Quick Telecast
Expect News First

The merry hell of Christmas with the family

0 4


Christmas with the family is complicated. Or to be more accurate, because of the number of variables and the unpredictable behaviour of the components, spending Christmas with your family can only be understood through complexity theory, as a dynamic network.

Put more simply, the utter, desperate awfulness of what we insist on referring to as the Festive Season is just pure, inescapable maths. That first Christmas after you’ve taken your partner home to meet your parents, the point where you start the process of combining more than the simplest relationship groupings, it ceases to be a simple matter of X+Y=Z. And it never goes back.

Just cross-referencing with in-laws — what we call “Level 1” — is fairly simple. Hell, I remember when my family could do that on landlines with a Collins desk diary and only three colours of pen. Then a couple emigrated, a few divorced, some had exes or steps to factor in, so we moved on to a Gantt chart and quickly ramped up to an adapted critical-path network diagram in three dimensions. Today, we’re using the same software they use for air traffic control at JFK.

This year, as we ease out of the pandemic, expectations are an order of magnitude higher than usual and correspondingly less achievable. According to the red-tops — those arbiters of family values — we were “denied” Christmas last year, and this season’s revels have been “threatened”.

Kiddies” were to be robbed of their toys by Plan B or “supply chain nightmares”, and it was only the shining courage of a few fearless politicians that “rescued” the whole mess for families. Thanks to them, we can enjoy the Festive Season, with “family and friends”, with a salvaged turkey and “all the trimmings”, and what sort of psychotic curmudgeon could object?

Well, Oliver Cromwell for one. And me.

I was never really a huge fan of Christmas. Even as a child, the upheaval-to-enjoyment ratio seemed unsustainable — a bit like family holidays, where the constant Narrative of Joy never quite harmonised with the Ghastliness of Reality. We are pressurised by the media, relatives, even ourselves to join an orgy of pathologically upbeat interactions. Yet just knowing what’s expected of me floods my system with stress hormones. Christmas involves more cortisol than a corrida, and worse is the fear of not fully taking part, of making insufficient effort and being branded a misanthrope.

© Vincent Kilbride

The car designer Alec Issigonis once said that if you asked a committee to design a horse, you’d get a camel. Family Christmas dinner is definitely the metaphorical camel. With so many separate needs to be met, there’s no chance it will ever feel like something coherent and considered. Instead, the family focus group demands all the worst clichés about British cooking, all the ugly roots, the minging brassicas, the thick gravy and the once-a-year bird the size and texture of a roast camel but with none of the flavour.

Magazines and TV chefs bid us “prepare” and “get ahead” with simple tricks and tips, which is fine, but “enjoy cooking Christmas lunch”? No. Nigella enjoys cooking Christmas lunch . . . on set . . . in August . . . with a crew of 12. If she doesn’t have much the same arrangement on Christmas morning, then even she will weep, howl at the family and scrape the burnt bits of a cinnamon Bundt cake into the dog bowl before 11.30am. Nobody sails through Christmas lunch prep like a fragrant, imperturbable and sleek racing ketch. If they tell you they do, they are lying or they started the morning with a Buck’s Fizz and horse tranquilliser.

According to my research group here at Cambridge, social dining went on to the endangered list in mid-February 2009, when they could no longer locate six individuals in Islington with sufficiently aligned dietary preferences for a dinner party. And that was just the canary in the coal mine. This year we’re seeing conflict over preferences, stormings-out over intolerances and general plant-based hissy fits on tables as far afield as Oban and St Austell.

Christmas dinner used to be the exception. By absurdly overloading the table with alternatives, everyone could heap at least three things on their plates and eat beyond any notion of satiety. With the modern family, that’s no longer true. When we come together at the convivial board, we don’t just have quiet opinions about food, we feel emboldened to express them aggressively. We need to be “heard”, dammit, and if your teenager, fortified with your Baileys, doesn’t agree with the provenance of your peas, then he will not go gentle into the night. We can’t even agree on the menu without the sort of family dynamic that would have made the Borgias hide the steak knives. Trimmings? You can’t handle the trimmings!

As everyone declares, from the punters at the Queen Vic to . . . well, HM the Queen, Christmas is about family, but you can’t escape the truth that it’s family that buggers it up. Even something simple, like presents. You can’t buy presents for family. Small children are easily delighted, to the point of being undiscriminating, and it’s cool exchanging presents with people you’re just getting to know.

“He thinks I like poetry . . . OMG. That’s adorable.” “She thinks I’m worthy of a cashmere scarf . . . Wow, that’s so classy.” But all that dies when you know someone well enough to understand what they don’t want and don’t need. And because they’re family, they will tell you how very wrong you’ve got it. Buying presents for family should officially end on the day you think to yourself, “I’d better keep the receipt.”

Besides, family won’t stay still. They distribute themselves to inconvenient locations, so we spend the season criss-crossing the country in an annual progress of joylessness. I still remember a moment one dark Christmas Eve . . . must have been a decade ago now . . . static on the northbound M5 . . . Junction 10 . . . in horizontal sleet, trapped alongside an SUV with dad and mum in the front, staring dead-eyed into the middle distance.

Three kids with their tiny, pale faces pressed against the window like hostages, only less happy. They were coming back from visiting family — it was burnt into their thousand-yard stares. The last chopper out of Chelte’Nham. A journalist never gets over seeing that kind of thing.

© Vincent Kilbride

But look. I reckon there’s a way out of this, and maybe it’s the pandemic that’s giving us the answer. Some very lovely friends of mine have just gone through 10 days of home isolation, children and parents completely separated in a normal-sized house. They kept to their own rooms, wore masks and sanitised responsibly. They ate well. They communicated by FaceTime and good old-fashioned shouting. And they survived.

So that’s what we’re doing this year. We’re calling it CVQ: Christmas under Voluntary Quarantine. No rows, much love and mutual respect and sensible social distance. Let’s stay at home. Everybody gets that me-time they’ve been banging on about, in their own rooms, in quiet contemplation. And at the end, I bet we’ll even be glad to see each other again. The only thing that could improve the situation will be a daily booze delivery and an individually customisable festive meal that can be slipped under a door.

Pizza anyone?

Follow Tim on Twitter @TimHayward and email him at [email protected]

Follow @FTMag on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first




Christmas with the family is complicated. Or to be more accurate, because of the number of variables and the unpredictable behaviour of the components, spending Christmas with your family can only be understood through complexity theory, as a dynamic network.

Put more simply, the utter, desperate awfulness of what we insist on referring to as the Festive Season is just pure, inescapable maths. That first Christmas after you’ve taken your partner home to meet your parents, the point where you start the process of combining more than the simplest relationship groupings, it ceases to be a simple matter of X+Y=Z. And it never goes back.

Just cross-referencing with in-laws — what we call “Level 1” — is fairly simple. Hell, I remember when my family could do that on landlines with a Collins desk diary and only three colours of pen. Then a couple emigrated, a few divorced, some had exes or steps to factor in, so we moved on to a Gantt chart and quickly ramped up to an adapted critical-path network diagram in three dimensions. Today, we’re using the same software they use for air traffic control at JFK.

This year, as we ease out of the pandemic, expectations are an order of magnitude higher than usual and correspondingly less achievable. According to the red-tops — those arbiters of family values — we were “denied” Christmas last year, and this season’s revels have been “threatened”.

Kiddies” were to be robbed of their toys by Plan B or “supply chain nightmares”, and it was only the shining courage of a few fearless politicians that “rescued” the whole mess for families. Thanks to them, we can enjoy the Festive Season, with “family and friends”, with a salvaged turkey and “all the trimmings”, and what sort of psychotic curmudgeon could object?

Well, Oliver Cromwell for one. And me.

I was never really a huge fan of Christmas. Even as a child, the upheaval-to-enjoyment ratio seemed unsustainable — a bit like family holidays, where the constant Narrative of Joy never quite harmonised with the Ghastliness of Reality. We are pressurised by the media, relatives, even ourselves to join an orgy of pathologically upbeat interactions. Yet just knowing what’s expected of me floods my system with stress hormones. Christmas involves more cortisol than a corrida, and worse is the fear of not fully taking part, of making insufficient effort and being branded a misanthrope.

© Vincent Kilbride

The car designer Alec Issigonis once said that if you asked a committee to design a horse, you’d get a camel. Family Christmas dinner is definitely the metaphorical camel. With so many separate needs to be met, there’s no chance it will ever feel like something coherent and considered. Instead, the family focus group demands all the worst clichés about British cooking, all the ugly roots, the minging brassicas, the thick gravy and the once-a-year bird the size and texture of a roast camel but with none of the flavour.

Magazines and TV chefs bid us “prepare” and “get ahead” with simple tricks and tips, which is fine, but “enjoy cooking Christmas lunch”? No. Nigella enjoys cooking Christmas lunch . . . on set . . . in August . . . with a crew of 12. If she doesn’t have much the same arrangement on Christmas morning, then even she will weep, howl at the family and scrape the burnt bits of a cinnamon Bundt cake into the dog bowl before 11.30am. Nobody sails through Christmas lunch prep like a fragrant, imperturbable and sleek racing ketch. If they tell you they do, they are lying or they started the morning with a Buck’s Fizz and horse tranquilliser.

According to my research group here at Cambridge, social dining went on to the endangered list in mid-February 2009, when they could no longer locate six individuals in Islington with sufficiently aligned dietary preferences for a dinner party. And that was just the canary in the coal mine. This year we’re seeing conflict over preferences, stormings-out over intolerances and general plant-based hissy fits on tables as far afield as Oban and St Austell.

Christmas dinner used to be the exception. By absurdly overloading the table with alternatives, everyone could heap at least three things on their plates and eat beyond any notion of satiety. With the modern family, that’s no longer true. When we come together at the convivial board, we don’t just have quiet opinions about food, we feel emboldened to express them aggressively. We need to be “heard”, dammit, and if your teenager, fortified with your Baileys, doesn’t agree with the provenance of your peas, then he will not go gentle into the night. We can’t even agree on the menu without the sort of family dynamic that would have made the Borgias hide the steak knives. Trimmings? You can’t handle the trimmings!

As everyone declares, from the punters at the Queen Vic to . . . well, HM the Queen, Christmas is about family, but you can’t escape the truth that it’s family that buggers it up. Even something simple, like presents. You can’t buy presents for family. Small children are easily delighted, to the point of being undiscriminating, and it’s cool exchanging presents with people you’re just getting to know.

“He thinks I like poetry . . . OMG. That’s adorable.” “She thinks I’m worthy of a cashmere scarf . . . Wow, that’s so classy.” But all that dies when you know someone well enough to understand what they don’t want and don’t need. And because they’re family, they will tell you how very wrong you’ve got it. Buying presents for family should officially end on the day you think to yourself, “I’d better keep the receipt.”

Besides, family won’t stay still. They distribute themselves to inconvenient locations, so we spend the season criss-crossing the country in an annual progress of joylessness. I still remember a moment one dark Christmas Eve . . . must have been a decade ago now . . . static on the northbound M5 . . . Junction 10 . . . in horizontal sleet, trapped alongside an SUV with dad and mum in the front, staring dead-eyed into the middle distance.

Three kids with their tiny, pale faces pressed against the window like hostages, only less happy. They were coming back from visiting family — it was burnt into their thousand-yard stares. The last chopper out of Chelte’Nham. A journalist never gets over seeing that kind of thing.

© Vincent Kilbride

But look. I reckon there’s a way out of this, and maybe it’s the pandemic that’s giving us the answer. Some very lovely friends of mine have just gone through 10 days of home isolation, children and parents completely separated in a normal-sized house. They kept to their own rooms, wore masks and sanitised responsibly. They ate well. They communicated by FaceTime and good old-fashioned shouting. And they survived.

So that’s what we’re doing this year. We’re calling it CVQ: Christmas under Voluntary Quarantine. No rows, much love and mutual respect and sensible social distance. Let’s stay at home. Everybody gets that me-time they’ve been banging on about, in their own rooms, in quiet contemplation. And at the end, I bet we’ll even be glad to see each other again. The only thing that could improve the situation will be a daily booze delivery and an individually customisable festive meal that can be slipped under a door.

Pizza anyone?

Follow Tim on Twitter @TimHayward and email him at [email protected]

Follow @FTMag on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first

FOLLOW US ON GOOGLE NEWS

Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! Quick Telecast is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.