Monthly Archives: November 2015



I know it’s still only November but where’s your Christmas Spirit? I got asked that five times last week, and I’m no nearer knowing. Though, being a scientist, I have conducted some research, and can tell you it’s not that straightforward. When it comes to Christmas Spirit, it’s all about embracing the whole kit and caboodle. Which some of us clearly don’t. And in myriad damning ways.

For example…

Not having the remotest interest in coffee. Research has shown that ‘not having the remotest interest in coffee’ is a major obstacle to achieving a measurable degree of Christmas Spirit as it renders the sufferer unable to access some of the key olfactory triggers. Happily, you can address this. If your usual response on hearing the term ‘gingerbread latte’, is to run screaming down the high street, now is the moment to man up. Take heart (and a Rennie) and step over the threshold. For extra peace and joy, tell them your name is Holly.

Being Festive Advert Averse. Technology is a wonderful thing, allowing us to streamline our lives in such a way that irritants such as television advertising can be expunged at the push of a remote, leaving us free to enjoy all the other forms of advertising available to us, such as those on the internet, for clothing items we ordered online just seven seconds ago, and Viagra.

But step away from that remote. Feast instead on a diet of unfiltered commercial television, and you’ll soon find yourself at the epicentre of zeitgeisty conversation, on account of having an opinion on the John Lewis advert and an up-to-date knowledge of the whereabouts of the Coca-Cola truck. Feel the glow.

Thinking Black Friday is something to do with the plague. If this is you, fear not. (See also ‘thinking Black Friday is something to do with Margaret Thatcher’, and ‘thinking Black Friday is part of your recycling bin routine’.) Black Friday is actually a post-modern retail phenomenon during which people fight each other in pursuit of food mixers, enormous televisions, and ‘Occasion Wear’, all at ‘knockdown’ prices (which is obviously why they are so-called), so that desperate, impoverished retailers can scrape together enough money to buy very tiny chickens for their starving families to eat on Christmas day. In their hovels.

Mathematical difficulties. There are 365 days in a year, so at any given point in any given (non-leap) year there will be a given number of shopping days before Christmas, that could be equal to but never exceeding 364, and equal to but never less than one. Armed with this important knowledge, you need never again express a negative comment when faced with the question ‘do you know how many shopping days are left until Christmas?’, but instead smile and say ‘where x equals three hundred and sixty four to the power of Greystoke…’ and so on. And so on. Very Zen.

Not being the recipient of any office party invitations. Don’t go out to workwork? Universally unpopular? Simply organise a party of your own. I’m inviting both cats, plus the house spider who lives under the beer fridge. I’ve even upgraded my photocopier for the purpose.

I’ve also purchased four novelty shot glasses and some Advocaat, all the better to facilitate the traditional ‘sexy festive faux pas’ – in my case, most likely an intemperate email to my agent to tell him how much he rocks a Christmas jumper, employing seven emoticons and 362 kisses.

Christmas Catalogue Ennui. Most catalogues already have a built-in frustration-inducing quality, in that, while belonging in the category of ‘recyclable paper products’, they come cleverly wrapped in plastic, so you can’t toss them into the green sack without first de-bagging them. But here’s your chance to turn a negative into a Christmas Spirit positive! Opening your Christmas catalogues opens up a whole world of personalization opportunities. And remember, there’s not a person on the PLANET who doesn’t go into raptures at the sight of a set of six monogrammed hankerchiefs, or a bath sheet thoughtfully inscribed with the timeless epithet ‘Pete’s towel’. Really.

You have an unshakeable and deeply held belief that the fundamental purpose of Christmas, widely held to be a celebration of the Christian religion and/or an opportunity to embrace altruistic notions of family and kinship, is being cynically eroded by shameless commercial adherents of a consumerist economic model which places profit over both personal and societal emotional health.

Ah. Sorry, but I’m afraid you’re on your own.

First published in the Western Mail Magazine 21/11/15

*threw those in for my new (and charming) no 1 ‘fan’. You know who you are…;)



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I’ve always rather loved the term ‘critical mass’. In physics, as I’m quite sure you all knew already, it refers to the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction.

And in science, so in my life.

I got home from holiday last Monday, in the wee hours, and despite the word ‘holiday’ meaning ‘doing work, somewhere else’, I awoke to the gloom of a damp November morning, with my deadlines still looming, my work pile still teetering, and – there is no more polite way of putting this – the realisation that serious s**t needed doing round the house.

Pretty much everything in my domestic life is currently on the slide. I know this to be true, because I see the word ‘Christmas’ and I actually come out in hives.

It started with the washing, as it so often does. That particularly dispiriting washing husbandry malfunction that sees a seasonal bulge throw the whole thing out of kilter. I washed furiously, frenetically, for the best part of Monday – because that’s what you do, right? You get home from holiday and you sort it all out. But because I’d failed to sort the stuff I’d hung up just before we left for holiday, there was no room in the airing cupboard (which is where I dry my washing), which meant the pile on the landing (which is where I stack my ironing) grew so big that the whole lot went whumping over the bannister, down to the hall floor, taking out a table lamp en route.

So I regrouped. Cleared the glass up. Relocated the ironing pile. To the room off the kitchen, which is where I do my ironing, and where, as luck would have it, one of my filthy, sodden cats tramped across (and around and all over) said pile, which, as luck would again have it, was topped off (why, of course) with the (white) bedding that I’d only just stripped off the bed, on account of the same filthy, sodden (sodding) cat having made merry there for the duration of our holiday. (You know that phrase? No point in shutting the gate when the horse has bolted? Yup.)

Back upstairs (bed unmade, landing steaming, like stew) I still faced the result of my extreme laundry moment and the second realisation – that I was all out of hangers, on account of my being TOO BUSY just lately to practice my ‘best-practice wardrobe rationalization’ and replace all my summer clothes with my neatly stored winter clothes, preferring instead to ‘dip into’ the winter clothes storage, with the result that my wardrobe was stuffed full to bursting, with not a single hanger to be found. (Bar those daft ones they always put on knickers.)

Hey ho, I thought. I am at least good at draping. So I draped stuff all over, up to and including the odd sconce and newel post, bringing the relative humidity throughout the whole house to ‘sub-tropical not-at-all-paradise’.

Upon which, being menopausal, I went out. Hell, I had to, because, as has been revealed by mathematics, there is a reliable inverse post-vacation correlation between the quantity of washing and the amount of food in the house. So I shopped. I bought all sorts. I stocked up like a prepper. Sudden apocalypse? Hey, no flies on me.

Well, at least till I got home and it soon became apparent that I had absolutely no space in my freezer. Well, I say ‘soon’. What I meant was it EVENTUALLY became apparent, when I went to get an ice-cube, some sixteen hours later, to find the entire contents (up to and including a late 2014 homemade massaman curry) covered in that other kind of less-useful ice – the kind that gets conjured by wicked witches in fairytales and whose message (over and above ‘I shall kick ass in this kingdom’) means JEEZ, WILL YOU SORT YOUR BLOODY FREEZER OUT?

So I did that, and as I write, I am sitting in a flooded kitchen, with half a dozen bulging compost bags, that won’t fit in my caddy, and which will doubtless by tonight be weeping all over the garage floor.

So we might eat the curry. Except we didn’t like the curry. And the bedding’s still filthy. And the ironing’s not started. And I’ve words to be written and deadlines to meet. And I’m sitting here wondering – why on earth do they call it ‘husbandry’?

Clearly what I need is a wife.

Originally published in the Western Mail Magazine, 14/11/15


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So I had this plan to make a Christmas pudding. As you do. This was about three hours ago as I write, and several days since you started reading, and what strikes me is the curious genetic glitch I seem to have inherited, which, for purposes of scientific rigour, I shall apply an appropriate name. Namely SCAD.

Lynne_newYou might not recognize the acronym, but I’m hoping I’m not alone in this mutation – that of being afflicted with Seasonal Cookery Affective Disorder, or, to use the colloquial term ‘serial stockpiler of crud’.

I’ve been in denial about this, clearly, for many years. Which is easy because, along with many other forms of embarrassing human malfunction, it’s not hard to keep it to myself. I simply shut the doors on my kitchen cabinets and walk away.

Yet, as a result of my modest festive ambitions, here it is (again) all laid before me. The hard evidence – and, yes, much of it IS extremely hard – of my absolute failure in the cupboard husbandry stakes.

I can’t organise a kitchen cupboard to save my life. That’s the truth of it. Yes there are small pockets of efficiency – the cat food is mostly well stored, and my crisp drawer (doesn’t everyone have a dedicated crisp drawer?) has even garnered the odd plaudit. And, in my defence, I keep a tight rein on the saucepan lid situation, and have an admirably well-ordered set of tea towels.

But beyond that, it’s chaos – behind pretty much any door you care to name.

Which is galling, because I’m an organised person. In fact, I’d go further. I’m An Organised Person. The sort of person you tend to come to if you want anything organised, particularly if you want it organised to within an inch of its life.

Except in the kitchen, which is my organising nemesis.

As I say, it’s all before me. Or rather, they are. All the trusty foot soldiers of the Store Cupboard Essentials Army – and almost all of them in need of de-commissioning.

I start well. At the front, I positively bristle with efficiency. Here a tall Tupperware container full of basmati rice. There a standby drum of still-in-date peppercorns. To the side, the friendly face of my pot of ceramic baking beans, which have served me well though several major buffet catering campaigns, and topped off (because the top happens to be the perfect size for it) with the equally stalwart bicarb of soda.

But it’s simply a veneer. A wicked falsehood. Because to push them aside is to part those metaphorical Narnian coats, and enter a world time forgot.

Half-packets and third-packets – they are clearly my trademark. A half packet of sunflower seeds, one of walnuts, one of lentils. Two of pearl barley, jostling for supremacy. A tower of elderly cake cases, like a prim Victorian mistress. A tin of Golden Syrup, welded to the shelf. Here some pasta. So much pasta. Of all hues and varieties. Enough penne rigatte to make tea for a band of visiting faerie minstrels, sufficient black macaroni to prepare a pasta bake for a gnat.

Onwards then, to the fruit. And there is always much fruit. A sticky pot of glace cherries. (Six in all. I count them.) A large bag of sultanas. (almost fully full – good grief). Smatteirngs of cranberries and currents, of candied peel and angelica. And a lonely plastic tube in which sits a single vanilla pod – all squished and broken, when it had hoped for so much better.

I am cheered, momentarily, nevertheless. You know those clips you can buy to seal things and which are always disappearing? Fret no more. I have them all here.

I also have dry goods. A lot of very, very dry goods. Very dry, and in very tiny quantities. I have eight kinds of sugar, all of which will make serviceable pixie house bricks, and five types of flour, including rice. I have food colourings aplenty, both extracts and essences.   And, if I take my reading glasses off and my life in my hands, it’s both difficult to see and equally easy to convince myself that I’m not reading (over and over) ‘best before March 2005’.

But then it strikes me. That’s the whole point about Christmas puddings, isn’t it? Alcohol. Sugar. And pretty much anything else you fancy. They exist PRECISELY to be the SCAD afflicted’s friend.

Or perhaps I’ll just shut the cupboard and go to Lidl.

First Published in the Western Mail magazine, 31.10.15

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