Friday 21st December
There is a shop in Walton called ‘Guns, Fun & Camouflage’ and never was a shop so inappropriately named. It actually specializes in air-rifles, and ex-army clothing and fishing gear but the linking of Gun and Fun seemed shocking to my mind even before the Sandy Hook massacre.
There has been a bit of a backlash in America too, the home of the Gun, over this latest abomination. Obama trying to reach even a modicum of consensus with the Gun Lobby; shares in Smith & Wesson falling and Republican Senators falling over themselves to condemn lax Gun control. But I suspect that very little will ever change.
Americans have a totally different concept of Freedom than Europeans. In America it is the Freedom of the Individual to – well actually to do whatever their money and power will buy, and let no man stand in their way. In Europe we realise that the Freedom of the Individual must be tempered by the Freedom of the rest of us, let us call it Society (sorry Maggie – but it does exist). I am all for Individual Freedom, so long as the exercising of that Freedom does not impinge on or deny anyone else’s Freedom. And that line which one draws is a constantly shifting and wavering one, as the pendulum swings between how much Freedom the individual is allowed and how much should be controlled by everyone else. But in America not only is it considered absolutely a right (not entirely covered by the constitution) but almost an obligation as an American to be able to defend (by owning a Gun) himself and his family from lunatics who are stupid enough to be carrying a Gun.
Almost as stupid as the argument that in order to deter potential Nuclear Attack we must have an even bigger and deadlier Nuclear Arsenal in order to beat the shit out of them too if they dare to annilihate us.
Grow up, the lot of you. Guns are for killing, so stop using them unless you want to wind up dead too.
Thursday 20th December
Years ago I had a fairly Aristocratic boss, who came from old money and had traditional values about it. He insisted you should never spend Capital, but should try to add to it from your Income; Debt he abhorred. Of course he probably had enough Capital to never need to incur Debt. My father hated any form of ‘Hire Purchase’ as it used to be known and my parents would assiduously save up for everything. I inherited this habit, but did on occasion take out small bank loans and always repaid them on time out of Income. Then along came the seventies housing boom, and the feeling that if you didn’t buy a house you would be left behind. And Mortgages were the only way to buy such an expensive item, so Debt became not only acceptable but a necessary evil, and considering the inflation of the seventies and eighties the only sensible thing to do with your money. As your wages went up, your mortgage as a proportion diminished.
Then along came credit cards and some like me use them and pay off the Debt every month, but many juggle cards and rates and minimum repayments to almost increase their Income, even if at the same time they are increasing their Debt. As long as someone keeps raising their limit they carry on.
And so Debt has become, not only acceptable but almost ‘de rigeur’; the only way most people buy a car is with Finance, in fact almost renting a car that will never actually be yours as you will trade it in before long and buy a newer model. Our whole society is geared towards Debt, and now as Income in real terms is falling and most Capital is locked up in falling-in-value houses Debt is the only way out of the hole which Debt created. And ‘Hello’ here on the scene – the latest manifestation of Debt – Payday Loans, where even your wages will be ‘mortgaged’ and soon too I expect will be three month and six-month secured loans, where a proportion of your wages automatically disappears even before your student loan, mortgage and car-loan are whisked away too, and guess what – you will never ever pay it off, it will keep growing like topsy until they own your car and your house and then you. Welcome to the new world of Superdebt.
Wednesday 19th December
When the BBC first thought of having an annual round-up programme about Sport they could never have imagined the behemoth they have spawned. SP12 as it has been ‘trendily’ renamed was a massive production which I would imagine gained a huge audience. As backslappings go it is beginning to rival the Oscars. And this year has of course been an immense year. Far too many contenders for the coveted prize, where in past years such diminutive figures as Mark Cavendish and Ryan Giggs (before his dalliances became known) have stepped forward to receive an honour for what exactly? But this year we had the home Olympics and Paralympics with all the great athletes achieving truly great things.
I along with many others had hoped it might be a Paralympian this year, and at least they were well represented amongst the contenders. And though if I could have been bothered to have picked up the phone myself I would have voted for Mo Farrah in the end Bradley Wiggins was a worthy winner. Not only for winning in almost offhand style an Olympic gold, but for the Tour de France victory just before the Olympics. And it reminded us just how badly named the show and award actually are. Sports Personality? Almost none of them have one iota of personality at all. Andy Murray, the surly Scot can just about mumble at press briefings and whether he has won or lost it is impossible to tell from his glum expression. Jessica Ennis is sweetness and beauty and strength all in one tiny frame, and at least brought some real glamour to the proceedings. But the only one who had a real personality, and one suspected even a glimmer of a life outside their sport was Wiggo himself. And what a picture he looked in his dapper suit and immaculate sideburns and mod haircut. Wiggo, a worthy winner at last. And next year the Olympics will have faded and some footballer or maybe a racing driver or a golfer will step forward and mumble out their thanks with no personality at all.
Tuesday 18th December
Keep up at the back. This was our staff party – yes, all four of us. After missing out last year we actually managed to synchronise diaries and wonder of wonder, nobody cancelled. Surprisingly we are all good friends despite having worked together for many years now. And despite the moans and groans whenever two of us get together about one or the other of us, we really do like each other. And I say that from the bottom of my glass. Hahaha.
But actually it was nice to relax out of work, even if the conversation did tend to be about our much loved clients. The end of this year is also looking a lot more positive than last year did.
So, dinner at The Hawksmoor it was, and very nice too. Just a pity there are three more days of work to go.
Monday 17th December
Having a Christmas party with 17 grown-ups and 3 toddlers is no easy thing. It is still a week off and is an afternoon thing so hopefully they will all be gone by six or seven. Not that we don’t like having people you understand but we have been working on this for the last two weekends, and thank God for a break at work, every evening of next week I expect too. We normally have two three and one two seater sofas in our front room, and for us two and the dogs to lounge about on that’s just about enough, but for seventeen it really won’t do. Then there is the food – do we do a cold buffet, finger food, or a sit-down meal? And where to have the table – upstairs or down? And if down then we definitely have to move the three armchairs from that room up here. Now comes the configuration problem, and the three-dimensional game of sliding the pieces to fit begins. I do not know quite how many different combinations of three sofas and three armchairs you can have in a pretty large drawing room, but I do know that we have tried them all, and one or two I suspect at least twice.
Is it fun. I ask myself? And yes in a way it is, getting ready for a big family get-together is always fun, if slightly fraught. And of course one knows that despite the logistical planning, the meticulously laid table, the counting of and arranging of the chairs, the pre-cooking of the gammon, the food almost all prepared – on the day it will all disintegrate into chaos, as babies will need to be fed and changed, and mothers will need the loo, and someone will spill their drink, and someone will ask for pear and apricot juice or some other obscure product, and some will arrive early and some will arrive late.
But I am sure that whatever the disaster on the day it will all be a great success, and just as the last guest has left and we are clearing up we will discover that the red cabbage is still in the microwave, or someone’s presents have been left behind. Ah, Christmas – what a relaxed time of year.
Sunday 16th December
Christmas decorations have changed out of all proportion in the fifty odd years I can remember them. My Nana had these old paper streamers which were basically pairs of cleverly cut and glued different coloured crepe paper that concertined out as you stretched them across the room, they were so old that the colours had faded into different shades of dusty yellow and brown, but as a child I would follow their patterns across the room trying to work out how they had been made. Every year my mother would get me to help her make streamers by twisting two crepe paper rolls, red and green, gold and white and yellow and blue and then we pinned them to the corners and they met and were sellotaped around the light cord. At school we licked and stuck together six inch lengths of coloured and gummed paper to make paper chains we would proudly take home. My mother, ever the artistic one, would paint a big spindly branch white and hang teardrop baubles and lametta in silver and blue and this would be somehow fixed to a wall. She also knew a trick of folding a square of silver foil about eight times and making a ‘V’ cut in it to produce a star, sticking two together to make ‘real’ 3d stars hanging all over the room. The tree was always real, but they were short and fat and spiky then , not the perfect conical trees you get today. The lights were huge, the size of tennis balls and had big screw-in bulbs and if one went they all did, and you had to unscrew the bulbs one by one to find the faulty one. My Auntie Ruby and Uncle Albert had real candles on their tree, which they would light and turn the electric off and we would sit and wonder at them for a minute or two, and then they would be blown out until next year. Our tree decorations were the same every year, little tinsel balls, lametta, a few chocolates in foil and a set of pale pink and fawn plastic reindeer which hung like miniature mobiles on little plastic coat-hangers. There was always room for a tree ornament I had made in infant school; a matchbox Santa with folded paper arms and legs. Best of all was the angel, she was very old and tattered, with a real dress of white silk and organza, and a gold wand with the tiniest piece of tinsel wrapped round it. I cannot remember when we put our decorations up but it was much closer to Christmas day than people do now, and they came down strictly on Twelth Night too.
Years later I found in Liberty some real Chinese paper streamers and lanterns that I used for years until they were held together with more sellotape than paper, then like everyone else I ended up with plastic tinsel and streamers and light-up snowmen and all the crap we have today. As the years go by though I feel less and less inclined to have any decorations at all; if only they still sold the paper ones like my Nana had.
Saturday 15th December
And now for the totally sublime first real incarnation of Eddi Reader in the excellent but shortlived band ‘Fairground Attraction’. They literally burst on the scene, admittedly a pretty moribund one, in 1988 with ‘Perfect’ the most perfect single which went straight to number one. The album ‘The First of a Million Kisses’ was in the charts for nearly a year and was chock-a-block full of great songs like ‘Clare’, ‘Find my Love’ and ‘Allelujah’. It was so fresh sounding, with a bit of folk, jazz and country in the mix all topped off with that fabulous voice. They had three more hit singles from that one record, but none got to number one. They won awards for both the album and the single ‘Perfect’.
The band were recording their second album when they broke up amidst the usual arguments about musical direction, whatever that means, and the album has never been released. They did release an album of ‘B’ sides called ‘Ay Fond Kiss’ and a few years later a superb live album ‘Kawasaki’ recorded in Japan emerged featuring many of the songs which were lost, and if anything they are even better than their only real album. A great loss, and the writer of those songs Mark E. Nevin has pretty well disappeared too. Eddi Reader has had a patchy solo career too, releasing good but fairly safe and boring records to lower and lower sales. But if you know of any other bands who only really had one hit album which shone so brightly and then the band broke up please let me know.
Friday 14th December
Ah, the Faces were THE band, for a while at least in the early seventies they were where it was at. I saw them twice in concert, though I was a bit pissed both times, which considering the amount of alcohol the Faces consumed both on and off stage was probably the best way to see them. Bands were much more fluid in those days, with personnel changing sometimes with each album. The Small Faces had been very successful in the late 60’s but when Stevie Marriott left to become a superstar (or so he hoped) the band was left without a singer, even though Ronnie Lane wasn’t half bad. In stepped Rod Stewart, almost unknown at the time and he was joined by Ronnie Wood, also practically unheard of, to beef up the guitar sound. Well they transformed the band from fey whimsical popsters into a real good-time rock’n’roll band; the best in the land. On record they never quite nailed it (spending too much time in the pub and not enough in the studio), although singles ‘Stay with Me’ and ‘Ooh La La’ were pretty good, but live they were unrivalled. Rod, before signing with the band had also signed a solo record deal with a different record company and he fulfilled both obligations, so we had a series of Faces and Rod albums coming out in quick succession, and they were really all Faces albums as the same musicians played on everything from ‘First Steps’ to ‘Smiler’. Eventually Rod became the biggest superstar in the world and just as the band were floundering Ronnie Lane started playing with the Stones. Kenny Jones took over drums with the Who when Moonie died, and Ronnie Lane succumbed to MS and died a few years later. Ian McClagen still makes music and has been trying to organize a Faces re-union for years, but either Rod is running scared or just too big a star to rejoin what he admits in every interview was the best band he ever sung in.
Thursday 13th December
Casualty has been running for years now, and despite Charlie Fairhead I don’t always watch it. I mean that despite enjoying it when I do catch it, it is never essential viewing a la Holby City. And of course Holby was a spinoff from Casualty, which I feel in many ways has eclipsed its parent. The script writing is very clever, and it has that mix of continuing stories running in the background, but a new drama every week, so that if you do miss an episode (friends have a particular habit of invading us on a Tuesday evening) it doesn’t really matter. But it is the characters that really make it so watchable; Rick Griffin (please don’t let him be written out of it) Malik the black gay doctor with a swagger, Elliott Hope – everyone’s favourite, Nurse Chrissy Williams and her warm but bumbling husband Sacha, the precisely drawn and acted Henrick Hansenn (now sadly departed) and of course uber-bitch Jak Naylor, to name but a few. And the cast keeps changing, with new entrants like Chantelle, the bimbo with a heart of gold and the new acting CEO of the hospital who is shaping up to be a great character too.
Great great stuff, and because it is only on once a week it isn’t a soap, and yet it almost has the feel of one, the familiar characters , the ‘adult’ story lines, and not forgetting the gory bits for which the prosthetics team alone should win awards. And talking about awards why is it that Holby never wins any. Is it too light hearted to be considered serious drama and too serious for a soap? Whatever – I love it, and apart from Question Time is about the only programme I try not to miss. Missing anything else is usually a bonus.
Wednesday 12th December
How did I used to do it? Work hard all day and then go out in the evening for drinks and a meal and sometimes a party, because I just cannot do it these days. Either the nature of the work has changed and I am working far harder than I used to, or the same amount of work tires me out quicker, but the last thing I ever feel like is going out in the evenings. The writing class had a Christmas get together last night. It had been devilishly hard to get a date we could all agree on, or a time. The final e-mail said six-o-clock at Pizza Express in Greenwich. I was running a bit later so scurried off as quick as I could and got there at two minutes past to find….. of course no-one else. Why, oh why do I constantly fall for it? I am never late, and everyone else always is – I should have learnt by now. The next person arrived at 6.20 and we had coffees and a desultory chat both of us constantly watching the door. Number three came in at 6.45 – this was Irina, the very person who insisted we had to start at 6 as she had to leave by 7.30.
Because she had to leave early and had arrived so late – though she actually lives in Greenwich – she ordered her food straightaway and we other two watched her eat it. By 7.30 three more had arrived and Irina had left, and we ordered and half way through our not very exciting pizza two other stragglers arrived. It was a very disjointed but eventually okay evening, but I had been in the place from 6 until gone 10, and was shattered after a long days work anyway. Ironically most of the people there either do not work in the sense that they have a place to go to, but work from home or can make their own hours. Consequently I was the only one who would be getting up at 6 the next morning. And I felt I just couldn’t do this anymore – work all day and then party and work the next day.
Jethro Tull used to sing a great song – ‘Too Old to Rock and Roll, too Young to Die.’ Exactly my sentiments.