This could be my worst Christmas yet

It will probably come as no surprise to regular readers of this column that it has, to put it mildly, mixed feelings about Christmas. On the one hand, Christmas is a shameless capitalist conspiracy that could not have been better designed to humiliate and depress anyone not possessed of comfortable income, stable home life and secure companionship.

On the other hand . . . there is no other hand. I remember my illustrious predecessor Jeffrey Bernard used to praise the Coach and Horses because Norman refused to put any Christmas decorations up, and not just because he was Jewish - he was also a grumpy sod. I doubt whether he would now find anywhere in the country serving alcohol that was free of festive tat. I haven't been to the Coach for some months now, but I doubt somehow whether Norman's tradition in this respect is being honoured. (If it is, I apologise and salute.)

So you will get no sentimental crap about the season here, I'm afraid. Having Christmas jollity forced down your throat when you are feeling fine is bad enough but when you are in the dumps it becomes intolerable, all the more so because everyone else thinks you're being weird or difficult if you raise any exception or even make a pained face when contemplating the illuminated Santa in the window of your local.

I remember getting into a terrible argument with Linda, the Guvnoress of the Ux, a couple of years ago. She had gone kind of overboard with the decorations and, when she noticed that I had a bit of a scowl on my face while I was having a fag on the step, told me to cheer up, things could
be worse. At that particular time of my life, however, the only way things could have been worse would have been if I was being assaulted by killer bees on top of everything else - although, come to think of it, they might have provided a welcome distraction - and I gave her to understand this, not in so many words.

The resulting fracas nearly got me barred. We are now the best of friends, and she really is one of the great landladies, but things got pretty sticky for a while back there.

Winter Boots

So generally a kind of madness takes people over. You will recall, for it was the most irritating thing ever (with the possible exception of those ads for car insurance - you know the ones I mean), that seasonal advert for Boots that features a group of ghastly women swanning around the place like idiots to the soundtrack of Sugababes' "Here Come the Girls". As a piece of cynically targeted marketing it is flawless, which is, I suppose, why Boots runs it year after year - or so it seems - and it also seems to encapsulate the spirit of moronic celebration, the celebration of nothing in particular any more except itself, that grips the western democracies from mid-October on. (Or earlier. Selfridges officially starts recognising Christmas in August.)

Although I do recall that in Paris, which was for a while my and the wife's preferred seasonal destination, there was a pleasing restraint about the proceedings, the aesthetic sensibility treated with some respect. I wonder if things are still the same. Or has the Christmas cancer spread there, too? There is a ratchet effect to vulgarity, in which each year has to outdo its predecessor in tastelessness.

At which point, dear reader, I suspect I might be boring you. The anti-Christmas rant is itself a traditional feature of the season. If I go on at some length, it is not to try and spoil it for those of you who are having a jolly time of it but to offer a refuge and an antidote for those who are being treated by life the way nappies are treated by babies; for those who, when asked, "What are you doing for Christmas?", have to fight hard to prevent themselves from replying, "Throwing myself under a Tube train."

At least forewarned is forearmed, although, with my romantic situation resembling one of the more grisly scene-of-crime photo walls in the grimmer TV detective serials and my financial situation not much better, this promises to be pretty much the worst one yet. This is at time of going to press. (Another aspect of the season that makes it a pain in the aris for even the sunniest freelance writer is that everything has to be written by 9 December.)

Who knows? I have at least been invited by my housemate Emmanuelle's mother to go over to the family home in Shropshire for Christmas lunch. It is not Paris and getting there depends on whether the ex will let me have the car, but it is a change of scene and beats the prospect of sitting in the Hovel waiting for a phone call that will never arrive. There is something appealing about the idea, and such acts of kindness are what the season is all about, or should be. l

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 20 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special