Those traditions which never die

So are you ready for Christmas?If I had �1 for every time I've been asked that in the last fortnight I'd be on a plane right now heading somewhere hot to escape the spending fest we all know and endure as Christmas.

So are you ready for Christmas?

If I had �1 for every time I've been asked that in the last fortnight I'd be on a plane right now heading somewhere hot to escape the spending fest we all know and endure as Christmas.

What 'ready for Christmas?' really means is are you as spent out, fed up, and surrounded by mountains of tat, novelties and nonsense people don't really need as the rest of us?

Remember, what might raise a slight titter when the wrapping is pulled off on Christmas Day is never worth the �10.99 it cost and will never be tittered at - or even looked at - again.

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Reluctant as I am to come over all Scrooge-like as the countdown begins but I can't be the only one feeling a little jaded by the frenzy.

Like most people, we decided to cut back this year, embarrassed by the amount of stuff our boys still had unopened from last Christmas and birthdays. Parceled up and sent to the Salvation Army Toys and Tins appeal, we put our foot down.

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Husband and I have felt queasy on several Christmas mornings watching the boys tire of the yet unopened piles, with husband blaming me for my obscene spoiling.

This year would be cut back year, we said, my eye on new flooring as an incentive. So why am I looking at piles of gifts with their names on that I've just wrapped. How did they get here?

Why did I pick up the 'just in case' presents or the 'he'd love this' gifts when 'need' is nowhere near the top of the list.

'One big present and a few bits,' husband said, still berating me for buying him a 'Brain Trainer' a couple of years ago. 'A total waste of money. '

My 'a few bits' has been translated into multiple bits.

'But the bits are useful - clothes, toiletries and stuff they'll need anyway so, in the end, I'm saving money. And books - lots of books,' I protest, a little too much.

Husband approves of books. He'd never reproach for a reference book. It's the rest he questions.

But Christmas has a momentum all of its own and if, like us, you do the same thing every year, the children expect tradition - even if it doesn't mean piles of stuff they love.

Even at 13 and 10, they're insisting on their old felt Santa sacks, each bearing their name in multi-coloured felt letters I cut out and stuck on a decade ago.

They still want their stockings, filled with bits and pieces, jokes, stationary, chocolate coins. They expect annuals, selection boxes and a Terry's chocolate Orange like every year.

They'd be horrified if I dared to change our Christmas decorations with the fashions. We have to have the same, in the same place with as many lights as we can plug in.

They peer into into my kitchen cupboard - my special Christmas kitchen cupboard cleared for goodies - to check their desired requirements are there, even if they do question the numerous boxes of 'biscuits for cheese' I accumulate every year and we're eating well into the New Year?

And do we really need packets of 'Christmas coffee' and jars of 'Christmas conserve?'

'But it's Christmas,' they chorus, sticklers for tradition.

So, whenever someone asks 'Are you ready for Christmas?' and I feel irritated and jaded by the sheer busyness and commercialism of it all, I remember why I'm doing it - for my boys.

I'm thrilled to have built traditions they now look forward to and hope they'll still be looking forward to them in 20 years' time.

Perhaps without the sacks, though.

Enjoy this week before Christmas, preparing family traditions, finding time for a carol concert and making happy times for our children. It's that happiness and memories that last - far longer than any �10.99 bit of plastic tat.

On the subject of Christmas, we all had a giggle at a supermarket checkout this week as we queued beside a giant basket of Cr�me Eggs.

'Why are you pushing Cr�me Eggs at Christmas?' the woman in front of me asked, in hysterics.

'No idea. I think we've lost the plot,' answered the cashier wearing reindeer ears.

John Lewis, purveyor of fine goods never knowingly undersold, normally has me drooling over its festive adverts suddenly feeling an urgent need for everything on offer.

But this year they've scored a spectacular own goal with women.

'Perfect Gift' tempts the ad. For what? A nest of coloured mixing bowls, a set of knives and a cruet set with bunny ears.

Puh -leaze. Any husband who presented plastic bowls to his wife on Christmas morning should be prepared to run quick. Those pepper grinder bunny crunchers look like they could turn into a mean offensive weapon.

Tiger Woods has announced he's taking a break from golf to focus on being 'a better husband, father and person.'

Better late than never, some might say.

But it begs the question how much golf was he actually playing to fit in alleged affairs with at least 11 other women?

So why does he need to take a break?

And surely golf isn't his problem or what he needs to give up.

A huge family favourite TV programme was Outnumbered.

My mother-in-law discovered it and urged the whole extended family - most of whom rarely watch the box - to give it a try.

We were all quickly hooked and loved its improvisation, unpredictability and refreshing portrayal of a 'normal' family of harassed parents and unruly children.

Most of all, we were bewitched by Karen, Ramona Marquez, the most magnificent little comedy actress who not only acts but writes her own material.

And she goes to Brownies and loves her bike.

Still only eight, she has become the first child to be named best female newcomer at the British Comedy Awards and boy does she deserve it.

I just hope her sharp instinct for comedy saves her from the 'luvviness' of the industry and never turns into a precocious bratty young actor like too many too-much-too-young child stars.

The X-Factor is over and we can forget all about it for the next nine months.

I just wonder if the 10 million who voted in the final will show the same enthusiasm for the General Election and the next Government to run our country rather than who will have a Christmas number one.

Or perhaps that's it. An X-Factor-style General Election with phone voting from sour sofas, elimination by on-screen heats and all orchestrated by Simon Cowell.

The Cowell-touch to politics might be just what it needs.

The Playgrounds, Caretakers and Tuck Shop Secretary ,or whatever his title may be, Ed Balls bore an uncanny resemblance to another when he was manically back peddling from his previous ludicrous vetting policy on GMTV on Monday.

Extraordinarily wide-eyed for that time in the morning, his scary flare eyed look had the look of someone else famous for his wild eyes.

Ed Balls is Robbie Williams' doppleganger - or his older brother at least. Separated at birth.

More than once, I've been working at home when I heard the postman's van on the gravel on our drive.

By the time I've reached a doormat, there was a 'sorry you were out' note for a parcel.

He hadn't even tried the doorbell.

This, I hasten to add wasn't our regular wonderful postman who goes out of his way to ensure our Amazon and eBay parcels arrive safely, but a stand-in who probably couldn't be bothered.

More than half customers - 55 per cent - claim to have received a 'sorry you were out' card when they were at home, according to customer watchdog consumer Focus.

So are postmen leaving parcels in the office to lighten their load. Hardly customer service.

Home delivery isn't home delivery if you have to drive miles to the post office to pick up parcels.

The effect will be fewer of us will on-line shop, not only affecting companies but the Royal Mail itself and, ultimately, postal workers' jobs.

Haven't they noticed there is a recession on and they're lucky to have work?

Presumably when graduate trainee Holly Leam-Taylor got her job as a consultant analyst sound judgment came into it.

So what possessed the 22-year-old to send out a group email to female colleagues at City firm Deloitte asking them to vote in an awards ceremony to name the most attractive men in her office, including 'Fittest body' and 'Boy most likely to sleep his way to the top?'

In a top firm staffed by grown-up professionals.

Imagine if a male had written the same email. He'd have been out of the door quicker than you could say 'tribunal.'

Oh how she must have laughed, feeling quite pleased with herself as she pushed the 'send' button.

But her email went global and Leam-Taylor jumped before she was pushed by her employers.

Now jobless and living with her parents she still can't understand the fuss. 'It was just alight-hearted joke to celebrate Christmas.'

And if that what she really thinks it speaks volumes about her judgment and isn't a great reference for her next job application.

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