SMOKE: The Great Christmas Tree Of '98

Originally published: 2 December 2005

I got a call from Tashi yesterday - all breathless with excitement and twittering - from a shopping mall she was in, interviewing people about something.

She'd just spotted a bunch of Christmas trees for sale in an array of different flavours, from purple to pink and so forth. Anything but green.

She wanted to get one but my horror at the suggestion convinced her in no uncertain terms that that was never going to happen.

I don't do plastic, fake Christmas trees. I understand the convenience they provide (as the following story will highlight), but to me a fake tree simply represents everything that's wrong about Christmas these days.

Christmas trees featured large in my life as a child and my father always got the best he could find. Santa's cookies and milk as well as carrots for the reindeers were always layed out beneath the tree and on Christmas morning they'd be gone.

It was the most exciting moment of my year - waking up on Christmas morning before the sun had risen and rushing through to see the huge pile of shiny presents beneath the big green tree. I'd sit for hours until my parents woke up, just staring at the presents and trying to guess what they were from their shapes.

I'd also lift all the tags to see which were mine and the thrill of Something Big was almost too much to bear.

You don't get that same feeling with a small, plastic piece of crap tree sitting on your table. Christmas loses its childhood magic without a big ole pine tree, a-blink with fairy lights.

Even though I am no longer Christian I still celebrate Christmas, simply because I always have. Every year I drive out somewhere and get a tree and every year Tashi puts up the decorations while I direct operations from the comfort of my couch.

But I've been chasing the tree dragon for seven years now, trying to recreate the incredible, awe-inspiring Great Christmas Tree Of 1998, which I have yet to better. It was a monster that defied belief and I must record the story for posterity.

I have always had a 'thing' about big trees - the bigger the better. And in '98 I made the brave decision to find the biggest tree ever - the monster I'd always dreamed of.

The house we were living in was over 150 years old and had high, high ceilings. It was like a double-storey - only open. My goal was to find a tree that touched the roof, which would make it almost 20 feet in height.

I drove around town for a few days, searching all the tree spots, until one day - rummaging through a huge pile of trees on the side of some godforsaken road - I found what appeared to be two trees stuck together.

It wasn't. It was one mammoth tree, which had been buried amongst the others.

I dragged it out triumphantly and it was a giant amongst pine trees. It was 22 feet high - the dude selling it helped me measure - and I gladly forked out the ridiculous sum.

The trouble was getting it in the car. A car is ... what? Ten feet in length? This was double that. I had no roof rack so I had to put it in the car, and the only way to do that was to have the base of the tree between the two front seats, the back seat down and the boot tied open, with 12 feet of tree hanging out the back.

The drive home was a nightmare. I couldn't go at more than about 20km/h and I had folks backed up behind me leaning on their horns. They could see what I was doing, the mean-spirited bastards, but they obviously weren't in the festive mood yet.

Every time I accelerated or decelerated I got stabbed in the neck, head and ears by sharp bits of tree and pine needles and by the time I got home I was a walking rash. All sorts of little creatures involved with the tree - tiny spiders and the like - had crawled down my neck and bitten the hell out of me all over.

But at least I had my tree.

Tashi almost fell over when she saw it. Curtains moved nervously across the road as the Neighbourhood Watch came into full effect. Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking.

With much ado we managed to get the swine inside before some neighbour came over to find out what was going on, and when we stood it up it bent over by a couple of feet at the top, where it touched the ceiling.

And there it towered, like a nude ogre. It needed clothes - fast.

The decorations and lights we had were nowhere near adequate enough to cover the beast, so Tashi went off to buy another set of lights and reinforcements in the form of decorations.

By the time the tree was covered it was late at night, and when we switched those lights on a blaze of light and glory spilled out of our house, sending a beam of hope and charity into the night sky.

It was incredible. A giant amongst Christmas trees. By far the best in the neighbourhood. The gossip about it lasted for years. It was a big day in Claremont.

We switched the lights off at night and the problem was that I got spooked every time I went for a late night slash. I never remembered that huge, hulking tree was towering in the corner and many's the night I leapt out of my skin at the sense that something large was lurking, deep in the shadows.

Christmas eve came and I layed out carrots for the reindeer as usual. Unfortunately I got up later that night and smoked them, but I figured the reindeer wouldn't mind too much.

And in the morning, what did I find? No presents from Santa, that's for sure. The greatest Christmas tree in history and not a present from the big guy beneath it.

But I did find one present. Not what I expected, mind you. A present from the dog - right beneath the tree. One perfectly coiled, faintly steaming, wet turd.

She'd left the following note with it:

"Happy Krismis, Daddy-chops. Wow! Exslent. Love, The Dog."

That bloody dog will be the death of me. You must believe me.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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