Tis the season to wake up on Saturday mornings with a palpable sense of immediate guilt and shame about whatever it was you probably did last night. Even if you stayed in watching Lady and the Tramp eating an entire Iceland Beef Garland alone.
I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas Party season clichés, because they're all true. I won't list them, because you've all done them, including some of my friends who might read this post. But needless to say the group WhatsApp exchanges have reached such a zenith of quality during the past week that I have actively looked forward to waking up at my usual 6:40 just to see which friend has sent round an incriminating picture of themselves at 4.08am, with a slurred comment on who/what/where/they shouldn't have done/gone at their office party that night. In fact, as I type this at 1.05pm on Saturday afternoon, a friend has just sent the simple message of "Help me". It was her work do last night, so I presume she is experiencing the post-match trauma of recalling how many times she tried to subtly angle for a promotion, mistakenly, to the I.T support guy whilst ordering a round of fourteen sambucas that she avoided paying for. Another friend told me she went outside and had a cigarette with colleagues at their do a few nights ago 'just to fit in', even though she gave up smoking years ago and was suffering from flu. As she pointed out, "I'm 30; I shouldn't have to smoke to make friends anymore." And that's about as vanilla an anecdote as I can type.
As I sat having breakfast with my housemate this morning, feeling fairly smug that I'd survived my work soiree last night with my dignity intact (I'm yet to be told otherwise), we inadvertently watched three back-to-back morning cookery shows, all providing the same reassuring mindless background hum of domestic comfort. It's okay that you're hungover, they spoke to us, In ten minutes you will have learned how to make homemade Tagliatelle, just like this woman's grandma used to do it in Italy. "Mmm" we grunted in unwashed unison, "I want to eat that." Such is the power of aspirational television. It can be no coincidence that they schedule these programmes first thing in the morning at weekends. Here are some clean, jolly, wholesome humans before us, talking about which wine would best go with a wild boar vegetable stew, at 9am. Do I want to be thinking about whether I'd prefer to accompany this dish with a bottle of Claret or a freshly-pressed Gin Bloody Mary before I've even cleaned my teeth? What I want is for one of them to come over to my house and make me a fried egg sandwich, and preferably spoon feed it me as well, moving my jaw by hand so I have to exert myself as little as possible. Also the eggs are really far away in the fridge, so I can't do this myself. But the TV chefs know I'm weak-willed. They know I won't even think about getting up for at least another half an hour; I'm trapped. STOP SHOWING CLOSE UP SHOTS OF SLOWLY-POURED WINE. WHY ARE YOU EATING DINNER AT BREAKFAST? They are meal magicians, palette perverts who exist only to torment and punish those of us who would prefer to be eating a rejuvenating plate of entirely beige food items readily available in corner shops, but are too spent in body and spirit to change the channel. So we will continue to watch you par-boil peaches and cover them in amaretto cream, James Martin; but by god I wish that cream were beans and the peaches fish fingers.
The only good thing about these formulaic lifestyle guilt-journeys is that at the end of the cooking segment, a motley grouping of semi-known celebrity guests have to gather round and eat the artery-clogging dishes, swilling each mouthful down with a glass of the aforementioned carefully chosen wine, and lashings of forced bonhomie. There's nothing that generates more schadenfreude than watching an earnest-looking historian gulp down chicken liver foam at 9.35am on live TV, with a red wine chaser. After all, your new book on 19th Century clocks isn't going to publicise itself.
The seasonal variation on the standard cookery show was our last endurance test, and made baffling viewing. Whichever young, vital chap it was, was merrily mixing up a bowl of what can only be described as the culinary manifestation of a madman's psychosis. Having missed the intro, we gawped in increasingly confused horror, as he flung in nuts, grated in hard boiled eggs, and then diced up a handful of prunes with festive abandon. "I think he's having a breakdown." suggested my housemate, "maybe he took some ketamine by accident before they started filming..." The camera panned out to reveal a Christmas tree, and a splayed turkey, ready to be filled with this hideous concoction. I was reminded of the potions and mixtures we'd make as kids in the kitchen; grown-ups playing along affably when we invited them to try some, giggling manically that they were stupid enough to eat something so clearly consisting of three different condiments, flour and half the medicine cabinet. The final touch was the steaming pile of fried liver which he poured on top; beating up the foulness into a frenzied blend of Gothic proportions. The following montage of him stuffing the bird with it needs no illustrating, and with the words "Always go breast first", he flung it into the oven. Cut to him later, in a Santa hat, with the cooked turkey ready and waiting next to him. It looked grey. He looked grey. We felt greyer. This is your final punishment spoke the television. Now someone has to eat this, and you have to watch...
"Help me", we texted in unison.