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.

Ground zero

The Place:  Beneath the clock, Waterloo Station, London
The Time:  11:04 am (BST), Sunday 28 June 2015

The moment that all of creation had been leading up to (in common with all other moments) finally arrived on Sunday.  My blog soul brother and I finally met face-to-case, mano-a-mano (quite literally, hands were shaken) and what had only been virtual was physically instantiated.  Men (and women and many of the great apes) will count their manhood (or woman or ape-hood) cheap who were not there to witness that momentous occasion.  The earth itself was rocked upon its very axis – can it be a mere coincidence that today a leap second must be added to the day to restore temporal equilibrium?

As I waited ‘neath that clock (I will admit that one of us was slightly late – our thanks to Southwest Trains for making this possible – but even the most skilled of CIA interrogators would be unable to extract the name from betwixt my unwilling lips) – so resonant with previous historic encounters – I will admit that my heart rate was racing.  Had one (or both) of us been using a body-double for our blog presence?  Would we be able to live up to our screen personas?  Could I reasonably offer to remove a smut from his eye in this day of third rail electrification and modern diesel multiple units?

At this point, in an attempt to build quite unnecessary suspense, I will take a brief digression into the realm historic.  As research for this post, I discovered that our first encounter had taken place in late March when my brother followed GofaDM and I alluded to this fact (and his apparent lunacy) in the following post.  However, it was only early this month that our literary bond was truly formed and the level of inter-blog interaction reached its current peak – a level which has (at times) now exceeded the comment nesting capabilities of WordPress and forced us, fugitive, into the arms of Gmail (and beyond).

OK, I shall release you from your tenterhooks and return from this narrative suspension.  My blog soul brother and I get on ridiculously well in the flesh – and did so pretty much instantly.  It was like meeting up with an old friend, but even better as it was an old friend who has yet to hear most of my anecdotes (and vice versa).  Despite his protestations as to his conversational skills (allegedly atrophied by writerly isolation), he was more than able to hold his own against the word torrent that I am capable of generating.  We must have spoken pretty much without cease for three hours outside the Royal Festival Hall (I’m sure the commemorative plaque is being fitted even now) enjoying first the fresh air and then hiding (and filming) the unforecast and rather heavy rain.

At this point we had to make our way to Angel to join the walk which was very much the inciting incident for this narrative.  In Iain Banks’ novel Walking on Glass, one of the primary characters – Graham Park – walks from Holborn up towards the Angel on 28 June – and both being fans of the author, a replication of this walk organised by the writer of The Banksoniain (an Iain Banks fanzine) had given us the excuse to come together.  The walk was moderately diverting, passing through many scenes in the book and in the life of Mr Banks (and also fragments of the life and works of Douglas Adams – and, indeed, mine own).  I learned a number of things, but primarily that when it comes to climbing the mountain of literary obsession I am still back at basecamp (actually, I’m probably still at home preparing a day pack and selecting inappropriate footwear).  We wound up at the Hope and Anchor (which Iain referred to using a name rhyming with Hopeless Banker) in the northern reaches of Upper Street (not far from a bar which once barred entry to my brother-in-law).  I rather doubt that our fellow walkers imagined that we had only known each other for a small handful of hours when the walk began: I suspect some thought we were an item (and that I was punching well above my weight).

When historians come to write the history of the twenty-first century, I think they will recognise this first meeting as a turning point for humanity.   Of late, geologists have been pondering when (or if) to switch to a new geological era – the Anthropocene – but I think this discussion has now been superseded.  On 28 June 2015, we passed from the Holocene into the Blogocene era.   It was truly an historic day – and at this stage, it was far from over!

The Blog Soul Brothers will return in:   AWKWARD?

Sprung?

As the sun was shining this afternoon and I had some time to kill while my buns were rising (not a euphemism), I decided to go for a stroll around Southampton Common to see if there was any sign of Spring.

The extensive grounds of the current Fish Towers – traversed on my way to the Common – could offer snowdrops, yellow crocuses and even a couple of early (and probably foolhardy) daffodils in bloom.  Floral signifiers of the season-that-is-to-come were harder to come by on the Common itself, though there was a red rhododendron flowering and a very few clumps of mauve crocuses.  I suspect the better informed stroller would have seen many more signs of future vegetative efflorescence – but as previously established, I dropped biology in the 3rd form and my botanical knowledge is somewhat rudimentary.

The Common seemed largely populated by those taking their dogs and/or children out for a walk.  Both categories of the walked seemed very keen to get into any available water, though the children were (fortunately) restricted to puddles, mostly those shallower than their wellies.  In addition to the walked, there were groups of young people engaged in a number of ball games – or training for ball games.  Most of these seemed to be drawn from the broad range of traditional, winter-played ball sports with which I have at least some vague familiarity (if absolutely no skill).  However, one group seemed to be playing a muggle version of Quidditch.  As there appears no obvious shortage of magic-free ball games for people to play, attempting to translate a game for which the ability to fly is critical to both the players and the “balls” does not strike me as an obvious choice.  Still, the young people involved seemed to be enjoying their rather earth-bound version of J K Rowling’s game, so perhaps the loss of its aerial element is not so important.  Its playing may itself have been a signifier of the coming Spring as I have no idea when the Quidditch season traditionally falls or whether it has been changed by the intrusion of TV money.

However, one key and very welcome summer migrant was missing from the Common.  I refer of course to the ice cream van with its familiar song.  I presume they must still be wintering somewhere in Africa awaiting more consistent warmth before they return – though Chris Packham and co have yet to feature them on Springwatch, so I can’t be sure as to their migratory habits.  Still, despite, returning home without a cornet (or any other brass instrument) I am reminded how great it is to have the Common so close to home and remain hopeful that winter is on the wane