Well, what you see is what you get as far as this year’s Christmas Countdown goes – a lexicon of literary ramblings connected (sometimes quite casually when imagination lets us down) to the themes of the season. Eyes down for your first letter then, which quite predictably will be…
An aroma of allspice announces Advent.
A is for…
Abracadabra: And the magic of the Christmas panto (oh, no it’s not!)
Advent Crown: This beautiful item graced many a living-room in the 70’s and 80’s, lovingly crafted by the kids from two wire coathangers and some scraps of tinsel after watching Blue Peter at teatime. The innovative design gave new meaning to the word ‘tat’, and sales of sticky-backed plastic rocketed. Nobody knows quite how many homes were burnt to the ground by the Blue Peter advent crown, but the Home Office eventually issued a Public Safety Information film starring a young Pauline Quirke in 1983 (“Oh look, Petunia, that little lass is on fire… look at the way her polyester nightie is sticking to her skin – it’ll leave a terrible mess behind…” and an outright ban followed in 1985. ITV’s Magpie, keen to get in on the act, had their own Nativity Flamethrower, designed by Susan Stranks using a washing up liquid bottle and a quart of Esso Blue paraffin. Sadly, the designs for this have been lost, but from memory it was not a particularly complicated project.
These days, of course, homemade
crap presents are more likely to be of the Kirstie Allsopp variety. Scented candles, a bin-bag of rusty toy cars from a boot fair, an orange studded with cloves – who knows what you might be insulted lucky enough to get?
Alcohol: Obviously. Whether the wine you ruin with cinnamon and sugar and a mull on the gas ring on Christmas Eve, the flaming brandy poured over your Duff of Death on the big day itself, or the cider hot toddy with which you wassail in the twelfth night, booze, in all its wicked and wondrous forms, is as inherent a part of the Christmas tradition as stockings over the fireplace and inappropriate snogging at the office party. And quite rightly so.
There are too many varieties of alcohol to discuss them all here, but here are a few beginning with ‘A’ that have played a role in my own family Christmases:
1) Ale. Back in the Good Old Days there were two kinds of Christmas ale: Light and Brown. I remember distinctly the childhood thrill of my annual glass of light ale, which I was allowed from the age of about five onwards as a refreshing accompaniment to Christmas dinner. Given that turkey is generally as dry as a Jack Dee bon mot some sort of liquid refreshment was a necessity, but my parents could just as easily have insisted I stick to lemonade. Well they could have had it not been for the two hours I spent tantrumming on the living-room floor and the further hour I spent kicking the crap out of the hall door after being sent to the naughty step to ‘think about’ my behaviour. I got my light ale – with a top of lime for good measure– and they got a brief respite from my terrible behaviour. Everyone’s a winner, eh?
At some point in the mid-seventies the brown bottles disappeared to be replaced with shiny cans. Lager *tsk*. Nowadays, of course, thanks to CAMRA members and other up-themselves middle-class self-appointed beer ‘connoisseurs’, designer ales (*gak*) from microbreweries (*gak-gak*) are all the rage. That’s a double-edged sword for me, because while appreciating the range and diversity of ale on offer the up-marketing and pretention makes my stomach heave, but it’s still good to see the proper stuff making a comeback and that piss-weak-all-air-and-bubbles-Johnny-come-lately German cold-brewed stuff getting its come-uppance.
2) Advocaat is another alcoholic ‘A’ that features heavily in my childhood memories, in the form of snowballs served in ‘champagne’ saucers with pictures of Bambi-like yearling deer on the sides. Advocaat itself is basically alcohol-flavoured snot, but when mixed with lemonade and a dash of lime transforms into a light and fluffy custard ideal for toasting the Queen’s Speech at three. If you haven’t got any Advocaat try whizzing a few spoonfuls of sherry trifle in the Nutribullet™
3) Asti Spumante – Well I say ‘Asti’ but truth be told many varieties of sparkling liquid have adorned our Christmas table over the years, including some that never came close to including grapes in their production process, which is why I’ve avoided using the word ‘wine’ in this description. My earliest memory of a Méthode Champenoise beverage is Pomagne, which was in essence an extremely bubbly version of Bulmer’s cider. It came in a big, green, foil-necked bottle like champagne, it popped its (plastic) cork like champagne (we had the dents in the polystyrene ceiling tiles to prove it), it fizzed and bubbled like champagne, and it tasted like… weasel’s piss.
As the Bambified champagne style saucers mentioned earlier suggest, “perry”, or pear cider, was another favoured Christmas tipple, in the form of Babycham. Sadly this fell out of favour and off the menu in the eighties, the final kiss of death being the ‘Hey, I’d love a Babycham’ advert featuring an unintentionally (?) camp disco-dude who looked like the lovechild resulting from a weird sexual couplage de plusieurs involving Tina Turner, Errol Brown, M. C. Hammer and Mr T.
In recent years designer ciders containing all manner of fruits and berries have become big business again, and sales of Babycham have risen on the back of this. Basically, there are lots of children people wanting to get pissed now who don’t actually like the taste of alcohol, and flavoured ciders lend themselves perfectly to this kind of irresponsible innovative marketing.
Moving on from ciders and perries, Pomagne ushered in a new era of cheap and fizzy Christmas alcohol options. Asti was the first contender, but Cava followed hot on its tail and now Prosecco is doing to Cava what Cava did to Asti and what Asti did to Pomagne. With the advent of award-winning supermarket champers at around twelve to fifteen quid a bottle, even lowly plebs like me can now get in on the act and drink the proper stuff, though “proper” is of course a subjective term which those who know better and/or those who like to think they know better would never apply in any but an ironic sense to Lidl’s finest.
“B” tomorrow. I promise it’s not for Booze, Brandy or Beer. Probably.
Today’s Contributors: Peppy Scott, Karen Tucker, David Smith.