The current time of year is rich in traditions: I presume because we, like our ancestors before us, need something to help us through the short, dark days of winter. One such tradition is to bemoan how early Christmas now starts – a tradition which predates Christmas itself, though in ancient Rome it was Saturnalia which seem to start earlier each year. It seems that if you steal a festival and re-brand it for your aggressively proselytising new religion, you may also acquire its problems along with the (perhaps) more desirable feasting and gift-giving elements.
Since I was first brought forth upon this verdant globe, I have spent Christmas with my family. Initially, I was offered little choice in the matter – precocious indeed is the baby or toddler who is able to make and execute alternative arrangements – but I have continued in this manner long after I could do something else. Partly this must be force of habit, partly my complete failure to come up with an alternative but I think mostly because it is good to come together as a family with a common purpose from time-to-time. Since my nephew arrived on the scene, we are joined by someone who understands (one of) the true meaning(s) of Christmas. Was I really ever that excited about the contents of a parcel? Or about the idea of a cracker? From this distance in time, it is hard to believe that I was ever so excitable (well, at such modest provocation, anyway) – but then again, was I really such an odd child that I viewed December 25 with cool detachment? I’m guessing not, though I did used to respond to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the unhelpful and somewhat unambitious response “Alive” – so perhaps I was.
As well as the Saturnalian feasting and gift-giving, we also usually try and fit in some sort of family game on Christmas Day. This year we played Articulate! (for Kids) which was great fun. I had my worries given the age-range of the participants and the noun-blindness which afflicts older members, but it was surprisingly close fought. As folk try to describe a word against the clock (or mini egg timer, for the avoidance of doubt the timer was mini, rather than the egg), secrets can inadvertently be blurted out – let’s just say that my brother-in-law would appear to use a rather unexpected item of bathroom furniture for washing. Actually, a number of recent events have reminded me how much fun board (and similar) games can be – one was remembering Fluxx, a card game I one saw played and which my nephew is now old enough to play. I think this is enormous fun as the game changes itself as you play, and as we all know I love a bit of recursion (me and Alonzo Church). An article in The Guardian led me back to Will Wheaton and his YouTube channel where he and chums play tabletop games and it would seem that there are lot of rather entertaining games out there, including an even more complicated version of Fluxx called Star(r) Fluxx – which we may tackle once we have mastered the basic version. It looks like the Art House cafe here in Southampton has a board games night and I think I may have to start going – as it can be quite tricky to play these games alone (or against a wall).
On Boxing Day, weather permitting, some sort of modest walk is called for – to burn off a few tens of the many thousands of recently consumed calories. In recent years this has tended to involve the bracing promenade at Bexhill. I like to include the consumption of a sea-front ice-cream as part of this ritual – though this year, no other promenader seemed willing to join me. Lightweights!
As I don’t live with my family – for that way lies madness (or more madness at any rate) – tradition requires me to travel. In my many carless years, this was done by train – but as recent users of Kings Cross have found, this is not without its problems – so in recent years I have used my car. In fact, nearly 50% of my current vehicle’s road miles have come from the last four years of Christmas-based driving. Driving home for Christmas isn’t too bad (despite what Chris Rea would have you believe) as the roads are very quiet which makes the experience as close to pleasant as driving gets in these traffic-afflicted Isles. The driving also necessitates my annual purchase of petrol, which traditionally falls on Boxing Day as I journey homeward, and involves me guessing on which side of my car the petrol filler cap lies (this year I guessed correctly, it is on the passenger’s side and so no embarrassing repositioning of the car or desperate stretching of the hose was required for once).
To help the journey pass more pleasantly, I listen to the radio (some of it previously preserved in the form of podcasts). Shaun Keaveny delivered me to my family and a combination of items from Radio 4 took me home – we had comedy, history and semiotics. I also had the latest edition of In Our Time, entitled “Truth” – nothing like a little late night philosophy to make the miles just fly by. This programme demonstrated that though Melvin can appear several sheets to the wind on occasion, he is still a more responsible broadcaster than me: I would have been unable to resist uttering the words, “The truth? You can’t handle the truth” at some point during the show had I been at the helm.
Being away for Christmas means that it does end rather abruptly when you return home, there are none of the traditional seasonal leftovers to gorge on in the lull before the New Year. What I do have to gorge on after my return home are the televisual and radio treats I missed while away – and this year, as so often, the majority of the treats were on the wireless. Not only the triumphant end to John Finnemore’s brilliant Cabin Pressure (I know he is probably a tad young for this, but I’m starting the campaign for JF as National Treasure now) but also a dramatisation of Good Omens along with a whole stack of other seasonal Radio 4 treats.
This year, as I have guests joining me in a modest consecration to the god Janus, the flat does have a mildly festive air with a few Pagan symbols festooning my “tree” (which at other times of the year holds postcards: in this house a I do like to “sweat” my assets!). And given the Hatton blood (from my paternal grandmother’s family) that courses through my veins, the change of year should be massively over-catered – no-one leaves my home with soft arteries – so there is some hope of left-overs come the end of the week. In the meantime, I must devote myself to menu planning, cooking and appeasing the Lares (or, if you prefer, overcoming local entropy) to ensure that all is ready for the new latty’s first overnighting guests – very bold!