Wrote my Sun Tel column last weekend grumbling about the madness of Christmas wreaths, only to realise that it was running on Remembrance Sunday when people across the country were busy laying poppy wreaths. So it’s been a pretty solid week of putting my foot in it, but I think the point is advent wreaths shouldn’t come out before poppy ones. The clue’s in the word ‘advent’. Will paste it below and now I’m off for tea with Lady Glenconner. If you missed her on Graham Norton last weekend HERE’S the YouTube clip. Her new book is a gas. Full of Princess Margaret anecdotes (worth buying for the scene where PM rushes up to scatter squirrels in the park with her umbrella alone), and a lesson in that old maxim, don’t let the buggers get you down. She was married to an impossible man and lost two of her sons and yet there she is on Graham’s sofa, making Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham-Carter scream with laughter. What a trooper.
There’s a new coffee shop near my flat in London, where thin women in lycra discuss tutoring, which already has its Christmas wreath up. It’s a perfectly nice wreath of pine cones and berries but this is too early. I’ve only just recovered from walking past a house near Chiswick which draped a spider the size of a pony over its fence for Halloween. Is there no respite from these home decorating show-offs?
I’ve observed the ramping up of the wreath wars in recent years. Having a 6ft Nordman Fir inside is all very well, but nowadays you also need something as big as a hula hoop pinned to your front door, fashioned from holly, ivy and perhaps the odd peacock feather. Friends have even talked of attending wreath-making classes, as if spraying a pinecone gold is an entirely natural way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Don’t have a wreath? Gosh, how embarrassing. You’ll be saying toilet next.
The rise of the competitive wreath first became apparent, as so many things did, while I worked at Tatler. In late November, Jo Malone would deliver Christmas wreaths to their favourite magazine editors and writers, a canny marketing ploy because these wreaths would be pinned to multiple Farrow & Ball-coloured front doors and Instagrammed for everyone else to see. If you are sent a Jo Malone wreath but do not post a picture of it on social media, do you ever really have a Jo Malone wreath in the first place? I longed for a Jo Malone wreath since I’ve long been the target of a mysterious local dog walker who chucks his bags of dog poo on my doorstep. A lime basil and mandarin wreath might polish the turd. Alas, no free wreath.
If you’re not sent one and refuse to make it, you can always buy the thing. This year, Not On The High Street is touting a wreath made from Brussels sprouts. Argos is pushing an alternative made from neon baubles. Certain florists will knock you up a bespoke wreath. The Mayfair flower pusher Pulbrook and Gould is offering a deluxe ruby version with ‘lush glittered apples’ and ‘frosted pomegranates’ for £2450 (excluding delivery). If you’re feeling strapped, they also have one inexplicably decorated with small lions and elephants. This is their ‘safari’ version, it costs £495 and features ‘the classic wildlife one would encounter on a tour of the Serengeti’. For is it so inconceivable that there was a Hippopotamus at the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Wreaths in general obviously have pagan, pre-Christian roots. The druids were fond of an evergreen circle. The Romans liked them as hats. But it was the 16th century Lutherans who supposedly kickstarted the advent wreath. I can’t imagine they’d be very impressed by a wreath decorated with a monkey shouldering its infant but we live in changing times. Can we all please note the word ‘advent’, however, and agree that no wreath – animal-themed or otherwise – should be pinned up until December 1.
For the greedy among us, the good news is that Sainsbury’s has hopped on the bandwagon and is flogging an edible wreath, made from stuffing and decorated with pigs in blankets and cranberries. Why not hang this on your door and have a little nibble every evening you get home too tired to cook, and a bit pissed, after all those Christmas parties?
Have you seen a public bench with a ‘happy to chat’ sign on it recently? They’re on the rise. A Somerset policeman launched the scheme in May to combat loneliness by encouraging people to sit for a natter with someone else. He tied a sign to a bench in Burnham-on-Sea saying ‘Happy to chat? Sit here if you don’t mind stopping to say hello,’ and apparently the movement’s spreading across the world, from America to Australia. It’s a very lovely idea. As a walker, I often pause on a bench and collect photos of plaques I spot and find particularly moving. There’s a bench in Bishop’s Park dedicated to a chap called Andrew Zoltowski – 1939-2015. He might not have been so keen to chat. ‘Proud dog walker. Never sat down,’ says his plaque. Gets me every time.
Calling all other 30-something single women. It’ll happen to us all in a few weeks. We’ll head home on Christmas Eve and face a barrage of well-meaning aunts/grandparents/neighbours/the cat asking us when we’re going to ‘settle down’, as if we’re not trying hard enough and all we need to do to ‘find someone’ is look behind the bins. So my heartfelt thanks to Emma Watson who’s given us the perfect retort by declaring in a Vogue interview that she thinks of herself as ‘self-partnered’ as opposed to single. I’m excited about the possibilities for this phrase. ‘Don’t worry Uncle Geoffrey, I’m very happy and self-partnered,’ I’ll tell him. While he’s trying to work out what this means, I’ll excuse myself and say I need another drink or the loo.