TIS 22 nights until Christmas, and, across the UK, the mood up and down is one of dismay. And no wonder — it is shaping up to be the bleakest December in recent memory.
The Brexit election campaign is only a month old and, like every one-month-old, won’t stop screaming whenever you try to put it down (BREAKING NEWS! EVERYTHING’S BAD!) Another nine days of ducked debates, desperate doorknocking and electioneering looms.
To add insult to injury, Donald and Melania Trump touched down yesterday evening in Air Force One, with the perfect timing of everyone’s unwanted in-laws, needing picking up from the airport after work and boasting repeatedly that their bit of the world “sees the whitest Christmases! So white!” Snowfall in London seems unlikely, however. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday warned the planet is close to “the point of no return” and branded global efforts to combat climate change “utterly inadequate”, as world leaders gather for a vital conference on the Paris Agreement. Lump of coal for everyone on the naughty list, Mr Guterres? Oh no.
South Western Railway staff, meanwhile, have just begun a month of walkouts over the role of guards on trains, just as we escape “leaves on the track” season. Spending an hour queuing for a (very) delayed 7.01am train to Waterloo is presumably not how you imagined your life panning out. “It’s about the journey not the destination”, reads the tote bag your nose is shoved into. Remember to breathe (through your mouth, though, because the tote bag is stuffed with yesterday’s gym kit).
Even party season (fun!) seems vaguely insurmountable, as you brace yourself to spend the two weeks of hitting the Christmas spirits far too hard, and being ruthlessly gaslit by Instagram’s hangover-filtered party people and their wellness secrets. And daylight hours are really, really short. Dark times indeed.
Yet all is not lost — if you squint, you can just about pick your way through the gloom. To help you, here is your friendly neigbourhood survival guide with which to make it to Christmas with sanity (almost) intact.
Go full Christmas
Deck the halls with all the bells and whistles. Decorate your house in top-to-toe neon, get five (chocolate) advent calendars and play Slade at full volume from your Google Home as soon as your walk through the door (“It’s Christmaaaaaaaaaas”). The sustainable humblebragger can also be excessive: rent a tree (or two!), craft your own decorations (read: buy them from Etsy) and text absolutely everyone a picture of your homemade Christmas card (this saves on paper). “I have captured the Christmas spirit early, and full on, and have been proclaiming ‘Happy Christmas!’ to everyone in London since the first week of November,” the former Suits actor Wendell Pierce — currently wowing audiences at the Piccadilly Theatre as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman — recently told ES Magazine, a thrillingly transatlantic approach. Try this at home.
Duck the Donald
Yes, the Donald is in town, but don’t let him get you down. Imagine him as the Baby Trump blimp to amuse you. Delete Twitter from your phone for a week and — if you must — write your hot takes in a mood journal. Donate to a civil rights charity or Greenpeace if POTUS’s mere presence has irked you. And remember that it’s only for a few days.
Party with panache
The party season is like an ice rink: you can glide smoothly through it, or spend the whole session bumping full speed into the walls. How to best avoid ending up in a crumpled heap? Hangover cures are essential: CBD oil, milk thistle and really anything with more than two types of cheese are essential. Book in a hair of the dog “quick catch-up” in the break-out zone (the pub) with colleagues the day after the Christmas party. You can’t attend everything: be a flake, hire a body double, or commit to just a single party every week. When you do turn up, master the art of the French exit: in other words, do a few circuits of the room, and then leave without saying goodbye.
Lotte Jeffs, the author of How to be a Gentlewoman: The Art of Soft Power in Hard Times, is an accomplished party skater. Her top tip? Don’t talk politics. Avoid mentioning Brexit, MPs and manifesto promises.
If you’re short on topics, try every interesting-looking magazine article you’ve bookmarked for future reading in the past two months, rehearsing Gavin and Stacy in-jokes in time for the Christmas Day special, or conducting spontaneous bouts of Fairytale of New York. If this sounds a bit much, “It’s OK to excuse yourself from festivities for a short timeout,” says Jeffs. “Being around people all day can be overwhelming, find a quiet room in the house or take a walk around the block. Just remember to come back!”
It’s good to talk
“With millenials in particular, they often find themselves less connected to groups and organisations because social media is so fragmenting,” says Kathleen Smith, a therapist and author of Everything Isn’t Terrible. She advises clients to seek out “intergenerational connections” at this time of year. In other words: spend your time to venting to anyone and everyone, be they colleagues, your mum or your Pret server. “We can feel like we’re the first to have faced a problem,” says Smith. Just be prepared to be their shoulder to cry on in return.
Room with the inn-crowd
We are sick of delays — and with South Western Railway causing chaos all month, no wonder. But how to patch up your malfunctioning commute in the meantime? Nifty as an electric scooter/car pool/horse may sound, you are likely already on an emergency Christmas budget and therefore looking to save money.
In that case, think laterally. You have no doubt been inundated with people you haven’t seen all year insisting “I MUST see you before Xmas xox”. Like it or not, they have just volunteered as ersatz innkeepers. Invite yourself over. Make yourself at home. Come armed with novelty pyjamas, mince pies, a bottle of wine and at least three Netflix recommedations (“Wow, is that the time?”) By 10pm, it will be assumed that you’re bedding in for the night — so make a beeline for their sofa. If all your friends are hutching up in cramped shared houses (see: millennials), never fear, it’s cuffing season. Simply find a seasonal girl/boyfriend to hook up with. Tinder really comes into its own during the festive season.
Not a sofa person? Weird, but suit yourself. All is not lost on the travel front, though. Use the “bonus” time to pimp your ride, improving the environment you find yourself trapped in. Despite Martin Scorsese insisting that The Irishman needs to be seen on a big screen, defy the director by watching all three-and-a-half hours on your Apple Watch (which should just about entertain you for a whole delayed journey into Waterloo).
Catch up on The Crown. Listen to an audiobook (the new reading — this week, studies found that sales of audiobooks are set to overtake ebooks in 2020. Farewell Kindle). Play quiz super-game HQ Trivia to bide the time — if you’re stuck on a delayed service, why not recruit a few fellow traveller? While you’ve got a captive audience on a stationary train carriage, strike.