The Duke - December 10, 2014

Robin Duke
Robin Duke
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It was D-Day at Duke Mansions last Sunday.

As with an increasing number of things in my life these days I tend to put off putting up the Christmas decorations for as long as possible and I keep threatening not to bother at all.

But with some high street shops sticking theirs up from what seems like mid-July onwards and fierce traditionalists still not decking their boughs with sprigs of holly until Christmas Eve, I’ve always bowed to the inevitability of compromise and I generally weaken by the first full weekend of December.

Having said that, we have cut back considerably and the first thing to go was a real tree.

This was largely because I was tired of finding pine needles in inconvenient places months later – even when I’d forked out an extra few quid on “non-drop” varieties.

There were also the small matters of fitting a large tree in a small car, getting it (the tree, not the car) into the house without breaking its scrawny top or sweeping half a dozen pictures from the wall. Getting it to stand straight was another problem, getting the blinking star or fairy on top to balance was even more difficult.

But it was mainly because I was turning into my dear departed dad. Every year he would carefully fold away the Christmas tree lights only to find that 12 months later some evil spirit had tied them all in knots.

He would huff and puff as he unravelled them, then carefully test each one to see that they were still working.

Then he would delicately weave them all into the fabric of the tree, plug them in again and, hey presto… zilch.

Almost without fail, nothing. Darkness. Back to the drawing board.

This could go on for what seemed like forever and usually resulted in a family argument, a soothing glass or two of whisky and vows of “never again”.

So when I felt myself becoming more like the Grinch and less like Santa I took the plunge and, much to the annoyance of The Only One, bought a minimalist silver thing with built-in lights.

I’m clearly swimming against the tide here because the preference has turned again to real trees and it’s expected that some 6.5 million of them are likely to be sold this year at a cost of around £1bn.

Like everything else to do with the festive season it’s become big business.

No longer is it enough to visit your local garden centre at the last minute and grab the first one you see, now there’s a price war raging (Aldi £19.99, Ikea £25, Homebase £35) and if you hang on as long possible (90 per cent of all Christmas tree sales take place during the first two weekends of December) you can probably expect to pick up a bargain - even though it might look a little weary by then.

In a rare bit of good news for the British economy at least Scottish firs are beating off competition from imported trees (a habit started by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert who brought one from his native Germany in 1841 and put it up in Windsor Castle).

I saw to putting up our 
silver thing (well, plugging it in) and left The Manager teetering atop the step ladder to sort out the rest of the house – lubricated by what I felt was a copious number of cups of

Many of my old favourites seem to have been donated to charity since last year and the advent of “e-cards” (a cheap and meaningless cop out if you ask me) means every available inch of shelf space is no longer dedicated to mailings from people I’ve long forgotten or lost the address of.

But hey, Merry Christmas.

Ghosts of Xmas parties past.....

I’ve decided to have a work do this Christmas and I’ve decided to have it today.

Not all the above is entirely true.

Yes, I have decided on a do but I’ve been outvoted on when to have it – or indeed where. Or even who is coming to it.

The basic trouble is that since reaching retirement age I don’t have a “work” to have a “do” for – or with.

I write this column at home. On my own. Looking out of the window as the world passes by.

But everyone else I’ve recently spoken to has been looking forward to a festive bash so I thought I’d do the same – but on my own.

“Don’t be such a billy no mates,” said The Manager. “I’ll come with you.”

“You never went to work do’s when you were at work,” said The Only One. “Why start now?”

But I was determined. A weekend drink or two, a pub meal, more drinks, maybe a club afterwards?

“There’s that nice new restaurant I fancy trying out,” said my guestlist (of one). “But Wednesday is the only time I can make it – and we can’t be out late because I’ve got to be up early in the morning.”

Is it too late to change my mind and just stay in?