Island Life by David Slack

But Turkey's Fine

The Guardian dubbed Cindy Baxter the antipodean scourge of the oil companies. She acquired that reputation by locking horns with Shell in Nigeria, running the StopEsso campaign, taking on BP in Colombia and generally raising hell with the Seven Sisters.

That surprised me, because when she was a press secretary in the PM’s office, she was the quiet retiring type: never rattled any cages, tended to keep her thoughts to herself.

But you have to consider the times. We had all but full employment, the Labour party was the strongest it had ever been. The whole country was quietly reaping the benefits of the Douglas revolution, the farmers had never been happier and the election of 1990 loomed as a mere formality.

So. One of your feisty types.

She has been back in New Zealand for a year or so, working for Greenpeace, and we were talking a little while ago about running a few of her thoughts on the returning-expat experience.

This afternoon I was putting together a little generator thing that enables you to bullet-point your year – adapting a clever idea of Martha's - when Cindy sent this over, so I’ll tinker a bit more with the bullet-pointer, and pass the microphone over to Ms Baxter who is exercised not on matters of global warming, but rather on a pressing matter of Christmas etiquette.

Ever had one of those moments where you're at a dinner party and you're served something you hate? You have a choice: eat it and shut up, whilst trying not to make faces, and push as much of it under your fork as possible or just admit that you don't like it, don't eat it, and face the music head on. Either way it's uncomfortable.

Well this Christmas, please spare a thought for those of us who can't stand candied fruit: mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. We are steeling ourselves for the annual onslaught of rejection.

If you're happy to eat fruit mince, then you won't have noticed the offence people can take if you refuse those precious mince pies they've slaved over. Having their special festive fare refused is tantamount to a slap in the face.

You try to just say 'no thank you' but it never seems to work - At least not the first time. 'Oh go on, I made them specially' is the next effort, followed swiftly by 'but it's good luck'. You're eventually forced into that impolite, bah humbug place where you have to emphatically state that you hate the stuff and it makes you sick.

The reactions to this (depending on the emphatic-ness of your repudiation) vary, but offence is often taken at the mildest of rejections - and you're forced into apologising for what your stomach and tastebuds tell you is a rational decision. Or you're told off for not respecting some ancient tradition or other (something about having to taste 12 different Christmas cakes in a season).

The only reason we have this stuff in our Christmas fare harks back to the pioneering days when our relations sent us cake on the boat from London. They used preserved and candied fruit so that the cake wouldn't go off on the way when posted in July. Surely we're over that old thing now and can move on to fresh fruit?

So my plea to all you hosts out there who are faced with one of us fruit mince haters: just smile and move on to another guest. Don't force them into a corner. If you do, make sure you're prepared for the consequences. Offer them something else - chocolate's always a winner.

And to you fellow-haters of fruit mince, candied peel and all those trimmings, my thoughts are with you in this festive season.