Much – much! – like Kenneth Tynan and Look Back in Anger, I could not love anyone who did not love Kirstie Allsopp’s programmes. The property ones, the arts and crafts ones, and especially the Christmas ones. This year, she has a series of 10 hour-long programmes airing on Channel 4 under the Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas banner, stripped across two weeks and perfectly designed to keep away what threaten to be quite some seasonal blues.
Before that series begins, however, we have Kirstie’s Christmas: Quick and Easy Craft (also on Channel 4). It is full of little projects that Allsopp promises – as only she, with the palpable sincerity and constitutional inability to lie that is her USP, can do – will take no more than 45 minutes each to do. “Your time is precious,” she says, sternly. “We want maximum impact for minimum effort.” I feel suddenly hugely bolstered by my ongoing efforts to wrestle into submission the violent chaos that is my life even in lockdown.
Allsopp flakes wax crayons with a pencil sharpener and shoogles them around inside a transparent bauble that has been heated by a hairdryer, until she has a coloured bauble. She melts the first lot into a brown lump (“because I’m impatient”), but she soon gets the hang of this “joyful craft”.
The winner of the 2014 series of Bake Off, Nancy Birtwhistle, is on hand to knock up some canapes (brown bread, cookie cutter, oven, fill, eat), cranberry sauce (cranberries, mostly) and miniature steamed puddings. “What do you think of when you think of steamed pudding?” she asks Allsopp. “Custard,” says Allsopp promptly, because she stands for all those of us for whom some part of our brains is always, always thinking about custard.
The textile artist Onome Otite helps her rustle up some gorgeous Christmas cards – “They’re gifts in themselves!” cries Allsopp, as indeed they are. And a young scrap of a thing called Ellie Dixon teaches her how to make pictures out of electroluminescent wire. It’s basically embroidering in neon light, and Allsopp has even more of a ball than she did with the baubles. “That,” she says with satisfaction as her glowing reindeer takes shape, “was an absolute TREAT!” Allsopp’s sister Sofie, a florist, shows her how to put together some speedy centrepieces for the Christmas table. She also recommends that you lift the lid of a mince pie, slip a spoonful of brandy butter in, and microwave before eating it, which is the kind of all-round service I like.
And speaking of all-round service: Phil makes an appearance too! Yes, Kirstie’s Phil (Spencer), what other Phil could there possibly be?! This is, of course, particularly good news for those of us whose brains are always at least partly thinking about Kirstie’s Phil.
They make colourblocked placemats with paint and washi tape and banter fondly. It’s real banter and real fondness and it sets my 2020-brutalised heart aglow. They make cocktails together at the end, and I join them, which helps the rest of me catch up. The slight indignation that Kirstie fights to keep down when Phil’s placemat turns out better than hers only makes the whole thing more endearing.
I should be clear; there is less than a snowball’s chance in hell that I would ever, ever, ever, ever embark on a crafting project, be it ever so swift. I am cack-handed, devoid of style, and the very idea of trying to create beauty out of anything fills me with cold horror and hot fury. But the glorious thing about Allsopp’s programmes is that there is something for everyone. For the clever and talented, there are ideas and inspiration aplenty. For the rest of us, there is Allsopp’s unmitigated, unmediated joy in the proceedings and her unforced ability to live in the moment. And there’s Phil, too, of course.
There are those who will reject wholesale the atmosphere of cosiness and nostalgia that Allsopp’s craft programmes – and again, particularly the Christmas variant thereof – conjure. They will damn lines such as, “Use your mum’s old trifle bowl for the centrepiece, as long as she’s not planning to make a trifle in it,” as the epitome of more privilege than you could stuff into even the largest stocking. And I would suggest, gently, that if you are one of them, you could just … maybe, excuse yourself from the room. The existence of Allsopp, or ambient Christmas programming, does not mean everything you think it means. Everyone watching – or even presenting – lives in the world. As such, it is fine to escape it for a bit.