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Diary: Emily Maitlis

Yes, I survived the weapons of mass festivity

“Dog stew remains popular in both North and South Korea," reads the recipe. "Its continued appeal lies partly in the fact dog meat is believed to have medicinal qualities, enhancing stamina and vitality" (though not of the dog, presumably). The recipe comes from The Axis of Evil Cookbook, given to me for Christmas by my husband, Mark. A veritable feast of the culinary whims of dictators we know and love. Along with the canine staples and things to do with the reproductive parts of a sheep, it tells how to make Chemical Ali dessert (mind the E numbers), an Iranian dish called tongue of the judge and a Burmese salad - junta-sponsored, one assumes.

There is a certain Axis of Evil theme to the family Christmas presents this year. On the doormat, on Christmas Eve, I find a gift for my two young boys: a children's book from the author himself. And it is called Sadman's Last Christmas. The boys fall upon the delightful illustrations the moment I unwrap it, and sit down to listen.

And so it is, with curtains drawn and candles lit in this cosy family setting, I start, unwittingly, to read them a story about a despot called Sadman Insane who is desperate to secure a nuclear bomb before he is hanged. I should perhaps have seen it coming. I concede it does betray a certain naivety. Indeed, by the time I found myself explaining uranium enrichment to the under-fives, I realised it was perhaps not a children's story in the classic sense of the word.

My own weapon of mass destruction turns out to be the turkey I have spent the best part of the week marinating. It is covered in seeds and herbs and spices and I leave it outside in a bucket as instructed, sealed against preying foxes. There is nothing this bird has not been given. It is the basting equivalent of a weekend spa break at Champneys. The recipe promises succulence and yet, despite the flotation-tank experience and my lobbing half an hour off the cooking time, it still emerges from the oven reminiscent of Tetrapak. To add insult to injury, I have a world-famous cookery writer and culinary anthropologist coming to dine with us. And you would have to be a damn fine anthropologist to link this to any living creature I have ever known. Looking down at it in its pitiful, defunct state, I cannot help wondering if the turkey will follow the dodo into extinction.

At the Newsnight party before we break up, my favourite conversation is the raking over of the year's news clichés with our political correspondent, David Grossman. Last time we shared a drink was on 5 November, in a backstreet bar in Chicago, when the nation had just chosen its new president and the rest of the world was intoxicated with possibility. This time, however, it is not new presidents we talk of, but old ones. Dubbya, to be precise - and the Iraqi shoe-throwing incident.

David, to my utter delight, is barely able to contain his indignation at the subsequent coverage. "In Iraq," he mimics, "the throwing of shoes is seen as a grave insult. Oh really."

He has a point. We know Iraqis have a curious relationship with their shoes (who could forget the public slipper-slapping of the fallen Saddam statue?), but really, I do not know of many cultures where the hurling of footwear denotes respect. Perhaps we have all been a little glib. I relish, at any rate, David's rage. And the reminder that we must question accepted wisdom, right down to the last trite soundbite.

For New Year's Eve we are locked away on our own in a farmhouse in France. We have no babysitting, so we are blissfully unable to leave the log fire and red wine of our own sitting room. Even before the alcohol kicks in, I am intoxicated by calculations of how much we are saving by not going out. The euro already feels well out of reach. Indeed, the pound is steadily reaching parity with the Nectar Point as I write. But the thing I most dread about those New Year nights is the creepy texts people have taken to sending in recent years. Ones that say "May you and your family prosper and grow in 2009" or "Wishing you hope, light and inner renewal for the coming year" - combining New Age earnestness with the tottering sentimentality of the über-trollied. They are rarely from people you know, but I traced one back to a bloke called Malcolm who once popped in three years ago to unblock the dishwasher.

I begin to reflect on the truly extraordinary year I have just had and the moments of history I've been lucky enough to witness: the making of an American president, the interviews with Henry Kissinger, Hank Paulson, George Soros, our own Chancellor on the day British banking threatened to collapse. And - perhaps more poignantly - the moment I achieved a lifetime ambition by becoming a quiz question on a New Year's Eve comedy quiz show. No one can take that away from me. It is enough for one year.

No resolutions. Well, maybe one. I will turn my back on the turkey and all its accoutrements. I shall issue my Christmas 2009 invites early, Axis of Evil Cookbook in hand. You have been warned.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza