Author Q&A:
Nina Stibbe

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If you get a copy of Nina Stibbe’s collection of funny, observational true stories An Almost Perfect Christmas (Viking, £9.99) in your stocking this year you’re unlikely to be regifting it next Christmas. But, the author of Love, Nina says, there’s no shame in it if you do. 

What’s your favourite Christmas tradition?
Every Christmas my brother Jez writes a poem about our friend Stella. He emails it to her on Xmas Day and copies me in. Every Xmas morning the three of us – whereever we are in the world – wet ourselves laughing for quite a long time and try to read it out to our companions. Sadly no one else appreciates why the poem is so funny and that of course makes it even funnier.

Tree: real or fake? Thoroughbred or rescue?
In my young days fake ones were frowned upon except in a medical setting or TV rentals shops. You were thought lazy or evil unless you’d been to the trouble of finding and erecting a real one. There were whole TV shows about it. We’re past that now thankfully, but I’m still a bit nervy about it. Last year my daughter forced me to buy one from Homebase with fairy lights incorporated and, I have to admit, it’s gorgeous.

Fairy lights, Christmas carols, mulled wine and mince pies – a Christmas party seems like a lovely idea. Should I throw one?
No. I’d say probably not. Anyone who says a party “seems like a lovely idea” shouldn’t throw a party. If you said “seems like a whole lot of hard work” I might encourage you. You’re naive.

What are your top tips for going home for Christmas?
Lower your expectations. Take as many snack bars as you can fit in your case and a good book. Choose your battles. Don’t fight with your host over the telly if you’re going to seize control of the thermostat.

What are the risks and rewards of regifting?
The risks are enormous. You are deliberately dumping a horrible gift that someone gave you on someone else. It’s conceivable the new recipient is aware of the gift item’s provenance. It might have been picked up on CCTV or social media. It might have done the rounds already. You just don’t know.

But the rewards are great. Watching as the regifted item emerges from its packaging and – knowing within seconds whether or not you’ve been successful – is thrilling. If you have, you’ve offloaded junk and saved yourself the time, trouble and cost of a gift. If you’re rumbled strongly refute it and change the subject.

How can we make Christmas shopping less of an overwhelming, time-consuming and financially ruinous occasion?
Christmas shopping gets harder every year. The choice available and high expectations make it so. My top three tips are: don’t be over generous, don’t search for high kudos gifts, don’t get anyone a Hoover.

Sprouts: evil, necessary, or a necessary evil?
Necessary. Not evil unless over cooked. Do not cut a cross on the base, steam or boil for just a few minutes. They should not melt in the mouth – that’s overdone. They should take at least six chews to break down.

Why are you so turkey-phobic?
Every Christmas throughout my childhood my mother tried in vain to cook a large, moist, delicious turkey and the rest of us went along with it. I have defrosted turkeys with a hairdryer, helped pluck one, and watched my mother wrestle a man for a turkey in Bejams. It was obvious to me even as a babe that this was horrible, futile and UNNECESSARY.

What time is it appropriate for the cook to start drinking on Christmas day?
The cook should be allowed fizzy wine or vodka with his or her muesli. But if sleepiness creeps in you must be ready to tap him or her repeatedly on the head with an egg whisk until the dinner is served.

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