Heaven only knows what I did to deserve such an appalling start to the festive season. First a horrendous tummy upset, which began in New York, closely followed by a proper dose of flu as soon as I arrived in Holland. The latter nearly saw me carted off to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning. The only amusing thing about this is that they wanted to send an ambulance for me – a distance of less than 20 metres as we live opposite our local A&E. Even in my miserable condition I think I might have made it across the road but preferred to stay at home and force Him Indoors to mop my brow instead. Thankfully I am on the mend now, although it will take a while to get completely back to normal. My friends and family have told me off for doing too much, but it is very uncharacteristic for me to be so ill. I just hope there is not a third affliction waiting to pounce in the days ahead, rounding off what at times felt like it could become my Christmas horribilis.
Today I finally got round to watching my appearance on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas (alas still only watchable in the UK) and enjoyed reliving the experience of judging the tree decorating challenge in the magnificent surroundings of Blenheim Palace. Kirstie Allsopp was lovely, as expected, and very clear that it was to be my choice, although I am sure we both gravitated towards the same winner. I chose Riikka Kemppainen’s Scandinavian seaside themed tree as the show’s champion for one overwhelming reason, which was that she had lovingly handcrafted every single decoration herself, having taken a whole week off work to do it. Then the talented Fin had made herself a dress specially for her TV appearance. That’s true commitment. I felt outcrafted on every level, not having made any of my Christmas decorations and having bought my shirt from Liberty the night before.
Living by the coast I am normally repelled by anything that might be classed as ‘nautical tat’, which in my view belongs at the foot of a cliff, but Riikka’s tree was fun, inventive and charming, from curled tissue ‘waves’ to gently glowing beach hut lanterns. It’s a tree that would go down well in Broadstairs, especially as those seagulls would make great target practice for a catapult.
The tree which I was most chastised for not selecting was Lucy Gough’s simple yet effective ‘family canvas’. Unlike other contenders it showed great restraint and felt like something anyone could replicate at home. The key was the imagery of friends and family that Lucy had reproduced in black and white and attached to branches with paperclips. I also liked the used of clear wire lights which one wouldn’t often see on a green tree. Lucy is a very talented stylist and writes an excellent interiors blog.
Sarah Puckett’s tree, barely discernible beneath a barrowload of veg, garnered a lot of attention in the show for collapsing half way through filming. This was due to a wobbly base rather than an uneven spread of purple cauliflower, or at least that’s what was alleged. In great British style all Sarah’s fellow competitors rallied round and got the tree upright again in time for judging, ready for final adornments of dried lavender, yellow spray roses and pheasant feathers. If there was an award solely for originality, then this tree would have won hands down. My main reason for not making it the winner was its perishability – even after a few hours the cabbage smell was quite pungent, and those cherry tomatoes could cause mayhem trodden into one’s shag pile. Sarah’s pickles do warrant an award and I was very happy to be presented with two jars to take home (after the judging, I might add).
Finally, visual merchandiser Lynne threw out the rule book and festooned her tree with exotic butterflies, crepe-paper flowers, gilded palm leaves and mysterious lighting. The traditional fairy was replaced with an ominous spider’s web and two spiders that looked concerningly tarantula-like. Perhaps they’d had the fairy for supper and were hoping to catch another in their deadly trap. I loved this tree as it reminded me of my wilder years, before Him Indoors came along, when I decorated my own tree with orchids, hummingbirds and bird of paradise flowers. It was an acquired taste, but I loved it.
In the end, any one of these trees would have been a worthy winner and I came away feeling inspired to do something more adventurous myself next year. It would have been nice to have seen what a male contestant could come up with, but the boys were all busy knitting Christmas jumpers, naturally. I’d love to hear which tree is your favourite, or if you hate them all!