Our Agony Aunt Meg Mason dishes out somewhat questionable seasonal style and decorating advice to keen Christmas fans

My daughter’s hosting Christmas this year, and she’s just announced that she’ll be buying everything ready-made, from the cranberry sauce to the mince pies. She’s very busy with her career and children, but can’t I expect her to go to a small amount of effort?

Linley, via email

Like you, Linley, I experience a spasm of involuntary judgment at the idea of a turkey log being peeled out of its plastic at the table, while tubs of potato salad are unceremoniously glopped onto platters and passed around with a jar of supermarket cranberry, still flaunting its ‘Reduced For a Quick Sale’ credentials.

How hard is it, really, to source a kilogram of fresh, organic cranberries in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, and reduce them to a perfectly seasoned condiment over a series of hours, during which you can’t stray more than a metre from the stove for fear of it catching the bottom of a purpose-bought Le Creuset? I have a recipe that’s under six hours, start to finish, and you can easily cure a whole gravlax between stirrings.

But I suppose the question pivots on your definition of “small,” as it pertains to effort put-in. For us, small means having the cake laid up by May and lazily breaking down an entire pig carcass on Christmas Eve for the gelatin called for by a children’s jelly dessert, but for a woman like your daughter, already pouring twice her daily allowance of effort into work and family, there’s nothing left over for knocking out a braided Stollen the morning of, or crafting a marzipan nativity scene just because.

Happily, nowadays, all manner of festive fare can be picked up or better still, dropped off, in a state of total table-readiness. Glorious glazed hams, golden turkeys lovingly brined and stuffed by people whose job it is to lovingly brine and stuff things, as well as an almost rude selection of sides and a spiced-fruit pud that Nanna wouldn’t pick as bought in a double blind test – and no question of cheating, since she actually is blind.

So, if you’ve raised a woman of taste who is simply a touch time-poor, it’s far better to let the poor darling order in and enjoy a quiet sit and a glass on fizz on the day – while you propose a toast to all the proverbial plates she’s kept spinning for the other 364 days of the year.


We’re selling our flat and the agent insists that professional staging will add many thousands to our sale price. It seems like so much money to spend on a few cushions and whatnot. Any thoughts?

Abbie, North Sydney, NSW

By coincidence, you find me in a period of concentrated house-huntery and I can confirm that indeed, professional styling has become standard. No longer is it acceptable for vendors just to fan out a few mags and exit with a generous spritz of Glen 20.

Every room has to be set like a stage play, featuring two young professionals brought together by their mutual love of uncluttered surfaces and litre bottles of San Pellegrino, and who now spend their lives not cooking from an open copy of Bill’s Basics by Bill Granger in an all-gas kitchen.

I really can’t speak to purchase price, Abbie, but styling certainly helps less-imaginative buyers see where they might scatter their own mad profusion of throw cushions, and for those of us more visually attuned, it just makes a nice game of house-hunting bingo. Where, darling, did we last see that exact bowl of wax quinces and the inoffensively tasteful print? Was it the duplex, or the terrace on the main road?