I'll be the first to admit that I'm slightly grumpy in the week before Christmas. I used to blame it on working in a shop, but I find that I'm still just as prone to feeling an undirected, indiscriminate anger at everything, particularly those houses with Christmas lights in the garden and inflatable Santas.
But Christmas has associations and I'm like an abused dog that flinches every time somebody bends down to stroke it. For me, Christmas Eve means queuing for three hours in Argos because my wife has decided that we haven't bought enough presents, followed by a 150-mile round trip to Twickenham to pick up my mother.
As much as I love my mother, she turns Christmas Day into an Alan Bennett play, with a steady stream of non sequiturs:
"Aunt Bess used to read the tea leaves. She could see all sorts of things. It's in the family. Then one day she gave up."
"Why? Did she see something bad?"
"No, she switched to teabags."
My wife's family used to know how to enjoy themselves. They would begin drinking champagne at 8.00 in the morning and, apart from a brief lull in the afternoon, the day would be one long party. The Christmas dinner wouldn't appear until 11.00 at night, as everyone was too drunk to organise the cooking any earlier. After the meal there would be indoor fireworks, which usually involved inadvertently setting fire to the Christmas decorations.
Coming from a teetotal family, it was a bit of a shock, but great fun.
Sadly, most of these people aren't around any more. Indeed, there have been so many deaths that I was beginning to fear a police investigation. With no siblings on either side, Christmases in the Steerforth household have become increasingly quiet.
On the subject of police investigations, my wife walked into a door latch last week and we had to go to the local A&E department. It was a ridiculous accident. A friend had sent a text to my wife and her phone was on the floor. As she bent down, the sharp end of a door latch cut her skin.
In the hospital, my wife told everyone that she had walked into a door. As she uttered those words, I could see people looking at me, thinking wife beater. "Can't you be more specific and say that it was the latch?" I asked, in vain.
Two days later, my son went to hospital with a suspected broken finger. It is only a matter of time before I receive a visit from Social Services.
To add to the Christmas spirit, our boiler started behaving badly. In Star Trek, they'd call it a "warp core breach", but the official plumbing term is "The pressure's up a bit." We have had two plumbers, neither of whom were competent enough to fix the problem, but that didn't stop them from invoicing us for £300! Hell will freeze over before I pay them.
Things seemed to be looking up at work, as a new person called Bill joined my team. Bill has had a remarkable life, working on engineering projects in remote jungle areas of South America, along with a six-year stint at the British Embassy in Moscow. Sadly, travel hasn't broadened his mind.
Bill is one of those people who vocalises everything that is going on in their head, rather like a woman I sat behind on a coach journey who said "Supermarket...park...post box...town hall." I have spent the last two days oscillating between hating Bill and hating myself for hating Bill, who isn't all that bad really.
But as I was thinking all of these grumpy thoughts, I learned that a friend has just experienced one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. Suddenly, my whole persective changed and the prospect of a quiet, uneventful Christmas now seems like a luxury. I won't take it for granted any more.