A brief treatise on the unmatched joy of a bad holiday movie, watched in Pyjamas

“I am not enjoying this ironically,” I tell LSH.

We are on the couch, watching A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, the second instalment in a Netflix trilogy set in the fictional country of Aldovia.

“I am enjoying it unironically,” I elaborate, unprompted. “I am legitimately, genuinely, authentically enjoying it.”

“Yeah,” he replies. “It’s cracking.” He reaches for another cocoa-covered almond.

LSH does not have the same instinct to analyze his joy until it becomes excreted in a blog post.

The plot follows a New York journalist named Amber who is sent to the Kingdom of Aldovia in search of a scoop on a playboy prince who is soon to become King.

As a result of a series of farfetched mishaps, she ends up masquerading as a tutor to his little sister, Princess Emily. Her closeness to palace affairs does indeed land her a career-transforming scoop. But feelings get in the way…

Oh, don’t they always? The action takes place in a snowy castle in Romania, which may or may not have inspired the fictional Aldovia. The country’s inhabitants speak with stiff British accents, except for the chef, who sounds eastern European.

The first film in the series is the love story. The second is about the wedding, with a fascinating subplot about economic irregularities in the Kingdom. The third, which we will watch tomorrow morning in our Pyjamas, is called A Christmas Prince: A Royal Baby. I have no idea what it will be about.

It is ridiculous, on all levels. An exercise in cliched box ticking. Not quite Emily in Paris standard but nonetheless, as LSH pointed out, deeply offensive to the people of Aldovia, if there were any.

It is exactly what we needed in the twilight days of this wretched year. Two glorious hours of predictable nonsense, in a beautiful, snowy setting. Far away from grey Berlin. Far away from the flattened atmosphere of Zoom catchups that were supposed to feel festive but don’t really.

Far away from the Berliner Morgenpost alerts about the number of people the virus has killed or hospitalized today.

Far away from the daily train journeys to work that I used to love to spend people-watching but that now fill me with anxiety as I scan my fellow passengers for mask compliance.

Far away from the existential threats posed by the pandemic, by climate change, by the creeping sense that the absences induced by the virus will have a longer, lasting impact. That a small part of our identity is at stake. That the pints and mince pies we had in Mulligans last year on the way home from Dublin airport were profound somehow. That the nostalgia of walking past my old school in the rain was a one-off. That my nephew and niece are growing up between video calls. That the scone and latte I enjoy, religiously, every year with a friend in Howard’s Way in Rathgar, were timestamped without my knowledge.

In Aldovia, where princes ride black beauties in snowy landscapes and economic crises are easily resolved, things are different.

Tomorrow morning, we watch the final film. As today and yesterday, we will move directly from bed to couch. There will be tealights, and coffee laced with amaretto.

And for a few hours, life will be as simple, and as beautiful as it is in Aldovia.

LSH and I sojourning in Aldovia

Being in control isn’t as much fun as you think

I signed up to Netflix recently. I thought it would be empowering to decide when to invite Don Draper into my living room. After all, how better to embrace the modern trend of Taking Control of Your Life, than by streaming on demand?

Or so I thought. As it turns out, being in control isn’t as much fun as you think.

You’d be forgiven for assuming otherwise. The idea that being in control is something worth aspiring to is shockingly widespread. In fact, many people seem quite obsessed with it.

Earlier this year, Forbes magazine published an article titled Six Ways to Take Control of Your Life. That was one-upped by success.com, which managed to come up with 7 Ways to Control your Life Today. The Huffington Post went even further with its now sadly out-of-date 12 Ways to Take Control of Your Life in 2014.

Apart from the confusion about the exact number of steps required to take control of your life, it’s far from clear whether it’s worth the effort at all.

When I was a teenager living in Ireland, the state broadcaster RTE showed Ally McBeal every Monday night at 9.30 pm. My sister and I would race to the television at the appointed time, curling up beside the fire with a Cadbury’s flake bar to discover the latest shenanigans taking place at Cage and Fish.

It was a ritual made possible by our helplessness. Monday at 9.30 pm was the only time to catch up with Ally. Miss it and miss out. We were prepared to wait a whole week for her. Not like nowadays, when Ally just paces around, ready to appear on demand as soon as I tire of Don.

People tend to forget that being in control means missing out on some of life’s most primal delights. Like the excitement and unexpected pleasure of hearing your favourite song on the radio, for example. Come on, we’ve all been there: you’re washing up, scrubbing a stubborn layer of grease off a saucepan with the radio on in the background, only to shriek in delight, rip off your rubber gloves and have a 3-minute boogie -break to Uptown Girl.

You could have just played it on your phone, couldn’t you? But it wouldn’t have been the same, would it?

Being in control all the time prevents you from committing what psychologists call a “fundamental attribution error.”

It sounds like a bad thing, but fundamental attribution errors (in laymen’s terms, blaming anybody and anything but yourself) let you get away with murder.

Back in the day, you could get away with saying things like: “Sorry I can’t make your boring cocktail reception on Monday; I have to stay at home to watch Ally McBeal.” Now, you have to say something like: “Of all the possible times available to me, I’m choosing to stream Ally specifically to coincide with your event.”

It’s hard to argue with the first. Asking someone to sacrifice their weekly ritual is a pretty big deal. Refusing to adjust your streaming habits just makes you sound like a jerk. So much for empowerment.