Our experience of Christmas Crackers has been one of disappointment and apathy among our guests over the years, but has also provided some of the kitschiest items ever to grace this Earth.
The standard Christmas cracker contains the following: 1x banger, 1x party hat, 1x child choking toy and 1x breath-takingly un-funny joke.
At first glance, these contents would appear to be a recipe for success at any Christmas dinner party and if you are prepared to spend a significant amount of money on your crackers, in the faint hope that some kind of quality control has been exercised, this may well be true. But, for most people, the humble Christmas cracker is an inexpensive table decoration with little more to offer than the heady thrill of the bang when the cracker is pulled.
There is of course, the ubiquitous paper party hat. Picture the scene as some elderly, flatulent member of your family settles in front of the Queen's Speech, stuffed full of turkey and perhaps a few too many schooners of supermarket port, the hat gracefully resting on his bald head and maybe even leaving a colourful paper tissue stain where it has reacted with the sweat coming out of his head (due in great part, to family pressure brought to bare, to make him wear the double knit, super warm winter cardi in a centrally heated environment).
There is truly no scene more magnificent or indeed, so typically British than this, echoing the sentiment of the festive season. The jokes in the cracker often lead to disappointment, with very few laughs to be had, unless you are a fan of northern, kiddie fiddling duo, The Chuckle Brothers that is.
The ultimate disappointment of any cracker, however, is the small, usually plastic and invariably poor quality toy therein. In fact the only real purpose these items seem to fulfil is the seasonal culling, by chocking to death of under 5s. So lets go straight to the top 5 Christmas cracker toys of all time.
In the number one spot, The Fortune Telling Fish
A personal favourite of mine; the fortune telling fish curls its body as you place it in the palm of your sweaty hand, thus predicting the future based on the type and size of the curl. A cynic would say it was a shaped piece of cellophane reacting to your body heat, but to others it is more than this. I personally believe The fortune telling fish knows what the future holds. This is not a popular theory however amongst my friends and family, who strongly believe it may well be the onset of more serious mental problems.
The number two spot goes to a worthy contender, The Plastic Moustache
At first sight, a fantastic plastic toy and irresistible in bringing on the Edwardian strongman mime among the old people around the table. However, the small size of the extremely painful to wear plastic clips make the moustache far too small for anyone other than a child, although it is mostly adults who try to wear the nose pincher. In slightly more expensive crackers, the nose moustache may well be part of a comedy nose and eyebrow combo. Again, this will prove irresistible to the oldies and hilarious Groucho Marks tomfoolery will ensue.
In at number three, The Leapfrog
Here we have an extremely, poorly cast plastic model of a frog, with springy legs and a tail. The deformed plastic frog will "jump" when the tail is pressed, towards the table and straight down the back of the throat of the nearest toddler.
At number four it can only be, The Ballbearing Puzzle
These infuriating puzzles can take hours to complete, if ever. In the case of really cheap, market stall crackers, the piece of cardboard with the holes poked in it will have a kind of ripple; thus making it impossible to sit the ballbearings in the holes. These ripples are added on purpose by the ground dwelling, cross legged Indonesian children who are paid 50p a month to make them.
And finally, The Plastic watch
Guaranteed to be in the rubbish bin faster than the leftover turkey. This plastic watch has virtually no function whatsoever, although they sometimes contain a ballbearing puzzle (see above) where the watch face should be, occasionally a crude sticker of watch hands, is stuck on the face. These items come a very close second to The Leapfrogs in child abuse; having as they do, the most spiteful, wrist pinching buckle imaginable and you may find yourself having to cut the child free from this tourniquet.
So there we have it, the rogues gallery of Christmas and New Year. Fashions do change over the years and nowadays some quite respectable shops are selling Christmas crackers; Harrods have a box on sale with crackers containing real diamond rings and pearl necklaces. But for the ordinary man on the street, the humble cracker with its collection of timeless tat has come to represent all that is traditional about Christmas. There is a kind of inverted snobbery involved and the more shoddy the contents of the cracker the better. So whilst you are indulging in traditional, cheap banging this Christmas, spare a thought for the poor little rich girls who will be on the receiving end of a pearl necklace
HAPPY NEW YEAR!