Love it or loathe it we’re into Christmas’ final furlong / furlough, the annoying platitudinous TV adverts, Christmas food - special offers, Christmas pop-up shops, illegal tat selling, trash, driving the message home.
It will soon be over.
Not much travel at all for me this Christmas which is a downer. Of course there are delights, there’d have to be, otherwise we wouldn’t have it, would we ? And no it’s not the latest folding, flip screen mobile phone, nor is it a good, good piss up, delightful as those are too. Paradoxically, my delight and Christmas eye-opener, is a half open community arts centre cafe, for good coffee, good staff, and my money over the counter to a good cause… A TEMPORARILY closed, community arts centre cafe because it was the Children’s pantomime. I knew there was something very unusual in that cacophony of sound, those screams of delight, andwhen I opened the door to “Geee,”I thought, “I wish my life was THAT much fun.” It’s not that I’m depressed, I’ve a wealth of good people and things in my life. It was the fleeting sparkle of what Christmas used to be – 55 years ago.
Little did I realise this was a chance confluence of events, some might call a perfect moment. As the day unfolded, the Metro home, bread stop n’ shop, as my mind - Christmas infused, yes, but enthused? Nope. A failed coffee, and darkness was coming. There’s odds and ends at Wilkinsons. Busier than usual, shelves being filled, trolley pushed, no-one trollied, cash out queues, and tinsel towers.
“Sandra to the tills please…”Aa pause, dead air, had there been music playing lifting spirits? Must’ve been, thos Pavlovian triggers are in plain sight, City Centre lights go up, cheese boards and plastic tins of chocolates on the shelves, and in Newcastle – ‘The Fenwick’s Christmas Window’ (google for a taste of this Christmas tradition).
On the TV, trailers, the perennials, ‘It’s a wonderful life’, ‘Home alone’, ‘Die Hard’, you get the idea. Radio 4’s Today Programme Christmas editors announced, and radio chatter on pantomime, in the media special Christmas gigs, and club parties, all seemed to pass me by, but queuing, looking aimlessly, thinking about my tea, what to have, hmmm. Hmmmm.
Heating on, mind wandered in and out of Christmas thoughts, cards and presents, ideas and lists, but the rest of the evening set my mind into dark places, then bathed in lights as bright as Blackpool illuminations, and then, memories, families, presents, hugs, meet-ups, split-ups, make-ups, you get the images and imaginations. A swirl, a twirl, a flounce, a dance, around the Christmas festivities, tinsel on the tree, and shape our own Christmases then, now and Christmases to come .
Christmas songs - we all know them, love them, hate them, resent them and despair at them. Intrusive, intuitive, informative, insightful, introspective. Decembers’ never to be relinquished all pervasive soundtrack, spruced up with a few new eargraters each year.
“Step into Christmas. Step into Christmas, we can watch the snow fall for ever and ever,” mind wandered, “step into Christmas with meeeee- - ehheeeee…”
There was just the right amount of manic excitement in the ‘now’ past memories. I grew up with Elton, Slade, Mud - and all the rest of the beloved, resented, reappraised Christmas singles. Elton, Piano, tubular bells. Squiggly synths and snow fall sounds, helped me to “Step into Christmas,” and realise that it’s on it’s way, with all that it means, and as I age it’s always a more nuanced sense of what it means to me.
Radio on and there was Radio 5 live, nativity chatter decorating the studio, they played a couple of forgettable Christmas hits. What does “Stop The Cavalry” have to do with Christmas? Yeah there’s hints of peace in the trenches and WWI Myths, (Not all myths are false), but really is it a Christmas song? I guess it captures a Christmas spirit.
Later, pub sitting, beer sipping, quiz pondering, mind wandering.
“Two Wednesday’s time it’s a special Christmas Quiz” the Quizmaestro slipped out “special prizes and money to Newcastle Crisis at Christmas soup kitchen.” A chorus of voices, a fiver a head, and we was up for it
“Wonder what the prizes are?”
“Who cares, what are the topics?”,
“What happened on Christmas day throughout history…”
“Charlemagne was crowned”,
“So was William the Conker”,
“Are you sure?”
“We’d better learn the Christmas number ones”
“And two’s” a voice pipped.
As past number ones crawled between my ears, sinking heart, more number ones, my mind’s Spotify memory file, sampled and spread numbers ones and twos, horrors, cringes, sighs, and fake bonhomie, bounced around my brain in a high speed sampling sensation.
“Simply having a wonderful Christmas time…”
“Mull of Kintyre, over mist rolling in from, the sea my desire is…”
“Mistletoe and wine…” just about managed to block that one out.
In and home, late News time, it was NOT fish fights in the Channel, nor HGV shortages, no Turkeys on the shelves here, instead there was the all pervasive omnipresent COVID. Compliance last year, Christmas lockdown this year, keep Santa’s Sledge flying, Amazon clicks racing, and the pub booze flowin. No lockdown, shuttered up, stand in the Cold Christmas this year - No No Sireee, we’ll have Shortages, cancelled Christmas fayres, butchers BREXIT closed, towards news’s end the fuel crisis, the forgotten threat to Christmas, the meter slowly turning, food or fuel is a desperate choice for all too many. “And that’s end of the tonight’s headlines.”
On to Book of the Week, reach out. Press, and it’s Radio 5 in the wee small hour. In and out of the world of dreams, mind on snooze mode, Colin Murray, “Is Christmas overhyped?” exact title? Not sure, no matter, strong anti-consumerism like, rejections of the huge rushed Christmas feast. Do we need it? Who works and why? Food booze and waste. Yeah Yawned, slipped into sleep and the next Radio FIVE live programme.
Wednesday's show, a couple of jurnos agreeing on tunes for a notional “Juke Box” to feature theme based songs, last night it was Christmas Songs, with a groan I was about to ‘reach out’ ‘turn off’ ‘turn over’ and ’sleep on’. But BUT the nominated song, missed the title, perked me up, not that I enjoyed it. It was next one - ‘Stop the Cavalry’, it wasn’t the song, nor the sneering dislike, it was the whole rejection of sentiment, and the sorta cynical rejection of Christmas songs except for a few. Lauded as the Holy Grail of Christmas, so-called modern day Carols, the calls moved onto the beatified songs played as “alternatives” to despised classic songs of Yule, standing most accused, “Fairytale of New York,” for me thee prime example, a song slowly losing, no fault of the band, it’s Christmas charm.
I can sense howls of anger and the fingers on the keys indignant, angry, contemptuous , and that’s fine. But quick flick through 50 best Christmas songs reveals the good the bad and the ugly, a sample from TIME OUT once London’s knowing listing magazine has an online Top 50 that includes:
Last Christmas - Wham,
Happy Christmas War Is Over – John and Yoko;
Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea;
In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield;
Merry Christmas (I don’t want a fight tonight) The Ramones;
Broken Hearts, Pleas for Peace and Love, family warmth, End to Hunger, google Time Out’s top 50 Xmas songs and you’ll have a view on each. But one song on the list sums up in its title what we need to think about - The Ramones, Wishing, “Merry Christmas” and adding, “I don’t want to fight tonight”, as laudable and applaudable, as any peace song, it’s the froth on the Christmas Cappuccino. In the UK, the local press are full of the “Black eye Friday” Christmas that all too many endure, in a bar, at a taxi rank, in a club queue, the take-a-way torture of Pre-Christmas merriments. ‘Merry Christmas War Is Over…’ we love the sentiment, but it’s War at the Cab rank at three in the morning after the big piss up, and all too many want to get their fight on.
Perhaps some sense that they need to conform to an anti-Christmas ethos, or embrace the wine and mistletoe memories, of pre COVID Christmas, for those in the know, realise “that Christmas Spirit is not want you drink”, there’s those that “when you’re stuffing yourself at the Christmas parties”, that’ll realise “how can you laugh when your mother is hungry” and “how can you smile when your reasons for smiling are wrong” and as the singer added, “And if I’ve just messed up your thoughtless pleasures remember, if you wish, this is just a Christmas song.”
Perhaps we need to ask - What Christmas Means To Me My Love - Stevie Wonder. Because I’m sure many of the above songs and sentiments touched our hearts.
When I hear those Christmas songs, be they sneering, pompous, pious, romantic, or, whatever, I try to figure out why do they touch me in that way? Resentment, turn the radio off in pious rejection. Does my reaction tell me something I don’t like to hear, about myself, about my humanity, no idea, that’s for each of us to consider, whether or not we ‘wish it could be Christmas every day’, or we listen for ‘ring out of solstice bells,’ these songs touch us. The hazy words of the Christmas debate, it is what WE ALL make it, and what we want it to be, and the range of songs reflect moods, past, present and future. Perhaps we need to look at these songs as reflections of who we are, and what Christmas means to us, not what we think it means, or worse, what we want it to mean.
Choirs singing right outside my door, and running wild just like a little child, decking out the hall with Holly singing Silent Night, yes Christmas once was all this and more, maybe that’s what it meant to Stevie Wonder.
Today, for me, A Christmas song is Jethro Tull’s version of Mel Torme, it captures the joys, and hopes, the sense of guilt and excess, the poor overlooked and forgotten, faces pressed against a warm window on Christmas eve, looking for and finding all too little joy and delight. An old cynic's view of Christmas, from an old cynic, perhaps.
Final words to Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull “Hey Santa (pause for effect), pass us that bottle will ya.”