...and if I hear that song once more in supermarket/garage etc, I shall skip Christmas, and get all Easter-ish on the nearest person by crucifying them. There's so much to dislike about Christmas: I'm not a particularly religious person, Christmas presents are great, but only when you're 8 (If I want something now, I'll buy it, thanks), Christmas TV is horrendous (Rick Stein's Cornish Christmas anyone? If I wanted to see a load of halfwit inbreds getting festive, I'd watch the Wicker Man or take a day trip to Corby) and I've never been a particular fan of being told how I have to enjoy myself because 'it's tradition'. I'm not sure why we've invented a tradition that involves eating more meat and root veg than should be humanly possible, before nodding off mid-fart in front of the Queen's speech with a little paper hat perched at a jaunty angle. I do like sprouts though, which is always a bonus come December. Even the bits I like about Christmas aren't particularly Christmassy; I enjoy spending time with my family, but TV, presents and Christmas jumpers aren't any sort of highlight.
But Christmas is a time for good cheer, and fun of all kinds, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to help people to skirt round the pitfalls of that most heinous of all Christmas traditions: the work dinner. Even the thought of it makes me shudder. It's doesn't matter if it's a team dinner, a department do, an office jamboree, the whole idea is to minimise the damage. It's never going to be good, but if you take into account these simple tips, it's likely to be manageable:
1. Always make sure you come out in credit cash-wise. This is pretty easy to do, so long as you assume that the bill will be divvied up equally. Pre-dinner pint? I'll have a mojito. A la carte menu? Have everything which says 'supplement'. Glass of wine? Make sure the bottles stay down your end of the table. Coffee? Yes, and a balloon of the 1969 Armangac. If you emply all of the above tactics, you'll come out in credit, but you may look like you're taking the piss.
2. Don't drink the House wine. When some office joker orders the waiter to bring a 'bottle of the House white and red', nip in with a choice of something that's actually drinkable for your end of the table. People will thank you for it.
3. Never allow anyone but you to divide the bill. People can't do maths: '£400, 10 people, that's erm...erm...no, don't tell me, where's my phone?'
4. Never allow anyone (almost always women) to introduce the different tariff system. This is where you'll have different price points for the a. drinkers b. non-drinkers c. didn't drink much-ers. d. office juniors who don't earn as much, and would rather have been drinking MD 20/20 behind the megabowl anyway. I've been to a colleagues leaving do at Loch Fyne, and the bill was divvied up evenly. OK, so a pregnant wife of a new colleague had to end up shelling out £37 for a starter of mussels and some tap water, but she didn't have to come in the first place, did she?
5. Always offer to pay far more than you should first up. This is a typically male reaction to the bill, and acts as a partial antidote to point 1 (make sure you still end up in credit though). Typical male response to the maths in point 3 is to state 'that's £40 each', then to roll off 5 £20 notes, before flinging them theatrically into the centre of the table, stating 'that should cover me'. People will demand that you pick up the money, and you manage to look generous, without having to end up out of pocket. NOTE: you must be very careful here when dining with women. Men consider it vital to offer more than they should, though women see nothing wrong in resorting to coppers to make up the £38.21 that each person owes.
6. High risk this one, though someone always does it: don't pay. Why is it when the price per person is calculated, and everyone puts in just that little bit extra for tip, do we always hear the phrase 'we're £20 short'? Someone always has a big enough pair of cojones to avoid paying; you could be that person, my friend.
7. Amuse yourself by creating chaos. Most meals out now require a pre-order, but whoever is organising is unlikely to have brought the original sheet which tells them exactly who ordered what food. Your job is to order the most rank sounding starter, main and dessert, and then grab the nicest sounding ones as soon as they come out of the kitchen. Let someone else enjoy your nut roast and three bean soup.
8. Find a like-minded colleague, and give each other 3 phrases that have to be brought into conversation during the evening. I've yet to get in the Frankie Boyle line 'and at the end of the night, you couldn't tell what was poo, and what was chocolate', but there's something for you to aim at.
So there we are. Follow the above, and you'll be able to turn your work meal out into something more than a night to be endured.
And if you're wondering how to make sprouts taste nice, here's 2 ideas:
1. Pureed with double cream and sprinkled with crisp pancetta
2. Shredded and pan-fried in butter