One of the things I've learned over the years is NEVER to berate someone else's passions. I will not laugh at train spotters or scrapbookers. If you collect stamps, coins or postcards - respect! The reason for this is simply that over the years I seem to garner inordinate amounts of pleasure from things which some might consider odd.
For example, I adore watching my collection of Hercule Poirot DVDs (starring the legend that is David Suchet). Nothing is so relaxing as drifting back to the 1940's to watch the upper class reducing their number by shooting, stabbing and, usually, poisoning. I am practically word perfect with all the dialogue.
I love, in no particular order, Chocolate Gingers, cats, bubblewrap, picking fluff off the carpet, steam trains, the smell of new books, olives, cheese, red wine and marshmallows. I get a kick from champagne (not very often!), playing Bejeweled Blitz (very very badly) and red lipstick.
I'll happily traipse round any number of country houses and gardens, museums, ruins and harbours. I plan to be buried in an Olde Worlde Tea Shoppe. (Just prop me up behind a tea urn - preferably steaming, preferably steel, preferably on a trolley - the urn that is).
But there are few things that induce such a considerable frisson as the Lakeland Catalogue, the Christmas edition of which recently plopped through the letterbox.
Bill Bailey once referred to the Argos catalogue as the "laminated book of dreams" and I feel much the same about Lakeland. You can indulge in any number of social pretensions from the comfort of your own armchair. This year's lovely Christmas tome features a range of chopping boards and cheeseboards, some made from Oak, some from Acacia and, very apt for us in Wales, some made of slate. There are champagne saucers and Chinese dinnerware. Hampers named after the Lakes jostle for attention with a range of retro party games, chocolates and Christmas lights.
Now, as you know, my children are 4 and 3. Lord knows we do not dress for dinner nor do we have a cocktail cabinet (how "Abigail's Party"), cut glass whiskey tumblers or glace cherries in the pantry. We store a small (ish!) selection of wine bottles in our shoe cupboard and our place mats are glass ones from Tesco's budget range (one of which I've smashed in any case). But there is something about 'entertaining' that makes me feel warm, happy and as if I'm contributing to the family book of memories.
As a child, my family's definition of entertaining (outside of Christmas) was to heat up sausage rolls and open a packet of Walkers. But Christmas offers all sorts of opportunities to eat a range of foods you'd avoid all year (smoked salmon mousse, anything involving an avocado) and now we have a smorgasbord of choices to display this food too. It's said we eat with our eyes so a new cake-stand or some paper doillies couldn't hurt.
I always make an effort for family birthday teas. We have cake, and candles and singing. I think it's important - not only to acknowledge the passing of another year but to teach the children about table manners and the pleasure of conversation. No TV. No computer. And I love the traditional family occasions of Christmas and Easter, and the fun ones - Halloween and Bonfire Night.
You might say that I'm a victim of commercialism, although after 20 years in Marketing I should surely know better. It's not about spending money - hubby is driven insane by my habit of buying items then returning them to the shop (ooh, now that's another great pleasure - all the thrill of shopping without any cost)!
I think sometimes, it is worth a tiny splurge for an item that gives you pleasure and, by default, pleasure to those you share it with. As mothers it's very easy to stifle our own pleasures and to deny ourselves these things. And you know what - martyrs don't get invited to many parties. (I'm not sure you can dry clean a hair shirt).
So, yes, those Acacia place mats will be mine. And possibly another cake-stand.