No flashing. That’s the first rule when it comes to my outdoor Christmas lights. I don’t want any “chasing” either. These are Christmas lights we’re talking about – let’s leave the chasing and flashing to oversexed movie producers. Rule number two: there is only one colour in my personal Christmas lights spectrum and that is warm white. If I ruled the world, I would ban all cool white and icy blue lights – they belong only inside a fridge.
Third, no Santas, no sleighs, no Rudolphs, no penguins and no snowmen. Now, you may think this makes me sound like an unmitigated snob. I would reply that: (a) yes, I probably am an unmitigated snob (certainly when it comes to Christmas lights); and (b) flashing lights give me a headache.
I know some householders use their colourful displays to raise money for charity, and I think that is admirable, but while their revolving reindeer and stroboscopic snowmen might make me smile (in a good way), I don’t want them on my own house.
There is something about Christmas lights that brings out the snob in us all. When I moved to Gloucestershire, my friend Ollie Brown (whose day job is theatrical production manager), very kindly came to install some festive refulgence. It was a fairly modest show, but one neighbour said she felt that it “wasn’t very Cotswolds”.
Another asked facetiously whether I was going to hire One Direction to switch them on the following year. Yet another said he knew when my lights had come on because his kettle took an hour to boil. A favourite local joke went: “Is that glow on the horizon the lights of Swindon? No, it’s Victoria’s cottage.”
However, there is also something about Christmas lights that brings out our latent lamplighter. It can’t be coincidence that major religions have midwinter festivals that involve lights, such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Diwali. When the weather turns miserable, we instinctively seek the comfort of illumination.
What works for me is the gingerbread house look. The outlines of doors, windows and gables glow in the cold night air, and trees and shrubs are transformed into spangled cones and spheres.
Indeed, my advice would be to stick to architectural lines and recognisable shapes, rather than randomly strewing LEDs over your hedge, fence or wall. If you are short on sockets and want to use one long cable of lights, blank out the bits between doors and windows with duct tape so that you get neat outlines.
We use connectable lights, which means you need fewer sockets, but we also use waterproof outdoor electrical boxes, which usually have a four-gang extension lead inside. I also have outdoor sockets.
Nets are great for shrubs, and for wrapping around the trunks of trees. I also love those hanging starburst lights, which are designed to be hung from trees, but I cable-tie them to canes or hazel sticks and put them in the borders. They look like giant allium heads.
It’s now five years since my first Christmas here, and from having been the new kid on the (unlit) block, I am now “the lady with the lights”. Neighbours say they look forward to the lights going on, but that could be because I have a drinks party to mark the occasion Maggie, who lives the other side of the lane, calls it the Getting Lit Up party.
Neighbours may joke about the National Grid going down when my lights go on, but in fact modern LED lights are energy-efficient. My network, which is timed to go on between 4pm and 10pm each day, costs less than £5 for the whole of December.
Ollie sometimes gets a bit over-enthusiastic. If he had his way, the entire neighbourhood would be ablaze – we have already hooked next door up to our circuit. I had to veto his plan to create an avenue of lighted trees running across my back garden and on into the paddock. Not only do I not own the paddock, I also live quite near RAF Brize Norton, and I had visions of some poor Hercules pilot mistaking it for a runway. I think that really would annoy the neighbours.