I believe that some Christmas decorations were sent to test the mettle of even the cheeriest elf. After spending last weekend trying to add some illumination to the front garden, I sat and envisioned some fat cat distributor elsewhere in the world patiently explaining to an underling who dared suggest they could build them better and stronger that such radical thinking would defeat the purpose of being in the decoration-making business.
As we’ve established in previous columns of mine, I have never shied away from ensuring that we have boxes and boxes of lights, hooks, baubles, bangles and beads hidden in the nooks and crannies of the house, ready to be called upon when the crisp December air comes wafting o’er the beaches and trees. This year was no exception, but I have such a busy schedule this season that it’s been difficult to get into the spirit and find the time to start assembling my annual extravaganza. Last Saturday I had a word with myself and out came the Rubbermaid treasure chests.
Now anyone who has attached icicle lights to the front of their house knows what a labour-intensive process it can be. You ascend a ladder which enables you to staple or hook a string within a certain span. Lean beyond that and you might find yourself proving the law of gravity and landing on an ill-placed reindeer or snowman. My straight ladder has slightly uneven feet and the lawn is still pretty sodden after a late rainy summer. These elements, added to my discomfort with heights make it a jolly jape, trying to staple all those lights up whilst ignoring the ache in my puny arms. The icicles never just hang beautifully either – you have to coax them into the vertical. For this reason, I purposely bought more robust sets in December ’08 so that once we entered the New Year they could remain exactly where they were, braving the elements for twelve months before dazzling once again. We switched them on at the end of November, and hey-ho they worked! At least I was saved from THAT hassle.
Not so fast…
The neighbours hung up their icicles the very next week, and y’know what? Theirs were brighter than ours!!! I was willing to let it go, being chief decorator ‘n’ all, but my best friend and flatmate Lynne was having none of it. “Theirs are pretty bright,” she said one evening, as though it was no big deal. But then she brought it up a few times afterwards in a more pointed fashion. The more she said it, the weaker our twinklers seemed, and by last Saturday I could swear they were actually making our porch darker. We were off to the hardware store to keep up with the Joneses!
Icicles come in many colours, types and lengths but we knew exactly what we wanted. Blinding white that would see CUC’s profits jump and make everyone in our neighbourhood think there was a second full moon on the rise. We spied some sets of LED beauties that not only were more environmentally sound, but threatened to make us the pride of our block. I could find no prices, and against Lynne’s better advice, had not measured the width of our patio before we left the house. I called Dermott (Flatmate #2) who said we were looking at about 33ft. My arms twinged. Nine boxes of 4.5’ ft strings went into the cart, and then as an afterthought I bought two sets of pathway lights that resembled mammoth versions of the old-style Christmas lights with bulbs the size of your thumb. The LED lights were astonishingly expensive. The young lady at the cash register casually scanned a box with her gun and an amount that suggested the misplacement of a decimal point flashed up on the screen. “Want them?” she asked, noting my opinion written all over my face. Despite balking at the price, I kept seeing my home bathed in white light as though magic snowflakes surrounded it. The vision was too irresistible. “I’ll take them!” I announced, as Lynne quietly choked behind me.
Home James, and don’t spare the reindeer!! I didn’t waste any time – I ran up to my bedroom, got on the ugly comfortable clothes that one needs for such projects and hustled downstairs to the boxes waiting on the porch. Best thing to do was to get the icicles up first. It wasn’t a fun job, but it was the one to tick off the list as soon as possible. I opened the first box, unraveled the first set, and…waitaminnit…am I missing something here? Where was the female end plug? This was the part that plugged into the wall and…where was the part that allowed the next set to join it? What’s this thing here? No, that can’t be it… Maybe this set is defective. Let’s open the next box…nope, this one’s the same….OWW!! WHY do they wrap these things in thin metal ties?? That’s gonna leave a mark…
This was the inane monologue that went through my head, but basically it all boiled down to this – these sets of LED icicles, expensive and beautiful, could not be linked together. Who designs such things?? Who has a 4.5’ porch, or who has a porch with power points every 4.5’ located near the edge of the roof?? As I started to contemplate the complicated process of running multiple extension cords under the lip of the tiles I could feel something very unlike the Christmas spirit rising up inside me. Calm down. Move on to something else. Oo! The pathway markers!
I unwrapped the contents of the first box and instantly discovered a broken bulb, despite being protected by bubble wrap. Tartar Sauce!!!!!!!! I took a bulb from the second box, determined to see if I could put at least one set together. The large surrounds came as two pieces that had to be connected via a couple of ill-fashioned plastic clips. I tried gently pressing them towards each other, which turned into savage slamming, using my poor palms as hammers. A clip snapped under the pressure, but I continued like a woman possessed. These things weren’t going to break me, although clearly I was well on my way to breaking them. Finally all five were assembled and they were ready to grace the garden. I placed them along my front wall, but they weren’t so much in a line as a cluster, thanks to only short wires between each light. Lynne wrinkled her nose when she saw them, but thought better of offering her thoughts when I threw her a look, daring her to comment.
I went into the house and dropped onto the couch, exhausted from my meager efforts. My palms were throbbing like something out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon and I was drenched in sweat. Bah, humbug I thought.
Later that evening I had to go out. I (expertly) applied the last brushes of lipstick, grabbed my handbag and opened the front door. Why what was this wondrous sight that greeted me? My multi-coloured cluster o’lights looked beautiful by the wall, and even though typing might be an issue for a few days, the pain in my hands seemed to dissipate as I basked in the gentle glow of what I had wrought. Yes, yes…I could make this work! I walked to the car, my mind buzzing with the architecture of what I could create in the coming days, my enthusiasm renewed once again. As I got into the driver’s seat, I started humming something that sounded very like Jingle Bells.
Merry Christmas to all!!