How do we take the tension out of Christmas Day is the question you may be asking yourself about now. Is there something we can do to keep everyone (someone in particular) calm and happy? As a matter of fact there is, and it simply involves memorising a list of what not to say to the cook. Starting with:

Can I do anything?

Not good. Especially if said in that way that sounds like "just asking because you saw me helping myself to another glass of bubbly".

It is a question expecting the answer: "You are kind ... no, I'm fine."


The right question is: "What can I do?" and the asker should be armed with an apron and a dishcloth.

Shall I chop some carrots?

What? You cannot be serious! Chopping carrots was in the first wave of preparation, seven waves ago!

The people who ask "shall I chop some carrots" in an easy, breezy way are young people who once cooked a roast chicken for five friends and can't see what all the fuss is about ...

Have you got a decent knife?

That is the sodding decent knife. In the heat of the kitchen, any criticism, including of apparatus, is spectacularly goading.

Is it okay if so and so drops round for a drink before lunch?

Fine! In the same way that seven people turning up in the operating theatre during the critical stage of open-heart surgery is fine.

How long has the turkey/ham/salmon been in?

Seriously, who asks that?

Because once the question has been asked, you have to do the calculation all over again, hunt down the scrap of paper with the information, double-check the weight, find the person who witnessed the time you put it in, and you lose confidence.

Do you want a drink?

God, yes. But don't ask us because two sips and it'll be "Ooh, turn up the Pogues", and "Aah ... is that for me?' And we will certainly forget to top up the water on the Christmas pudding and the bread sauce will burn.

Are you okay?

Same as "Can I do anything" only with a dollop of patronising. No. Yes.

Out of the way!

And that more or less covers it.