Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The story of the Christmas shed

Our ON-OFF Christmas (aka Christmas in the Shed) – which is now part of the biennial domestic landscape at Hepworth Towers -  has an interesting history, as well as being immortalised in the novel PLOTTING FOR BEGINNERS.

1. It began as a jokey idea of Dave’s.

2. I wrote a piece about it for the Times, thinking everyone would know it was a joke.

3. The following year I sent a clipping of the piece to a glossy women’s magazine.

4.They rang me up, and this is what happened next – and I quote from the fictional version in Plotting for Beginners. But the bulk of this is TRUE.

“The features editor of Hearth and Home  [fictional title] rang. She said that everyone in the office had been rolling around laughing at Gus’s zany idea on how to spend Christmas, and they would like to give us a double page spread in the November issue (which is in fact the Christmas issue—what?)

Gus and I are going to be in a feel good feature about people who have unusual Christmases.

The entire piece was a spoof. It was bloody obvious it was a joke.

Not so to Mrs Features Editor.

She asked me if this was an OFF year or an ON year.

“Why?” I asked.

“We’d like to have a picture of you in your Christmas Shed.”

“Oh, we don’t have a shed just for Christmas,” I said.

“So you decorate your normal shed?”

“Well, actually,” I said, “it’s an ON year this year, which means I’ll be decorating the house.” This is true. With Gus away, I am going to have a Christmas celebration such as Goose Lane has never seen. “So unfortunately,” I went on, “it wouldn’t make a very interesting picture—it would look like everyone else’s Christmas.”

“That needn’t be a problem,” she said. “Would you be willing to pretend—for the sake of a good story for our readers—that this Christmas is an OFF one, and that you’ll be decorating the shed? It would only be like time shifting it a year, just as the photoshoot is made to look as if it’s in December but actually takes place in September.”

“I suppose that would be all right,” I said. I know it was stupid to agree, but at the time it sounded so reasonable: she had caught me up in the idea of providing a good story for her readers.

“So I can send a photographer to shoot you sitting in your deckchair in your decorated shed, then?”

“Yes.”

“Would tomorrow, or next week suit?”

“It’ll have to be tomorrow. I’m going away on Saturday.”

“Fine. Tomorrow. And don’t fret about a tree,” she said. “Our consumer department has a batch of artificial ones we’re reviewing. And I’ll get the art department to sort out some decorations.”

“Could you send some extra lights?” I asked.

I can’t believe what I have agreed to. One minute I’m telling her we don’t have a Christmas Shed, and the next minute I’m arranging for them to come and photograph me in it. I should have told her to make sure that when the photographer comes to shoot me he brings some ammunition.”

Plotting for Beginners E Book Cover.004

Only several years later did we decide to put the joke into practice.

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