Merry Christmas (war is over – briefly)

Well, it wasn't so bad this year. Christmas, I mean. I have quoted this bon mot of Will Self's in this column before, but it bears repetition: Christmas is the real sucking-shit-through-a-straw time for the separated man. An unpleasant image but a memorable one, I think you'll agree.

This is the third Noel that I've been absent from the family home and I am becoming acclimatised to the idea. Since the age of about 17, I haven't really been much of a Christmassy person anyway. This was hard on my mother, an American and therefore hard-wired to enter the spirit
of the occasion; but since when were the feelings of a parent considered deeply by those in their late adolescence?

I have my reasons for feeling exhausted by the season and any break from it is welcome. (You will have noticed, incidentally, that I alone of all this magazine's columnists did not mention it in last fortnight's festive issue. I'm so disorganised that I can't even get my Christmas column in on time. So you can imagine the paralysis that afflicts me when it comes to Christmas shopping.) It all starts, you see, on or around Thanksgiving, which is also mandatory (see "American" above), as is, indeed, my father's birthday, which falls on or around same day. Also around that time is the anniversary of the ex-wife's and my first date, the problem of which has since, admittedly, been resolved. For years, until the arrival of children made travel too exhausting and expensive even to think about, we would celebrate Christmas in Paris with our friend Mimi. If there is
a more civilised place to spend Yule than Paris, I'd like to hear of it. I spent almost a decade not having to hear that fucking song by Slade.

One big snag was presents. I am really good at getting them, not so good at giving them. As I'm a perfectionist and a narcissist, choosing presents for my nearest and dearest has always been a problem - they have to be just right, an expression not only of my affection but of my keen insight into their personality and desires. Failing that, a bottle of Lagavulin will do. (It's what Razors and I have been giving each other since about 1994, when we first did it to each other by pure coincidence or, perhaps, telepathy, cementing our friendship for good.) But what do you give someone who doesn't like Scotch, or can't drink it for medical reasons?

This year, it was agreed that, what with my disastrous financial situation, the best present I could give the Aged Ps was my labour, in the form of going over and cooking their Christmas goose and all the trimmings bar the stuffing. (Which I have to concede takes, if you follow my recipe, about an entire day, if you factor in buying the ingredients. It is, though, jolly tasty and pretty much foolproof.) But children will not be satisfied with that. They are satisfied, though, with pretty much anything made by Apple that is prefixed by a lower-case "i". One has to salute the cunning and rapaciousness of Steve Jobs, who can sting you for more than 200 quid for what my friend Toby accurately describes as "an iPhone with the phone taken out" that's rather more fragile than a Fabergé egg. My inspired gift to them this year was a set of professional, casino-style poker chips, which not only are satisfyingly weighty, but come in a case whose label tells us that they are not to be used by under-18s, thereby adding to their already considerable allure. One might question the probity of a man who buys poker chips for a nine-, 12- and 14-year-old, but if Alan Coren's daughter can win a £500,000 tournament then other columnists' children can do the same thing.

Which now leaves the problem of the New Year and the eldest's birthday, which comes shortly thereafter. She wanted all adults to vacate the premises from 8pm until the next morning, a prospect that freaked her mother and me out so much that we found ourselves in complete agreement for the first time since the invasion of Iraq.

I can still vividly remember what I got up to at my daughter's age, despite the amount of vodka and Cinzano I had inhaled, and have no desire for history to repeat itself as tragedy or farce. But that's the festive season for you: the same damn thing, over and over again

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: one year on