In London, we used to go to a flower market , buy bagels, drink coffee and pay a nice coster man for a 6 foot tree "guaranteed not to drop its needles eva." Last year, we drove out to a farm and looked round a barn where dozens of trees dangled from the rafters and all I could think of were hanged men swaying gently in the breeze. Quite took the edge of the festive jollity. This year, my husband went in the Saab with the four-year-old and I went in the Volvo with the six-year-old, baby girl and a neighbour; we drove alongside hoar frosted fields to a forest where we stumbled around avoiding wolves and looking for the perfect tree. I was slightly worried we might all freeze to death or get eaten while my husband decided which one he was willing to take home with him. (Chosing a tree is one of those things he takes an inordinate amount of time over. Rapt, he will burble endlessly about size and symmetry and the straightness of the trunk - I think it must be a male thing.) With a whole forest to chose between, I thought that if the weather and animals did not kill us first, we risked being there till Easter. Time for decisiveness.
"That one looks lovely," I said pointing to a tree. (It was a tree - how different can one be from the next?) My husband eyed it with some scepticism but it was straight and true and did not run away. We took turns to saw it down with a handy jagged toothed hacksaw and, in between, sang carols. I could not hear other families singing carols but I want my children to have memories of Christmas to last them a lifetime. Memories like "Do you remember how you always used to embarass us by singing carols when we chopped down the Christmas tree? By the way, why couldn't we just buy a tree like normal people?" We dragged it back to the car, paid £15 to a chilly looking man in a metal container who bagged it up for us in a large net before strapping it to the car with twine. It was dark by the time we had done.
My husband pulled off first and I followed closely behind. We went on back roads for a while to avoid drawing attention to the tree. We pulled out on to the A1. (This road is the main route along the East Coast of England between London and Scotland. Long sections in Northumberland are single carriageway. Juggernauts use it. Tractors and caravans use it. Everyone who lives up here and wants to go anywhere uses it. No one from the Department for Transport has ever used it or it would all be dual carriageway. To turn off it, you have to cross high speed traffic coming in the opposite direction. Depending on the junction, you put the brakes on thinking something like: "Dear God let the car behind notice I have stopped in the middle of the road and don't let the car behind him try to overtake right now."
We were about two thirds of the way home when my husband started signalling right, slowed down then came to a halt in a narrow shadow island in the middle of the road. I drew up behind him. He put his hazard lights on and sat there. Lorries and cars hurtled by. I thought: "He must be turning right because the tree is about to fall off and has put his hazards on to warn everyone." But he did not turn right. We waited to see what would happen next. Nothing happened. He did not move off. My friend cautiously opened her door and got out of our car. She went up to his. More lorries hurtled by. I thought: "I have two children in this car. If a lorry piles into the back of me, we will all die." She sidled back. She said: "He's broken down." She went back to my husband and together they extracted my four-year-old from the passenger side of the Saab and ran across the road with him. I thought: "OK, that is one of them safe." I pulled my car across and drove a little way down the farm track. My husband said: "The engine is dead. I will have to push the car across the carriageway." I thought: "The children are alright and now he's going to get himself killed and we're going to be right here to see it. The car has a Christmas tree on top; the story is going to be "Tragic Dad in Christmas Tree Pile-Up Horror." At that moment, a 4X4 drew up and a farmer got out to see if he could help. He drove back onto the A1 and swung his car round so its full beam headlights lit up our stranded Saab. He got out and crossed into the middle of the road; he pushed our car off the A1 while my husband steered. I thought: "Next year, I'm going fibre optic."