ANOTHER Christmas has been and gone, but Mrs Hextol and I have refused to let it go without a struggle.

While the Christmas lights were going out all over Bellingham, ours continued to twinkle and dazzle until dangerously close to 12th Night.

As ever, Bellingham was ablaze with lights throughout the festive season, but the New Year Midnight Bells had scarcely faded away before most people had packed away their illuminated reindeer and roof top icicles for another year.

Even those whose homes had been made into mini Fenwick’s windows or Blackpool trams had hit the off switch, but Mrs Hextol likes to wring every last Ferrero Rocher and Brussels sprout out of the festive season.

We were slow out of the blocks this festive season and with that in mind, Mrs Hextol decreed that the lights must blaze away until the last possible moment, so we get full value from the festive season.

She still hasn’t recovered from the time a couple of years ago when we went away for two weeks on New Year’s Eve, and had to take all the decorations down before we left.

She found it so traumatic that she almost cancelled the Caribbean cruise in favour of a few more days of illuminations.

This festive season, we were away for the first couple of weeks of December, so Hextol Towers remained sullenly unlit until just 10 days or so before Christmas Day.

The house is usually ablaze with lights by the second Saturday of December.

But once we were back in residence it was all systems go, with all the festive paraphernalia unearthed from the back of the garage and laid out in all its tinselly glory.

The regulars include one of the first fibre optic trees in these parts, and while it has become somewhat threadbare over the years, it still beguilingly changes colour magically every few seconds.

As befits a tree which must be well over 30 years old, it leans a little drunkenly now and has to be wedged in the vertical by strategically placed blocks of wood from an ancient Jenga game, and the once clear plastic baubles now have the strangely opaque glaze of cataracts but once darkness falls, those little blemishes are undetectable.

It is also decorated with ancient baubles from decades ago, which are absolute magnets for the busy fingers of visiting tiny tots, who ensure that the tree is soon leaning more than a certain bell tower in Pisa.

The fibre optic lives in the conservatory, while the main tree goes in the living room, with the fairy’s head touching the ceiling.

We always used to have a real tree, but the sheer impossibility of persuading it to stand straight – even when it was attached to a hook in the ceiling – and the ceaseless susurration of cascading needles proved too much for Mrs Hextol’s tidiness

We bought an artificial one many years ago, and it is still going strong.

It is my job to erect it, and Mrs Hextol then festoons it with lights, baubles, icicles, beads and much more.

There was a disaster this year when the £4 lights we bought from Argos several years ago gave their final flicker, despite Mrs Hextol’s threats that they would be consigned to the bin.

That was indeed their fate, and I had to buy a new set, despite Mrs Hextol’s grumbles that she would have to strip every last bell and bauble off the tree, and start again. She did though, and the tree looked lovelier than first time round.

We normally drape red lights over the firethorn bush in the front garden, but while we found the lights, the plug that gave them light had vanished from the box in which it was sealed with the lights by my own fair hand and a roll of tape last January.

I wondered if the Christmas Fairy had made off with it but Mrs Hextol merely snarled. So another new set of lights had to be acquired, and how pretty they looked. So pretty, in fact, that Mrs Hextol was very reluctant to take them down, despite my dire warnings of plague, pestilence and an outbreak of boils on anyone whose decorations have not been removed by January 6.

She did make a start, by taking down the Christmas cards, door wreaths and fireside Santas at the weekend, but still insisted on switching on the full array of outside lights after all the others were packed away.