NORMALLY, I am very much against any ostentatious displays of Christmas lights until Santy has his sack stowed on the sleigh and Prancer, Dancer and the rest are having their last nosebags before setting off on their journey round the world.

I have always sneered at shops who have the trees up and Christmas cards on the shelves by the October half term, and much as I love Noddy Holder, hearing his Brummy bawling long before Bonfire Night has always grated.

But this is no ordinary year, and the Hextol Towers greenery is already lavishly festooned in more lights than Blackpool’s Golden Mile.

They are not switched on at the time of writing, as in all honesty I cannot bring myself to light up the homestead while the calendar still says November, but by the time you read this, the place should be ablaze with colour.

Everybody needs a little brightness in their existence, to wave a heartfelt good riddance to 2020, the year that never was, when everything good in life was banned, truncated or emasculated.

In Bellingham, there will be no riotous pantomime, no Christmas Fair, no Christmas Tree Festival in St Cuthbert’s Church in a year that has already dragged by with no Easter Egg Hunt in Hareshaw Linn. No jumble sales, no bingo sessions, no Bellingham Show, no village trip to South Shields and precious little else to smile about.

Villagers are preparing to do their bit to lift the spirits by putting on their own light show, with as many families as possible pushing the boat out to decorate their homes as brightly as possible for the next few weeks.

For me, that means the horrors of spending many hours perched on a step ladder, trying to arrange our battery of bulbs in as artful a manner as possible, while battling against the most vicious thorns, the most flimsy branches and the most tangled sets of lights in the western world.

Our lights are fairly modest compared with the enterprising efforts of folk who turn their gardens in a Fenwick’s window of soaring reindeer, jovial Santas and dancing elves, but getting the decorations up is not a task for the faint hearted.

Finding the decorations takes the best part of a morning, as it involves moving all manner of other things to get to the back of the garage.

Bicycles for all ages, a bag of cement which may well have set, a set of golf clubs that haven’t seen action since 1992 and a bag of fishing tackle containing a forgotten clutch of worms all had to be excavated this year before the suitcases containing the lights could be located.

I remember the days when the only lights we had to worry about were the notoriously temperamental ones on the indoor tree, which in themselves were an improvement on the fire hazard Christmas Tree of my youth, which was illuminated by real candles!

The screw-in bulbs were an improvement on that when they worked, but the advent of virtually indestructible LED bulbs meant that all lights could now be strung outside.

No matter how carefully I store the light strings each year, when I come to trying to hang them up again, they have ravelled into a vast Gordian Knot of Rubik’s Cube complexity. Infinite patience is required to painstakingly tease the strings apart, and then keep them apart for they have a nasty habit of re-tangling themselves in the blink of an eye.

We have a lofty rowan tree in the Hextol Towers garden, into the branches of which I weave one string of lights, while winding another set round the trunk to create a dazzling column of light.

It sounds easy in theory, but some years ago we planted an innocent looking Himalayan musk rose beneath the tree, which has now tangled itself inexorably with the rowan branches. Tottering on the very top rung of a step ladder with an armful of electrical cable is no place to discover that sturdy looking rowan branches snap off at the slightest pressure, and Himalayan Musk thorns bury themselves deeply in your hair, nostrils, clothes and fingers. But they are incapable of holding the featherlight weight of a few yard of cable. Following a busy afternoon and evening, we only have the indoor decorations to worry about now - I only hope I can find the tree at the back of the garage!