The twelve days of Christmas 7: Fun is Compulsory

Christmas is the time of year at which strange family traditions are at their most extreme and powerful. This applies no matter how normal you believe yourself to be: the weird is simply guaranteed to emerge if you partake of the blend of paganism and Christianity that is the festive season.

This, I think, is because it’s got so many bizarre traditions attached to it in the first place (sprouts, anyone?!), so most people are tempted to add their own irrational little annual rites. I’m from an atheistic, fairly non-traditional family with very little emphasis on holiday routine; we don’t have a set schedule of what to eat, wear, do and argue about. Nonetheless, each of us is somewhat eccentric, and when the holidays bring us all together, weird traditions do tend to develop.

Yesterday, we decided to have Family Quality Time before Duncan went back to uni. After failing to choose a single board game we all enjoy, we discovered a large number of Airfix models squirrelled away in the cellar. Four of them were almost identical, which somehow led to the conclusion that we should probably have a race to see who could make a model train the fastest. We spent the rest of the afternoon gluing pieces of plastic together in frenzied silence. It was surprisingly fun.

Another quirk of Lyster family life is my parents’ tendency to willingly opt into severe discomfort, primarily in the form of going mountaineering in hideous weather conditions. I’m gradually coming round to the concept of the outdoors, but Mum’s frequent suggestions that we go for a walk don’t always go down well. This is particularly so in situations (like yesterday evening) when it’s dark, rainy and gusting at 90mph outside:

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The twelve days of Christmas 6: The Archers (again)

We drove home from Devon yesterday, after a brief but lovely visit to Grandma, and once we were all trapped in the car Mum inexplicably decided it was appropriate to listen to The Archers. I’ve written here about my loathing of the world’s most pointless rural radio soap, but it turns out there is always more to say on the subject.

During the drive, not one but two excrescences episodes were inflicted upon me and my other sane family members. Both were themed around the village’s disastrous Christmas panto, an event apparently too fascinating to exhaust in a single go. Dramatic occurrences included an inane 10-minute rant by somebody called Linda, and a ripped dress – the stuff of legend, as usual. Given the impressive degree to which the acting manages to be simultaneously wooden and hammy, it was often hard to differentiate between supposedly spontaneous dialogue and pantomime lines.

When I tried pointing out that I have spent my entire adult life going to some lengths to silence the radio as soon as the dreaded Ambridge is mentioned, Mum suggested that our little torture session was “helping” me by providing material for my blog. It’s painful for me to prove her right by writing this, but it is certainly true that there’s a near-infinite number of things I’d rather do than listen to the Archers. So here’s a selection:

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The twelve days of Christmas 5: Deck the halls

My baby brother isn’t home for very long due to arduous January exams and (less eligible for sympathy) a week-long surfing trip to Fuertaventura. Being a model sibling, I thought I’d help him to condense as much Christmas as possible into his brief holiday by decorating his room.

A trip to Poundland with a budget of £5 yielded even more shiny tat than I’d anticipated. Using an excellent haul of foil-based fripperies (and some lovingly handmade extras), I created what I like to call the 3D WINTER WONDERLAND EXPERIENCE, pictured below.

Here’s what you need to recreate this stylish look in your own home:

  • 1 room with hooks, climbing holds, mezzanines and other assorted attachment points
  • 8 Poundland 9-metre foil garlands
  • Various stuffed toys (genuine property of Duncan) plus santa hats
  • Approx. 30m home-made paper chains
  • 1 inflatable snowman
  • 1 small, scratty Christmas tree, left over from my 13-year-old self’s ill-advised spending sprees. Suspend from the ceiling using glittery ribbon
  • Sundry decorative stockings
  • Assortment of handmade paper snowflakes
  • Several armfuls of holly, snapped off overhanging branches on the way back from the pub (N.B. Probably advisable in future to select non-straggly holly by using daylight to see it with)
  • Sellotape, bluetac and string

Weirdly, Duncan’s proclamations of gratitude didn’t seem all that genuine when he arrived home at 3am to find his room transformed into a festive grotto. He claims that it’s in some way inconvenient to have shiny things dangling from the ceiling between head and chest height, which I think is Missing The Point. Still, it got me thinking about other ways in which Christmas decorations can be inconvenient…


The twelve days of Christmas 4: Newfangled Technology

My home is quite rural. It’s not at the remoteness level of the Outer Hebrides, but it’s definitely approaching that of Hot Fuzz. In fact, that film was based partly on Simon Pegg’s home county of Gloucestershire. Herefordshire is next door to Gloucestershire, and is similar, but less well known. In one of the more obscure corners of the county is a village called Llangrove, whose only notable distinction (I like to believe) is to have produced me. It’s also got an excellent pub.

Because there isn’t much demand for direct trains to Llangrove’s nonexistent station, there’s an arduous journey in store for any friends determined enough to visit. From London, it involves at least two trains, an hour’s bus journey to a nearby village, then a three-mile walk (or pickup by car). There is one bus which stops in Llangrove itself, but it comes once a week and I have never actually witnessed its arrival.

The absence of public transport (or towns worth going to) makes online shopping the obvious way to buy Christmas presents. The problem with this is that most SatNavs give up the ghost the moment they leave the A40, persistently misplacing postcodes. This does not make navigation easy.

There has therefore been an increasing barrage of frustrated delivery drivers zipping fruitlessly up and down our lane with Christmas treats galore. I dread to think what we’ve done to their suspension, since the track is comparable to the surface of the moon in terms of driveability, and is rapidly turning into a torrent of mud. Tales of vans sinking into the boggy verge and getting towed out abound. Perhaps it would be better to go back to the donkey courier who was still around within living memory…*


Artist’s impression of the delivery-driver experience.

*According to a bloke my dad spoke to down the pub, this is actually true – a man with a donkey was the primary means of delivery in Llangrove mere decades ago. Laugh away, Londoners.

The twelve days of Christmas 3: The Holly and the Ivy and the Daffodils

In case it escaped your notice, the weather has been unusual lately. What a mystery. Nobody could have predicted this unprecedentedly warm period, which – by total fluke – has coincided with a massive rise in fatally extreme weather conditions across the world. Scientists everywhere are wringing their hands and saying “What could possibly have caused all this?!”

Naturally, a lot of people in Herefordshire have been feeling less than festive due to the total absence of frost and snow, a phenomenon which has come hand in hand with the charming but disturbing presence of spring flowers in the hedgerows. Admittedly, such oddities are solidly at the lower end of any scale measuring “severity of climate change consequences.” But this post is meant to be light entertainment, so I won’t talk about what’s happening in the North or further afield.


I saw these festive daffodils in Oxford on Christmas day.

In case you were feeling a bit down about the imminent eco-apocalypse, here are a few beneficial side-effects of global warming:

  • Massive savings on hats and gloves
  • Apocalyptic sci-fi novels will finally be able to take a coveted place in the nonfiction section of Waterstones
  • Lots of scientists will get to say “I told you so” to Donald Trump
  • Millions of people across the world will be encouraged to live a more minimal life by relinquishing unnecessary possessions such as their homes and infrastructure
  • No more pesky ice caps, making the arctic (and several major cities) easier to cross by boat
  • Holly-related injuries will be far less prevalent when “Christmassy” plants are redefined by the shifting seasons
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Hopefully, whatever else happens before 2030, I will at some point get better at drawing hands in perspective.

The twelve days of Christmas 2: Road Trip

As I mentioned yesterday, we took an ambitious Christmas road trip this year. This was Mum’s fault idea – here’s the relaxing itinerary we followed:

  •  Christmas Eve-Eve:
    • 9am: make elaborate cake
    • Plan to leave at 10.30; leave in a panic at 11.00
    • Drive to Cambridge, with break in Kettering to watch Star Wars
    • Travel at leisurely pace until Kettering
    • At turnoff to Kettering, sit in stationary traffic until the film has started
    • Join audience 10 minutes into the main feature
    • Drive to aunt and uncle’s house in Cambridge
    • Miss turning. Panic due to distrust of satnav
    • Arrive, exhausted, around 5pm

The cake – another bakeoff recipe. Ended up looking more evil than planned

  • Christmas Eve
    • Panic about 12 days of Christmas blogs
    • Make mince pies
    • Decide on walk at 10am
    • Go for walk at midday due to unforseen circumstances (rain)
    • Have gluttonous lunch with elite-rower cousin and other elite rowers
    • Feel bad about own shambolic physical condition; eat more anyway
    • Lounge about until bedtime
  • Christmas Day:
    • Plan to leave at 9.50; leave in a slight panic at 10.10
    • Drive to aunt and uncle’s house in Oxford
    • Open presents
    • Have gluttonous lunch
    • Go for walk in delightful Christmassy warmth
    • Write first 12 days of Christmas blog
    • Make mince pies
    • Drive home in the dark along winding roads
    • Arrive home at 8pm
    • Open presents and eat soup
    • Watch Doctor Who
    • Sleep (much needed)
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Artistic license has been taken in a number of areas. Any resemblance to my family members is purely coincidental and may not be used in court.

The twelve days of Christmas 1: Star Wars

Yes, it’s back by (moderately) popular demand: twelve cartoon mini-blogs in twelve days, because apparently Christmas isn’t stressful enough already. Here goes…

On Christmas-eve-eve, we drove to Cambridge (more on that later) and stopped off in Kettering to watch the new Star Wars. This was eminently enjoyable, especially since I got to wear my Darth Vader Christmas jumper. I’m not exactly a superfan, but I can’t resist a pun, so this is what I’ve been wearing for the last couple of days:

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“I’m your father… Christmas” Mine’s actually blue, but I wasn’t feeling photogenic so you can have the online shopping picture.

It initially struck me as odd that the biggest film of this Christmas is The Force Awakens, a bit like when Rage Against the Machine got the Christmas number 1. Then I realised that the Star Wars franchise actually has a fair few things in common with everyone’s favourite festival of cheap foil decorations and fat men in red. Here are some examples:

  • Iconic music that everyone in the UK knows
  • Mixed regard in public opinion (treated by some with religious fervour, and by others as a ludicrous parody of itself)
  • Extremely exciting for most children
  • Prevalence of bright-coloured lights
  • Provision of extremely bad jokes (“May the fourth be with you” vs “Who is Santa afraid of? The Elf and Safety officer”)
  • Inheritance of superpowers as a major part of the plot
  • Triumph of good over evil as a major part of the plot
  • Takes place at least partially in a desert
  • Importance of striking astral phenomena

Following that last example, here’s today’s cartoon:

death star