6 December 2007

Light fantastic ... (ish)

Well, a striking royal blue seems to be the "in" colour for Christmas 2007 if the lights which have gone up on a smattering of houses on my estate and beyond are anything to go by.

I see most of the village every day due to dog-walking duties, and a sizeable majority of the lights up so far are this colour. Either there is a trend at the moment (a colour "in season" for 2007) or someone at the market further up the A-road had a cheap job-lot for sale. It's actually a tone which is pleasing on the eye, and I say this as someone who has never really got used to lights, multi-coloured or nay, going up on people's houses in the month leading up to Christmas Day.

It's very much an American tradition which we have adopted, is it not? Twenty years ago my childhood cul-de-sac, where my beloved parents still live, would not have had a single wired bulb wrapped crudely around its front doors and drainpipes. Gretchen Wilson may keep her Christmas lights up on her front porch all year long, but to this day it's quite hard to convince some folk in this part of the world to put them up at all.

There are extremes the other way, of course; without getting all Daily Mail about it, I must confess to a substantial dislike for the widely-publicised annual madness of lights which engulf whole houses and negate the need for council-maintained street lighting, such is their brightness and multi-coloured obscenity. The sniffier end of tabloid journalism make a point of highlighting (arf) the marital status and employment situation of whoever shelled out for so much grid-eating tack - providing that marital situation is that of unmarried parent and the employment situation is one of claimant. Perfectly possible as it is for well-off, longtime-betrothed folk to suffer from poor taste and strangle a street or estate with its choice of outdoor decoration, such types seem to not make the papers.

When the Natural Blonde's father sold his house to move in with other relatives, she acquired his Christmas decorations. These included a small arrangement of droplet-esque flashing lights, in natural colour, which one hangs from the living room window. I don't mind these at all - they make their point and show a willingness to get into the seasonal spirit without yelling "look at my house now!" at the neighbours. They haven't gone up yet - three weeks before Christmas is way too early. But once we get in the swing of things, they'll be accompanied by a tree in the conservatory, a tasteful and understated garland on the front door and some form of small candle display on the windowsill. None of this Twelfth Night bobbins either - Christmas lights and decorations should be long gone by December 27th, never mind January 6th. To me, there is no day less Christmassy than the day after Boxing Day, when the Christmas break is at its furthest away. The trinkets and lights should be returned to the loft on the same day your local commercial station stops playing Christmas records.

With our decoration arrangements, it goes without saying that the cats will be banned from the conservatory (well, they'll be greeted by a closed door if they go there - it's quite hard to inform a cat verbally that they're not allowed somewhere, nor is issuing injunction orders appropriate; they'd rip them up and scatter them around the house) and their antics on the windowsill will be closely monitored. Decorations - especially real trees - are a complete nightmare when you own cats. Frequently in my childhood would we get up on December mornings to find the tree, baubels and tinsel scattered everywhere.

You can buy droplet-type lights to drape from the roof guttering, but these only look right if you have a detached house. Mine is a semi, and our neighbours hate us because they think the dogs are descended from Satan as one of them occasionally barks at, oooh, 10.30pm, so coming to an arrangement about sharing lights to form a collective ensemble of colour is at zero on the likelihood scale. The detached house at the end of the road (where eight King Charles spaniels live, as well as the odd human being) has these stalactite lights hanging from the roof, flashing on and off in random patches and rhythms and they look ace. And these happen to be one of the many sets of lights in royal blue. Evidence of better neighbourly relations than mine are apparent elsewhere in the village, with numerous semi-detached houses and bungalows sharing the lights so that it all looks symmetrical and artistic and nice. Maybe they take it in turns to plug them in so that they share the cost as much as the admiration.

Other light arrangements spied during the twice-daily Basset constitutionals include a terrific pair of animal-shaped wire things - a lamb and a donkey - with enough bulbs strategically-shaped to establish the species of creature intended. They are on the front garden, which has no fence or wall, and look really classy. I also like the random covering of garden conifers in lights which a few of my fellow villagers lucky enough to have gardens which can accommodate such trees have utilised, but multi-coloured bulbs don't look very Christmassy to me, irrespective of where they're placed or whether they flash or not; I think they're better off on fairground attractions than people's homes.

As for figures in the window depicted by lights; well, if kids live at the house then you can appreciate a waving Santa or a flapping robin (though what robins have to do with Christmas I've no idea; it's like the longtime propensity for putting scarf-wearing penguins on Christmas cards which has become one of Alex Lester's finest running gags), while there's a good window display in the village of a reindeer tugging a small sled. However, a household on the same street as me has, yet again, decided that an old fashioned choo-choo train (smoke from chimney, bloke at the back pulling a string) is festive enough to go in the window. I've scoured the nativity story tirelessly and nowhere does it say Mary and Joseph had to head for Bethlehem via Stockton and Darlington, only for Mr Trevithick to say there was no room in first class and they had to sleep on the roof.

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