Spectator: Getting cracking for Christmas

Making her own crackers causes Lucy Baring to despair.

Do any of your children have a burning desire for anything this Christmas?’ It was my sister who brought up the subject, several weeks ago, as she’s one of those people whose search engine probably steered the Royal Statistical Society to conclude that we start thinking about the C word in August.

I rack my brains, but, unfortunately, I can’t think of anything, my children coming from a privileged western household in which they have pretty much everything they could possibly want or need. There’s no point in being bah-humbug about this. It’s not their fault, after all. If you’re depressed when you hear on the radio that Lynne Truss still treasures the book of poetry she was given at the age of 11 because you know that, if you gave your 11 year old a volume of poetry, they would probably take to their bed for the day (and not in order to read it), get over it. Times have changed.

So it’s not in the spirit of rebelling against gross consumerism that I’m making the crackers this year. Nor is it an attempt to be tasteful. Christmas is not a time for taste, which is why the kitchen will be draped in tinsel from the pound shop. Actually, I mind this terribly and am a tartar about the tree, but I try to rein in my personal tasteometer because, according to the children, sticking tinsel snow- flakes to cupboards is FUN.

And it’s clear that I’m not somebody who knows how to have fun. I discuss this with a friend who says the word makes him go shivery; ‘it’ll be such fun’ or ‘You’ll love him/her, they’re such fun’ being sentences guaranteed to have him running for the exit. He’s also very tasteful and thus has never had anything so vulgar as a Christmas tree, preferring to drape velvet ribbons on dead twigs. But then he did have a damaging childhood experience involving a red Dalek suit on Christmas morning, which also involved holding a sink plunger in one hand and a potato masher in the other.

I’m making the crackers because I think this will be fun. I ask for tips from a friend who has been down this route before:

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‘Ah yes, the homemade cracker. They take weeks. You have to set aside a room to do them in. And nobody notices them.’ It will be fun, I tell my sister. ‘But they won’t go bang,’ she says. They will because I’ve bought the snaps that do this from a gigantic online retailer that my children say I should be boycotting on account of its taxation practices.

The contradictions in our consumerism continue. ‘You can’t put in any plastic,’ says Zam, who is worried that our oceans are all becoming plastic soup. ‘I thought I’d put in badges,’ I reply, rather pleased. ‘You can’t put in badges now that you’ve told us about them,’ retorts Will, who I think may have had a red Dalek moment in the past, although I’m not sure quite when that was.

‘What about the mini playing cards? I love getting those,’ puts in Alfie. ‘I always want the shoehorn,’ adds Zam, who appears to have momentarily forgotten the oceans. ‘Nobody wants the shoehorn,’ we all chorus, astonished. He stands his ground: ‘You’re wrong—it’s the giant paperclip nobody wants.’

It’s then I realise that some handmade wooden gewgaw will be a bitter disappointment and I’m going to have to buy shoehorns and rain bonnets and ram them into loo-roll innards, search joke websites, make hats from tissue paper that will shed glitter from now until the end of December and wrap them in cheap paper because, according to the cracker-making friend, tasteful paper (not that I was going to use this in any case) is too strong to pull.

As a final tip, she advises me to put a £20 note in one of them, thereby ensuring that the project is, in fact, noticed. Glory-seeking and a colossal waste of time. FUN.

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