Gyles Brandreth

The best Christmas gift you can give yourself is to learn some poetry by heart

I have told my seven grandchildren I don’t need any material presents this year

Every Christmas I find I am living in the past. I blame my father. He was born in 1910 — before radio, before TV, before cinema had sound, so he and his siblings made their own entertainment at Christmas. He brought up his children to do the same, which is why my unfortunate offspring have a Christmas that’s essentially a century out of date. There are three elements at its heart: board games that end in rows, parlour games that end in tears, and party pieces performed around the Christmas tree.

I owe my very existence to my father’s love of board games. As a boy, his favourite was a game of military strategy called L’Attaque, invented in France in 1908. In 1936, the American property trading game Monopoly was launched in the UK, and my father, then a young lawyer working in London, was first in the queue at -Selfridges when it went on sale. He took the game back to his digs in Gower Street and asked his landlady if she knew anyone who might like to play it with him. That’s how he met my mother, a 22-year-old law student who was also living there. Within weeks of first passing Go, the pair of them eloped. A year later my eldest sister was born. Ten years after that, I came along. In 1972, I did my parents proud by becoming the official European -Monopoly Champion and taking part in the World Monopoly Championships in New York.

I did not win the world title, unfortunately. The final (broadcast to cinemas across the US) was played on the American board (which is set in Atlantic City), using US dollars. I got confused and was not allowed to use my usual lucky playing piece, the top hat. Forced to play with the car, I came third.

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