I swear, if Jesus were alive today, he’d be rolling in his grave. What with all the present buying, the inevitable present wrapping, and then the present giving: the whole thing makes me wish that I didn’t have to be present. I’d got up a little late today, only to discover that the tree was already up. A sharp stab of pain in my heel informed that it was already dropping needles on the carpet. Judy arrived home before lunch, her arms full of Christmas wrapping paper, tinsel, and other relics of an afternoon disposing of disposable income.
‘I do love this time of year,’ she opined after she’d changed into her grey cotton tracksuit and laid out all her purchases before the fireplace. ‘We must decide what we’re doing on Christmas day,’ she added. ‘There’s nothing like being prepared.’
‘Why do we need to decide now?’ I asked. ‘It’s weeks away. You know me, Judy. I don’t make plans until I can actually visualise the day on my mental calendar.’
‘That’s right, Richard. There’s today and then there’s tomorrow. The rest of time is merely labelled “future”.’
Put a little harshly, I thought, but Judy was right. ‘I just don’t believe in planning too far ahead,’ I explained. ‘You never know what’s going to happen before then.’
‘That’s how we end up in trouble like last year when you’d told Billy Connolly that we’d go and stay with him.’
‘And I still swear we made the wrong choice,’ I replied, sourly remembering the miserable time we’d endured on a cruise-ship stuck with Leo Sayer. It had meant to be a break from our troubles and not a prison sentence with Satan’s curlier haired brother.
‘This year,’ said Judy, ‘we’re going to let people know what we’re doing for Christmas. I’ve been thinking that we should invite people over. You can ask Stephen and Michael if they’d like to spend the day with us and I’ll invite my friends. Judith says she’s not doing much over the holidays…’
‘Good idea,’ I said, ‘only the Oddies have invited us to spend the day with them.’
Judy pulled her face at either side of her mouth as though it were a cracker. I waited a moment but nothing fell out. Not even an old joke about making Eskimos roll.
‘Did that grimace mean something?’ I asked.
She grimaced again. ‘Can you imagine Christmas Day spent with Bill Oddie?’
‘I can indeed,’ I said. ‘And that’s why I’m up for it! There can be no family in the United Kingdom who’ll be more festive than the Oddies. Bill dressed up as Santa. Plenty of wildfowl roasting on open fires. And when he’s done doing an autopsy on the turkey, we’ll all sit around and sing carols as Bill serenades us on the spoons. If that’s not a great Christmas, you don’t know the meaning of “good cheer”.’
Judy looked at me as though I were one already on the spoons.
‘I am not spending Christmas Day with Bill Oddie in charge of the turkey,’ she said. ‘There’s something to be said about not letting that man loose with sharp knives. He’s much too excitable, waving his arms around like he does. I don’t think my nerves could stand it. You know it’s sure to end in bloodshed…’
‘Oh, and I suppose you’ve got a better suggestion?’
‘Actually, I have,’ she said. ‘Sharon rang me up and…’
‘Oh no,’ I said. ‘Never. Not on your life. I’d rather spend Christmas with Dr. Raj and his sugar tits.’
‘You don’t even know what I was going to say.’
‘It going to involve the word Osbourne and I’m not having anything to do with it. You know how I feel about that family. Do you honestly think they’d welcome in their home after the things I’ve said about them?’
‘It is the season of goodwill to all men,’ she reminded me.
‘But not to them. They don’t count. The Good Book doesn’t say anything about my having to spend Christmas on a state of high alert. I honestly believe that if I took them out with a high powered rifle, I’d be doing the Lord’s work.’
Judy’s face clouded. ‘You cannot mean something as horrible as that, Richard!’
‘Perhaps I don’t,’ I replied. ‘But it’s bad enough that you ruin my mood by getting to me talk about Christmas when it’s still weeks away, but now you’re provoking me with the Osbournes. How you can prefer those people over Bill Oddie, I’ll never know. It would be like spending Christmas in a ward full of patients with severe brain trauma.’
‘Well, Bill just makes me feel nervous,’ Judy replied. ‘And you know I don’t like wool. You’d never get Sharon wearing cardigans. She’s a silk and polyester woman.’
‘So that’s what it comes down to? Wool! It doesn’t matter than Sharon’s got the mouth of a fishwife and her husband has all the social grace of squid.’
Judy threw down the wrapping paper and climbed to her feet. ‘You need to give this some thought, Richard Madeley. I’m not going to spend Christmas with Bill Oddie and his horrendous Hawaiian shirts. That’s my final word on the matter.’ And with a final vulgar comment on my taste in friends, Judy stormed from the room.
This whole argument took place this morning. I’m writing this at two o’clock in the afternoon when the house is quiet and the issue has finally been settled for some hours.
I was pouring out the wine for our lunch when Judy offered me the olive branch.
‘We could invite the Oddies here,’ she said. ‘We’ve got more than enough room for Bill when he gets excited and starts swinging his arms around.’
‘And Bill’s woolly Hawaiian shirts?’
She smiled. ‘Those too.’
‘Okay but this doesn’t mean I’m having an Osbourne in my house,’ I warned.
‘No, I wouldn’t expect you to. You can invite the Clarksons and I’ll invite Cilla.’
It’s a dark day when Cilla Black is considered a compromise. However, if it meant an end to our disagreement, I was happy to agree to the peace terms.
‘I’ll see if Stephen’s busy,’ I said, handing Judy the wine bottle. ‘We’d need somebody to dress as Santa and I know he loves the beard.’
‘You’re ringing him right now?’
I paused at the door. ‘You don’t think I’m agreeing to a Christmas day with Cilla Black unless I’m sure Stephen’s going to be there? You know they cancel each other. He’s like a healthy dose of anti-matter to her high pitched matter.’
Unusually, the phone rang an five times before he picked it up.
‘’Tis I Fry, on my iPhone, bewailing the lack of quality tinsel in my bargain box of Tesco decorations.’
‘Putting up your tree, Stephen?’
‘No, I’m decorating my ironing board. It is you, Richard? There are few men who can do justice to such a ridiculous question.’ He paused to take a breath. When he spoke again, he sounded calmer. ‘I am indeed engaged in erecting a mighty spruce tree in my chambers here at Fry Towers. My slight irritation marks, as it were, my singular lack of enthusiasm with this year’s arrangements. Jack Dee has cancelled our yearly carol singing and dear old Hugh is across the pond celebrating Christmas the American way. It involves children.’
‘Bad times ahead,’ I agreed. ‘And that’s why I’m ringing. Judy wants to know if you’d like to spend Christmas day with us? We’re thinking of having friends over but I’d want your official nod before I commit.’
‘Then consider this fine brow of mine as having duly nodded,’ said Stephen. ‘I would be most delighted to celebrate the season the Yule with you. Would you be interested in my playing the role of Santa? You know, I wrote the book on how to play the role.’
Which is true. His latest book, “How to Play Santa The Stephen Fry Way” is out at all good bookshops. Highly recommended it is too.
‘Interested?’ I said. ‘We’d be disappointed if you didn’t come dressed as Saint Nick.’
His voice cracked with emotion. ‘I believe I know where I’ve put some of last year’s tinsel,’ he said, tears surely dripping off his cheek. ‘Tell Judy that she needn’t worry about a thing. I won’t let her down. ’Tis I, Fry, on my iPhone, hanging up.’
‘It’s done,’ I said to Judy as I returned to the dining table. ‘Fry’s confirmed. Now I’ll ring Bill.’
‘You could wait until you’ve finished lunch,’ she said.
‘Lunch! With Christmas only three weeks away? We’ve got plans to make. Decorations to buy. Illuminated reindeer to fox on the roof. This is going to be the best Christmas ever,’ I promised her. ‘You see, my dear Judy, you just have to get into the Christmas sprit. Now, before you go up the ladder, don’t you think you should wear something a bit warmer. I imagine it can get a bit chilly up there…’