Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas is a weird hybrid of Bake Off and Blue Peter

I know some people find this sort of thing, rope initials and all, comforting. But it doesn’t soothe me.

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The last time I checked in on Kirstie Allsopp’s handmade whatever, she and her glue gun were sharing the work between them. But it seems I’m out of date. Nowadays, she has other people knock things up for her, among them her long-standing compadre in all matters property-related, Phil Spencer, who swung by the first part of her Christmas series (30 November, 5pm) – this year, there are ten of these bloody shows, strung like tinsel across the schedule – to make a jar of beetroot chutney. Alas, this concoction, though bright pink, was not a gift for Kirstie. Apparently, she always gets the same thing from Phil, which is a pork-based product. A ham, to be specific.

When Covid and the Tories have between them finally done their worst, what will be left of Britain? In my lower moments, I picture nothing but Ye Olde Fudge Shops and places selling Kirstie-ish items cobbled together by desperate Britons from knackered tights and modelling clay. Do other European countries go in for this craft stuff? Personally, I find it hard to imagine any self-respecting Frenchwoman finger-knitting her way out of the present crisis.

But what do I know? I’m so braced for the imminent return of Changing Rooms – the mothership that might be said to have spawned the likes of Kirstie and Phil – that all I can think about at the moment is Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s terrifying curtains and what their revival says about this island nation (answer: nothing good).

[see also: Changing Rooms showed us our idea of “taste” is rooted in class snobbery]

Anyway, back to the baubles. I saw a preview of Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas and the password required to access it was PineTime! – which says it all, really. We’re in the realm of things that smell like the bubblebath you used as a kid when the Matey had run out, and endless exclamation marks (or, as they’re known to us hacks, “screamers”: journalistic slang that’s more than usually appropriate in this instance, given how the thought of making mini-bunting from charity-shop shirts makes me feel).

The show is a weird hybrid of Bake Off and Blue Peter with light (cinnamon, citrus) top notes of The Generation Game, comprising not only instructions as to how one goes about, say, making marbled Christmas crackers (you need nail polish, obviously), but also a competition – in the first programme, to decorate a Christmas tree. Kirstie presides in a huge fake fur coat, marching around in a way that brings to mind Princess Margaret after a stiff Dubonnet. If only she’d complete the look by making a festive cigarette holder from a dead Biro.

I was disappointed that the woman who covered her tree with 200 concrete decorations didn’t win. If I’m honest, I was disappointed that she didn’t find herself pinned beneath it. How it remained upright, I’ll never know. This was homemaking as reimagined by Werner Herzog.

But the competition was, well, stiff. Kirstie just couldn’t resist the guy from Whitstable whose theme was “camp, with an old lady twist”, and who decorated his fir with saucy embroidered Santas and a huge felt turkey. Nor, indeed, could guest judge Christine Leech, who’s also the person we must blame not only for the mini-bunting, to be used during wrapping instead of ribbons, but for the rope initials that she thinks are a nice way of personalising Christmas presents. (Kirstie, by the way, loves mini-bunting. “I love mini-bunting!” she shouted, in case of any doubt.)

[see also: Why I’m completely addicted to BBC Two’s Industry]

I know that some people find this sort of thing, rope initials and all, comforting. But it doesn’t soothe me, and I write as someone who could tune out the approach of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse if I thought I’d found some good toile de jouy lavender bags on Etsy. I like the idea of people making stuff and even better if this involves recycling. Would that everyone knew, from childhood, how to cook and to sew.

Right now, though, this kind of faffing (often rather expensive faffing) feels trivial to the point of decadence. Christmas won’t quite be Christmas this year, and most of us think that’s just as it ought to be. Kirstie’s handmade version is very last days of Rome. Or perhaps I mean very last days of Home. 

Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas
Channel 4

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 04 December 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Crashed

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