Old Xmases

Old Xmases are magic, populated with people you will never see again.

Sitting on the bed with Mum and Dad, me on Dad’s  side, my sister on Mum’s side,  watching both of us struggle to get things out of the Xmas stocking they filled every year. She got the one with red trimming, I got the one with green, though I preferred the red.Fighting to get your arm right down to the little thing at the toe, and pull it back with the strings tangling your arm all the way.

Watching the people you love unwrapping the gifts you’ve had so much fun buying for them, their expressions. I remember visiting my then-girlfriend one Xmas: she already knew I’d managed to get her a couple of early Chieftains LPs which she expected I’d tape for her, because her record deck didn’t work so it had to be all cassettes. But she knew I had something she didn’t know about and was all eager to get it. The look on her face when I stuck my hand in my pocket and pulled out… a plug. Then snapping my fingers and going, oh yes, you need something to go on the end of that, and back out to the car, her kids racing out to look, and coming back in with this box: a not too expensive but still decent hi-fi system, including record deck. I still remember her speechless expression and how, still unable to speak, she flung her arms round my neck. Best Xmas present I ever bought anyone.

One year, my best mate bought me Spike Milligan’s ‘The Goon Show Scripts’ for Xmas, which made me laugh out loud (so did the book, raucously), because the present I had bought for him was Spike Milligan’s ‘More Goon Show Scripts’, and then only because they didn’t have ‘The Goon Show Scripts’ in the bookshop I went to.

Re-learning how much fun Xmas could be again, watching the excitement on the face of the kids.

Old Xmases. Xmas was always better then, no matter when ‘then’ was. They are part of your memories, along with the people who cannot or will not celebrate with you again.

To all my memories at Xmas, to all our memories of when Xmas was Xmas. And to the new memories Xmas will make for us this year.

At work, a customer wished me Happy Xmas in Welsh. According to Google, he said Nadolig Llawen, though he could have been speaking Timbuctoo for all I knew. So I wished him Happy Xmas in the only other language I know how to say it, wildly inappropriate as it might have been, and I wish it you here, in Spanish.

Feliz natividad.

Another kind of Xmas

Last week, I linked to the latest in the Guardian‘s Saturday Lifestyle section series, ‘Widower of the Parish’. I cannot help but do so again, in tears over a Xmas that recalls to me that of 1970. I wish this anonymous man and his children everything it is humanly possible to wish in the absence of the only presence they want.

So this is Xmas…

The flat door has been shut and locked behind me, and downstairs the porch door is closed, and if anyone else is going to go through it now, it won’t be me. It’s not quite yet noon as I write, and my Xmas has begun. Ian Dury and the Blockheads are on the boom-box, the turkey is in the oven (defrosting in a cold room). There’s dusting to do and I’m going to change the bedclothes, including the duvet cover. The duvet’s getting a bit limp – I was allowed to bring it with me from the homeless flat when I moved in here seven years ago come February, and it wasn’t new then – and though it’s still good and warm, I might look at getting a new one in the New Year.

Otherwise, though, it’s music, the paper, the internet, reading, and of course my daily thirty five minutes of thirty year old transcription. But the break’s begun, even if it’s only three days until I go back, and for those three days I can relax in my own company.

I’ve no plans to post anything during the rest of the day, nor yet tomorrow, but who knows what “creativity” might prompt? To all of you out there, those who Follow this blog, those who alight here randomly, my Xmas wish is that you each and every one of you will have the Day and the season that fulfills your wishes. Greg Lake, one of those who left us in this utter arsehole of a year, once sang, “the Xmas we get we deserve”. Well, I hope that you have the Xmas that’s beyond your wildest deserves, the Xmas that owes nothing to deserve and everything to happiness, peace and being good to each other.

Keep that in your heart and try to make it work every day until I write a version of this for Xmas Eve 2017.


X (void where prohibited by Law)

The Odd Days

These are the odd days, the last few before the day itself; slow and pointless and in the way.

Sunday will be my seventh Xmas in this pokey little flat, and it will be the a repeat of the previous six. I would call it almost a ritual, except that it is too relaxed, maybe even chilled, to assume such proportions. But at some point on Xmas Eve, hopefully relatively early, I will shut and lock the door behind me, throw off the world and, save for excursions onto the internet, will neither see nor speak to any other person until Boxing Day. And then only to buy the newspaper.

Not everybody could handle Xmases like that, but then I’m not everybody. I have the complete freedom to do as I choose, without responsibility to or from anyone else, and I will exercise that freedom by doing exactly the same things every year.

I will wake when I wake, and I will lie in bed, warm and tired, for as long as I want. When that is done, I shall unwrap my presents, unwrapping here meaning taking them out of the various packets, envelopes and boxes wherein they have been received, from Amazon and eBay, this past six weeks. Books, CDs, DVDs.

Sometime around 2.00ish, or maybe later, the turkey will go in the oven for however many multiples of twenty minutes, turn and turn about, its size requires. Based on that, I will, at different intervals, put in the vegetables, prepare the stuffing and the gravy, to cook for the requisite times so that all will be ready at (roughly) the same time. A massive leg, some slices of breast, the bacon off the wings, a couple of bangers, the plate piled high as I can get it without gravy running off in protest.

I have a hankering for jam sponge pud and custard for desert this year – I have never been able to eat  Xmas pudding, or Xmas cake – though I imagine that, as usual, dessert will effectively be my tea, later in the evening.

All the Xmas presents have been bought. All the Xmas food has been bought, apart from the jam sponge pud because I haven’t yet found any that amount to more than two mouthfuls, and those genuinely last minute things like fresh bread.

And that’s what makes these the odd days. Because there’s nothing to do. My regular TV programmes are into their several Xmas breaks. This year’s Festive TV is completely unappealing, nothing – literally – until Sherlock, and that’s after New Year’s Day. There’s no football, no cricket. I am going to no parties, for no drinks. I am working all week, and it feels peculiarly hollow, especially as the day nears, and most solutions are now going to have to be postponed until after Xmas.

There’s no engagement, no involvement, just a handful of days to be passed through on the way to something better. Xmas holds no religious significance for me, and it never really has, for all that I used to believe, vaguely, in God for most of my life. I am now, and for several years have been, an atheist, so really the season is now one of material pleasure – in the turkey I’m going to stiff myself with, the books I’m looking forward to reading etc. – and the pretence, at least and however falsely, that we can be good and nice and decent to each other.

For a couple of days. Until we are let off the hook, and can go back to being utter bastards again, the way we seem to like it (see all political developments in this country, and overseas, in 2016).

It’s just a question of getting there. Which means going through the odd days, the ones with no meaning except the passage of time, from minute to minute and hour to hour.

I’ve started so I’ll finish

Just last week, I announced that I was committing myself to the long overdue transcribing of my first completed work of fiction, thirty years ago, under the title of The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel.

This was intended as a project for 2017, but then I had to take a day off work to be there for the delivery of a set of new pans (I lead a romantic, exhausting life), so I decided to make sure in advance that the paperwork was all in order. This meant hauling the ring-binder down from the top of the bookcase, industriously clearing it of the dust and crap of the accumulated years (I also need a vacuum cleaner that works) and checking that everything was there, and in the right order.

There was a bit more to it than I’d remembered. I’d completely forgotten that the project included a Prologue, and that I had, after the First Draft was done, attempted at least a partial Chapter 1. And, having clearly recalled that I’d written the whole book using a very nice and comfortable blue ballpoint pen, I was disturbed to discover that it had actually been begun with a black fibre-tip pen that I remembered with particular fondness for its smooth and even flow.

And since that didn’t take half as long as I feared, I decided to  try a test page.

What was it like? On the physical level, pretty painless. Given that there aren’t any meaningful, easily detectable natural breaks in the flow, I adopted a somewhat unorthodox approach.

The book was written in longhand on A4 lined paper, narrow feint, written on both sides of the paper. Just transcribing a single sheet at a time means I’m ending (and beginning) in the middle of a sentence, but on the other hand, it’s easily manageable. I’ve been doing this for five days now, and it’s working out at an average of about 850 words a sheet, and 35 minutes of typing. Of course, that was when it was 99% narration, but my first sheet of dialogue and conversation still came out at 790 words, and took not much less time to transcribe.

Looking at the sheer volume of paperwork, my guess is that at this rate, it’ll be mid-summer 2017 before I finish, but (so far as I know) I have time.

What about the other side of it? I’m transcribing the works of a version of myself who’s thirty years younger than I am, and whose mind – and whose writing – worked in different ways. How does it feel (as Bob Dylan once so sagely put it)?

It’s certainly not as bad, or as odd, as I was anticipating (so far). ‘He’ is quite a different writer from me, flatter and more serious. ‘He’ has an eye for concrete detail that I’ve rather let slip in the intervening years, but ‘he’ is also prone to overwrite, not in the bad, florid sense (not all the time) but rather out of lack of self-confidence. ‘He’ writes as if he has to nail everything down so that the audience will see it.

To my surprise, there are lines, and even paragraphs, here and there, that show a genuine ability with words. In the main though, it’s pretty workmanlike. I’ve not come across anything (so far) that makes my brain itch to change it on the spot, so transcribing is not a problem. There’s a lot I would change if it were already complerted, mostly drastic cutting, but more interestingly is that I am seeing other angles, other possibilities that ‘he’ wasn’t aware of, that would make a big difference to the story. And I’m already getting curious about where these might lead.

So, the big 2017 literary project has gotten an early kick-off and is so far going well. Your services as an audience, in holding my face to the grindstone, have already been successful. There should not be any need to copious progress reports but, if anything interesting crops up along the way, I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for your contribution.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e23 – Family Business

Three Ferengi
Three Ferengi

I was tempted this week to just say, it was about Quark, and leave it at that, especially after the last few weeks of strong stories. And I’m certainly not going to say much about it because I can’t pretend to be interested in the story, or its entirely predictable dynamics.

Basically, a Liquidator from the Ferengi Commercial Authority (FCA) walks into Quark’s and shuts the bar. Quark’s mother, Ishka (played under appallingly bad make-up by Andrea Martin) has broken Ferengi law by earning profit. She’s also taken to wearing clothes, speaking to men and never chewed her sons’ food for them. If Quark can’t get her to confess, she’ll be sold into indentured servitude and he will have to repay her profit.

At first, this is supposed to be a mere three bars of latinum – it’s the principle of the thing – but in reality, Ishka (or ‘Moogie’ as Rom insists on calling her, the Ferengi version of Mummy) has crated a massive business fortune, far greater than Quark’s.

He’s prepared to shop her until Rom defuses the situation by lying and claiming Ishka will split her profit with him 50/50, which changes everything. Rom bags heads together, Quark accepts that his business acumen comes from his mother, female though she might be, and the thing is wrapped up by Ishka agreeing to confess and relinquish a third of her profits, though the FCA believe it to be the lot.

Ho hum.

In another setting, I might have been able to pay attention to the story, which could have come over as a witty undermining of an horrendously repressive society that makes Saudi Arabia’s attitude to its women look open and welcoming but, to adapt the famous team talk given by Alex Ferguson prior to a visit from Spurs, ‘Lads, it’s Quark.’ I simply cannot take Ferengi stories seriously, and especially not Quark so this was a bust of a week for me, as will practically every other week where he is the focus.

Given that the rest of the cast have to be given something else to do, no matter how irrelevant they are to the main story, there was a brief and equally unimpressive understory carrying directly on from last week’s gesture at match-making by Jake. Captain Kasidy Yeats is on the station and Jake wants his dad to meet her. The entire station staff know this and are waiting for it to happen.

At least it wasn’t strung out unnecessarily long by Sisko digging his heels on. He does go to meet Kasidy, aka  Penny Johnson, whom I know better as Penny Johnson Gerrald, for her role as Sherry Palmer in the early, good, 24. They agree to meet for raktageno, but things aren’t going that well. Sisko clearly fancies her but she’s bored, until they seriously bond over, get this, baseball! Her younger brother plays it, on the opposite side of the Federation , and has sent her an audio-commentary of his team’s latest game, so she and Sisko go off to listen to it.

It’s really not much, is it? Then again, you’d have probably needed an understory of War and Peace dimensions to make this episode work for me, so why don’t we just give up on this one and let Xmas play through?