Every year Christmas comes earlier and earlier in America. Cards, baubles and imitation trees were being sold in the big department stores in August, and the street decorations have been up in Beverly Hills since well before Halloween. From late October onwards, it’s the season of dressing up and showing off in downtown LA. Street parades are all the rage and hundreds of thousands of people saunter around in costumes, some gorgeous, most grotesque. Infants and children are usually done up as baby chicks or bunnies, which is inoffensive — but some adults go beyond the boundary of what is acceptable. On Santa Monica Boulevard I saw one inordinately fat man dressed as ‘Baby Jane’, wearing only a pink crop top and miniskirt that displayed an offensive excess of hairy back and avoirdupois. The nightmare before Christmas.
I’m a sucker for Christmas, however. Each year when it’s over I sigh deeply and say ‘never again’ but come July my resolution is gone and I’m eagerly plotting our Christmas card, which is then followed shortly by thinking about the celebrations.
I long ago gave up on the idea of a real Christmas tree and I now have a magnificent fake fir (however naff that sounds). This means that by Boxing Day my tree is still standing proud and tall in all its glory and hasn’t shed its dead bits all over the Christmas presents. Real fir needles invariably get stuck to your feet or slippers and show up in the most unlikely of places: your pillow, your makeup, your morning coffee — unless of course one has staff to sweep them away. My tree makes up in fabulousness what it lacks in authenticity. It’s dripping with glittering decorations that I have been making and collecting since my children were little. I have so many now that the tree is practically hidden — so who will know that it’s not real anyway?
Like many British actors and actresses, I fly to the US two or three times a year, with my new and nifty global entry card. Though you do hear some horror stories, I have rarely — if ever — had any problems with US immigration, until last month. Because I apply moisturiser on long trips, quite liberally, my hands were covered with lotion at the border control counter, which meant my fingers didn’t make a strong enough impression on the fingerprint scanner. My immigration form came out of the printer with a large and very ominous X on it. This alarmed the official, who decided to leave me standing next to his desk while he waved forward and collected the forms of those whose fingerprints had made the grade. After an interminable parade of obvious stares and hidden snickers from the successful entrants, he made me take off my hat and glasses and peered at me. I felt like a criminal caught at the border while trying to immigrate into the US illegally. He cross-examined me ruthlessly — ‘What do you do?’ ‘Why are you here?’ ‘What are your plans in this country?’ Several other officers were called over to discuss me; my passport was inspected thoroughly and scanned time after time. That was a lot of fun after a ten-hour trip from Heathrow, and all because I moisturise.
There has been a shocked outcry among the politically correct brigade because of a sign put in a Christmas display at a popular US department store. ‘Dear Santa — For Christmas I want a fat bank account and a slim body. Please don’t mix up the two like you did last year,’ it read. Fairly inoffensive, and many people thought it quite amusing, until of course it fell into the hands of the social media bullies who demanded that the sign be removed, apologies be issued and the perpetrators probably beheaded in the town square. The sign was duly removed. When the story broke in the evening news on TV, it was immediately followed by several commercials — the first for McDonald’s latest burger featuring three buns, cheese, bacon, onions, special sauce and massive amounts of meat. The next commercial was for a Los Angeles-based weight-loss centre that specialised in ‘gastric bands and gastric bypasses’, extolling it’s virtues was a beaming woman, about a size ten, who claimed happily that she had lost 250 pounds with this surgery and is now oozing with confidence. The third featured carefree skinny kids eating Cheerios breakfast cereal, which as far as I know consists of wheat starch, sugar, salt and fat, and maybe some oats. Perhaps George Osborne could finally balance the budget by exporting to his transatlantic pals an iota or two of irony and a sense of humour to counterbalance the mix of moral outrage and greed which dominates America these days.