Great Britain

Conversation starters for Christmas Eve, with your phone | Eva Wiseman

Siri, find me a sweater that is over-sized, but I’m not talking just baggy here, I’m talking about a sweater that delights in swallowing you whole. That one can inhabit, like a studio flat or small village, a place of sanctuary, solace, respite, cashmere. Or, if not available, 10 minutes of calm and a high-percentage wool mix. A sweater that takes at least 40 minutes to get over your head, but only seconds to make you feel like a baby, suckling. Its arms should be long enough to tie around your vested body, should you require compression for security, but push-up-able, so it won’t trail in your cereal at breakfast time. The sweater should feel both heavy and weightless, solid enough to act as a makeshift tent for one to retreat into during awkward interactions. Colour: navy blue.

Siri, what is the word for, “Thank you for this gift, but it makes me want to die, for it reveals in its velvety plastic the fact that all this time you, a person I care about, have never really known me. You have held on to quite the wrong memories. For example, once I expressed an interest in shoes, or elephants, and so you created a vivid picture of a person obsessed, presenting me annually with a small ceramic sandal, or large plush mammal with soft prehensile trunk.” What is the word?

Siri, how do I find my way to a place in the house where I can be part of the family, but also very much alone? I had a dream, bear with me, that there was a door behind the bath I hadn’t noticed before, and when I climbed through it found myself in what looked like a cross between my long-dead grandma’s kitchen and the changing room in Zara. It was very soft and quiet, and I sunk to the ground, suddenly myself. Now the board games are coming out and I need to get back there, and quickly, but without appearing to shun the party, or miss the tea round. A Google map would be appreciated, ideally in the next 30 seconds… Oh God, too late, the telly’s gone off. Siri, save yourself.

Siri, can you make my peace with presents? Is it possible to conjure up, for eg, the primal joy of giving children gifts, without spending many hours and pounds buying colourful objects defined, like their givers, by their built-in obsolescence? Without one’s mind racing five minutes, five years, five decades ahead, to the edge of a burning bonfire of plastic, the only sound the screaming of dolls, the only smell that of strawberry-scented erasers melting into each other as if in love. Can you help me give thoughtfully and with care, rather than in an Amazon panic and with receipts? Can you help me wrap these things with three pieces of Sellotape and a single anxiety?

Siri, at what age is fleece finally appropriate?

Siri, how can I spend time with all my friends without actually seeing any of my friends? How can I navigate the email pressure that suggests if we don’t meet before Christmas we will all die, and horribly, but also have time to watch my quality dramas, do my work, feed my daughter, listen to my partner, stroke my mean cat, cook that clementine cake from the magazine, finish reading this comic novel about abuse, have an opinion on the news, tidy the kitchen, get my boots fixed, put a wash on, do some empathy, and then hang the washing out to dry? FaceTime?

Siri show me the perfect selection box. And I don’t just mean Quality Streets with all the orange crèmes taken out; I mean a box that contains both the correct chocolates, including a generous serving of Lindt balls, but also the correct and perfect savouries – hotel toast, holiday cheese, a massive bowl of pasta, we’re talking a big box here Siri, maybe a hamper, some very sour sweets, the good hummus, a nice biscuit, and the green triangle pralines.

Siri, play me a festive song that makes me feel simple things, like gentle pleasure and the urge to sing along, rather than one that insists on slapping me with the discomfort of a nostalgia for a time that never was. Why do jingling bells take me instantly to the American suburbs circa 1959, holding my dinner plate out to a wife with the glassy grin of a person who’s mixed her medication? Why do carols deposit me on the floor in a school hall in a northern town, where the cinnamon air is infused with particularly sharp domestic grief? Why do Mariah Carey’s Christmas hits insist on catapulting me to the end of a party where single strangers are crawling towards each other across the carpet with a raw but melancholy lust? Play me a festive song that is not loaded with pathos, nor pipes, nor emotions too big for this time of day, thanks.