10 Christmas Day conversation killers: Vaccines, skiing, Normal People, Dryrobes

They’ll do more more damage at the festive table than an airborne Covid-particle

There may be some ‘Brit-bashing’ but deep down, we all feel a little bit sorry for Britain now. It’s just taking some of us a bit longer to adjust to this unfamiliar state. Photograph:  Tolga Akmen/AFP

There may be some ‘Brit-bashing’ but deep down, we all feel a little bit sorry for Britain now. It’s just taking some of us a bit longer to adjust to this unfamiliar state. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP

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Congratulations. You’re limping towards the finish line of the longest, grimmest, most tedious year in history. Get ready to kick back, shut the laptop and the sanitiser lid, and enjoy a peaceful Christmas with your nearest (two metres away, fully masked up) and dearest. Plus your annoying shower of in-laws.

But first, familiarise yourself with our annual list of Christmas conversation killers – the topics that are likely to prove as destructive as an airborne Covid-particle let loose around the festive dinner table.

1. Covetiquette

The opener: “Don’t say another word, Mammy. I’ll be there. It would break my heart to think of the two of you spending Christmas alone. Anyway, I told the lads we’d have the few cans in the house on Stephen’s Night.”

The comeback: “Right. Lovely. In that case, I should mention we’ve introduced a few guidelines to ensure we all have a comfortable and safe Christmas. There’ll be no drinking at home without a substantial meal, which you’ll have to prepare yourself for hygiene reasons. Also for hygiene reasons, you’ll be doing your own dishes, laundry and cleaning the bathroom after every use.

“Mask wearing at all times is mandatory, other than when you’re seated. You’ll need to bring extra layers because we’ll be having the turkey in the back garden. And bring your own mattress too. What? No, that’s nothing to do with Covid – we did a few little jobs around the house during lockdown and your old bedroom is our new sauna.”

Fight factor: When the immovable object of two careful cocooners meets the unstoppable force of grown-up children intent on celebrating the birth of Christ with bags of cans, careful negotiation is required. 9/10

2. Wild swimmers

The opener: “No more vino for me, thanks. Sorcha and I are up at 6am for the wild swimming. You should all join us? You really haven’t lived until you’ve stood on the shore on a frosty morning taking a selfie as the russet sun peeks up over the distant horizon, and the waves tickle your…”

The comeback: “Wild what now? Swimming in the sea, you mean – like I’ve been doing every day since 1972. By the way, that giant fleecy raincoat you left in the hall was stinking so I put it in a good, boil wash and it’s in the tumble...Wait, where are you off to? What do you mean you can’t tumble dry a Dryrobe – what class of eejit spends €170 on a towel you can’t dry in the dryer?”

Fight factor: People are a bit precious about their lockdown-acquired self-improvement habits, and very precious about their Dryrobes. 7/10

Covid vaccine: nearly one in five people says they won’t get the vaccine. If one of them is at your Christmas table, things may get heated. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Covid vaccine: nearly one in five people says they won’t get the vaccine. If one of them is at your Christmas table, things may get heated. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

3. Vaccines

The opener: “I just have a bad feeling about it. There’s no way they can have produced it that fast without cutting a few corners. Eileen over the road has a brother a guard and he told her Bill Gates is using it to put a tracker in your DNA and destroy your fertility so they can create a race of genetically modified humans. I’ll send you a link to the video that got banned by Facebook – it says the vaccine will kill off all the trees and fry your brain cells. Or maybe that was 5G?”

The comeback: “Sounds like Bill Gates already got to your brain cells. The reason for the speed isn’t safety shortcuts, it’s massive investment, increased efficiency and less red-tape.”

Fight factor: Nearly one in five people says they won’t get the vaccine. If one of them is at your Christmas table, things may get heated. A battle worth fighting. 9/10

4. Armchair epidemiology

The opener: “There’s not going to be a third wave. Even allowing for a different patient profile, in-hospital mortality rates have declined globally in the over-60s. Actually, there’s a nice little theory that two other previous coronaviruses could have jumped from animals into humans in Tudor and Victorian times, causing severe epidemics of what was then regarded as influenza…”

The comeback: “Utterly fascinating. Just remind me where you did your PhD in immunology, Greg? On Twitter last March, was it? I almost missed the days when you droned on about Marcus Rashford’s shoulder problems.”

Fight factor: Potential for actual offence here is low. We’re all Greg now. 4/10

5. ‘Brit-bashing’

The opener: “If we’re ever going to grow up, we have to let go of this fantasy of ourselves as a nation of oppressed, resentful victims. We should stop all this gloating about Brexit, and show the British a bit of respect and solidarity in return for all they’ve done for us. What do you mean, like what? Loads. The Beatles, the BBC, antibiotics, Downton Abbey, tinned food, solidarity over our tax affairs in the EU, some of our best Georgian heritage, Mr Kipling’s French Fancies... and, er, Meghan Markle…”

The comeback: “Ah come on. Meghan Markle’s not even British. You’re as deluded as they are if you think we’re about to give up one of the few real pleasures left to us – our front-row seats for the spectacle of the tortuous unravelling of their centuries-old fantasies of exceptionalism.”

Fight factor: Cousin Martha is right. She’s always right, but that doesn’t make her any less irritating. The gloating really is unseemly. Deep down, we all feel a little bit sorry for Britain now. It’s just taking some of us a bit longer to adjust to this unfamiliar state. 5/10

6. PUP payments

The opener: “Not one of the pubs in town is open because they couldn’t get the staff to come back. They’re too busy at home buying shoes or fake eyelashes online, or whatever it is they’re doing with my hard-earned taxes. Half the people on the Covid won’t go back to work, and the other half aren’t even in the country anymore. This paying people not to work is nonsense.”

The comeback: “I’d never want the facts to get in the way of your rant there, but the reason most of the pubs aren’t open is because they can’t if they don’t have a kitchen. The numbers on the PUP payment went down by 28,000 as soon as Level 5 was lifted, so your little theory doesn’t stack up. If you don’t think we should be paying people not to work, then you’ll be handing your pension back? “

Fight factor: We were never all in this together. 5/10

Normal People: you either loved or hated the series. Photograph: Enda Bowe/Element Pictures
Normal People: you either loved or hated the series. Photograph: Enda Bowe/Element Pictures

7. Normal People

The opener: “What does ‘literary voice of a generation’ even mean? The entire plot was basically people sighing or suppressing sighs or glancing at each other or out the windows, interspersed with a bit of sex, and then more sighing. And the dialogue – nobody talks like that in real life, unless they’re Sally Rooney. I don’t know what the theme was meant to be, beyond ‘Sally Rooney is very complicated’. I couldn’t see the appeal of Paul Mescal either – he was exactly the same as every other emotionally stunted, grunting, pasty GAA lad in my year.”

The comeback: “How could you hate it? I adored the book – it was so spare and keenly observed. I cried my way through all 12 episodes. Maybe it’s the kind of thing you get more out of second time round. Let’s hope so, because I got you the DVD.”

Fight factor: 2020 divided us into two kinds of people: those who thought the 12 episode mini-series of Normal People was a long, overly pleased with itself and undeniably sexy, soap opera, and those who thought so too, and loved it anyway. 1/10

8. Non-essential travel

The opener: “Tony Holohan can take a running jump if he regards my ski holiday as non-essential. The best thing about Covid is that there’s unreal value in Westendorf this season – you can get seven nights’ five star for €1,200. You’d hardly get Center Parcs for that. It would be immoral not to go.”

The comeback: “You know it was an Austrian ski resort that was the ground zero for most of the outbreak across Europe, right?”

Fight factor: The heady cocktail of different approaches to risk mitigation, a bit of old-fashioned judgmentalism, a shot of middle-class entitlement, all wrapped up in nine months’ pent-up cabin fever, ideally with a bit of sibling rivalry tossed in? This will get ugly. Wade right in. 10/10

9. Politicians’ maternity leave

The opener: “The reason there has never been any need for politicians’ maternity leave is because most politicians are sensible enough to realise that you can’t do the big job and be a parent to a young child as well.”

The comeback: “Be honest – ‘be a mother’ is what you mean. No man is ever told he should delay starting a family because of his job. The reason we’ve never needed maternity leave is because the structures and systems in Irish politics conspire to keep women out. Men have been dithering about this for 40 years, and it’s taken Helen McEntee and Holly Cairns to even get it on the agenda. Which is exactly why we need more women in office.”

Fight factor: Touchy, but a conversation worth having. 6/10

Christmas Day Mass: never underestimate how strongly the not-particularly-spiritual feel about their Christmas Day traditions. Photograph: Alan Betson
Christmas Day Mass: never underestimate how strongly the not-particularly-spiritual feel about their Christmas Day traditions. Photograph: Alan Betson

10. Christmas Day Mass

The opener: “They can take our choirs, our carols, our chalice, our central heating and even our concelebration, but there’s no way I’m going to Mass on a bloody webcam on Christmas Day. I’ve never missed it yet.”

The comeback: “Except for the other 51 Sundays of the year when you couldn’t be bothered? The only reason you go to Christmas Day Mass is to be seen by all the neighbours in your seasonal Lennon Courtney coat. If that’s going to happen, you’d better crack on. I checked last night and the nearest church that still has tickets available is in Monasterboice.”

Fight factor: Never underestimate how strongly the not-particularly-spiritual feel about their Christmas Day traditions. 3/10

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