Diary - Anne Fine

One year we sent no cards and put up no decorations. When we saw people we knew approaching, he adju

So. Heavier by the minute, this fat, demanding toad has been squatting on us ever since the Hallowe'en masks were swept away. I hate it. I hate everything about it. It combines everything in the world I most loathe: shopping, tinny music, drunks and enforced good cheer. Already we hear that idiot parrot cry all around: "Oh, go on! It is Christmas!" A pretty poor show when the only way you can get away from a religious festivity is by hiding in church. Oh, please God, let the whole boiling be over soon.

It's the shopping I loathe most. What is the point, I keep asking myself. If the person I'm getting it for needed it, I would have lashed out and bought it for them in September. If they don't need it, the only point is that they love it. But everyone's so picky that the only way to check that out is by taking them with you. Where's the sense in that? They might as well go alone, and save at least one person's time.

So we stand at counters for hours, putting down the lime green and picking up the rose pink, wondering if she'd prefer it fitted, or want the bigger size. It's hopeless anyway. As soon as the teenager concerned reckons enough time has passed since the big hug and thank you, out will trickle that oh, so casual little question: "Did they have it in any other colours, Mum?" (And did you, by any chance, keep the receipt?)

This grim, benighted holiday is even worse if there's divorce in the family. My children's book Step by Wicked Step has six stories featuring split and blended families. Researching it, I found that huge numbers of children in such families dread Christmas. One parent tries to be helpful, with: "No, honestly, you come when it suits you." The unsure child translates this as: "I don't really care whether you come at all", and how easily the fire gets stoked. "He doesn't sound bothered, does he? Shall we just push off to Gran's?"

Mystifyingly, other people's children are never as charming as one's own. (Your daughter's quiet; his is in a mood. Your son's exhausted after a hectic term; his lies in bed all morning.) Don't even try to guess what your young visitors are thinking. But, be assured, when they look at your children's grandpa snoring in his chair, they're not remembering all those sunny afternoons on Ventnor beach. They're thinking, "What an old fart!" (And one person's idea of a nice Christmas decoration is simply another's idea of a fire hazard. Cue for a row.)

So where do other people find the time? I am a novelist. I choose my hours. I don't have to commute. My children aren't toddlers. And still I can't dredge up enough hours to add the demands of Christmas to my life. Everyone is busy. We all have jobs now. Maybe there are still "ladies who lunch" floating around Harvey Nichols, but not here. Has everyone taken to running Christmas like a military campaign, with supplies bought in and plans fixed months in advance? Is it because I think wars are stupid that I can't bring myself to do it?

Only twice in my life have I had satisfactory revenge on this horrible time of year. (I don't count fleeing abroad.) Once, about ten years ago, I persuaded my ex-hubby in California to take all the kids, not just our two. Off they flew, lured by promises of Disney World and Magic Mountain, and my partner and I ignored the whole ghastly business. We sent no cards and put up no decorations. We invited no one and went to no parties. When we saw people we knew approaching, he adjusted his false beard and moustache and I fled down side alleys. Lo and behold! For the first time in years, I remembered the carol service. (I adore singing carols.) And on the day itself, we had steak and chips. Between us on the table, he plonked an inch-high plastic Christmas tree that fell out of a cracker the year before. Bliss.

And this year. This year I wrote The More the Merrier, about a perfectly normal family's "happy Christmas". Well, ho, ho, ho!

In it, I think I've been more than fair to the festivity. Read and wince.

Anne Fine's comedy for the 8-80s, The More the Merrier, is published by Doubleday (£10.99)