Magazine article The Spectator

Festive Viewing

Magazine article The Spectator

Festive Viewing

Article excerpt

I can't remember a Christmas where I watched so little Christmas TV as this one, which is a shame in a way, because I do think that mammoth sessions in front of the box are the key to feeling truly Christmassy. Going to church helps, too, obviously, but it's never quite enough. The only way you're ever going to trick your mind into conjuring up an approximation of all those Christmases you think you remember from childhood where cheery robins perched on snowy gateposts, the turkey breasts were never dry and the presents were always as exciting as you'd hoped they'd be is by brainwashing yourself with constant exposure to Christmas specials and Christmas movies and Christmas adverts, all lying sweetly about how Christmas ought to be instead of how boring it is.

What I did instead, mostly, was play bridge with our evil-lawyer bridge friends Helen and John down the road. I'm still buzzing from the six spades contract I made last night, which wasn't one of those ones that plays itself -- I had to do clever things like work out how to dump my losing singleton, etc. Are there any TV programmes I'd sacrifice a game of bridge for? The Sopranos, Das Boot, Band of Brothers -- but since none of them was on the issue didn't arise. You may notice that Rome (BBC2, Wednesday) isn't on this list. That's because I now realise it's utter pants and if it weren't for the lesbian sex scenes, Polly Walker and the regular scenes of satisfying ultraviolence I would have given it up weeks ago.

My Christmas TV-watching strategy comprised mainly forcing my children to watch films I felt they ought to enjoy, even though of course all they really wanted to watch were those hyperkinetic Japanese cartoons that psychologist Dr Aric Sigman tells us are cut at a pace especially wellgeared to frying a child's brain. Trying to get your kids to sit in front of The Railway Children (ITV1, Christmas Day) instead is like trying to tell a crack addict: 'It's OK. I promise you'll get just as big a buzz from this delicious cup of coffee.'

The Railway Children. Yes, I too never fail to crack up during that glorious final scene when Jenny Agutter sees her longlost Daddy materialising from the steam.

But what I'd forgotten was just how thin the rest is. There's the other famous scene where they avert a rail disaster by waving their conveniently red petticoats. …

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