I am wrong to want nice things we perfectly deserve to be considered normal and available to everyone, rather than a rare treat we should be throwing ourselves on the ground and thanking a merciful God for.

However.

Let’s not pretend a flat the size of a rat’s eye with a breakfast bar and no room for storage is in any way a luxury just because it has a dishwasher. A turd rolled in glitter is still just that.

Luxury – we barely knew you. Goodbye.

More like this:
Give me death by skinny jeans
A clueless insider’s guide to London
Did we meme our way to Brexit?
The real basic is you

 

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‘Tis the season to be maudlin – why I hugged my Christmas tree

I have never followed the rules when it comes to Christmas, and certainly not when it comes to my Christmas tree. Unlike most children, I spent a long time resisting Christmas, as it coincides with my birthday and I always considered it to be a showy, crowd-pleasing attention-seeker at the side of my always very subdued, dreary even, birthday two days before it. My birthday was Bradford, the city I was born in, while Christmas was the huge, brash Leeds, forever casting a shadow. Oh, sure, I got excited and enjoyed the presents just like everyone else, but as I got older, I started to see Christmas as a rival.

But the thing about Christmas is it’s not going anywhere, and neither was my birthday, so we were kind of stuck with each other in our “special relationship”. So when I finally grew up emotionally as well as physically, I threw myself into it, especially when I got a place of my own. Helped by the fact I now had a little sister 20 years my junior, I banished my latent Ebeneezer Scrooge tendencies and transformed into a slimmer, less beardy – and hopefully slightly more attractive, I have to say – Santa Claus. 

I remember scandalising my entire social circle when I bought my first ever Christmas tree and put it up and decorated it on 31 October – but that’s not the weirdest Christmas tree-related story in my oeuvre. There’s more. One Christmas, feeling a little lost and searching for comfort, I took my relationship with my tree to the next level.

The run-up to Christmas 2010 was a strange time for me. It was my first Christmas as a single man in a very long time, eight years, and my very first living alone. I was going on a lot of dates at the time – that was my thing, then, you see – and meeting all kinds of men, with varying degrees of suitability.

There was the one who was very handsome but slightly too boring, who I knew that, once he saw what I was really like beyond the wry politeness and shy smiles of our dinner dates, would feel like Maxim de Winter on his honeymoon, listening to Rebecca tell him all about herself. There was the other guy who tried to get me into radio comedies and thought it charming to take me on over eight dates without trying to kiss me even once. There was the younger guy who was worried about growing old alone – he was 24, FFS; it was like an early demo version of that Adele album – and used to get really drunk because I “made him nervous”. And there was the one guy I could never go home without, who followed me everywhere. That would be me.

As I’d only been single a few months, I didn’t really know how to be on my own, so when I was alone in my flat, I pretty much carried on as normal, like my boyfriend was in the other room or on his way home from work. I had always made a great performance of decorating the Christmas tree every year, once even putting it up on Halloween – I have no regrets, so whatever – and so I decided this year would be no different.

I dragged it into my now much smaller lounge-kitchen, grappled with it for ten minutes or so spreading out all the branches, cursed myself for not detangling the lights properly before putting them away last year, and unpacked all the baubles and ribbons and garlands. I am not known for my subtlety when it comes to decorations; every branch must have something happening. I like my tree to look like it was decorated by 10 drunk Alexis Carrington Colbys; tasteful is for the other 10 months of the year.

It took me well over an hour to get everything just right, zhuzhing the branches and fiddling with the star on top for an additional 15 minutes, and then standing back to take it all in. And I turned, as I would have done every other year, to get the reaction of my boyfriend, who would usually be sitting on the sofa waiting for me to get out of the way of the TV, but, of course, he wasn’t there. And the tree knew it.

The tree didn’t feel the same in my new flat. It was shoved between two pieces of furniture, its full glory muted by an armchair that I mainly used as a surface for folded laundry. It looked sad and gaudy in the midst of such depravity. Friends came round occasionally and congratulated me on it, and a few dates came back to mine and exclaim “Bloody hell, you’ve got a Christmas tree! I didn’t think single people bothered!” but the rest of the time it was just me and the tree. I felt sorry for it.

In December something strange happens to single men on dating sites. They become more romantic, more hopeful – but also less inclined to be nice to you if you feel you’re not right for them. I would arrive home from dates feeling either totally disillusioned after two hours of sitting buried in cheap pub tinsel with a Givenchy-scented sociopath or cautiously hopeful following six rounds of drinks, slammed back trying to make myself seem interesting. The tree would always be there, waiting for me, shimmering peacefully, at odds with the rest of the room, which would earned me a lecture on tidiness from a Tasmanian devil. On seeing its shimmering garlands, emotions would run high.

One bitterly cold night in particular, I came home after a sweet date with a guy who I knew wouldn’t be right for me, but had seemed very keen. I’d watched his eyes dance all over me the entire night and it was both exciting and frightening. I knew I’d see him again, but I knew, ultimately, it could never go anywhere. I walked into the flat in the dark and, without taking off my coat and scarf, flicked all the necessary switches to make the tree glow into life. It sat in silent judgement, determined to bring some festive cheer to my laminate-floored cell. I felt a rush of loneliness, hopelessness and affection that I can only imagine I’d ever experience again if I watched a deer be born, and went over and hugged my Christmas tree. Yes, I hugged it. Briefly, but tightly. I can see it now, my death grip around its overly baubled frame, no doubt eyes moist with festive cheer and longing. I felt a connection – my being had never seemed so Christmassy. The euphoria, however, was fleeting.

The tree’s exact thoughts on the matter have sadly gone unrecorded, but its actions have certainly left their mark. In retaliation at this violation, the tree evicted two glass baubles, dashing them to the floor, extinguished three or four of its lights and wilfully listed to one side. I released it, crushing the fragments of bauble between my feet, and looked back at the tree. A bachelor pad like this is no place for a tree like you, I thought. After it saw out that miserable Christmas, I packed it back in its box and left it there for the rest of the time I lived alone. Every tree needs an audience, and a loyal one at that.

The tree didn’t reappear until I moved in with my current boyfriend last year. It still lolled to one side and helpfully shed more “needles” on being brought out of the box than a real tree would manage in its entire Christmas run. We did our best with it, even titivating it with new baubles and a dinkier star, but it looked tired now, like it belonged to a different era. The last pensioner sipping a pint of bitter and doing his pools forms in a newly renovated gastropub.

I got a new tree this year, with some more new decorations and a new set of lights. It’s bigger, more realistic and much grander. I am in awe of it, and can’t stop staring into the very centre of it, but I do feel bad for my old tree. It’s still stored under the eaves, waiting for one more Christmas Day that will never come, not under my roof at least – and all because I couldn’t keep my hands to myself and ruined it.

The moral of the story: do *not* hug your Christmas tree. However blissful you may temporarily feel, the tree really doesn’t like it.

Also, maybe cut down on the drinking. It’s a tree. What the hell are you doing?

More like this:
– The Christmas Fling
– My Christmas birthday bitterness
– The over-analytical, relationship-destroying Christmas Gift Guide

23 signs you’re dating a Christmas Fanatic

As the song goes, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year”, but for many of us, it belongs in the last couple of weeks of December and exists purely as an excuse to get drunk in a horrible jumper and open loads of presents that you’ll be queuing up with in Customer Services in a couple of days.

But what if you find yourself loved up with Santa’s missing elf? What if your other half is actually, underneath the reindeer horns and ugly Christmas ‘pullover’, Father Christmas’s keenest son?

Have you got yourself a Christmas fanatic? Here’s how to spot one:

1. They set their alarm to go off to the sound off sleigh bells. In July.

2. The Christmas playlist kickoff date gets earlier and earlier. Again, we’re up to July.

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3. You walk in the lounge in September to find your other half very carefully adding the 1,000th bauble to a seven-foot artificial Christmas tree.
“This one is just to do us until we can get a real one in December,” he’ll say.

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4. Your breakfast cup of tea tastes suspiciously mulled.  Continue reading 23 signs you’re dating a Christmas Fanatic

Why you should never date the Christmas Refusenik

“I don’t do Christmas,” he will say, his face pinched with misery. Quite a statement, and one loaded with meaning.

To him, Santa is just an anagram of Satan and nothing more. You can deal with this, though, you tell yourself. You can make him adore the festive period – everybody says they hate it, but love it really. You can play him Winter Wonderland over and over. Maybe hang some jingling bells off your privates. And so your denial continues.

But as the nights draw in and the Christmas lights start twinkling, you’ll realise when someone says they don’t “do Christmas”, sometimes they mean it. He’ll tell you he’s not “doing presents or Christmas parties” – Christmas Refuseniks spend a lot of time telling you what they’re NOT doing.

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He’ll wince at tuneless Christmas carolling and hiss and tut when he receives a Christmas card from another poor soul who thinks they can rehabilitate Santa’s Little Detractor. He’ll use your Phil Spector Christmas album as a coaster and – horror upon horror – delete all your copies of Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You from your iTunes.

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Continue reading Why you should never date the Christmas Refusenik

My Christmas birthday bitterness

Birthdays. Like Christmas, they come but once a year.

They break up the calendar a little, and give you something to look forward to, right? You have drinks, catch up with old friends, overload your pals’ Facebook news feeds with ever-changing event invitations. Presents are bought and you’re showered with cards, right?

My birthday, however, is the ultimate failure in celebrations. The Dannii Minogue of my social calendar, my birthday is always overshadowed by its big sister, the one everybody loves – Christmas.

Yes, my birthday is two days before Christmas. Not even remarkable enough to be Christmas Eve or the actual day itself. Oh no. It’s the last ‘normal’ day before the big event. The world and his wife are Christmas shopping, arguing in Debenhams about what size pyjamas to buy Auntie Pat, no time even to stop and share a sprout and salami romano at Pizza Express.

There are work Christmas parties, big family get-togethers. People are on trains going home for Christmas. Save for a select, marvellous and self-sacrificing few, the world is too busy to help me celebrate my birthday.

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And then there’s the question of presents. Oh wow, the presents. Or, historically, the lack thereof. Having a birthday at Christmas has ruined the idea of receiving gifts.

Christmas is an expensive time of year, everybody knows that, and the focus is on festive gifts; nobody needs the additional stress of trying to decide what to buy a child for its birthday. If I did get one, it would be offered to me as a ‘joint’ present, for both Christmas and birthday, an unacceptable decision.

Imagine turning up to a child’s birthday party in July, handing over a gift and telling them it was for Christmas too. There’d be mutiny. Carnage. You’d be eviscerated. And when the hell are they supposed to open it? Continue reading My Christmas birthday bitterness

The over-analytical, relationship-destroying Christmas Gift Guide

What do the gifts your other half gets you for Christmas really say about your relationship? Welcome paroxysms of angst and doubt into your life with my handy guide to what his presents mean for your romantic future…

A bubble bath/body lotion/face wash gift set
The first thing you should do when opening this present is jam your hand into your armpit and then give it a going over to make sure you don’t pong. Is this a hint?

On the whole, “smellies” aren’t a very fascinating present unless you’ve asked for them or have some thought behind them – perhaps your signature scent or an in-joke or something really “luxe” or whatever GQ is calling pricey stuff this year.

Nine times out of ten, however, they are a Boots 3-for-2 panic buy and you’ve got the gift he had to buy to make the deal and, as we know, you should never, ever date a man who does that.

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Prognosis: You’ll probably make it to next Christmas. Up your hints game though if you want to avoid another box of hand cream in 2015. Continue reading The over-analytical, relationship-destroying Christmas Gift Guide