I like Christmas as much as the next person which, I suspect, is not quite as much as we're all meant to.
But despite my residual, unshiftable affection for the season, I'm not sorry to be free of the ordeal that is the month of December.
I like to think of it as some kind of physical, emotional and psychological decathlon - a multi-disciplined event that will push competitors to the farthest reaches of human endurance, contested annually between the dates of December 1st and 25th. The prize, if you are not one of the fallen, is the continued possession of your health, mental faculties and a token amount of money in your bank account, and the licence to eat like a 30-stoner for the next few days over what I like to refer to as 'Christmas proper'.
Those 10 terrible, testing disciplines:
1) Going to work five days of the week, just like the rest of the year. The toll of this on the human mind and body is not to be under-estimated.
2) The endless wild socialising.
3) The constant pressure to be seen to be achieving discipline 2) and not cancel anything because you are feeling 'a bit under the weather' or 'you want to strike for home now before the weather gets any worse'.
4) The endless game of cat-and-mouse you must play with various seasonal illnesses that are at large. You will be coughed, sneezed and exhaled on by brazenly ill colleagues, commuters and shop assistants until your immune system is a quaking, cowering shadow of its former self.
5) Survival on a diet of your choice of alcoholic beverages (however, this must include mulled wine and port), crisps, mince pies and Celebrations.
6) The annual 'surprise discipline', which this year is an out-of-season favourite – the assault course that comprises many inches of snow, which public transport will reliably fail to overcome.
I don't know what disciplines 7 to 10 are but let me tell you this: they are also bloody hard work.
If you are attempting to negotiate this Herculean set of circumstances, your nerves will be stretched to breaking point. The tiniest triviality can tip the balance, and cause everything to come crashing down – like the game on Crackerjack where they had to stand on a plinth and hold more and more brilliant prizes but also some cabbages too – transforming you into a wailing, thrashing, pedestrian-pushing, public-transporting-shouting sociopath.
What will be the straw that breaks the manger's back? What will be the excessive clumsy metaphor that causes your readers to go, 'Christ, she has really overcooked this'?
For me, in December, it was this harmless-looking pair of woolly grey tights.
I say harmless, but they do look like they were made to be worn by a 10-year-old child being evacuated from London in the Blitz, which is admittedly not exactly a risk-free scenario.
Some background on the monstrous tights:
They came from a fashion sale at work. The fashion sale, if you are unfamiliar with the interior workings of women's magazine publishing, is the less common sibling of the beauty sale, an in-office dignity-free display of savagery where women who purport to be cool taste-makers will commit random acts of violence against each other for the right to be the first to rummage through a cardboard box full of leaking shampoo samples and buy them for a fraction of their real price. A fashion sale is the textile equivalent: the leftovers from fashion shoots that haven't been returned to the labels who sent them in. Which is to say: shoes that are too big (standard sample size: 7), clothes that are too small, but often – in some shallow reworking of Goldilocks – tights that are just right. (Models have long legs, so they mostly wear larger sizes. As do I.)
Tights that are just right, then. At least, that's what I thought when I pulled them free of an almighty spaghetti-junction of their siblings at the sale, and fell in love with their academic-grey, homespun-by-industrial-machinery cosiness. It's important to stress that they didn't look in any way small. No smaller than my other woolly tights. I checked this using scientific instrumentation in the days that followed my hosiery-related breakdown.
This was very much on my mind when I put them on at 8am on one of those today-is-going-to-be-incredibly-hard-work December snow days. Not a Snow Day. Oh no. Just a snow day, when you have to embrace your regular journey to work as though the sun was shining and the streets were clear. Let me tell you that there are few things better than putting on a new pair of socks, but putting on a new pair of tights is one of them. They gave me inner strength to face the journey ahead.
They gave me inner strength for about 50 metres. At this point, on my walk to the station, it occurred to me that the waistband of my beloved new tights was beginning to lose contact with my waist. Fifty more yards and it was clearly thinking of making an introduction to the tops of my thighs. At this point, I attempted my first hitch-up. It was not entirely successful.
I carried on along the quiet side streets to the station, where I could perform the occasion upward knitwear lunge with no witnesses. These attempted quick-fixes were unsatisfactory – what with the layers of winter coat and dress it was hard to gain a purchase. This meant that as I approached the station, my walking speed was accelerating as I tried to outpace my tights on their descent down my legs, hoping I would make it onto the platform and into the carriage before they became visible beneath the hem of my dress. I had also tried to affect a kind of legs-squeezed-together walk, in the hope that I would impede the tights' downward progress further. To a stranger, this, naturally, made me look as though I should have been to the toilet before I left the house, but didn't, and was beginning to regret it.
This was not the soothing start to the day I had in mind when I got dressed. Now I was flustered. I was disappointed. Yes, December was dragging me down. Still, I had made it onto the train. I was on my way to work, the train was not late, no social plans had been cancelled and I was illness-free (and bizarrely, I still am, although I keenly await the stomach bug which seems to occur around my birthday in mid-January. This may simply be a nauseous physical reaction to the fact that I am a year older and still do not like olives, an unable to swim and have yet to achieve numerous other, more crucial, life stages). I was safely sitting down in a chewing-gum-free seat. No one, thus far, had seen my gusset as it landed on my shoes. No further harm could be done to my mental state for the time being.
Fourteen minutes later, the train arrived at London Bridge. I waited till everyone else had left the carriage before standing up and performing a thorough act of hosiery redistribution, starting at the ankles, gathering upwards, gathering, gathering all the time, under the skirt and upwards, collecting the excess material in a bunch in my hand, then stretching it back up, high over the waist, leaving me in perfect comfort, perfectly covered. A maneouvre that was of particular fascination to one of the London Bridge platform staff who was watching me through the carriage window.
I left the train good as new. But by the time I had reached the ticket barrier, this fresh start was in vain. A new climbdown was upon me. A quick hitch in the anonymous crowds of the station, and I carried on my way. But down and down the tights went. I was now, officially, quite annoyed. And it became clear that the bad thing that was happening was now happening more quickly than ever. Outside, the streets of zone 1 were busy. It was less easy to adjust my undergarments unnoticed, but I had no choice. I had tried to assimilate the now-constant hitching process into some kind of hip-hop walk. A disaster, obviously, but I had little choice. I was also attempting to walk as quickly as possible in search of cover, and was impeded by dawdlers, standing-still smokers and tourists, and the treacherous winter conditions under foot. I was furious. Desperation made me increasing less subtle. I was now publicly digging and lunging at my thigh and waist area like a woman in the throes of a major hygiene issue. Or at the least, a irritable itchy skin condition. YES, IRRITABLE. TELL ME ABOUT IT.
The hitching gave way to simply holding up my tights as I walked. I'm not sure what I looked like by this point. Possibly a deranged woman desperately trying to hold her tights up, on the edge of a Falling Down-style psychotic episode.
By the time I reached the branch of Marks & Spencer on Southwark Street, a journey of approximately seven minutes only, I felt capable of acts of violence on an epic scale. It was here that I bought a new pair of tights – boring black nylon, not lovely woolly grey, but I gripped them in in my hand like an oxygen mask in an emergency as I staggered the final few yards to safety of the office toilets where I could get changed.
This is why the decathlon is only 10 events, and not 11 - the eleventh discipline, which was outlawed by the IAAF for being too demanding, involved speed-walking to the workplace down a busy street while attempting to subtly keep up what have been officially ratified as the worst pair of tights in the world. I would like to see Thompson and Hingsen going to toe to toe on that one.
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
11 months ago