In which I go the whole turkey.

Printed 23/12/08

What UCL were thinking when they set our dissertation deadlines for a week after Christmas, I'm not sure.
While I've long suspected a sadist streak in the higher powers of the English department – the only explanation for décor featuring so much brown hessian – I can't believe even the most tweedy of my senior knowledge imparters can't peer out from their beards long enough to realise the idea, as William Blake might have put it, um, sucks.

Thing is, these are very clever people. They are people with Phds, people with published books, people who can do entire pub quizzes without once having to secretly Google on their phone from the loos, people with whole drawers-full of suede elbow patches who, I like to imagine, have John Sergeant and Ian Hislop round at the weekends to eat pâté and play Wii on its hardest, hardest level.

But how could a body of people so brainy genuinely think a post-festive hand-in date was going to get the best out of its students? Or, indeed, get essays out of its students, instead of just 60 drawings of snowmen scribbled on the back of some wrapping paper?

We're talking about 6,000 words here. Six thousand words, none of them to include "Ooh, whack a bit of Cliff on", "Who ate all the green triangles?", or "Granny, put the brandy butter down…" Six thousand to be crammed in between charades rounds, or hammered out while everyone else is trying to assemble a cyber-plastic-battery-powered-space-blaster-cooker-wrench, using instructions written in Klingon and a diagram that got briefly, accidentally, sat on by the turkey. It's an impossible feat.

And the trouble is, while some scroogish souls might welcome the academia as a break from the glitter-coated, sugar-sprinkled merry-go-round of festive fun ("You WILL be happy. You'll be happy with a sausage on a stick and a paper crown on your head, and you will laugh heartily at a cracker joke, and you will do it NOW"), I don't do Christmas in small bursts.

I do it in one, massive, fortnight-long explosion.

I go the whole turkey.

I will laugh at that cracker joke, then laugh about it some more, then propose a toast to the cracker joke-writer with a glass full of Bristol Cream sherry.

So from where I'm standing right now – 500 words written, not a single Julie Andrews movie even watched yet – it isn't looking good. I will probably have feverish dreams, in which Jane Austen and Geoffrey Chaucer and Alexander Pope all fly into my room like the Ghosts of Christmas Lost and start battering me with tubes of Pringles, shouting: "Write! Write more! In the name of literature, write!"

It might have helped if I'd chosen something more seasonal as my essay topic. I could have done "Christmas as represented in literature through the ages", and then just talked for 20 pages about Little Women and Harry Potter and whether the Muppets stayed true to Dickens' original vision.

I'm pretty sure that I could produce a first-class critical analysis of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas – how the rhyme scheme on "Shook his belly/Like a bowlful of jelly" reflects societal connections between Christmas, gluttony and excess weight gain, while disguising it with a veil of poetic jollity etc. – and, what's more, I could do it in front of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with one hand in a bowl of cheesy footballs.

As it is, I will be locked in the spare room while my mother tries to feed me Iceland mini-bites through the cracks in the doorframe, writing sentences like: "While much of his subject matter was influenced by his position in a coterie, Frank O'Hara's poetic standing-dong-merrily-on-high has since been recognised due to his use of-falalala lala la la cultural iconography..."

At least, and this really is my only consolation, it might just get me out of thank-you letters this year.