The prompt by Chitra Ramaswamy
I wouldn't have it any other way. Moaning about the state of Christmas telly is as cosy and British as brandy butter. I am eternally amused at our annual moan that for the 100th time on Christmas Day we will have to watch The Two Ronnies, which this year comes in a seasonal edition from, wait for it, 1997! Note that we grumble and gripe and then, behind closed curtains, settle down in front of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Again.
This year things are – surprise, surprise – no different. More than 500 hours of repeats will be shown by the four main channels. That's a hell of a lot of Porridge. Almost half of BBC2's output over the fortnight is made up of repeats or old films, while one third of BBC1's schedule consists of stuff we've already seen.
Before we all set fire to our licence fees, let's remember that although telly schedules may be the same, life outside the box looks a whole lot different. In case you forgot for five blissful minutes while planning your Crimbo viewing, we are now in a recession.
This means two things. First, just as more of us are returning to the comfort food of yore (sales of lamb hotpot are up 615% at Tesco compared with last year), so too are we up for gorging ourselves on reheated TV. In this case, Rab C Nesbitt – who is back after a nine-year hiatus – is our hotpot, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Hotpot is robust, cheap, reliable, gets better with age, and can be eaten in a string vest.
And there is more traditional British fare. The Royle Family, Jonathan Creek, Blackadder (in documentary form), Shooting Stars – all the comforting, well kent faces are back to soothe us through these dismal times. In a culture that is becoming more and more risk-averse, it's the oldies but goodies that we trust. Look at our heartfelt, nostalgic response to the death of Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate last week. And who would have thought Strictly Come Dancing 2008 would be most remembered for a love-in with a cuddly face like John Sergeant?
The second reason is more simple. Christmas telly is free. I can't
afford to buy a dress for each do, take my family to the panto, or fork
out for a Nigella Christmas (25 for the book and 1m on Prosecco and pomegranates).
But I can spend hours lost in My Fair Lady.
our writers' week
It's that time of year when us culture vultures aren't really sure whether we should be looking back or forward. So, to do both, Bon Iver, from an isolated log cabin in the forests of Wisconsin, managed to bring out the slow-burning album of the year. For Emma, Forever Ago is a truly spine-tingling record. Looking ahead, my life is already better for discovering Florence and the Machine. To be filed next to Kate Bush in your English eccentrics section, the art popsters have just been announced as the Critics' Choice Award for the Brit Awards 2009. Hot stuff.
Remember the worst line in Star Wars? "But I was gonna go to the Tashi station to pick up some power converters!" Imagine a whole album with lines as clueless as that. You don't have to if, like me, you spent a car journey with Britney's new album Circus. Apparently, "You love it when I'm freakin' out/ things get rough and there's no doubt". This gangbang of tedious songs are very much of their moment – which means they age faster than bananas. And another line, "I call the shots", carries all the conviction of Madonna's English accent.
The novelist Benjamin Markovits gave an enthralling talk about Byron at the National Library of Scotland last week (his latest works are an oblique and haunting trilogy on the life of the poet). Over a very pleasant dinner afterwards, we discussed Scott, Flaubert and the extent to which any author self-consciously tries to appeal to a "market", as well as the rise of Creative Writing schools. I also started reading Edmund White's little life of Rimbaud and a new study of Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta by John Dixon Hunt, both published next year.