10 December, 2005

Lighting up

The streets round where I live have suddenly burst into a unfettered cavalcade of exotic illuminations, as if there was an unspoken law that a) no decorations could be put up until this weekend but b) when they did they had to be as ostentatious as possible. And involve the maximum number of inflatables.

I know I should be used to it by now, having become a regular feature of Christmas during the past five years or so, yet every time it happens I still can't get over how shameless some people are when it comes to advertising their opulence and taste, plus the lengths they're willing to go to upstage their neighbour.

One inflatable Santa, eh? Here's three - and one's on the roof. Fairy lights around the door? Here's some lights around not just the door but every window, along every roofbeam and, hey, around the garage to boot. A solitary Christmas tree peeking out of the front room window. Bollocks to that - let's put lights in every piece of foliage we can find! Now just plug it all in, throw the switch, and fuse the entire street.

Buying a box of mince pies in Tesco earlier on did more to get me in the Christmas spirit than all the Everest-sized neon trimmings bedecking every free-standing structure in the district. Well, it's just all too much. Some houses have more lights on their exterior than interior. How's that work? How can you go about your business inside what is, in effect, a giant flourescent bauble? It'd be like living inside those parts of the Arctic Circle where the sun never sets. And there were at least a couple of houses that didn't bother taking all their lights down the whole year. Didn't bother, maybe, or rather didn't dare, for fear of losing face.

Ah well. As with hepatitis, Weird Al Jankovic and the war in Iraq, I guess America is to blame. I remember how, when someone in my class at primary school got his dad to put a few lights up outside his house for Christmas, it was a story on the local news! The fact the kid in question was, unfortunately, not to put too finer point on it, the stupidest person in the school, a trait he shared with the rest of his family, just made the news story all the more painfully memorable.

But there has been one time where I've appreciated a surfeit of Christmas lights. When my mum and dad got an extension put on their house in 1999, for some reason it had to happen during winter. The wrong side of winter, that is. When I went back for Christmas the place was in a state, the extension half built, and no front door or windows on the front of the house. Not at all the environment for a nice, seasonal, festive holiday.

But my mum had nonetheless trailed a few spare lights around the husk of what was supposed to be a new hallway, kitchen and spare room, and laid a few carpet tiles down on the bare concrete floor. When darkness fell all the clay and cement and mess became somehow magically invisible, thrown into shadow by a few cheap bulbs and some imagination. That was a weird Christmas, but perhaps the most magical and memorable in my whole life for being so unusual and so against-the-odds.

No such tact and discretion can be found here. Which region will triumph in the quest to amass the most number of 'Santa Please Stop Here' signposts nestling in sprawling front gardens?


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