Little Women was a book that I loved when I was little, not least because of its memorable first words: 'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents!' I used to read it and imagine how I would feel if I woke up on Christmas morning only to find that Father Christmas had by-passed our chimney altogether.
The fact that we didn't actually have a chimney didn't occur to me, but one thing did: it would be heinous and I certainly wouldn't have greeted it with a simple solitary sigh of acceptance like they did.
For me, a decent pile of pressies was like an annual salary for toeing the line all year.
For all those Sunday mornings at Mass, this was payback time.
Of course, I was only a kid, and a very naïve one at that, so Santa and God were naturally a bit mixed up in my head. For example, when we were rehearsing our school nativity play and the teacher said, " Hands up who knows how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem?" I put mine up and replied: "On a reindeer". To this day, I'm convinced that's why I was given the part of King Herod.
But as a Catholic I had been taught to believe in the Holy Trinity, so the idea of yet another persona who rode all around the world on a flying sledge rewarding good children was well within the realms of possibility.
Indeed, it's no coincidence that after I discovered Santa was a global conspiracy, my behaviour took a very sharp nosedive, plummeting off the scale of Naughty or Nice until I became official Black Sheep of the family. But that's another story.
No, in those days, his credibility wasn't an issue. I was more concerned with technicalities such as what if his sleigh breaks down, or if Rudolph gets lame ...
But I had a contingency plan. Inspired once again by my favourite book, I announced: "If Father Christmas doesn't come, I'm going to sell my hair to a paintbrush shop and spend the money on presents!"
After lengthy guffaws, my family of Clever Dicks pointed out the numerous problems arising: paintbrushes haven't been made out of human hair in Britain since Victorian times and even if they were, there's no such thing as a paintbrush shop and even if there was, there wasn't one in Preston ...
I was reminded of this comical exchange last year on Christmas Eve.
I had been dating a guy for a number of months and although many years had now passed since my hair-brained scheme, I still considered Christmas gifts to be a material equation of love and thanks.
Now, this was a wealthy and successful guy, so when I saw the long, slim box tied with a red bow under the tree I immediately assumed jewellery.
A silver charm bracelet, perhaps? Or a chain with a romantic gold locket? Maybe even a string of pearls?
No such luck. It was a set of paintbrushes. The clumsy, chunky ones that kids use at nursery school for daubing glue onto empty cereal boxes. And they were from Lidl. Apparently I had mentioned once that I enjoyed painting and he had made a mental note.
Call me shallow and materialistic, but I was mortified. If this was to represent how much I was valued, I was coming in at around £3.99, give or take a few pence.
I decided to show him the door. As he pulled on the monogrammed, silk-lined, kid leather gloves I had given him, he turned to me and said: "I'm sorry, Fran, I had no idea you were so shallow and materialistic."
On my way back in, I glanced at the mirror and wondered what I would look like bald.
Next Week: Confessions of a real St Trinian's tearaway.
Sexy Camilla? You must be joking ...
Oh, come on! Camilla Parker-Bowles as a fashion icon? Is this a joke?
Not according to them-in-the-know at The Sunday Times it isn't.
In this week's Style supplement, sandwiched between pages of trend predictions, runway reports and flawless models in airbrushed ads, there she was - the Queen of Tarts - in her own double-page spread.
'Who would have thought such a glamour-puss could emerge so late in life?' it gushed.
'A High-Glamour Goddess ... emerges younger, sexier and more gorgeous than ever.'
You've gotta be kidding me! Camilla Parker-Bowles?
Accompanying the brown-nose editorial were photographs which were supposed to support the theory that Camilla has gone through a remarkable transformation since she ensnared herself a prince, like a modern-day version of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco in some magical fairytale.
I'm sorry, but it just doesn't wash. In every photo she looks like the same dowdy, horse-woman hag she always was, but just quite a lot older.
Only apparently she now blows £3,000 worth of hot air a month into the atmosphere getting her iconic 'heirstyle' to look so rigid ... £13,000 a year goes on hats ... £350 per session on make-up.
What a waste of money, I say, when you can get a brown paper bag for free at most garden centres.
Ikea is going to drive us crazy
It's more Swedish than Sven Goran Erickson feeding herrings to Ulrika in a sauna while listening to Abba ...
Jå, den ar sann!
Ikea is here at last, opening today at 10am 'to avoid rush-hour traffic'.
Mind you, having lived near Warrington when the first British store opened in the 1980s, I can't quite see them achieving that somehow.
I used to drive to work on the motorway parallel to the entrance of Ikea's retail park and for weeks, the customer traffic was, quite literally, backed up for miles along the inside lane.
Even worse, when it was coming up to Christmas, the queue stretched back almost as far as Manchester.
I hate to be a killjoy: I love flat-packed bookshelves that cost under a tenner and elk meatballs as much as the rest of you, but if you really must get some over the next few days, expect long delays and lots of very un-Swedish road-rage along the way.
Or, if you commute from Bangor to Belfast and back, might I suggest the Craigantlet Hills for the next few days? Or better still, hire a helicopter.
Oops! Why i'm a right turkey
Conversation-stopper of the week ... At a party on Saturday, I found myself standing in the middle of a group of complete strangers.
So, I did what I always do in this situation: I talked non-stop about the first thing that came in to my head.
And, as I was waiting for the buffet and absolutely starving, the first thing that came into my head was food.
"So, have you all planned Christmas dinner yet?"
Not waiting for a reply, I went on: "There's only three of us this year but I'm thinking of getting a large turkey anyway, just for the sheer pleasure of tearing all the meat off the bones the next day and then boiling it all up to make a lovely rich soup.
"I let my son join in, he loves smashing up the carcass with a mallet ... he's such a typical boy, he even wants me to get live lobster for starters so he can plunge them into boiling water but I'm not shelling out fifty-odd quid though ... HA HA, get it? Shelling out ... ?! So, anyway, how about you? Turkey and all the trimmings?"
"Hardly," one of them replied. "We're all vegans."
The rail thing
One-liner of the week ... this goes to the guy who was standing behind me in the ticket queue at belfast's central station on sunday. inexplicably, i found that after having successfully fed the machine five pound coins, the final coin kept dropping back down into the change tray below. After about 10 attempts - all rejected - the dashing man behind me stepped forward to help the damsel in distress. He took out a coin from his wallet and suavely slipped it in the slot. Ker-ching! The transaction complete, my validated parking ticket re-appeared. Laughing, I turned to him and said: "I don't understand it! What makes yours so special?" "Ah, sure, that's what all the girls ask me," he replied, with a deadpan expression.