It’s over!

I trust that everyone sang the title using their best impression of Roy Orbison.  However, fear not, no-one’s baby has moved onto romantic pastures new (well, obviously I can’t guarantee that, but it is not the subject of today’s post).  The title refers to the end of Christmas proper – though those with an inappropriately generous true love may continue receiving deliveries of miscellaneous birds and people for some days yet – but the rest of us are now in that liminal space that lies twist the supposed birth of the ickle Baby Jesus and the start of the New Year.  After weeks of build-up (or in my case, an hour or two), Christmas joins us for a few brief hours and then is gone.

I thought I’d share some vignettes from my own Christmas while the remain relatively fresh in my alcohol-addled brain.

Christmas Eve

A new tradition began and an old one was resurrected…  I think last Sunday was my first Christmas Eve at a gig – and what a gig!  It was a jazz session at the Talking Heads with a Christmas theme, produced by the Fathers of Christmas (a name the quartet will probably not be using at other gigs).  The musicians were joined by a singer – who was the only member of the ensemble to make a serious effort when it comes to dress – for several of the numbers and who, based on his youth, must have been a son or grandson of Christmas.  As well as jacket and shoes in red and black, alluding to the season, he also appeared to have spent more effort on his hair for the gig than I have on mine over the whole of the last decade.  I’m probably at least as vain as the next man, but am just too lazy to act on it: especially when it comes to hair.  The whole gig was so enjoyable, I’d rather like to spend every Christmas Eve with live festive jazz and friends – however, the timing of that particular gig means this would only happen every 7 years (on average).

It was also at the Heads that I was given my first Christmas stocking for rather more than three decades.  This might suggest that I am spending too much time at gigs or am excessively childish and I did wonder if it was a form of intervention: though if it was, I am unclear as to its nature.  The stocking was a festive “sock”, embroidered with my name, rather than one of my father’s unadorned seaman’s socks (he never went to sea, but he did have the socks ready) which served throughout my childhood.  I opened the parcels on Christmas Day, and there was one item in common with my childhood stockings: the tangerine!  The other gifts seemed a step up from their 1970s counterparts: I can now be musical in miniature, massage my aching muscles and study to be rock star with a Ladybird.  I consumed the very fine bottle of Duet from Alpine Beer on my return to Southampton, which slipped down worryingly easily for a non-session 7% ale!  Finally, the Lindt reindeer allowed me to test my theory that it is just a re-badged Easter Bunny: it wasn’t!

Christmas jazz and (slightly deformed) stocking

Christmas Day

On Christmas morning, I drove back to see my family through pleasantly quiet roads: something of a throwback to the road conditions of my youth (albeit with bigger and safer cars).  After a brief stop-off with my parents, the bulk of the day was spent at my sister’s with my nephew: the only readily available familial child (as measured by age, at least).  I ate a frankly infeasible volume of food and was a very bad vegetarian indeed!  I danced to Queen (thanks to a videogame, which frankly only monitors my right hand) and on the third attempt proved triumphant at Exploding Kittens (a card game: no actual kittens were harmed or – more importantly – harmed me!).  By dint of refusing to play again, I retain my hard-fought crown to this day!

I learned that you can buy your giant rabbit (he’s called Starby, if you want to correspond with him directly) a house made from carrots (compressed into a more practical building material) which the owner will slowly consume.  It became all to clear that my whole family (including me) is useless at Guess Who – the version where you must guess the name written on a post-it note placed on your forehead (top tip: this works much better if you attach the post-it note to a paper hat obtained from a cracker).  To be honest, given how bad we were I’m surprised that the game is not still underway (some three days later).  I can also commend my sister’s gentleman caller on the excellent quality of his light fruit cake: quite the best example of its genre I have had the pleasure of eating in many years.  It was when attempting to light a (Roman) candle on this very cake that I discovered how poor my family are at matters incendiary.  After recourse to a gas lighter, several matches and a tea light ignition was finally achieved.  I think parliament is safe from any repeat of the gunpowder plot instigated by my clan: I shall have to stick with the military option when I sweep to power…

The true meaning of Christmas: Easter and Guy Fawkes (no relation!)

Boxing Day

Boxing Day was spent at my parents and as has become traditional, a modest constitutional took place in a futile attempt to burn off a few of the million (or so) calories consumed on the previous day.  In older times (and better weather), this used to involve a hike to the nearby supergrid point circling home via the Christmas Tree farm but in more recent years we have limited ourselves to a stroll along the prom at Bexhill.  This was glorious, if bracing, but gathering storm clouds led me to forego the traditional Boxing Day ice cream.  A wise decision, as it rained pretty vigorously on the drive back to Ninfield: though this did provide a glorious double rainbow as we headed north from Sidley.

The day’s other major excitement was my father’s decision to cook me a vegetarian lunch.  His chosen meal required a very large amount of grating: something I would only have attempted with a food processor.  My parents could only field a manual grater and a rather feeble stick blender so I think my father and I burned off far more calories grating root vegetables than we did on our walk.  Despite some misgivings, the galette proved more than edible and, with some minor tweaks to the recipe (and better equipment), could well be worth making again.  In the evening I drove back home through heavy rain and traffic, leaving Christmas behind me in the east.

Building and sating an appetite!

Post-Christmas

Christmas itself was the first time I had spent two evenings not at a gig of some form or other for several weeks (possibly even months) and there was some concern about how well I would cope.  I can reassure readers that the sheer volume of food and alcohol consumed did mitigate against me running amok.  Still, to minimise the growing risk I did go out last night to see some live music: so I think you’re probably safe (for now).  Life should now return to a more normal footing, though gigs in early January do look slightly sparse at the moment.

Some might think my Christmas odd, but five people on each of the two main days chose to spend some of their time consulting this august instrument.  One can scarcely imagine how badly their days must have been going that they came here, nor what succour they took from their visit…

 

 

 

Advertisements

Musical cheer for the time of year

Fear not, gentle reader, I am not about to ‘come out’ as a closet poet and this post will not be written entirely in rhyme (although, now I’ve had that thought…).  Nor will I be exploring the horrific sonic experience which I fear shop workers (and some others) will have been subject to since a point in the autumn.  I feel that if Christmas “hits” were blasted into the unprotected ears of prisoners of war for several hours a day over a period of months, the Geneva Convention would be invoked and Amnesty would step in – but there seems no such protection for those who work in retail.  No, instead I shall be focusing on the live music that I have chosen for my ears to experience in the run up to the apotheosis of the annual commercial orgy of Saturnalia (and its successors).

Firstly, this post gives me a chance to mention two great gigs from 2017 missed from the last post (as I knew something would be – and something still will be, I have no doubt) given that they also occurred in the run-up to Christmas (or after August, as the period is also known).

ICP Orchestra: a truly extraordinary night of music from the Dutch ensemble, which probably had jazz as its starting point but ranged widely and joyously across and around genres.

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita: another amazingly joyous performance that defied categorisation but used piano, kora and a plethora of percussion.

This last week, I have been to a number of gigs with a more overtly seasonal vibe about them.  Even where not directly Yule-themed, I think they have captured what (for me) is the real spirit of Christmas which is the coming together from our ever more atomised, siloed lives to enjoy something with others and a proper feeling of community.  It is said that Christmas is a time for family, and many a soap opera and sitcom episode has been predicated on this premise and the conflict that can arise, but my feeling is that it is a time to interpret the concept of family in its broadest sense.  As Adam Rutherford’s excellent book A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived makes clear, we have to go back surprisingly few generations before we are all related – and not just to Kevin Bacon.

On Thursday afternoon I had my regular piano lesson, with my repertoire being joined by the Snowman (well, the chordal element thereof).  My first Christmas song!  This was very exciting and as a result I did manage to smack my head into the piano lid a record (and skull) breaking four times!

That evening, only mildly concussed, I went to the Tuba Libres Xmas Bash at the Talking Heads.  The Tuba Libres are a funk brass ensemble, who clearly have both jazz and video game influences in their music.  I have also never seen them together and not in some form of fancy dress, though one member (no names, no pack drill) does appear to believe that Man United kit counts as viable fancy dress for every theme: I assume he’s hoping that the team will be a man down and he will be called upon to help close the gap with City at short notice.  I was hoping for something special for Christmas and the lads did not disappoint!

IMG_20171214_213039

Despite this fine example, I didn’t even wear the offered paper crown…  Three ghosts clearly await my Sunday night slumbers!

There were old tunes, new tunes and even festive tunes and, so far as I could see, everyone had a ball (the tenor sax sported a shiny pair!): some people even overcame their reserve and danced!  So full of some sort of spirit was I, that on retiring to the other bar I gave an unrehearsed (and best avoided – but it did help clear the bar) performance from Oklahoma!  Probably not my first choice of Broadway song, but the overlap between available music, bass parts and music I’d ever heard before was quite limited (and I sang the one piece in the sweet spot of that musical Venn diagram).

On Friday, it was the Christmas Three Monkeys at the Art House.  This is always a joyous event, as I have documented before, but there is something extra special about the Christmas show: this year we had five monkeys (though nominally grouped into three meta-monkeys) with one returnee from the 2016 Xmas show.  This gig was rendered even more special by me knowing everyone on stage (and much of the audience) which made it feel more like a party than a typical gig.  It would certainly have made it on to my list of the top gigs of 2017 had it occurred just a few days earlier (or I had kept my powder dry a little longer).  As can happen at such events, a whole series of in-jokes developed during the evening and will forever bond together those who were present (but will only confuse those who were absent and who should be counting their every hood cheap).  I can reveal that the sole male monkey was cast as the baby Jesus (to accompany three wise women and the VM) and that I shall expect a mention in the cover notes of the first album from Allure of Velour.

IMG_20171215_212659

Satin, Bridge of Sighs and Kitty O’Neal (+the baby Jesus): all in action!

Following the gig, I shall view any reference to a ‘glock’ as relating not to the gun, but to the xylophone’s metal cousin (a surprisingly versatile instrument) which is a much happier image (though it might make for a rather different next Bond movie).  I also acted as violin tech (OK, holder) for half of Bridge of Sighs, which was my first chance to get my (only slightly sticky) mitts on a violin (I was not trusted with the bow).  Still, it was a good opportunity for a discrete post-gig pluck and a fairly poor pizzicato rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was the result (there have been worse consequences of illicit plucking…) I found the neck and fingerboard of the violin very cramped after the guitar and I think some basic knowledge of how a violin is tuned would probably have helped, but I feel basic nursery rhymes could lie within my grasp – well, if someone is fool enough to offer me regular access to a violin.

Finally, on Saturday I went to the Esterhazy Family Christmas Concert in Lewes.  This featured carols and other songs classic and new: though on the whole, the classics worked better.  Christmas is a time for shared rituals and I guess it is tough for new songs to break into the canon – but at some time every song was new, so I mustn’t be too set in my festive ways.  Listening to In the Bleak Midwinter, I couldn’t helping noting that Christina Rossetti wasn’t much of a farmer (or, indeed, a shepherd) as obtaining a lamb (other than from a supermarket freezer cabinet) at mid-winter would be a challenge: frankly, your typical shepherd would find it easier to source myrrh.  I also gained great enjoyment from the sight of ladies of a certain age wondering a church and approaching people with the phrase “pound a strip”.  I’m reasonably sure that they were referring to raffle tickets, but we were close to the loucheness that is Brighton and so perhaps your pound would have provided a more eye-opening experience.

IMG_20171216_172339

As London appoints a female bishop, Lewes still leads the way with its ursine vicar!

And, my musical Christmas is not yet over.  Tonight I shall join the Southampton Philharmonic Choir for carols around the (very dangerous!) piano (I may bring protection), whilst I am spending tomorrow night in baroque Italy (in sound, if not physical person – a much trickier proposition altogether) for some festive tunes from traditions past.

At this stage, I’m not sure what will fill the rest of the week – but it will certainly hold my annual viewing of the greatest Christmas film and the greatest Dickens adaptation ever created and also the high point of Michael Caine’s career (higher even than blowing the bloody doors off): I refer, of course, to The Muppet Christmas Carol.  There will also definitely be more live music and plenty of mince pies.  The last week or so has led me to think that I should have suggested the deep-filled mince pie to Tim Harford as one of the 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy (perhaps there’s still time for the second edition?).

In news about other things that will be filling me (and some of my week), my own take on pannettone has just emerged from the robotic grasp of my breadmaker.  It is currently both warm and delicious: one of these will fade but I hope the other will last right down to the last slice (which, if I can stiffen my will power, will not be later on this evening).

There may be another post before Christmas is upon us, but in case the muse stays away, readers should endeavour to enjoy themselves (despite the many challenges that the season offers to the achievement of that objective) and consider participating in some positive, seasonal community ritual.  Release the midwinter merriment!  (A phrase which will appear in my new line of GofaDM themed Christmas cards in 2018: it will be slightly tweaked for the southern hemisphere.)

 

 

Finding the spirit

There was an exciting festive moment this morning as I drew the first curtains at a little after 10:30.  Would there be snow, as Twitter suggested there might?  No, a far more typical British festive scene greeted my eyes: rain and strong wind attempting to steal the last few leaves that the trees had managed to retain.

Given this opening paragraph, readers might wonder if the author is an avatar of the pre-haunting E Scrooge (I am haunted, as already established, only by sliced white bread).  I like to think not, but that perhaps I do Christmas slightly differently (or perhaps, as so often, I am just deluding myself that I am some counter-cultural maverick).  This post will likely provide some evidence for both the prosecution and the defence – but will serve as a note of my “preparations” to date.

In most respects, any preparation has been purely pyschological in nature – though yesterday I did technically buy a Christmas present.  However, in the interests of full disclosure I must admit this was only because I had no cash and needed to reach the card-minimum spend.  I have also, as I believe is a widely observed tradition, acquired an Advent cold.  I am taking some time to shake this off – I don’t think my sinuses like the combination of viral load and extreme temperature changes – but I have high hopes that one morning I shall open the Advent calendar window of my duvet to find a different treat lurking beneath (so far, just phlegm-filled lungs)!

I have visited not one but two Christmas markets!  Both in November – breaking a general, though weakly enforced rule of not troubling the concept of Christmas until December pits in an apperance.  On both occasions the draw was the prospect of a warming polystyrene beaker of glühwein.  Winchester was perfectly adequate, though I did object to having to queue to enter, but it did give me something to do both before and after seeing Temples of Youth play to a packed (and not easy to find) Elephant Independent Record Shop (and again, while waiting for a train home – you can’t be too careful when trying to avoid contracting a chill).  Belfast though is much better – which I can (and do) visit on my walk from the office back to my hotel.  It is such a joy to buy and then consume patisserie in my very rusty French (I do have order something I can remember the vocab for) and then do the same for glühwein in German.

IMG_20171129_173158

A festive City Hall and the Xmas Market, Belfast.

As December began, I started an ill-fated arithmetic series of mince pie consumption.  I did manage one on Dec 1 and two on Dec 2, but then I was struck down with man-flu and my subsequent performance has been much poorer.  Some days, I have failed to consume even a single mince pie – it has been too chilly to take my germs out to hunt and/or gather examples of this festive treat.  I prefer to avoid the industrial, plastic-wrapped, cardboard-boxed variety and go for those made in-house.  Both the Art House and Mettricks in Southampton offer excellent examples – and I hope to try some more venus and examples before the season comes to an end (though today’s weather is reducing the temptation a little).

I have also been to my first Christmas concert of the year, staged at Turner Sims by the students of the music department.  This contained all of the expected treats: an obligatory Oasis cover (nothing says Christmas like the feuding Gallagher brothers), seasonal music and audience participation carols.  I was reminded, once again, that glorious as Hark the Herald Angels Sing is, as a carol (who can fail to enjoy and/or snigger at the line ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’: always feels more like a reference to almighty Zeus rather than his Christian counterpart), it is very hard to reproduce with a bass voice.  Or at least I find it very hard, and this was not aided by my cold which moves my voice even deeper into Barry White territory than usual.  My attempts to access sufficient head voice rather oddly left me with a rather severely aching jaw.  Frankly, given the amount of exercise it gets both talking and chewing, I had not expected my jaw to prove the weak link in my performance…

There was a grade one orchestra – a group of people who can read music but playing instruments they have only just started learning – playing Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas (the most aggressive of all the carols).  I am learning three of the instruments being showcased and now feel much better about my own abilities: particularly, my feeble attempts to generate music using the clarinet.  I reckon I could produce a pretty functional rendition of either tune – albeit with some pauses to lie down and take oxygen – if transposed into a suitable key.  Still, it was great fun watching young people flounder – rather than just seeing, hearing and feeling myself do so!

The gig also included two members of the faculty applying their four hands to the piano to bring us jazz versions of a couple of seasonal classics.  Once you’ve heard, Jingle Bells played as a jazz standard or Away in a Manger as a minor key samba you will never want to go back to the original versions.  To be absolutely clear, I am not joking and if Ben Oliver and Andy Fisher are willing to write and record a Christmas jazz album or EP, I would be willing to stump up some cash to make that happen!

The gig was held in conjunction with Mencap, so I manage to leave the concert not only full of Christmas spirit but also with a bag of home-made deep-filled mince pies.  I regret to inform you, dear reader, that these did not survive the afternoon: my jaw recovered pretty swiftly given a suitable incentive!  Still, what a joy to support charity, local musicians and fill my face with festive treats from a single event.  I think this might be my closest approach to the true spirit of Christmas and one which can be enjoyed by those of almost any religion or none!

Despite the bravado of that last statement, in this coming week I shall have to knuckle-down and face the horrors of Christmas shopping, writing Christmas cards and the like.  Then again, I seem to recall that last year the extraordinary shop workers of Southampton – I remember particular snaps are due to those of John Lewis and Game – actually made the shopping experience a pleasure.  How they retain such good humour given what must be an appallingly trying job at this time of year, I do not know – but I doff my cap to them.  I feel that there ought to be a charity that does something special for shop workers once they have survived the horror of Christmas and the January sales: perhaps to send them all on holiday somewhere nice come February.  Lacking that, we should all make an effort to treat them well, however, stressed we may be feeling…

 

 

Last Christmas

Fear not, gentle reader, this will not be an ill-judged attempt at a Wham! tribute post.  Who would have imagined, in their eighties pomp, that Wham! would go on to put the children of so many panel-beaters (and allied trades) through school and beyond?

It struck me that GofaDM has never described the Festive habits of its author.  Whilst you probably don’t care, it is an unmined seam of content and so I am heading down there with my metaphorical pick and some dynamite.  As the title suggests, I shall be relying on the most recent midwinter festival as my primary source in what follows.

I have, since being brought forth upon this earth nearly half a century ago, spent Christmas en famille.  I have, at times, thought that perhaps I should do something more exciting and more in keeping with my (imagined) role as a dangerous maverick and setter of fashions.   These tentative plans have always foundered on two rocks: (i) the amazing power of apathy (especially mine in the depths of winter) and (ii) the awkward conversation that would be required with those who share my blood were I to suddenly replace them with the fishy denizens of a reef off the Maldives (for example).  Over the years, the festive line-up has been augmented by a range of guest stars (some appearing for a single season, others with a more recurring role) but it has always centred around the traditional, nuclear family: augmented in recent years by the arrival of my nephew.

I tend to drive back to the family estate(s) on Christmas morning to take advantage of the quiet roads and almost total lack of lorries.  Despite this return to the road experience of a gentler age, I find I am already bored with the whole idea of driving within about 15 minutes of departure from home.  How people become petrol-heads I have no idea: they must have a much higher tolerance for tedium than I.  Whilst in charge of a vehicle, you can’t even read a book, have a nap or enjoy a fruity glass of red (well, not safely or legally): what can the appeal be?  I rather fear that I look down on frequent drivers much as I do on those with strong allegiance to a sporting  or religious team: i.e. with a combination of pity and grudging admiration for their single-minded commitment to something so soul-destroying.

Having now offended 99.9% of the human population of the planet, perhaps it is time to actually tackle Christmas.  I think my Christmas contains most of the key elements: family, presents, crackers and too much food and drink of a broadly traditional form.  I may offend some of the 0.1% still with me when I say that I eschew the Brussel sprout: despite the maturing of my palate over the years, I still believe these are a terrible waste of good agricultural land that could better be used to produce cavolo nero (to offer but a single example from the same family).

This year’s special Christmas guest was a giant rabbit – and no he was not a product of my excessive seasonal drinking or called Harvey – who, between enjoying some serious shut-eye, could occasionally be found wandering around the festive throng, munching on unattended presents or wrapping paper.

In an attempt to burn off a few of the seasonal calories, my sister and I played a popular video game entitled Just Dance 2016 after Christmas lunch.  This involves replicating the dance moves of a dancer on screen to win points (and no prizes).  In fact, the player only has to reproduce the choreography of the right-hand as the games console only monitors this one extremity.  The music on offer was clearly not aimed at the listener to BBC Radio 3 and 6Music in his late forties: so I had heard of almost none of the available dance tracks (except a couple of dodgy remakes of classic hits of yesteryear).  Despite my lack of familiarity with the soi-disant music on offer, and well-documented lack of skill on the dance floor, I feel I put in a pretty decent performance and was neck-and-neck with my sister throughout (which may only indicate that she can’t dance either).  Despite some wildly faliling limbs, there was no need for a festive visit to A&E: which I count as a Terpsichorean triumph!

In days of yore, Boxing Day would be the occasion for a restorative walk, perhaps taking in a supergrid point (or other site of interest) on the way.  However, the weather was not conducive to such an excursion and so I used up a few more festive calories helping my father break-up two decidedly hefty UIX workstations and start them on their journey from my parent’s loft to the amenity tip.  In the olden days (or the 1990s as I like to call them), workstations were built to last (and, probably, survive all but a direct hit from an ICBM): I think we liberated enough steel to make a decent start on the Royal Navy’s newest destroyer.  I fear this is a seasonal pleasure that will be denied to future generations: yet another element lost from the real meaning of Christmas.

On the evening of Boxing Day, after the driving hoards had grown bored of purchasing cheap three piece suites and left the roads, I girded my loins and drove home again (entertained on my way by the foolishness of Count Arthur Strong on the radio).  I made it home without a need to buy petrol, meaning I bought no petrol at all in 2015.  I really may need to review this whole possession of a car scenario…

For next Christmas, I am planning to bring out my own range of Christmas cards which reflect today’s modern Christmas and its climate.  No, not of a family smashing up some old UNIX boxes: though given the strength of the geek market that could be a possibility…  No, I’m thinking of Santa Claus, clad in red-and-white waterproofs, riding a submarine pulled by a team of eight dolphins (perhaps one could retain the red “nose”) over a host of sodden daffodils.  I feel this far better captures the 21st century British Christmas than all this nonsense about snow and reindeer.

We made it!

Before I start with the content of today’s post, just a little AOB missing from yesterday’s offering.

One of the key take home messages from my viewing of The Force Awakens was the need to visit Skellig Michael: it seems to have very well maintained stairs and would, I suspect,be quite a bracing location.  I’ll have to see if I can tag it onto a work trip across the Irish Sea come the spring.

Continuing with my engagement with popular culture, I must admit that I’ve never watched Gogglebox.  Normally, I love recursion but this seems a little to meta even for me: though I have seen the play-within-a-play trope several times, so perhaps I’m just being a snob.  However, yesterday afternoon I did catch Francesca Stavrakopoulou live tweeting Raiders of the Lost Ark: which was very amusing.  She is professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion (so rather eclipses my own O Level in RS) and has some forthright views on the movie.  As I write this, she is giving the Temple of Doom the same treatment.  I think there could (and should) be a TV series where domain experts make fun of classic movies that intrude on their areas of expertise.  A Gogglebox for the Only Connect viewer, if you like.  And now, we can return you to your normal programme – though I’m afraid theology will raise its head once again…

Today is the winter solstice and so we have survived through to the shortest day (well, unless you are reading this from beyond the veil).  I have (somehow) resisted the urge to visit Stonehenge, despite its proximity. From tomorrow, we (in the currently fashionable northern hemisphere) should start to notice a real stretch in the evenings: according to the Met Office (and they are rarely wrong) we denizens of Southampton should have a whole additional minute of afternoon daylight in which to revel come the morrow.

With the exception of changing day-length, it is otherwise quite difficult to believe that we are well into the second half of December.  We rather seem to have given up the outmoded concept of seasons and replaced it with a constant, rather windy (if mild) monsoon.  I am forced to assume either that some very large, if unreported, fold mountains have developed nearby or that the weather is properly jiggered.  As a result, I have had to work rather harder than usual to engender some minor hints of Christmas spirit in my resolutely curmudgeonly frame.

At the weekend, I wandered over to Lewes to enjoy the Esterhazy Chamber Choir’s Christmas concert.  This was most enjoyable, but some of the more modern carols did wander into unexpected doctrinal areas.  I am familiar with the idea of Christ as the Lamb of God, presumably linked to his gambolling round the Holy Land a few years back.  However, on Saturday I discovered that he is also an apple tree (just plain weird, and no hint as to the variety: do we think of Jesus as an eater or a cooker?) and as linked to ‘springing’.  I do wonder if the idea of his ‘springing’ might help to explain the Easter Bunny – he did, after all, emerge from some sort of underground ‘burrow’ after three days.  Sadly, the carol itself did little to clarify the potential connection and made no mention of the ickle baby Jesus laying chocolate eggs: though that would certainly count as a miracle (on several counts) and perhaps even a mark of divinity.  Returning to the idea of Jesus springing, I am now wondering if he is some sort of messianic Zebedee?  Will the final trump by a loud ‘boing’ followed by our Redeemer telling all that it’s time for bed?

Anyway, that’s probably enough heresy for one post – though not my heresy, I acquired this unorthodoxy in a proper church.  I have also watched the Shaun the Sheep Christmas episode and completed my annual viewings of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Arthur Christmas.  I am as ready for winterval as I’m ever going to be (though I may yet squeeze in a listen to Tom Lehrer’s Hanukkah in Santa Monica to provide a little religious diversity).  Let’s hope I haven’t peaked too soon!

Actually, if I’m honest, the primary reason for this post is as a displacement activity to put off the fateful hour when I must start wrapping seasonal gifts.  I like to do my wrapping on the 22nd, because then the presents are interred for three days in their papery tombs before rising to general jubilation.  I like to feel that I am, in my modest way, prefiguring the Passion even as I celebrate the Pagan turning of the year (and, of course, a deity being born in a branch of Prêt-a-Manger: luckily, hygiene standards have improved since the first century and livestock is no loner welcome in sandwich emporia).

Seasonal traditions

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!

It’s a wrap!

I am finally ready (more-or-less) for the forthcoming Winterval, with the last of the parcels wrapped.  I do, to an extent (basically the extent that requires little or no exertion on my part), attempt to avoid the more obvious stereotypes of the modern man – but I find I am very poor at wrapping.  This is particularly distressing given the hours I devoted to squares of coloured paper and the instructions of Roger Harbin as a child.  Sadly, despite my knowledge of the mountain, valley and squash folds I seem unable to apply my origami skills to the wrapping of even the most cuboid of presents (and I do focus on cuboid gifts – if any reader wants a ball, then they would be advised to seek elsewhere for satisfaction). Either wrapping paper is too thick and/or stiff (oh, er, missus) or it is the attempt to encase another object which throws me – or that is my theory.

Last Christmas, no-one gave me their heart (OK, they may have done and I failed to notice) but I did buy a roll of rather stylish, mostly silver wrapping paper.  Worried that this would be insufficient I acquired another roll: just-in-case.  The original roll was more than adequate to Christmas 2013 and has now also dealt with Christmas 2014 and shows promising signs of also covering next year’s seasonal wrapping needs.  I have no idea how many metres of wrapping paper I acquired on this roll, but I begin to suspect it may have been sufficient to wrap a small moon (or large space station – which would certainly help keep X-wing fighters out of the vents).  Having discovered another two rolls of seasonal paper in storage (marked “Bedding”) last week, I think I may have enough wrapping paper to see me out.  I think I now have a new ambition, to live long enough to run out of wrapping paper!

In other Kwanzaa-related news, I have now watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, been to a very fine carol concert – at which I even had a chance to sing, though sadly no Adeste Fideles this year – and watched a BBC4 documentary on winter art.  So, this is about as festive as I am going to be – if you like, you can imagine me jingling something (I’m not, but feel free to imagine it).  As I have visitors coming for the New Year, I might even put up some decorations – I’m virtually Santa!  If you have not yet exhausted your imagination, you might like to think about three hydroxyl groups and a mirror.  OK, as it’s Christmas I’ll help you out : HO-HO-HO- (but don’t expect this sort of spoon-feeding at other times of year).