Two weeks ago the tennis court across the road was piled high with Christmas trees: nine hundred of them, firs, pines, spruces, a beauty parade as shoppers stood them up, measured them, appraised their symmetry and worked out how they would fit between the sofa and the television. Then they were pushed through something like a hospital scanner that encased them in netting. The big topic on the court was how soon the needles would fall off and how it relates to the setting of your central heating.
We took an alternative course. Our tree goes in the front window. Once it’s there you can’t pull the curtains, but half the object is to look cheerful to passers-by. This time we promoted the little orange tree that lives on the veranda at the back of the house with its cousin, the Meyer’s lemon, to the front of house role. We supplemented its few tiny Calamondin oranges, dressed it with winking white stars and draped the window with more silvery lights. In all modesty I think it’s the prettiest tree in the street.
But the wreaths. Every front door is bedecked. We could have a competition for the biggest, the greenest, the most original, the glitteriest, the most expensive…. The florists at Rassells Nursery opposite have been bending twigs and wiring in flowers and birds, balls and trinkets since November. The process started, they tell me, in summer when they make the wire frames and cover them with moss, to stand outside and await their big moment. There are hyacinths, primulas, narcissi and of course poinsettias filling the nursery with bright colour, but the hero of the mid-winter hour is the cyclamen, in every cyclamineous colour. The extremely-variegated ones are my favourites: white-bordered leaves of beguiling shapes and very white flowers: a tiny snowstorm in a pot.