Monday, December 04, 2006

Finely Seasoned

“Why don’t you like Christmas?”

“But, I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

It was one of those typical domestic debates, full of erudition, wit and deep philosophical meaning that I’m sure we’ve all had from time to time. On this occasion, I let her have the last word. Making the odd concession, however unreasonable it may be, is conducive to domestic harmony, I find.

For I do enjoy Christmas. In fact around the 20th. of this month you will catch me being almost fanatical about it. But not in the middle of summer when the retail industry think I should be savouring the chances of opening up my wallet for them.

In the United States they have a trial run around the third week in November which leaves them so sated and exhausted that they can only take December the 25th. off, the next day it’s back to work for them. Hardly time to build up their strength for the January sales.

My maternal grandmother celebrated in a big way with children’s parties for all and sundry. She was nothing if not imaginative. On one occasion she converted a bedroom into an artificial garden, complete with trellis arches, pergolas and paper flowers. The flower beds were made of brown paper. The children were given a paper flower which they matched with one in the garden, attached to which would be their present. Another time, she engaged a carpenter to cut a hole in the floor to accommodate a “magic wishing well.” A nephew, stationed in the cellar beneath, would place a gift in the bucket lowered to him. I suppose carpenters and floorboards were easier to come by then but I bet the Health and Safety people would have something to say about such a hazardous procedure nowadays. Heavens, one of the kiddies might have tumbled in!

In my household, my father had one of those jobs full of prestige, social standing, bacoodles of vacation time and very little cash. As he believed in only buying the best, it meant that we had few of what would be known nowadays as consumer goods, i.e. throwaway items. Thus I usually only had one present per Christmas but it would be one that would probably keep me busy for the year. I can’t remember whether or not I believed in Santa Claus but I know I had more confidence in my parent’s taste than in that of a mythical old geezer with a long beard.

Our house would be decorated, not with tinselly, papery trash, but with holly and laurel cut from our garden. And our tree would be decorated with berries. I remember it still.

Now I find a sort of nausea overcoming me when I look at the store shelves groaning under the weight of incredibly shoddy plasticity, toys for children that do little for their imagination and which they are mostly likely to discard after a few days from sheer boredom, if the plastic hasn’t snapped in the meantime.

At the other end of the price scale there are the computerised game things, devices of incredible cost and complexity, once again dedicated to removing any trace of creativity from a child.

A recent article I read gave a lot of advice on which mobile phone to buy for one’s child this Christmas, presumably for the one who has all the other electronic gizmos. It seemed to advocate the more elaborate devices that did everything. For my part, I had just wasted a lot of time trying to find one that did nothing except allow me to make telephone calls. I failed. I now have one that has, for reasons know best to the manufacturers, a built-in digital camera. So far, I have, inadvertently, taken a photo of my left foot and, when I figure out how to do it, I’ll be happy to send you a copy. I’m sure you’ll appreciate it. The camera could come in useful to record the event when being mugged on the street whilst being relieved of it, perhaps. But you better figure out how to send the picture first whilst struggling with your assailant.

However, I do remember with pleasure the simple Christmasses of my childhood.

So you see that I am in favour of Christmas, if in a quirky, old-fashioned way. There will be only the two of us this year, plus a rather obese little dog by the name of Joe, but we shall celebrate quietly and enjoyably. The breakfast champagne will be of the best, the Scottish smoked salmon, the finest and, over dinner, a bottle of the best wine in my collection, not the everyday Chateau Collapso 2005 we normally drink. In a way it’s a pity I don’t smoke, since a good Havana would go down well with the Remy Martin afterwards, I feel. But one can’t have everything.

Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas with the Wardles at the Manor Farm, Dingley Dell, would have suited me perfectly, as would, on a lesser scale, the Cratchit’s (the turkey, or was it a goose?, seemed to be big enough to accommodate both me and Scrooge).

But come the 20th., I’ll be looking forward to our own little celebration.

Scrooge took until Christmas Eve to get into the spirit of things. I know exactly how he felt.


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