As a child, I loved Christmas. It just seemed fun and exciting.
So it’s somewhat odd then that as an adult, I view the festive season more as something to get through, like a terrible film at the cinema or a visit to my uncle’s house in Scotland (he lives on his own, never offers us a cup of tea – despite the fact we’ve driven several hours to see him – and has, on display in a cabinet in the hall, a collection of autographs from Motherwell football players dating back to 1957; we don’t stay long).
But as a kid, Christmas was great and as soon as December began, I begged my dad for a tree.
In fact, it was a question I asked even more than ‘can we stop at a Little Chef?’
I had a strange obsession with the aforementioned food chain when I was younger.
When the family embarked on any vaguely long journey, I would sit in the back of the car and – while pretending to drive using the round loopy bit of the dog’s lead as a steering wheel (my parents were worried about me for a long time) – scan the horizon for a Little Chef.
I really don’t know why.
I mean it was basically a slightly jazzy roadside service station, but I had an inexplicable love for it.
Upon spotting one, tactics came into play.
First I’d point out its existence. ‘Dad, there’s a Little Chef’.
Then when that had no effect, I’d say things like ‘ooh, it’s a nice one’, ‘it’s getting closer now dad’, ‘I think this is the turning for it’.
Ninety-nine and-a-half times out of 100, my dad would drive straight by, leaving me crushed, but no doubt saving him an astronomical bill and a meal – as future stops proved – best described as not quite Michelin star standard.
And it was much the same with Christmas. The moment December reared its head, I would beg my father for a tree. ‘Far too early yet’, came the reply.
I would go to friends’ houses and gaze jealously at their beautifully decorated trees, under which sat huge, colourfully wrapped presents.
In particular I remember being incredibly envious of a lad called John Battersby, who lived at the far end of our road and had not only a massive tree in his lounge but twinkly lights all over the outside of the house and garden, that gleamed throughout the evening, constantly taunting me, as if saying ‘look what we’ve got pal’.
Meanwhile our little house lay in darkness. ‘Far too early,” repeated my father. ‘But dad it’s December 22...’
Eventually a day or so before Christmas, he would break and with my sisters and I in excitable mood in the back of the car, we would head for the tree.
We didn’t go to a posh garden centre – that would have cost too much.
Instead we headed for a small town centre store, which had a sad and sorry array of trees lying forlornly on the pavement alongside a handwritten sign: ‘Only £1.50 – get them while stocks last!’
A more honest slogan might have been: ‘Only £1.50 – and there’s a reason for it!’
My father specialised in locating the worst tree possible – bent at the top and with around, at an optimistic estimate, half a dozen pine needles remaining – and exclaim ‘there, that’s the one’.
If we reacted with disappointment, he would solemnly tell us that if we didn’t buy it, who else would, and Mr Tree would have to stay on his own while all of his friends went off to have a happy Christmas.
Amazingly we fell for it and returned home with this sad, pathetic specimen, at which point my mother (who, weirdly, always left the purchase to my father despite the same outcome every year) would fly into a rage about the ‘terrible tree’ my dad had ‘yet again’ managed to select.
The strange thing is that 30 years on, far from rebelling and doing things differently, I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps.
Mrs Canavan – who, despite being old enough to know better, still approaches Christmas with the enthusiasm of a seven-year-old high on fizzy pop – has been begging for a tree for weeks.
I managed to hold out until the weekend when – after she finally cracked and threatened me with the rolling pin – I bit the bullet and headed out to purchase one.
There are trees of every kind now – Norway spruce, Nordmann fir, Lodgepole pine, Noble fir, Colorado Blue spruce, and loads more.
Like my father, I went on price, not looks, and arrived back with what I must admit wasn’t the finest specimen.
If the tree I picked had been an athlete, it would have been less Mo Farah, more Mo from the Roly Polys.
Mrs C wasn’t happy, so I tried my father’s trick and told her how upset and sad our little tree would have been had I left him at the shop.
‘What a load of rubbish,’ she screamed, shoved me to one side, and marched off to buy another.
Note to self: my dad’s line only works on the under 12s, or idiots like me.