It is a reflection on our times that my Christmas gifts included a stopcock key, a thermal vest and a paper shredder. The first two reflected the unpredictability of our climate, with the risk of frozen pipes – both mineral and human. The latter reflected the risk of cyber fraud and identity theft, and the concomitant imperative of destroying my credit card statements. But these topical presents were complemented by traditional gifts of alcohol, chocolate and Stilton. And socks.
The family celebrated Christmas at the snowbound ancestral home on the banks of the Thames, now in the safe hands of Son No 1. The sermon at the local church was remarkable for the assertion by the Vicar that, had the Almighty been the Judge of Strictly Come Dancing, He would have declared Miss Widdecombe to have been the winner. At that point, I confess my attention began to wander and my eyes gazed at the plaques on the walls, commemorating generations of earlier Youngs who had worshipped on the same spot and, I suspect, were better dancers than my erstwhile Parliamentary colleague.
Boxing Day was spent at Loftus Road, watching Queens Park Rangers thrash Swansea 4-0. 35 years ago, I would take my 2 young sons, wrapped up in their blue and white scarves, to watch Rangers’ home games. And so it was with some pride that I now took their sons, literally, in their fathers’ footsteps. (Boy, have the prices at the turnstile gone up since then). And that was not the only change. Our rucksacks were searched on the way in, and bottles of water confiscated in case we threw them at the linesmen.
In times gone by, my sons would have returned home chanting the traditional song “ Come on you R’s!”, coupled with the other popular perennial football refrain “ the Ref’s a W*nker.” Given the resounding victory by the home team, on this occasion Rangers fans gave this one a miss.
Complementing the sporting with the dramatic, a second expedition of older grandchildren was taken to see “Warhorse” – a play about the fortunes of a horse requisitioned by the Army in the First World War, with the horses played by South African puppeteers. I commend this to readers who have not seen it – take a handkerchief or two.
But, with the House of Commons returning to business on Monday, it is time to put the festive season behind and focus on political imperatives. Looking at the New Year Messages from our political leaders, tough times lie ahead.
The Victorians gave their daughters Christian names resonant of the spirit of their time – Charity, Patience, Chastity, Grace and Prudence. Having read the predictions for 2011, I predict that the Times list of the most popular girl’s names for the year may include a new one – Austerity.