Tag Archives: christmas

On Christmas Comes Early

There is a brass band outside my local department store paying Christmas carols.

I keep being reminded by people that Christmas is just eight weeks away. Less than two months to, er, buy the tinsel. Order the presents online. Buy the tree. Replace those ornaments that broke last year.

Choose and order the turkey. Do all those other things that are essential to ensure December 25 and 26 pass with that usual sense of slight disappointment .

Almost two months then. The sense of urgency is overwhelming. Or not. Every year the start of preparations arrives earlier. I rather suspect this year the retailers believe we are in for a bumper season, perhaps the best from their point of view, since the economic crisis began. So start shopping now.

I suspect, too, they are missing one factor needed for those cheery forecasts, that there is a shortage of must-have items this year to spur demand. (With the exception of those motorised skateboards that have a regrettable habit of bursting into flames and that you can’t ride anywhere legally anyway. Might have to do better than that.)

Anyway, we went to our local garden centre to buy plants, for the autumn planting season. The supply was limited and disorganised. Aside from a range of china Santas, each with a plant pot attached containing a succulent of decidedly short life expectancy.

And the most astonishing array, even bigger than usual, of plastic Xmas tat. Including a full-sized nodding reindeer. Where do you put it the rest of the year? Have you ever tried to get a full-sized sodding, nodding reindeer up a loft ladder?

It is going to be a very long two months. Time for the first bah humbug of the season.


On Amateur Drinkers

Two vignettes from the festive season, both from pubs. And the curse of the amateur drinker.

One: eight beefy Neanderthal types are at the bar of a (smallish) pub. They are issuing that braying, “Hoon, hoon” laugh that certain men, gathered together to drink, are prone to make. They are not at the bar to buy a drink. They are at the bar, as opposed to any other empty place in the pub, to drink.

There is almost as much meat there as in the average rugby scrum. This means that no one else can get near the bar to order a drink. People are craning over them to attract the staff, frantically waving banknotes, shouting orders. The staff cannot reach them.

“Hoon, hoon.” Did I mention three of them are wearing silly Santa hats?

Two: A blonde is sitting on a stool. She is in tight black fake leather trousers. In front of her is a bald man, one of those types who regard it as ineffably cool to shave his head but cultivate a hairy, hillbilly beard. They are snogging as if their lives depend on it. The man is meanwhile frantically running his hands over as much adipose fat as they can reach. And there is a lot of adipose fat to reach.

At 2.30 on a Thursday afternoon?

A Plymouth bar owner has just brought in rules for amateur Santa drinkers, to ensure regulars are not inconvenienced. An excellent idea.

Dear God, is there much more of this to endure?

Not So Happy Christmas

It is the day before Christmas, and it is not looking good for the high street. Yesterday was supposed to be the busiest this year for shopping; travelling into town for work, and it didn’t feel like it. The supermarkets are apparently discounting like mad, but the real damage, I suspect, will be done to specialist retailers.

Two of them have already turned up their toes in recent memory, HMV and Game, though they are still trading. Woolworths is a sad memory.

The villain in all this, if I can put it thus, is Amazon. People mourn the loss of HMV et al, then order their DVDs and CDs online there. This is exactly the same process that sees communities uniting against the arrival of a new Tesco superstore, which would kill the butchers and bakers on their high street, and then slinking shame-faced to the supermarket when it finally opens.

This year I have decided not to use Amazon. I don’t particularly appreciate their cavalier attitude to paying tax, and I would prefer to support my local bookshop. And pay more as a consequence. (The exception is Amazon’s outstanding second hand book service, which is made up of independent booksellers.)

The problem is sourcing CDs, because HMV’s stock is so limited and hit-or-miss. Its Fopp chain is excellent, and mind-bogglingly cheap, but there are too few outlets. Tricky. I have my principles, but my taste in music is sufficiently outré that it is almost impossible to find what I want anywhere but Amazon. So Amazon it will have to be in future. But with ill grace.

It never used to be a problem. But Virgin, RIP. (I actually used to visit the original Virgin store, a hippie hellhole above a shoe shop on Oxford Street. There used until recently to be a good store in the City, but it made way for yet another overpriced boutique.) Tower Records, RIP. Even the old Harlequin chain now but a happy memory.

Perhaps Choices Direct? Or “Buy it Now” on eBay?

Bloody Christmas

This is the first week of Advent. This is about religion. Those who find this embarrassing, look elsewhere. Sorry.
I was brought up a Christian. Some of my teachers plainly believed; others did not. It was a bit like teaching geography of physics, but less interesting, for them, I imagine.
In my teenage years I rejected it all. Richard Dawkins hadn’t been invented yet, but you get the picture. That is what teenagers do. “What are you rebelling against?” “What have you got?”
About twenty years ago I began to think again. Most of what we read in the New Testament is the result of political squabbles in the first centuries of the Christian era. Look up Nestorianisn, or Arianism. The last makes much sense. (Er, nothing to do with the Nazis. Different spelling. The Goths were Arians. A bit complicated, but no connection.) Arianism believes that Jesus was not the Son of God, or holy, but sent among us to spread the word of a better way of living. 
The early Church fathers did not like this one a bit. You can see why.
That message was grafted onto the morals and manners of a Bronze Age tribe of nomadic pastoralists. The Ten Commandments are very big on not coveting thy neighbour’s ass. In a society where all your assets, no pun intended, travel around with you, the concept of property is fluid, and disputes over ownership can fester into blood feuds over the generations. “It’s my sheep!” “No. It’s mine. I’d know here anywhere.” Those assets, incidentally, include your wife. Sorry about that, but it’s in the Scriptures.
It became obvious to me that Jesus was what we would now call a millennial fundamentalist. He believed that the Kingdom of Heaven would occur in his lifetime. This explains two things. One. “Render unto Caesar…” If the world is about to end, there is no point railing about temporal authority. This was not what various Hebrew fanatics, wanting to throw off Roman rule, wanted to hear. It did not play well with the early fathers of the church. in the political struggles of the post-Constantine era, either.
The second, the seven last words from the Cross. “Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus knew he was about to die, and the world was not about to end. Again, the early fathers of the Church had a problem with this.
I have no idea what will happen when I die. Most religions require the concept of a Prime Mover, a being beyond the temporal world that sparks the initial process that brings the Universe into being. I have no problem with that. There are far weirder things in quantum mechanics, or the multiverse theory. Don’t know.
Several decades ago, though, there was a theologian called Don Cupitt, now largely forgotten. His theory was, in essence, that whatever Jesus was or meant, his essential message was the right one. Yes, the Golden Rule, I know, all this existed before as a moral message. I believe, and this will probably come up again here, that the Judeo-Christian belief system, as expressed in the New Testament, is one of the reasons why the world is a better place these days. We don’t tend to nail people to trees as much as we did, for a start.
In this season of Advent, perhaps we should read the Sermon on the Mount rather than the Christmas message.
Here endeth the Thought for Today.


Christmas Does Not Come In A Delivery Van

An extraordinary flyer flops through the door, glossy and obviously expensive. There is a company that will select, buy and then decorate my Christmas tree for me. Price unspecified.

I had always assumed, though I am fairly unsentimental about Christmas, that part of the fun of a tree was choosing it, dragging all the old, familiar and battered ornaments down from the attic, and then dressing it en famille. Ideally with the odd decent glass of something.

Apparently there are some people for whom this is too onerous a task. They probably get someone to choose, buy and wrap their presents too. It reminds me of the classic 1977 episode of “The Good Life” when Margo orders Christmas over the phone, and some of it fails to arrive. Margo recoils with horror. “Christmas hasn’t been delivered to our house.”

Except that the firm in question obviously hasn’t seen that episode. “Designer Christmas Delivered”, the flyer promises, without apparent irony.

We live in a part of town where there is the Rich Bit, and the Other Bit. The Rich Bit has houses worth multiple millions, inhabited by investment bankers, City lawyers and their pampered wives. It contains two or three of the most expensive streets in the London suburbs.

The Other Bit, inhabited by ordinary people, used to be affordable, just. Such is the unstoppable march of London house prices that the last home to sell in our road changed hands for almost a million. Presumably the company thought that if anyone could afford that, they might be interested in paying some ludicrous price for a decorated Christmas tree.

The people who live in the Rich Bit are just the sort to want an overpriced, designer Christmas tree. You can imagine the scene. “Blue and white is rather last year, madam. This year, the colours are gold and green.” And God forbid, when you invite your fellow investment bankers and City lawyers around for Christmas drinks at your multi-million pound mansion, that your Christmas tree should be decorated in last year’s colours.

Some people have too much money.