The Terrible Catastrophes Fool-proof Guide To Exceptional And Premature Christmas Decoration

It’s Christmas! Except it’s not. It’s November.

This retail festivities/still-too-early issue was really bothering me…until I stumbled upon the new Christmas shop that has appeared in the mall. Here it is:

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This wondrous cornucopia of glittering horrors and tiny lightbulbs trades under the name ‘Deck the Halls’ and contains all you need to transition seamlessly from November into wholesale festive denial. If you can’t beat them, join them. And this shop contains some excellent goods which you really shouldn’t be without this holiday.

So without further ado, the Terrible Catastrophes Fool-proof Guide To Exceptional And Premature Christmas Decoration:

ITEM #1: THE SIX-FOOT PLUSH POLAR BEAR

Now I have always nursed an irrational love of oversized plush animals; aged five I nearly killed a man dressed as the Toymaster dog when I hugged him with such force that he fell down a flight of stairs. But this bear. This poor, poor polar bear is really something else.

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Standing a majestic six-foot tall, adopting a squatting pose indicative of some serious bowel issues, this incredible creature also comes pre-equipped with an intriguing tinsel hula-skirt/modesty bar fashioned by the staff of ‘Deck the Halls’, who clearly were unable to cope with the full-frontal-and-public nature of its squatting. This fantastic piece of merchandise retails for the princely sum of £399.99 and in my opinion is worth every penny.

ITEM #2: BLEACHED ANGEL OF DEATH FIGURINE

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This tasteful Angel-of-Death ornament is a festive must-have for your home. Tragically, the grey toadstool is for display purposes only, but if you want to introduce an atmosphere of seasonal macabre to your abode this Christmas, the Angel of Death, *festive edition*, is the way to go. Just look at that faux-fur shroud, that downcast blank face. Retails at £20; the matching potted condolence lily will set you back an extra £5, but frankly to leave the store without this accessory would be a heinous crime.

ITEM #3: THIS SQUASHED THING

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Admission: I have no idea what this thing is actually meant to be. It is improbably heavy on account of the fact that it’s full of sand, and it costs £8. Its eyes point in different directions, it has no discernable lower limbs, and it seems to be wearing a waistcoat. I don’t actually have anything else to say about this one, apart from the fact that you should probably buy it. (Frosted glass vases with glued-on fluff and toadstools cost £3 apiece, in case you were wondering.)

ITEM #4: FAMILY OF SINGING OWLS

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At the touch of a button, this seemingly innocent trio of miniature owls with chronic spinal conditions lurches into motion. They flash red lights! They dance! They sing! They rattle! They Just Do Not Stop! Do not be put off by their dishevelled appearance, crumpled cardboard enclosure or desperate staring eyes. Reaching unbelievable decibel levels, these owls are guaranteed to be the life and soul of the party, yours for £30.

ITEM #5: GIANT CERAMIC PENGUIN

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This is the star attraction of ‘Deck the Halls’’s “Fragile Ornaments” section at a bargain £14.99. Whilst you could invest in this delightful naked-cherub-glued-to-a-chocolate-heart (no discernable price), or this miniature-seal-in-a-state-of-rigor-mortis (£9.99), the Giant Penguin is clearly a more sensible choice. Don’t be misled by its gleeful face – its surfaces and claws are surprisingly sharp, and I’d confidently vouch for its dual purposes as a lethal projectile/weapon of self-defence in the case of Christmas burglars or brutal familial disputes.

ITEM #6: TWERKING CHRISTMAS TREE

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This incredible tree not only has a face and limbs, but also an arse. It plays music, loudly; it revolves, fast. It executes moves that an evergreen fir should just not be capable of making. You rarely catch a glimpse of this tree’s flashing red eyes thanks to its wobbling, fringed, green arse. Probably not suitable for use around children, the elderly, or those of a nervous disposition, this is essentially the Miley Cyrus of Christmas trees; screams of lost innocence and even comes complete with giant foam hands. Flying off the shelves, however – highly collectible and reduced to £9.99 while stocks last. But exercise serious caution when purchasing; I would anticipate serious and long-lasting trauma if you encountered this thing in a dark room on Christmas night whilst off-your-face-drunk.

*And last but not least*

ITEM #7: PARACHUTING SNOWMAN

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This motion-activated snowman requires improbable quantities of interior renovation just to rig up its zipwire, but the stunning result is certainly worth compromising the structural integrity of your home. Venture close to this contraption, and it jerks into life before progressing along its zipwire with alarming rapidity; its legs flail frantically throughout, it revolves, and it plays music! If you fancy being concussed this holiday season by a low-flying and curiously stripy snowman attached to an umbrella that could never realistically bear its weight, traversing your living room in a graceful blur of flailing limbs and straining metal wire, this purchase is for you – a bargain at only £30!

Well there you have it: the Terrible Catastrophes shortlist of necessary festive purchases, to bridge the gap between November and Christmas. The long-list, meanwhile, was also filled with incredible goods and is pictured below. Credit cards at the ready, and say it in Sean Bean’s voice, accepting climate change and almost-certain-doom: Christmas Is Coming.

Thank you for reading – more content soon!

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The Horrid Little Soufflés

One evening last week my friend K came to visit and so did several bottles of wine. At some point during the night we went out to the convenience store and returned equipped with two miniature chocolate soufflés.

This is how delicious and chocolatey they were meant to be. Just look at the serving suggestion:

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But there was a crucial flaw to our plan which, as we drunkenly hurtled round the convenience store, we’d somehow overlooked: the soufflés required OVEN cooking. My accommodation only has a MICROWAVE.

We weren’t phased by this development. We had enough wine. We would boldly go where no chef has gone before.

If I have one piece of advice for you to take away from what ensued, it would be to Never Microwave A Soufflé.

It actually started off reasonably well. We watched smugly as for a few seconds, serving-suggestion-esque perfection was attained. But then the soufflés began to swell, into monstrous and unnatural desserts of encroaching-on-the-microwave-ceiling proportions: we went into full-blown panic meltdown. K ripped the microwave door open with such force she nearly pulled it clean off; the mushroom clouds inside deflated themselves guiltily and rapidly.

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After inspecting them with extreme caution, we decided they were not edible yet, and so enthusiastically repeated the whole process about five or six times- but then suddenly the soufflés stopped ballooning and we realised ominous silence had fallen. The kitchen smelled only of cake where there had never been any cake in the first place.Where had the cake smell come from?

We opened the microwave and looked at the things inside the ramekins. I don’t think they could even be called soufflés any more. The original things we’d bought had condensed – the end result was two little brown disks, essentially coasters. We had made COASTERS. They sat forlornly in the bottoms of their ramekins, just above the size and shape of two digestive biscuits. Because I was hosting this impromptu cooking session, and it had been my idea to purchase the soufflés in the first place, I bravely pried part of one of the coasters out of the ramekin with a kitchen knife and nibbled some. K watched in horror from the other side of the kitchen telling me things like ‘don’t eat that’ and ‘what if you die’.

I concluded that it was like a ‘small, dehydrated cake’. A very hot, small, dehydrated cake. How on earth to rescue the situation? I drank another glass of wine and concluded that yoghurt, yoghurt would save the situation. I had a pot of vanilla-flavoured yoghurt which, without consulting K about, I whipped out of the fridge and poured onto the soufflés, or what was left of them. A vague idea about rehydrating the soufflés popped into my head, and while K shouted hysterically at me to ‘stop’, and that there was ‘too much yoghurt, my God woman, stop’, I used up the entire pot. Better safe than sorry. But in the microwaving/condensing process, the soufflés had also developed a curiously solid and watertight outer layer, and all I’d achieved now was two lakes of yoghurt with the coasters drifting sadly around in the middle, like the pucks on an air hockey table when there’s no air. Only dairy products. There was no rehydrating these terrible things. Doom.

“It’ll be fine,” I declared furiously, pouring another glass of wine. “I’m sure it’ll taste absolutely fine. People put chocolate and vanilla together all the time. Cakes and dairy products always go together. It’ll be fine.”

It was not fine.

The ramekins were untouchably hot in spite of the gallons of yoghurt sitting inside them; ignoring K’s protestations that people generally put cake with ice cream, not yoghurt, I manoeuvred the soufflés onto the only tray-like thing to hand – a reinforced plastic chopping board – and set off down the corridor back to my room, wafting the smell of damp cake and yoghurt along behind me. I couldn’t find any of my spoons, either, so we had to try to eat them with forks. The yoghurt dripped appallingly.

So, I hold my hands up and guiltily admit it: K was right. The disgusting little soufflés were downright inedible, nauseating in fact. They had all the appearance and consistency of varnished coasters floating in lukewarm yoghurt – possibly because that’s pretty much exactly what they were. K, if you are reading this, I am truly sorry for what I put us through.

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Quite understandably, the trauma of and recovery from the soufflé fiasco meant that all the remaining wine mysteriously vanished. We woke up the next morning to find my table littered with empty bottles and very unexpected paperwork. Evidently, we had tried to write reviews of what had happened, and aside from in-depth diagrams of a ‘soufflé in PERIL’ and a ‘poor pathetic soufflé’ and the scrawled notes ‘nearly blew up’ and ‘exploding soufflé’, the reviewing process also seemed to have involved drawing pictures of clowns. Clowns. Signed with our names and ages. I haven’t a clue what they were doing there either, but there they are. Clearly that is what eating microwaved soufflé does to you. I wholeheartedly do not recommend it.

Thank you for reading – more content coming soon! If you liked what you read, leave me a comment (green link at the top) or drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you 🙂

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Supermarket Checkout Trauma

How is it that the simple task of trying to pay for your grocery shopping can turn into such a soul-destroying, rage-inspiring experience? Somehow, what began as an innocent expedition to purchase a sad ovenless ready meal for one, a block of butter and a lint roller leaves you feeling like you were in fact trapped at the annual kitten-slaughtering convention of misunderstood dictators. How? What on earth have you done to deserve this ordeal?

This is how it happens. Assuming you have made it round the store and still possess all senses and motor functions you came in with, you are now trying to pay and are faced with three options:

OPTION 1: This place.

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OPTION 2: This place.

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OPTION 3: This place.

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And so it begins.

OPTION 1 is the traditional route, and therefore the preserve of the elderly, the infirm, and those possessing small children or animals. There will be wheels. There will be unnecessary levels of noise. There will be teeth where there just shouldn’t be teeth, whether they’re dentures, baby teeth or ferret teeth (I’m from the country, bear with me here).

And then there will be the cashier. Most cashiers are lovely and decent people – but not the one that you are about to encounter. In spite of having worked in the store for a good 10 years, they will have absolutely no idea where the barcode is on your item. They will pick up your sad ready meal for one, examine it from all angles, then proceed to hurl it against the barcode reader like an angry toddler trying to get the round brick into the square shape-sorter hole; you watch in horror as this person desperately mashes your purchase-to-be into a battered pulp that no longer resembles the foodstuff you ever hoped for.

Defeated, you ask them for a bag. They LICK their finger and, with the aid of enough saliva to secure several hundred postage stamps, give you a bag, into which your poor destroyed purchase is deposited. You give them your money and depart an embittered and scarred individual.Image

OPTION 2 on the other hand is for the “modern” person, arguably your most likely and promising option here as it involves both a reliable machine and the promise of minimal interpersonal interaction. True? NOT TRUE. The trouble with this option begins surreptitiously and early on in the queue. The queue goes on for a long time and as you progress slowly through the ominous carousel of miniature chocolate bars and chewing gum, you develop a self-righteous sense of hatred for everyone else already using the self-checkout. Why are they not more efficient? Why can’t they press the buttons on the screens faster? When YOU reach the self-checkout, you will be a towering example of efficiency. Sadly these dreams are never realised.

Instead, you approach the checkout, you scan your item, place it in the bagging area – BUT WAIT. Somewhere in there, something went terribly wrong. There is now an UNexpected item in the bagging area. You search fruitlessly for this phantom item but to no avail. You lift up the ready meal in the process, the possessive self-checkout assumes theft, you rapidly replace your food but the damage is done.

Alternatively, you are attempting to purchase alcohol, in which case you ought to have skipped straight to OPTION 3; the other available scenario is that something has gone awry whilst paying and now all your coins are spewing back out at you, error messages are flashing on the chip/pin machine or receipt paper is spooling out at you like an angry unloved tapeworm or 1990s cassette tape.

Now you descend into the next circle of hell: you invariably WILL need assistance. You loiter, increasingly embarrassed and frustrated, next to the self-checkout, doing a hopeful meerkat dance, trying to catch the eye of one of the employees; when you finally manage it, molluscs pulling a dog sled could move faster than they do towards your predicament. Now, you could be a balding man of 60 and they would still need your ID. Employee glares, displays chewing gum and tonsils, holds lanyard up to the checkout screen; all is magically sorted and you are now left to gather up your personal inadequacies and general public-humiliation-induced trauma and leave the store as fast as you can.Image

OPTION 3

Looks are deceptive here. Habitually, the queue is short and service seems efficient; smugly, you join the line with your one basket and overtake the elderly, infirm, the infants, and the socially inept. Joining this queue, however, is a cardinal error: this is the Checkout of Broken Dreams. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Whichever direction you approach this place from, this is a lose-lose situation. As soon as it becomes apparent that you just want to buy groceries and are not interested in alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets, all your vice-stricken and edgy co-queuers turn on you; dark muttering works its way back up the line and you grow hot and bothered. You can’t find your nectar card and nor can you open the plastic bags; ready meals and lint rollers pile up when really there should be a six-pack of Stella and some green rizzlas. You are wasting everyone’s time and should just keel over and die.

Alternatively, if you ARE attempting to purchase alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets, you will be ID-ed in the most humiliating way possible, opened up to brutal judgements about your personal lifestyle choices or have bestowed upon you the smug gaze of the cashier who KNOWS that the ticket they just printed for you doesn’t contain ANY winning numbers and that you will continue to languish in student debt gobbling your ready meals and blocks of butter while lint-rollering your soft furnishings in lonely despondency. Whichever direction you turn in, if you queue in this line you are a social failure. It is just The End and you might as well give up now while you’re ahead.Image

I suppose the motto of this sad tale is to buy food that you know you will really, really enjoy, so that as you run from the store with your nerves in tatters and blood pressure rising, you have positive culinary thoughts to keep you going.

Thanks for reading,  more soon! Leave me a comment (at the top, green writing) or drop me a line (contact form below…)

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