Wheaton’s Way

The annual Christmas light fight

It’s nearly the most wonderful time of the year… unless you’re trying to track down that one rogue bulb that’s throwing a spanner into the works of your Christmas light display.

I realise some of you will sniff at the fact that I’m starting to decorate this early, but hear me out: It takes days to get everything set up and I want to enjoy it for a while before it has to be dismantled again.

It all started with a call last week to my brother Dominic. I went through the usual niceties before getting to the meat of it: could he help us get the seasonal boxes down from the attic?

I actually pride myself on handling most stuff on my own, but there is no Venn diagram that exists where Vicki, ladders and attics intersect.

After going through all our stock, I came to the conclusion that I needed to ‘enhance’ the collection of lawn sculptures. That’s when my battle with the snowman began.

A week into tackling the front garden, I had already endured my fair share of hiccups. You know there will always be at least one ornament or set of lights that won’t cooperate. Even new, straight out the box, these things can be a crapshoot.

For example, I had fallen prey to the siren song of a large, two-piece LED set that would lift the level of my wonderland to new heights. Seeing it set up in the shop mesmerised me – it might as well have been a pocket watch swinging before my eyes. I was a goner five steps in, and a helpful staff member loaded the huge box into my SUV.

Putting it together brought the usual joy – instructions that made you wonder if the same company manufactured magnifying glasses, with vital stages of assembly left out. It was the structural equivalent of the technical challenge on ‘The Great British Baking Show’.

Eventually, it was completed and standing steady, so plugging it in was all that was left. Prongs met an outlet and… nothing. No light, no twinkle, nada.

I spent the next 30 minutes testing each extension cord, bringing out a lamp from the house to check every section. She was getting juice, so what was the problem? Like Clark W. Griswold, I began inspecting every bulb – not an easy task, with them shoved and clipped in nooks and crannies. I couldn’t find anything wrong.

I berated myself for not plugging everything in first before assembling (please, learn from my mistake). My last option was to uproot one of the elements from the grass whence I had staked it, and carry it direct to a power point on the house to see if, for whatever reason, that made a difference.

In a way, it did. In the slight shadow of the doorway, I beheld a very, very faint glimmer from one of the light strands. Turned out, the effect was subtle. Incredibly subtle. So subtle, that, in the daytime, it was absolutely indistinguishable from a collection of dead bulbs.

That had been a nice way to spend my afternoon.

It’s presently ‘lit up’ – verging on spectral – by our driveway. So long as the moon isn’t out, you use your hand to block the street lamp, and you throw a black sheet behind it, you’ll see it.

But, ah, yes, back to the snowman.

Apparently, this experience wasn’t enough to deter me. I went on a quest for further merriment, zeroing in on a colourful, brightly lit snowman, standing on one ice skate with another booted foot in the air. Frosty, clearly from his Winter Olympics period; he would complete my display.

If only the quote from Jeff Goldblum’s character in ‘Jurassic Park’ had come to mind: “… so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”.

Word, Jeff. Word.

I was so keen to get my snowman out in the open that I began putting him together in the living room that night while best friend and housemate, Lynne, tried to watch the latest episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

“You’re doing that now? Here?” she asked, as glitter fell all over the couch. You might say Frosty was losing some of his sparkle.

At the same time, my skin was breaking out in rashes thanks to an overproduction of histamine meeting scratchy, glittery material. Fibreglass Frosty?

Trying to get his hat inserted into his noggin took some welly, but my grunts of frustration nicely mixed with the creatures fighting the Federation on the screen at that moment.

It was 11pm, but I was going to position him on the lawn. A combination of swarming mosquitoes and ground stakes constantly hitting bedrock put paid to that idea pretty quickly. I can’t imagine what the neighbours thought, seeing the silhouette of a person pounding away in the dark with a rubber mallet.

The next morning, it was on. In my haste to escape the mosquitoes, I had left Frosty face down on the grass. In the light of day, it looked like he had either hit the bottle very hard and passed out, or spectacularly botched the landing on that triple Lutz with which he’d planned to dazzle the judges.

I got him up, replaced his nose, which had made a break for it, and prepared to do battle.

I finally found a spot where the stakes weren’t being blocked by a solid, unseen object under the lawn. However, the opposite became a problem. They entered the soft, saturated earth too easily.

One moment he was leaning back at an angle impossible for even a seasoned snowman on ice skates to attain, and the next, he was threatening to reacquaint himself with the flowers before him.

Every fresh new breeze took him on a wild ride through 180 degrees, dislodging his arms in the process and leaving them hanging uselessly at his sides, connected only by strings of lights.

I swore under my breath as his hat flew off, knocked by my elbow while trying to reconnect an arm. By this time, Frosty had clearly sustained a seriously broken ankle, as it was bending in every direction, far beyond any assistance the puny ground stakes could give it.

The impulse to grab the rubber mallet and put this grinning menace out of its – and my – misery, was overwhelming, but I kept my cool. I had to stop the chaos. I grabbed a large rock from the garden and stuck it behind him. He immediately leaned forward, as though looking for his reflection in the grass.

At that moment, I found the metal pipe I knew I had in the house somewhere, and… and… I… stuck it up the centre of his standing skate, into his body, thus rendering him upright.

Yes, there was still a bit of a lean, but that snowman wasn’t going anywhere and I could live with it.

I can’t wait to start on the candy canes tomorrow.

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