The Real Christmas List: Backstage Planning for Seasonal Success!

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house… Not a battery could be found to reconnect the mouse.’

Christmas is almost upon us and, if you have moderate issues around control, as I do, you will be anticipating the things that might go badly over the festive season and planning for them.

Even as a child I adopted the role, unofficial of course, of Christmas Project Manager. This meant appointing myself as Decorator in Chief of the Christmas tree, judiciously weeding out tinsel (it set my teeth on edge from an early age), Setter of the Christmas Table and Distributor of Seasonal Treats.

I was highly disciplined about the whole affair. I loved Christmas. I wanted it to look like it did in the Sunday supplements and I was determined everybody should enjoy it whether they wanted to or not.

From an early age I wrapped presents with bows and trimmings raided from my mum’s sewing box (let’s face it, she’d never know; that sewing box was an artefact. She had no interest in any thread-based activity and rarely opened the thing).

On Christmas Eve while everyone else was watching repeats of ‘Porridge’, I’d be pouring Brazil nuts, walnuts and almonds into cheery receptacles and stationing them around the sitting room.

This was in the days when all Christmas nuts came complete with shells. I expect there are plenty of homes now in which you could not find a pair of nutcrackers. Back in the day, no home was complete without them.

And of course, this is why, in the ’70s and ’80s, most people did not put on half a stone in a week. Because when your snacks take ages to break into, cause your beats-per-minute to rise and give your biceps a workout at the same time, weight gain is nigh-on impossible.

So, by the time Father Christmas thought about dropping down our non-functioning chimney, our home was a cave of delights; if you count those bloody awkward nuts, Israeli dates and crystallised fruits as delights.

And then there was the table.

Downton Abbey had nothing on my table-laying expertise. I designed place settings and name cards, attached to baubles or sugar mice. I was a whizz with the Price’s candles and a big fan of bringing in greenery from the garden.

I was essentially Kirsty Allsop without the dubious political connections.

I also appointed myself as Radio Times Monitor.

I don’t know if this was a thing in anybody else’s house, but for my brother and me, it was crucial to a stress-free holiday.

Throughout my growing up, whenever there was a hint of sex on TV, and by a ‘hint’ I mean perhaps characters kissing  on the mouth, stroking a hand along a leg or exchanging a look which indicated that the next scene might end in the bedroom, my dad would say in a gruff voice, ‘Time for bed, children!’ and that would be the end of our viewing.

As we got older, the whole telly sex thing grew more uncomfortable. Nobody wants to watch scenes of an intimate nature with their parents in the room, even if it was Lovejoy. So, I took control.

I’d go through the Radio Times with a fine tooth comb checking which programmes would be suitable for family viewing (Category 1), which might be just about bearable (Category 2) and which would bring us all out in a cold sweat of embarrassment (Category 3).

Like the Head of Logistics I’d plan our games of Monopoly or Scrabble to coincide with Category 3 and that’s how we’d survive.

So you can see, the Christmas Control started early.

I remain determined that whoever is in my house at Christmas should bloody well enjoy it and to this end I have written a useful list of things you can buy to avert festive disaster. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything by commenting at the bottom!


And not just for children’s toys. For the moment the online sales start and you realise your wireless mouse died of Christmas online shopping exhaustion.

Bread sauce.

Yes, cranberry sauce is prettier but you will kick yourself when you realise you’ve overlooked the traditional bread sauce. And no, home-made bread sauce is never as good. Only the packet stuff will do. (I spent ten years convincing my foodie husband of this; it became a bit of a deal breaker.)

Dishwasher tabs.

None of your guests will lift a finger to help. The dishwasher is your only friend at this time of year. Buy tablets. Buy lots. This is its London Marathon and you are the fuel station.


People like mayonnaise on everything these days. It’s ok. Mayo covers a multitude of sins and four day old flavours. Make sure you have lots in.


Not Cava. Not Prosecco. Just. Not. Buy plenty – this is the best time of year to exploit the special offers before the Russians and Chinese buy it all up. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re still drinking Champagne in February?


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  1. Loo rolls in white, they fit all bathroom schemes and colour in this department is naff. Toblerone! Vacuum packed chestnuts. Fake engagements in the diary so you can sneak out for half an hour of silence. Extra sellotape! Need I go on!

  2. Sex on TV? Private Eye did a Then and Now cartoon not a long ago about that. “Then” saw Granny putting the children to bed because of sex and/or swearing whereas “Now” reversed the roles to see Granny being bundled upstairs.

    I found your pages by chance, Sam, when I searched online after one of your occasional appearances on the red couch with Miss Sally Taylor. You have a way with words and a slant on life that I enjoy reading.

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Colin, you may have missed the best of Sam from her 05.00 to 06.30 days on Radio Solent, especially the occasional spats with Emily Hudson (newsreader). The ‘inappropriate knickers’ story at the doctors was a hoot.

      1. Sorry Sam, I had second thoughts about that but I couldn’t find it again for ages (the second sentence, that is) to try to delete it. However, I am space watching as requested.

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