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Posts Tagged ‘bagatelle’

As this is to be our first Christmas at home for ages and children will be with us, it was an easy decision that we should have a tree.

Obviously, when I say ‘easy’, I mean that it didn’t take more than two evenings of debate before Geoff came round to my way of thinking.

A third evening’s debate was needed to decide that it should go in the sitting-room (his idea) and not the hall (my idea). A tactical climbdown on my part, obviously.

All we needed to do then was get a tree. A small one, we were agreed on that at least, and not too soon or its chances of survival until the family’s arrival would be slim. Since we have two ailing houseplants currently in intensive care, a whole tree is going to have to have very strong survival instincts.

I burrowed in cupboards and hauled out bags and boxes of lights, baubles and a miscellany of other items that have adorned trees in our various homes over the past very many years. Each tells a story, carrying a memory that fills my emotions as I pathetically caress it and welcome it back into service.

First, though, the tree. We head off to a farm and explain our requirements. I flap my arms and indicate an approximate height. “Six feet, then,” the chap says, with authority.

Geoff and I protest. No no, that’s far too big. We only want something modest with nice neat branches.

We are shown about a dozen others, all of them huge, until a much smaller one is produced and I say, impetuously, “That’ll do!”

The farmer tells us the price and there’s a crash as something keels over in the muddy farmyard: it’s the familiar sound of Geoff passing out in shock at yet another reminder of 21st century life. While he recovers, I arrange a mortgage and the farmer fits our million-pound purchase into a plastic corset that shows it who’s boss.

It just about fits in the car. I don’t mind at all that it’s bouncing on my head and bits of it are attacking my ears.

We drive home with our trophy, slide it out and stand it up. It’s enormous! It’s far, far bigger than we’d intended. Big enough for Trafalgar Square. Geoff doesn’t need to speak. I know what he’s thinking and he’s right, of course. It is my fault.

We can both feel huge Christmas headaches coming on, not least because we fear that smaller grandchildren may go missing in the tree.

It is currently in a bucket of water in the garden where I am hopeful it may shrink. Failing that, I may set it up in the garage – fully decorated and topped with its angel, of course.

UPDATE: The dilemma I referred to in last week’s column, about the double delivery of a bagatelle board and what to do about the extra one, has been resolved.

I called the company, Jacques of London, and a lovely woman explained that computer problems had caused several customers to receive repeat orders by mistake. It’s too difficult and costly to arrange for your spare to be collected, she said, so we would like you to donate it to a charity of your choice.

What an extraordinarily generous gesture! I was so touched and impressed that I spent several minutes gushing my thanks.

I’ve already contacted an appropriate charity and I am confident that Jacques will soon be the toast of many, many grateful people.

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The to-do lists are long, the ticks against the items are few. By this means I know I am making pathetically slow progress in the run-up to Christmas.

It’s the same every year and I refuse to get in a lather over it. Not much of a lather, anyway. Not yet.

The small amount of shopping I have done has been achieved locally and with notable success, I’m happy to say.

I have only once ventured off limits and ordered something online, and that was because I was seduced by an email advising me of an unrepeatable offer on a bagatelle board.

I bought one last year for the grand-boys and they love it. Time for one for the grand-girls, I decided, especially at this bargain price. They’re really far too young for it, but it’s a family game so their parents can enjoy it while little fingers grow and the competitive spirit is nurtured.

I enjoyed a frisson of smugness when I ordered the bagatelle board in early October. One tick on the to-do list already!

By mid-November it hadn’t arrived so I rang the company and was told the boards were ‘in manufacture’, which I translated as ‘being made’, and I should have received an email advising me of the delayed delivery.

I haven’t received one, I said. Oh, the girl said, carefully not apologising, and adding that my board would be with me by the end of the week.

It wasn’t, but it came at the end of the following week. It was a large and heavy parcel and the delivery man gratefully handed it over to Geoff while I scrawled ‘Sdfdjlpgkl’ with a piece of blunt plastic on to a blank screen, a curious procedure that proved the item was now in our safe keeping.

Five days later, another delivery man called at the door with an equally large and heavy parcel. Geoff dealt with it all this time, inscribing ‘Gfjghfjklq’ on the screen and waiting for the man to leave before calling out to ask me what I’d ordered this time.

I’ve ordered nothing, I assured him. That’s odd, he said, because I haven’t ordered anything either.

We checked on the label that it really was intended for Hill Towers and noticed that while indeed it was, the sender was the same company that had supplied the bagatelle board.

Then we tumbled to the fact that as both parcels were the same size and weight, this second one undoubtedly contained another bagatelle board.

Now we are up to our necks in a First World problem. Do we unwrap the parcel and double-check its contents, thus leaving ourselves with a re-wrapping palaver if the thing has to be returned? Do we heave it along to a post office, queue for 45 minutes and just hand it over and say ‘Help’, with a tearful whimper? Do we call Ms Unhelpful at the firm that sent it and ask her to sort it out? Or do we hang to it and wait to see if any more grandchildren are born?

It reminds us of the time someone else’s case of wine was delivered to us by mistake. It took over our lives while we tried to organise its removal. During the days it sat in the hall, like an unwelcome visitor that wouldn’t budge, it bruised our shins and seriously tempted with its ‘Drink me’ allure.

Take my word for it, none of this inconvenience happens when you stay in control and do your shopping locally.

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The grandchildren are, rightly, taking priority on my list of people for whom I am seeking inspiration for Christmas presents.

As the oldest is only six, they are nowhere near the age when a wad of notes or a generous cheque will be just the thing.

These small people want, and will get, exciting parcels wrapped in bright paper embellished with ribbons and snowflakes. In fact, we oldies know that it’s the look and the feel of their presents that will excite, almost as much as what is inside.

But what is inside? Ah, that is the question. This past week I have been in close contact with those who know far better than I what the two boys (aged six and four) and the two girls (three years and nine months) would most like or need.

There is no point at all in lumbering either household with things that will disappoint the children and end up just creating clutter, hence the need for guidance. Both my daughter and my daughter-in-law rose gamely to the challenge and I was soon able to compile a list.

Admittedly, the suggested present for baby Clemmie is nothing more exciting than socks, but as her mum pointed out when I suggested it sounded rather dull: “It’s OK, honestly. She’s a baby. She needs socks.” The subtext, unspoken, was along the lines of “Clemmie’s kicked off and lost all her sister’s hand-me-down socks so we need to top up the drawer.”

Hmmm, second child syndrome. I am that child, too, damaged by years of wearing my sister’s cast-offs. Poor little Clemmie. I’ll see her right. She’ll get socks all of her very own that reflect her happy personality and I’ll find her some interesting other things that will stimulate and entertain her and help keep that sunny smile on her face.

Her big sister is to have a toy cash register – a most sophisticated-looking beast – and some board games. Oh, and books, of course, because it’s impossible not to swamp all the grandchildren with books.

So that leaves the boys, both of whom have been in a state of near meltdown since they heard the first mention of Christmas back in about September. My daughter tells me, resignation in her voice, that they don’t sleep beyond dawn because they can’t wait to leap up and open the next door in their advent calendars – which I sent them. Whoops.

Just before she falls asleep face first into her day’s work at the kitchen table, my daughter and I discuss presents for the boys. “Honestly, just a bit of Star Wars Lego,” she says, her voice growing faint.

Now look, I complain, we can’t dismiss our grand-boys so lightly. Besides, I’m still in need of therapy after entering the unfathomable world of Star Wars at the time of their birthdays in the summer.

“Can we get them a present to share because they do play together all the time?” I ask. “We wondered about a bagatelle board . . .” Cue loud expressions of approval.

So the boys – in fact, all of us, because it’s such an inclusive game – will be pinging ball bearings with increasing degrees of skill as Christmas rolls into the New Year and far beyond.

Mindful of how mature the boys are now, I shall need to practise bagatelle before battle is joined or I could find myself humiliated – and I can’t have that.

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