A bit of a poem I just penned, kicked off by a couple of word-images I had:
Wet and frigid, stalk the lonely air,
Drag ravenous nets across the floor of this human ocean,
Oh, great dweller without my door,
Churn and scour, every piece of filth,
Every cry and tear,
Every red, twisting, flashing, wrench,
Stir the waters,
Confound the eye,
Wail thy banshee siren to herald another soul lost,
Bring petrol to this fire of humanity,
With your eager fist, pound these gentle doors
So tell me, what have you found?
I found them sleeping under cardboard in shop doorways,
I found the crack of the pistol – a song to my ears in the hand of a young man,
The white cider, dog nuzzled beggar pleading under a sleeping bag outside the Empire,
I looked on as the forgotten woman reeled and wept in traffic,
And with keen mind, followed the Night Sun’s pillar to track yet another, and another, that I may feed well,
With a gleam in my eye, saliva on my lips I counted the ribbons of blue and white,
That mark another point where for someone, time stopped,
And the number was the number of the beast,
Again I counted more,
And again I saw the beast,
In number, in deed and in thought,
And then I looked at the beast himself and saw,
The beast is only a mirror
We, in these same spaces of shadow,
We do love,
Though fear makes preservation a selfish thing,
And contentment bathes us, blinds us,
With such brilliant light
Bring torches – set fires beneath the dark ramparts,
Let us crack the skull of this demon night!
It’s neon blood to spill amongst the tears,
It’s flesh to burn,
It’s heat to finally share,
In it’s downfall,
An end to the cold,
In it’s burning death,
A new dance,
Bless winds that scatter ashes
We dare not speak,
We dare not hear,
We dare not look,
Into the mirror
I reached into my coat sleeve and scratched – almost absent-mindedly – at my forearm. After a moment I was done and I pulled the sleeve back down and tight around my wrist, and cursing myself for not bringing my gloves out I pulled my collar tighter. A futile effort really, against the sub-zero temperature.
The train had got stuck in a deep snow drift some four miles outside of Wells. After nearly forty minutes sat in uncertainty, quietly muttering to no-one in particular, the driver announced that our only option was to walk to a level crossing some three-quarters of a mile down the line where a couple of buses would be waiting to take us into the city. So, we disembarked – jumping, clambering or – as was my case – being helped down from the carriages and into the snow. There were complaints of course – the cold makes people miserable and they’ll naturally direct that misery toward the railway operators – “Wrong kind of snow, my arse! Wrong kind of bloody management if you ask me.”, “Why can’t we just wait for another train?” (this made me smirk)…
Misery – if only they knew the meaning of the word.
So onwards we trudged, feet growing numb, wet trousers, luggage dragged along the track. “Couldn’t we just wait on the train until the track was clear? I’ve got sandwiches and at least it’s warm in there.” Stumbling over sleepers, crunching through the gravel, one or two fell in the deeper snow at the side of the track. I remember a time when if you didn’t get up quick enough a shot would ring out, your fellow travellers would gasp and mutter in shock, but any hesitation in their progress would be countered with sharp words, maybe the thrust of a rifle butt if you didn’t get the message straight away.
Feet numb with cold, breath seeming to freeze in the air, my thin coat unsuited to the biting winter winds. We were led down that line, huddling together as best we could, trying not to move too fast less we create enough space for the cold air to breach our weary, shabby ranks. We didn’t have far to go but that walk, that journey of a lifetime, seemed to take forever. Soon though our destination was in view. My young heart lifted a little knowing that we were nearer a chance for rest and some kind of shelter, but then sank again as the grey gate of the camp loomed into view through the sparse trees.
From time to time I fancy that I feel that number itching under my rough, dirty shirt sleeves. I could have had it removed many years ago but I prefer to keep it – my own personal memorial. Everything it stands for, my mother and father who died with it on their arms, could never be brought back by it’s erasure.
Thank goodness they’ve got the heating on in the bus. I think I’ll get a hot chocolate in Marks And Spencer though, before I go to my daughter’s.
After all these years, hidden away out here in the midst of… Well, in the middle of almost nowhere really.
Coming here back in the late 80’s all I wanted to do was get away from everything that had been driving me slowly towards insanity. I succeeded – after a fashion. My home was a “renovated” shack in the forest, I fished in a river and occasionally the ocean (the sharks often got to the best picking before I did though), hunted rarely – I just wasn’t up for chasing things through the trees on a regular basis, I had managed to cultivate a patch of land which provided just enough food and foraging amongst the trees completed my simple but ample larder. There was a little waterfall where I bathe – the clichéd ideal, I know, but it was bloody cold so you’re allowed to have some sympathy for me.
Life wasn’t exactly what I’d known it to be before I had to run, but it was good enough. I didn’t have a bank account, I didn’t have a mortgage or landlord, a car, a job, but most of all, I didn’t have to worry about them anymore. I first stepped into my shack with a weeks worth of clothes that I made last three before washing them, a radio with a bag of batteries, a few basic kitchen utensils, a “few” boxes of matches, a torch with spare batteries, an old tarp from some guys truck in San Margarite, the means to make a simple fishing rod, a bag of rice, some tinned fish, and a few personal items that I carried in my pockets, a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art Of War and a book of North American poetry. I made the rod on my third day and lost it the second time I took it out during my third week there so I lived off rice and fish for over a week.
It wasn’t really my fault – some things you just have to do like you’ve been put here to do them. But as I said, I was innocent in the first place, just that someone bigger – richer – than me got the wrong idea, wrong information, whatever, so here I am. I could almost regret what I did to him if it wasn’t for where I am now. Summer temperatures reach a baking 38 degrees according to the news I pick up on the radio and the humidity can be hell this far inland, the winter is like a cool summer back home but the storms can be pretty hefty. After the first one I moved half a mile inland. I didn’t have much choice really, I’d hoped that the shelter I’d constructed would last a couple of years but Cathy – I’d named the first hurricane after the wife who’d left me moments after she saw my face on the evening news (all sirens and lights on a suburban street, the police officer stumbling from the doorway with vomit streaming from his gasping mouth, shocked reporter, “Stand-by for more on this breaking story as soon as we get it.” in earnest tones) – had devastated it while I was further up the valley looking for vines to lash the roof on better with.
I’d been after an excuse to get away from it all for a while anyway. After nearly 20 years in the same job, running the same route, civilization suddenly seemed like something that didn’t have my best interests at heart. My boss was a dick, my colleagues were morons, my wife wanted a child I couldn’t provide and had done for a long time but only just recently turned the fact into a weapon and my recently moved in next door neighbour was eccentric enough to have me worried for our safety. Damn, I mean – some people just should be in care all their lives.
I’d saved some money and was wondering what to do with it when I decided to use it to fund the escape. Three days later I had a plan and soon after, a ticket to Venezuela, from where I eventually flew out to Del Caribe, where I knew a guy online who had promised he could hook me up with whatever I needed should I ever fancy a holiday there. True to his word, Horacio fixed me up for a couple of nights and then made sure I got to this little island in one piece. I never found out it’s official name – he called it something that roughly translates as The Place Where The Ocean Dies. I like mysterious place names and this one seemed oddly melancholic for such a beautiful place, but I just thought of it as an escape capsule – population (including myself, a handful of villages and a small town), probably less than a thousand, wildlife of the tropical variety – wild boar, jungle cats, lizards, rodents, snakes, spiders and evil, aggressive, little ants that bite like there’s no tomorrow. The birds are pretty amazing too – beautiful colours, beautiful song.
Some of them even tasted OK too.
It’s nice to be able to fix the deck in your favour sometimes – I did alright.
Got away from it all for real.
I did sometimes walk through a couple of the villages – people knew me a little and for the most part had come to trust me. Not all news reaches – or maters enough – here anyway so my face was thankfully unknown. I’d been to the town of San Sebastian De La Cruz three or four times most years but mostly I kept out of the way, and as time went on and more white money moved in to relax on it’s beaches, my visits became less frequent. I doubt the world would have forgotten me so soon so I wanted to keep out of it’s way.
The last I’d heard was that the island’s first hotel was about to be built – an apparently modest affair of the eco-friendly variety, you know – locally sourced materials and labour, all reflexology and imported ketchup. I’m sure that in itself is good for the island, but these things never come along as single events. Sooner or later the luxury apartments would spring up, more dirt roads would be tarmaced, more footpaths would be widened for vehicles, the beach-front stall would start selling coca-fucking-cola… Before you know it some pissed off guy is gone turn his life around by doing something bad and wrong and very dark.
Where’s he gonna escape to? A cave in the Tibetan mountains? The bottom of the ocean?
Still, sometimes I had to go to the town – it was the only place I could get fishing tackle and a bar there I liked had a tv that could pick up American channels – not my first viewing choice but I liked to keep an eye on the news from time to time – and after nearly seven months of avoiding the trip I had braced myself for it.
I’m glad it all worked out how it did.
It was as if I needed to prove myself to be above the system and people needed to see it, to realise. Getting caught gave my cause the publicity it would never have had if I ‘d just slipped away quietly. The world was out! People knew they had a choice, what they did with that choice was their problem.
Gradually people blinked out around me – acquaintances came second after Cathy left, my mother was horrified of course but my parents stuck by me the longest (a nice gesture but quite unnecessary), closer friends gave mixed responses – some left, some stayed for varying lengths of time, but I eventually got rid of everyone. The middle aged guy in the chinese supermarket who always made me happy even though I could barely understand a word he said, the vagrants on the street who I tithed a fair bit less than 10% to, the same people I saw day in, day out on the way to and from work. Everyone one of any incidence in my life eventually went. Everyone in the country knew what terror I had wreaked that whole night and day, and the message it carried with it – I made sure of that.
I regret that bit – losing people I cared about.
But it was fun…
I had walked the four miles to the main road into San Seb and picked up a ride from a guy who had some chickens to sell there. Five miles later I disembarked and bade him farewell, he offering me a bird at half price (which came to about three breadfruit but I declined fairly politely). I found the guy who sold fishing line soon after, or rather I found his wife. Apparently he’d not been seen since the previous night but rumour had it that he had stayed at the room of some young floozy. He was due back to take a boat tour of the bay in an hour and a half, preceded by a firm word from his wife, so – hungry from my journey – I decided to get something to eat in the bar while I waited.
I reached the bar after navigating the activity of daily life on the beach front. Once in it’s shade I ordered a cold beer – which came warm – and a plate of the local savoury delicacy and took a seat at a table near the cranky old ceiling fan. Tilting my head back I closed my eyes, flexed my already tired shoulders, took a deep breath in and out again to help me relax a little, and let my mind wander for a few minutes.
I was roused from my daydreaming by some commotion or other at the door – a regular by the look of things who once again didn’t have money to pay for his drinks. I looked towards the bar, no sign of my food yet. To my left a small lizard ran down the wall, and onto my table. It paused briefly, assessing the threat I posed, and after considering me for a moment or two, scurried away.
Finally Doro, the bar’s owner, came over carrying a plate. He placed it in front of me and wished me a happy meal. Hardly I thought to myself – it’s not the worst food in the world but I wouldn’t count it amongst life’s pleasures. Looking down at the plate I noticed something I’d never seen before, an new accompaniment to the dish that I’d eaten here many times in the past. Looking quizzically back to Doro he beamed at me, “For the white people,” He explained, “they love this!”
How long had it been? And I thought (hoped?!) I might never see anything like it again. This really changed things – the encroachment, the steady fascist march against natural order, satellite dishes on the skyline and regular flights home. That little plastic bag sat beside my locally produced, locally sourced, tried and tested, au naturale for probably centuries, the light from the doorway highlighting it like an unwelcome divine intervention.
Still, at least it was Heinz.
Awesomungous animated music video:
Recently I’ve posted a number of pieces of prose and several (very) short stories as status updates on my Facebook page. The style and quality is variable but having my mobile phone always to hand presents me with a way of splurting out an idea while it’s fresh in my head, whether I’ve just woken up with a lingering dream-image or I’m sitting on a bus stuck in traffic on the Balls Pond Road. Not that the two are mutually exclusive of course…
What I decided to do with the short stories is see the limits of FB and my phone as a challenge. The site allows up to 420 characters for a status update, and my phone limits the contents of any text field to just 2000, which isn’t much at all. So, I only have a total of 2420 characters – including spaces and punctuation – to work with, the rule being an update and one comment. Here then, for those who missed them the first time round and those who don’t know me on there, is an anthology of such work so far, along with a few simpler passing thoughts, scoured from my profile and rounded off with a tribute top one of early English’s greatest masters. I hope you enjoy the veritable literary cornucopia!
10th Feb 2011
Thrice round, the rain does fall,
Thrice sounding, the crow does call,
Down with the dead men,
Up from the deep,
Eyes bright wide their vigil keep,
A knot for luck, a knot for hope,
A knot for love, and a hangman’s rope.
So turn I East, (oh! rising sun)
So turn I West, (oh! silver moon)
So turn I South, (by this sign)
So turn I North, (by power divine)
By goddess and by god,
By star and by sod,
By blood and by flame,
I stand at the threshold of the Hall Of Light,
To share in the Hearth Of Eternity.
Where there was man, let God now stand.
Where there was man, let God now stand.
26th Jan 2011
London Fields, Bratislava… A game of snake with coloured recycling bins, the chain grows longer the more empty bottles and old newspapers it consumes. Stay busy, out of phase, in love. Transform the familiar, swing on the branches of the tree of life.
Face off in Broadway Market PO between robot ninja warriors and beaming plastic dolls in badly made clothes on one side, and the clean, aloof ranks of bathroom tissue and wire dish scrubbers on the other, the innocent customer caught in the quiet devastation of the no-mans land queue.
25th Jan 2011
An astronomer friend in Surrey has been talking about seeing streaks of light or clouds or something coming from Mars recently, he’s even sent me links to ropey videos, supposedly showing alien structures there – kind of thing lapped up by conspiracy theorists everywhere.
I put it down to too much imagination and not enough sense, or at least I did until last night.
Watching the sky I saw three lurid green well, what I thought were meteors – tear across the sky. Except meteors aren’t usually green, unless it’s something to do with copper content maybe, I dunno. But anyway, when I expected that them fade out as meteors do, they didn’t. Instead they continued on their arrow-straight trajectories, heading – very clearly – to land around London.
I didn’t think much about this beyond wondering where they might have hit, but checking Twitter earlier I realised there was much more to the matter than simple space dust. One seems to have landed in Hyde Park, another – as best as I can figure out – crashed into a council estate somewhere near Wembley, killing sleeping families. The third landed somewhere called Horsell Common, near Woking, where my friend lives. I PM’d him earlier but haven’t heard back yet. He’s probably extrapolating all sorts of data.
There seems to have been similar events in other places too – Paris, Essen, the Med just off Spain, further afield too…
The objects have created huge, smoking craters that are drawing curious crowds.
Twitter has gone crazy, there are a couple of shaky videos on youtube, and right now I’ve got a (pretty dull) live stream on from alt_info.org at Hyde Park. I’ve got a couple of things to do but I might ride down to there later to see if anything interesting happens.
Mind you, on the live stream it looks like the object is opening at one end now. It’s got the crowd pretty excited. Someone just threw something at it – a rock or bit of earth. Cops are moving people back from the edge and it looks like a couple of news helicopters have turned up.
It is quite exciting, feels like something pretty big.
“Take me to your leader” “Umm, you sure?!”
Whatever, I don’t think the world is going to be the same place this time tomorrow:
Ankara UFO Landing – incredable!!! HQ 7mins 12sec
[<VIDEO LINK FAILED>]
23rd Jan 2011
Machine-noise dragged from the dark solitude of sleep, the steady, chattering purr of the drill biting through his hangover like a bastard file pulled across his skull. Downstairs the domestic clatter and thud almost drowns out the voice of the tv, but not quite.
Up for water.
21st Jan 2011
He walked in, his apologetic shuffle and the awkward thoughtfulness on his face like a man made to sell flight socks to young Afghan landmine victims against his will. Removing his dark glasses he blinked as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.
”Sorry about your loss,” he offered, nodding toward the casket, just visible through the slightly open living room door. “Now, lets get this boiler fixed, eh? Can’t have him going cold on us just yet!” A gentle, sympathetic smile passed over his lips. At least, he hoped it conveyed sympathy. After the accident a few years ago smiles had been difficult to get right. That night in the pub when a fellow drinker’s joke had genuinely amused him, and thus made him raise his pint and a grin towards the bloke, only for the bloke to exclaim, “Are you trying to queer me up, ya pooftah?!” before launching a firmly directed fist at his chin…
Yeah, that night had taught him to practice infront of a mirror a little longer.
Out in the kitchen he tinkered with the boiler for a while, and once finished Mrs. Vine made him a cup of tea.
“Look, I know it might not be the perfect time, but maybe you’re thinking of a little break soon – a weekend away from it all somewhere nice?” Maggie Vine looked at him quizically. “Well, you might be, huh? It’s ou unheard of. Clear your head. Prague or Venice…” She had to admit that she’d always fancied Venice and there WAS money in the account still. Her look prompted him further, but it still felt a bit weird.
“Umm… Can I interest you in some flight socks?”
17th Jan 2011
You’ve got this way of being that’s so totally outside of the comprehension of many people that the only way to have them relate to it is to invent religion. The problem is that religion has been around so long that people have forgotten the Truth at it’s core, and have had the time to manipulate it to their own evil ends.
Every part of our life is in our songs. We sing to the sun and the stars, we celebrate new life and partnerships in song, share our joy and sorrow. We sing to the gods, and we sing our dead home. Our song is everything about us, it is our spirit and has been for thousands of years.
Who is this Lady GaGa?
04th Jan 2011
I was always into racing. My grandad had shown me video of something called Formula One back in ’76 – old style racing, with real cars. Seeing them crawl around those racetracks at speeds barely above those which my dad used to travel to work every day was odd, but it gave me an understanding of racing that lead to my first HovKart at the age of eight. Naturally mum panicked at the thought of her boy hurtling round a race track at over 200 miles an hour, but being in and out of jail all the time left her with little say in the matter and her pride was noticeable when I showed her my first trophy through the Plexi-Guard.
Six years, three Karts and eight kills later I was first strapped into an X300 trainer, running at what was then the small, local track of Modesto Heights.
People rarely died in FX300 these days, but it happened, and I think my coach was secretly impressed by my previous experience in that respect. He’d often look wistfully back to the days when the only way to survive more than a couple of seasons in the sport was to not be one of the pilots, but now 300 was the refined side of anti-grav racing – the ships might explode but the hard-shield and Sorba-Foam injection must have saved tens of thousands of intensive care credits and tears alongside the conveyors at recycling. You still have to be good though – going down at over 600 miles an hour hurts like hell, however much protection you’ve got, especially if some joker has just unloaded a pick-up on your tail.
This is my fifth pro season now. I’ve been through the tables, rode-out the Endurance Leagues of Tozo and Coridon 12, got a cabinet full of hardware to show for it, been in all the mediacasts and on all the billboards, and I have an apartment on Hampton Beach, but I’m not getting any younger.
Or any faster. Sure, I break records (four world and six dozen lap times on three planets), but I want faster races. I heard that a Mobeus200 league is starting up in the Gamma Falls – using wormholes to race between timelines at near lightspeed. Now that DOES sound like fun.
My mum, now promoted to head warden, would be terrified.
23rd Dec 2010
Motorway moving freely, landscape huddled under winter’s white shawl, shoulder-hunching trees and steam-nostrilled horse blankets mouthing their way through cover in search of food.
10th Nov 2010
Driven from his bed by hunger, Steve climbs into a pair of shorts, thrusts the curtains open and squints into the sunlight streaming in across the near naked trees of London Fields.
…and puts his heater on for a bit!
CHAPTER 1 – BREAKING THE DAY.
A toasted peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich was soon being eagerly assaulted, while water came to the boil for a mug of coffee. Steve was happy to drink instant, as long as it was good quality, none of that cheap and nasty crap, but he really liked a good fresh coffee. Fairly strong, black, just about two sugars in case you’re wondering.
Outside, across the lawn, the parking lot – currently commandeered by contractors working on the estate’s tower block – and across the small side street, a group of some 15 or 20 people, dressed mostly in black suits, huddled on the pavement in a patch of sunlight. He guessed, quite obviously, that it was a funeral party, probably waiting for the hearse at this time of day.
Steve turned back to the now boiled water and spooned out a good helping of coffee grounds, admiring the freshly cooked gammon his landlord had left on the oven top to settle. “Well, we all go sometime”, he thought, almost matter-of-factly.
CHAPTER 2 – TO MARKET.
Wrapped up against the chill wind coming in from mainland Europe, Steve left his flat and unlocked his bike from the railings outside. A bike which, up until a couple of days earlier, had been deemed a fire hazard by a council jobsworth and was therefore stored illegally, but a phonecall to the council quickly fixed that. It’s not as if there was anywhere else to keep the thing anyway. Gloves, shades and hat, he carried his mount down to the ground floor and out into the cold air. The windchill – according to the weather forecast – took the temperature down to minus one, and it felt like it as he rode across the estate with the wind in his face. Gasping from the shock of it he carried the bike down a few steps and rode out of the driveway that lead up from the underground parking. It was only a short ride to Ridley Road Market, but once he was used to the chill in his lungs he enjoyed the journey in the mid-afternoon sunshine. It made him think about going for a longer ride once he’d dropped off his shopping.
At the market entered the throng – dozens of stalls selling all the usual goods, from clothing to houseware, African gospel cd’s to fruit and veg. He was here for the latter – market value leaves the distinct impression..? …no, understanding that the supermarkets were systematically ripping people off. Negotiating the crowds Steve browsed the stalls. He knew what he was after but was looking for the best deals. The shine and colours of bell peppers, the bright, sea-fresh, sparkle of the wet fish stall, reggae music from the guy selling Rasta-phinalia, dozens of woolly hats hanging from a cross-brace, silver jewelry at “Special Price!”. Everything was here. Ten minutes later he had navigated the street market’s length and come out the other end having spent £3 on enough peppers, spinach, onions and banana’s to feed himself for a couple of weeks. The same money in a supermarket might only get him a couple of onions and three peppers. Here it was a feast.
09th Nov 2010
We are all here, we are all now, we are all one. Hope lies in our realisation that we are all of the same source and all carry the same sacred light, not in trying to prove ourselves against each other. When humanity falls, we all fall, when we stand as one we all stand able to take collective pride in our humanity.
30th Oct 2010
Heavy raindrops buckshot the London air, birthed in brief nimbic tantrum, to pepper my window with their molten silver as the sun fights back from the South.
28th Oct 2010
Leaves cannot fly.
At this time of year, yearning for freedom, they leap from their branches, hoping to catch the wind, only to plummet to their doom, fodder for so many road sweepers and bonfires. Stupid fuckers…
25th Oct 2010
To mark the birth of one J. Chaucer, a day of ryhming couplets:
Bat For Lashes – Fur And Gold,
a book of mystical ways of old,
Gormenghast all in one volume,
and Shakespeare’s The Tempest make the mind bloom!
Such delights and such a day,
Though bastard drivers try to do this cycling man away!
On a seat.
To ride my bike I really like, on such a day as this,
Tho’ London’s monoxide choked streets, aint exactly bliss.
Job search support course? They’re having a laff,
Now it’s omelette, chips and beans inna caf’.
Had I the possession of a computer I’d be posting blogs more frequently, but as things stand you’ll have to deal with my ramblings of genius as-and-when. Anyway, gotta keep ya keen, huh?
First things first:
I really must apologise for the Cliff Richard reference. I can’t stand him, and most likely, neither can you (I doubt there will be many late-middle aged women of the kind who still think Take That are good reading this). I must say though, he has provided us with some fine comedic moments over the years. Who can forget his live TV appearance when the dry ice got the better of his smooth-soled shoes, enthusiastically introducing his posterior to the stage, or the utter WTF-ness of this video?
“Oh-woah-woah-woah, woo-woo-woo”, yes, quite…
I think we can safely put the death of old school rock and roll at around the time this came out.
Anyway, on to the whole point of this blog: my Christmas day. Why? Because.
Well, because not only do I have friends in other parts of the world who’d follow different traditions, but I have friends in Britain who might have very different ways of celebrating this out-of-place festival that has never-the-less become ingrained in our culture. Not that I’m gonna give you a lesson in folklore – I’m not really qualified and if I were it would be a diversion too far from the point anyway.
As usual I spent Christmas with my family. We generally gather at my parents in The Midlands – my brother coming down from Liverpool, my sister and her family from Oxfordshire, and myself from London. There are often representatives from other branches too – my mum’s side of the family tree are only a couple of hours drive away so they would normally visit a day or two after the 25th, or we might gather there – an assembly that these days can number up to 15 bodies, depending on who can make it and what members of the most recent generation are around. This year has been a bit different though. Not only did my dad’s mother recently move from Somerset into a very nice care home near my parents, but his brother and sister-in-law, who we only get to see every five or so years, are over from Argentina. Because of all this we aren’t gonna see my mum’s side of the family this year, although a get-together later in the year isn’t unheard of.
I arrived here a couple of days before Christmas, giving me the chance to do all my present shopping on Christmas eve, in less than three hours, which is something of a record. I didn’t even break a procrastinatory sweat! Because my Aunt and Uncle are here I’m sleeping on the futon sofa, which is pretty comfortable, but I will be sharing it with the bro for the next couple of nights. I just hope he’s washed his feet recently.
The other thing that’s making this year a bit different is the fact that the UK has seen some of it’s “worst” snowfall for several years. I certainly haven’t seen more than a couple of inches since my teenage years in the late 80’s, but both London and Birmingham have been under an 8 or 10 inch blanket for the last 8 days. My parents garden looks like a thick sheet of royal (maybe we should call it republican) icing has been laid over it, including the small, frozen pond. It really only snowed last weekend (18th) but it’s been so damn cool that it’s not started to thaw out until today (monday, over a week later), when I woke to the sounds of dripping icicles and the creak of shifting slabs of snow. So it’s been a Christmas with some proper snow to add to the atmosphere.
On Christmas day we were up for breakfast at around 9am and being a Christian family (excluding myself) we went across the road to the local Baptist church where my parents have been members for several years. I joined them because I appreciate the spiritual nature and the broader significance of the festivities, even if my thoughts on the mythology of Christianity are quite different to theirs. I don’t have anything against Jesus at all, I’m just not keen on the dogma that’s grown up around the whole business (or indeed the business that’s grown up around Christmas – the use, to quote Tim Minchin, of “a dead Palestinian to sell Playstations and beer”). So far there doesn’t seem to have been any evidence to support the theory of the immaculate conception, I don’t imagine that the shepherds all really saw the heavenly host announcing the joyous, although admittedly I’d be hard pressed to come up with my own explanation (mass hallucination, the consumption of interesting plants?), and the business with the wise men – the Magi – magicians, who followed the stars (astrology) and presented the child Jesus with magically symbolic gifts makes me wonder why, centuries later, the medieval church decided to forbid such things as being the work of the devil. But still, I do like a good carol service and a christmas day church visit is part of the package that adds a layer of richness to proceedings. However, the service we got was really dull: lots of dead air, very little effort when it came to the singing, an unimaginative Christmas sermon presented with the help of Powerpoint. I suggested to the family later that it would have been a good idea to make everyone jog round the block a couple of times before the service to get them energised.
So that’s the spiritual part of the day (a part that will always hold some significance for me, seeing as how I’m into that side of things) done with, what of my mother’s amazing culinary skills? Being brought up in the way I was (Christian, left leaning and middle class), I sometimes feel a little guilty that we can spend all day stuffing ourselves, and quaffing nice wine when so many people struggle to feed themselves day by day, here in Britain as well as in the developing world. But when the food’s this good…
We get the full works – turkey, sausages, roast potatoes, carrots, sprouts, parsnips, stuffing and bread sauce cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding, trifle… Pretty much all of it is homemade, although mum – who would often make Christmas pudding a year in advance – has allowed Marks And Spencer to take on that task for the last few years, but they are good. She does make sweetmeats though and this year we have been enjoying her lovingly produced panforte, alongside more traditional fayre of nuts and chocolates. Between getting in from church and digging our eagerly wielded cutlery into the presented feast, we attend to the all important exchange of gifts, usually accompanied by comments to the effect that someone really ought to go through the rubbish and separate out all the paper for recycling, but do we ever get round to it?
My brother arrived from Northern parts on the 27th and so we indulged in Christmas Dinner Mk II, which consisted of cold turkey and sausages with roast potatoes and stir fried veg, more trifle and Christmas pud and a second round of presents. Tomorrow is Mk III with my sister’s family, which should be fun with my niece and nephew (5 and 3 respectively). I say “fun”, but there’s a fine line…
Hehe, nah – they’re great really. Unless it’s 7am and you happen to be sleeping on the sofa.
Well it wasn’t too painful (it’s gone 10 o’clock the next morning now): I was poked awake by my three-year old nephew, who was encouraged by my mum (yeah, thanks…), clambered over by my niece, and had to endure the bright and annoying cheer of early morning CBeebies for an hour or so, but you can’t really be grumpy with a couple of kids like them around.
I mean, if I find out that you can, I’ll be annoyed that no-one told me sooner.
Hehe, nah – they’re great really. Grandma and Grandpa have taken them out to explore Birmingham while I finish off here and get ready to go home.
In terms of what I actually received from my nearest and dearest, the range was somewhat typical but no less appreciated – additions to my literary and music libraries are always welcome (from my brother I got a Secret Machines album, and book about deception as military strategy and a copy of Dodgem Logic – a magazine produced by the fairly great Alan Moore, as well as a copy of his own writing – under the name of Urbin Flack – in the form of “Tales From The Valcro(sic) Room Volume II”, available from one good bookshop in Liverpool – News From Nowhere if you’re anywhere near), as is the cash I was more than happy to populate my new wallet (made from recycled Thai rice sacks) with, as is good ground coffee and a pair of daft Peter Storm penguin hand warmers, which will be invaluable on my winter bike rides. Alongside that lot I had a small but eagerly received selection of confection (I do like good chocolate).
And so, with the snow all but melted to nothing and the garden looking a little weary from its sub-zero ordeal, the ice-sheet on the pond noticeably thinning out (though still an inch+ thick) and the squirrels charging round looking for stored nuts – having forgotten their hibernation instinct years ago they still bury food amongst the flowerbeds, much to my parents frustration – my festive odyssey draws to a slightly weary, but happy, end as I head back to London later today. It’s been great to see everyone as always, and great to share my Christmas with people I don’t get to see very often at all. The gifts I’ve been given pale beside the value of being with my family, which is what Christmas is about for me – sharing the love, relaxing together, and remembering the spirit in which we are all bound as a family, and as a species. We are all connected, all part of something bigger, manifested in the myths of religion and in the reality of compassion, respect, love and understanding, and what better way to celebrate that?
Apropos to all that, is this from a film I saw – and can highly recommend – about a year ago.
I hope you, dear reader, had a great Christmas and I wish you a very happy New Year, till next time I can be bothered…
I realise that by the time I’ve got round to finishing and posting this it’s waaay too late for seasonal wishes, but whatever – save ’em for next time if ya like!