The run-up has officially begun, with John Cleese throwing the switch that lights up all the frosty decorations that have been hanging over our heads here since October, and whole pockets of Britain will become more and more Victorian as December draws on.
I think we can thank Queen Victoria for Christmas as we now know it - or rather Prince Albert, as translated from German by Charles Dickens into the parlours and front rooms from London outwards (there are two things that Prince Albert is remembered for, and one of them is the Christmas tree). Prior to that, the winter festival was a very long and drawn out affair lasting twelve days and culminating on the last night, well into January. Because about 80 or 90 percent of the population were involved in agriculture, they were forced to take the time off anyway, but as the Empire expanded and heavy/light industry took many people off the fields and into the mills, production targets decreed that the celebrations should last for one day only - the fictitious day of the birth of Christ. I'm not saying that he was never born, just that December 25th might not have been that day, especially as the date was created by a Roman emperor, quite a few hundred years after the event.
Anyway, we now all know that the celebrations last for a lot longer than 12 days and nights now that everyone has become a shop-keeper - there is a shop here in Bath called 'December 25th', and it sells all the decorations and paraphernalia 365 days a year, right through the summer. That's what I call genuine mental illness.
It took me about 40 years to finally give in and join in with the fun, and that was due to the arrival of H.I.'s grandchildren, but now that they have both become young adults, I still go along with it anyway, and we are all looking forward to it in the way that we always have. They now refer to it as 'tradition', and since it is all they have ever known, that's what it is.
My glamorous assistant brought a large sack of a type of inert material into the workshop this summer, which is designed specifically to use in the repairs to white marble. You can buy it in three grades: coarse, medium and fine - he bought the fine. It is a pure white dust made from God-knows-what, and it's prime quality is that is glitters and sparkles in the same subtle way that real marble does in strong light, so that when you use it in a filler which you sand down to shape, it gives it a matching sparkly appearance which mimics the crystalline marble that surrounds it.
No sooner had he broke open the sack and pulled out a handful of the stuff to show me, than my mind wandered from the restoration job to hand and I immediately thought of two other uses for it, the description of which perfectly sums up where my head is at most of the time, now that I have just entered the phase of early old age.
The first - unworthy and ultimately unrealistic one - was that if we were to wrap up tiny quantities of the stuff into little bits of paper, we could sell them for about £50 each down the pub, but only for a short - very short - period of time.
The second - which occurred to me about two seconds after dismissing the first - was that it would be the perfect material to dust this year's Christmas cards with, and that's exactly what I am just about to do.
You have to remember that when this idea came to me, we were sweltering in the 80 degree heat of high summer. That shows you how much of a sucker I have become in my dotage.