I run to the village shop to buy Madeira and Marsala. I’m not taking any chances. Actually, I can never quite remember which of them tastes more delicious so I generally throw in half a bottle of both. This year, I may also add some tawny port, for a certain je ne sais quoi. I explain some of this to the man in the shop. He seems marginally less fascinated by the subject than I.
All the time I am running around the village, the following things are running through my head:
Must get present for great-nephew. Can a boy have too many tractors? Answer, in his case: almost certainly not.
Must write Christmas cards. Must find out last posting day. Why am I even writing Christmas cards? I never send Christmas cards. I am up against a hard deadline, for the 3rd of January. Why I agreed to that date I do not know. I shall be writing chapter eighteen first thing on Christmas morning. There shall be no getting drunk on dry sherry and lying in. What was I thinking?
Parcels for the godchildren. Have to do parcels for the godchildren.
That present I got for my sister suddenly seems all wrong. I thought it so marvellously clever and delightful at the time, but now it looks somehow not quite right. This is the problem with doing Christmas shopping in advance. I did mind in November, believing myself to be gloriously organised and what my mother calls Ahead of the Game.
In fact, it is fatal, on two levels.
First of all, it lulls one into a false sense of security. I think, because the presents are bought, that I have got everything done. Then I end up running round the village in a panic, buying Madeira and thinking about tractors. Second of all, the object that looked so shiny and alluring a month ago may, with the simple passage of time, appear gimcrack and shoddy. Bloody hell, I think, what have I got in the present cupboard? (I will do anything not to go into Aberdeen which is, according to all reports, a zoo.)
Should I get a nice holly garland for the mantelpiece? I’m not having a tree so perhaps a garland will give the feeling of decking the halls. But what if one tiny spark from the fire shoots upwards and sets the thing alight and then the house burns down? I realise that, far from being in the proper Christmas spirit, I am catastrophising wildly.
Must make a special Christmas list. The To Do list is spawning itself in my head like one of those creatures on nature programmes which may have eight hundred babies at once. At least if I write it down, it might seem more manageable, and less like a hydra. But then I have to decide which of my forty-seven notebooks the Christmas list should go in, and this creates another impossible decision of its very own.
Must, for no known reason, buy panettone. I am suddenly convinced that Christmas is not Christmas without special Italian cake.
Must: write book, do blog, tidy house, feed horses, walk dog, wrap presents, go to post office, buy red roses (again, nobody knows why), get a ham, make watercress soup for strength, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and generally go faster.
Christmas, I think, I am exhausted just contemplating it. And all this is just me and a horse and a pony and a dog. I do not have four over-excited children, or a gaggle of parents-in-law, or even a husband to worry about. I have created this insanity in the privacy of my own head. I do not even read those publications which insist that if your house and your Christmas table do not resemble something in a glossy magazine you are officially a Bad Human. I have absolutely no idea where it all comes from. Perhaps it is a lady thing; perhaps I am biologically programmed, after all. Still, I suppose that at least it keeps my mind off the weather.