Inspired by this incredible piece, I have imagined what Christmas may hold for the unfortunate author as she struggles to accept her new and unwanted place amongst the nouveau pauvre (new poor):
As dawn breaks over a Yuletide sky, I watch from the window, clad in last year's Nicole Farhi pyjamas (simply couldn't afford a new pair this year). My partner and I have decided to spend the festive period in one of our Cotswolds retreats. The official line is that we want our daughters to experience the simple, rustic pleasures of a country Christmas - long walks in their wellington boots, feeding the birds with stale brioche. The truth is that I simply cannot afford to attend the plethora of social gatherings we've been invited to back in London, where bringing a bottle worth anything less than £25 would be committing social suicide. Then there are the countless new outfits I'd have to purchase, and the pressure of throwing my own extravagant soiree in return. Before the recession, I would have relished the prospect of decking the halls with as many boughs of holly as they could stand to bear, no expense spared. But since the dramatic change in our fortunes, my only hopes for a merry Christmas lie with the faint notion that perhaps those three kings will turn up, laden with gifts. I would welcome them with open arms, especially if one of them happened to be bearing a frosted pink Mac Notebook, which my 6 year old daughter has her heart set on this year, and which no amount of gentle hints will dissuade her from demanding.
I'm not alone here, I have a friend who has had to sacrifice her children's ski lessons, and swap her weekly pedicure for a Ped Egg in recent months. She is telling everybody that they are spending Christmas in the Maldives this year, when in fact they will be hiding at home, too ashamed and poverty stricken to show their faces.
Unable to sleep, I go through to the kitchen, where our bespoke Aga from Fired Earth is at least still throwing out some welcome heat. I brew coffee and switch on the bread maker, one of my 'economising' purchases from Harrods when the recession first hit and everybody was preparing to make cut backs. In 400 loaves time, it will have paid for itself. I knock up a batch of dough for a white crusty, even though we are usually a whole grain family, that's the only setting I've managed to master. The girls won't touch it, and I only indulge myself with complex carbohydrates at weekends, but I like them to wake up to the smell of fresh baking. Our chocolate Labrador, Henry, stirs in his box. He is blissfully unaware. I envy him.
Once everybody is up, it's time to start preparing our traditional Christmas breakfast. I simply refuse to go without smoked salmon, but as a concession, this year I've bought it from M&S. The scrambled eggs that accompanied it are seasoned with a few bitter tears, as the girls sit and squabble over the bumper tin of Quality Street I couldn't persuade them not to open yet. The amount of additives they are doubtless consuming fill me with horror, but this year even Lindt was looking like a stretch. At least our Bucks Fizz is of the usual standard, my partner received a brace of complimentary bottles of champagne from his firm. Cava brings me out in a rash.
Breakfast done, the girls and I head to church, whilst my partner stays at home to prepare the vegetables and answer the flood of calls from friends and family wishing us festive cheer. My eyes fill with tears once more as the vicar greets us, and then pulls me aside to mention how moved he was by my piece in the Daily Mail, and to offer his condolences. He gives me a long slow hug. I rather enjoy it.
Nodding at the various locals we have become acquainted with on the odd weekend we've made it down from London, I perch on my pew and pray hard for our fortunes to change next year. Once the service is over, I invite a few familiar faces back for a mulled local cider and a mince pie, luckily they all decline as in the car on the way home I remember with a sudden jolt of horror that I bought the pies from Morrisons. Even Henry looked disconsolate when offered one.
I normally follow the culinary musings of Delia and Nigella to the absolute letter, but this year I have had to cast aside their decadent words of wisdom, and fall back on the advice of Phil Vickery, a former guilty pleasure at best. Under his instruction I have purchased an Aldi three bird roast. It looks...intriguing. The store itself reminded me of an Eastern European supermarket, in fact I think most of the stock originated from that desolate land. It's a far cry from our usual free range, hand fed and regularly massaged turkey that you normally have to put your name down for in July.
Nobody seems to be able to manage much at lunch, and conversation is stilted. I am appalled by the quality of 'reasonably priced' crackers these days, our hats are made from tissue paper so thin that one sneeze could destroy them. They are sprinkled with plastic tat that doesn?t even constitute novelty value.
My partner and I load the dishwasher (washing up in our exquisite butler sink would be an act of lunacy) and then it's through to the lounge to open our presents, which the girls have helpfully divided into piles for each family member. They have spent days on end stroking, squeezing and sniffing their gifts, yet no matter how tastefully wrapped I have made them, the contents are bound to disappoint.
And they do. Both children are able to spot a budget purchase at 50 paces. There are tears and tantrums. My 6 year old threatens to call Childline when she finds an actual tangerine at the bottom of her stocking, in lieu of the usual £20 note. My partner stares wistfully at the bumper pack of nylon hiking socks, he's used to thick luxury from Boden. He has bought me 'Unconditional' by Peter Andre. From Superdrug. There are no words.
It's time to wrap up for our traditional post-lunch ramble, but only Henry seems enthused. The girls loiter behind us, they normally skip ahead. It breaks my heart to see them so despondent on what should be the most joyful, magical day of the year. I can't help feeling that I've failed as a mother. I briefly consider going home and hanging myself from one of the beams with the remnants of my £2 Tesco twine.
After a muted high tea, the centre piece of which is the Fortnum and Mason cheese wheel that it was too late to cancel, I am simply too emotionally drained to keep the girls away from the rest of the Quality Street, or my partner away from the scotch. I accept a large measure myself and settle back on our Colefax and Fowler clad three piece suite, which urgently needs re-covering but guess what? It'll just have to wait. I'd love to wish you merry Christmas, one and all. But frankly, I'm simply relieved it's finally over.