All posts by adrian

Reflections on Christmases Past

Monday 26th December

Well, Christmas is over for another year.  As a child I always seemed to enjoy Boxing Day better than Christmas day.  There was no anticipation, and of course no disappointment, though looking back, was I really so disappointed; for a few years I harboured the secret wish that under the tree might be a gift from my father, and as the pile of presents slowly dwindled the fears began to take over from the hope, and when the last one was gone I knew what I had known all along, that there never would be any surprise present for me.  Grandma had made sure of that, and the door seemed so well and truly closed shut that I would get annoyed with myself for having such silly ideas.  In a way though, I was also a bit disappointed with the gifts from Mummy and Grandma, they never seemed to have any idea of what a young girl might like, they did once get me a bicycle, well it was second hand, but had been re-sprayed and the chrome all polished up a and a pretty pink saddle, so it looked all new and sparkling but mostly it was cardigans and brooches and ear-rings that made me look far older than I really was, or silk scarves, handy but hardly young girly.  I suppose that they were out of touch themselves, and they had no relatives with young daughters to compare, so I got what I think Grandma secretly desired for herself.

And once the ritual of Christmas presents was gone through there was the even worse palaver of Christmas Dinner.  Grandma used to cook this for a few years, but then when the television arrived this was delegated to Mummy, who was, if anything a worse cook than Grandma, and we would wait at the table while she struggled with serving it all up, and inevitably half way through she would realise she had forgotten the gravy or the sprouts.  So on Boxing Day we could just relax, enjoy the programmes on the television, no anticipation, no feeling that you have to look ecstatically pleased as you unwrapped your presents, no secret worries that Grandma’s face would drop as she opened the little ornament or soaps I had worried so much about buying and no fears for the state of the famous turkey.  We could happily tuck into cold turkey and mashed potatoes and Picallilly and Branston Pickle to our hearts content, and settle down to watch Morecambe and Wise on the television, safe in the knowledge that we had successfully gotten through another Christmas.

It is Christmas Day

Sunday 25th December

I am having a rest today, so just a short little piece today,

Just to wish everyone a wonderful and Happy Christmas, who-ever and wherever you are, I hope that you are at peace with yourselves and the world at large.  And please raise a glass with me to absent friends too,

That’s all for now.

Love from Catherine

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Saturday 24th December

“ ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. “

I used to love that poem as a child, and apparently could recite it complete at only five years old, even remembering the names of all the reindeer, Donner and Blitzen and all. Grandma had taught me to read, and to speak French, of course.  I had the poem as a picture book with nineteen-fifties, big bold splashy colours and images of clouds and rooftops and Santa’s boots dangling into a fireplace as he descended a chimney.  I lost it when I got to my teens, and by then it was tattered and torn and drawn over, and anyway, I no longer believed in Father Christmas, and along with a few battered and bald limb-less dollies and all my old Bunty and Blue Peter Annuals it was thrown out ceremoniously as Grandma decided to have a spring clean.  But I wish I still had the book, I have seen more recently published copies over the years, pretty and glossy no doubt, but I have never seen that old early fifties version.

And the night before Christmas was magical for a child in the fifties, before the universality of television made us all aware of the commercialisation that was to follow.    You had no idea really that everywhere around the world children just like you were hanging up their stockings or looking forward with such anticipation to the day ahead.  There were presents for a start, and maybe it is hard for children of today to appreciate just what presents meant to us.  We had very few toys to start with, and it was unthinkable to just buy children something at any time other than their birthday or for Christmas.  And there were very few toy shops around; it wasn’t as if we spent our daytime hours gazeing at things we might expect to receive on the big day.  There was, most importantly, no television, so no adverts, so no desire for the latest toy or game or book.  In fact, unless we saw these at a school-friend’s we had no idea they existed.  I can still remember the surprise when I was eleven and received a Monopoly game; I had never heard of it, and was fascinated by the pieces, the wooden houses and the silver top-hat, and spent almost all of Christmas and Boxing Day reading the rules and then playing out the game with two dollies and a teddy as my game companions.  I am not even sure if the idea of winning or losing had yet been engrained in me, it was the playing out of the thing that was the game for me, and the names of the streets – Mayfair, Northumberland Avenue and Old Kent Road that was fascinating, and the idea of renting out houses and hotels and people landing on them paying rent which I found fascinating; who eventually won was unimportant.

And on the night before Christmas we dressed the tree with shiny baubles and paper lanterns and we had a set of little pink and lilac and purple reindeer which hung like coat-hangers  in a sort of chain which I particularly liked to place on the tree.  And then we had the ritual of the first mince pies, and Grandma and Mummy would have a glass of Sherry, and I a milky Horlicks, and then making sure we left a mince pie on a plate for good old Santa, off I would trot to bed, with the words of the poem ringing in my ears as visions of sugar plums danced in my head.

Just Another Trip on the Tube

Friday 23rd December

Yesterday I was out doing some last minute shopping, and though I had travelled to Knightsbridge by bus, the journey had been so tedious down Park lane, the bus caught up in traffic for ages, that I decided to come home by tube.  I suppose that everybody had the same idea, to do a bit of shopping in the last few days before Christmas, but I had rarely seen so many people about.  Are we not in a recession? I asked myself, or is it just that here in London we live in some sort of isolated bubble of prosperity.  It seemed as if everyone had taken the day off work; there were whole families, Mum and Dad and children, pushchairs everywhere, and even a few elderly grandmothers taken out for the day.  And it was warm and sunny – a change from the cold weather of a few days ago. There was a huge crowd at the barriers to go down to the Piccadilly line; it was taking even longer than usual to get to the gates and then I realized why.  Parents with young children totally unused to the unwritten etiquette that prevails on London Underground were both perplexed by the hardly complicated tap-in Oyster card system, and were letting every little Louis and Sacha work it out for themselves, and even though the yellow tap-in emblem was too high for some to manage, there was Daddy to lift the little one up so that she could tap-in all by herself.  The fact that they were causing a log-jam by their ridiculous overweening attitude to children too young to understand or remember their experience seemed not to occur to them,  After all, young William and Sarah must be allowed to have their own tickets and the family shopping trip would be spoiled without their being treated completely as young adults.  Which, I can assure you, they are not.

Well, we eventually got through the gates and onto the escalator.   Here again these holiday users of the tube have no idea that one is supposed to stand on the right to allow those of us who still retain the use of our legs to walk past on the left, despite signs in several languages telling them to do precisely that. So yet another log-jam as people blocked the down escalator completely.  Oh well, another delay will make little difference I suppose.  The trains were slow and the 1 minute on the display board lasted at least five, but eventually a train limped into the platform.  Packed, as usual, but I took my chance and forced my way on, experience has taught me the next one will be even worse.  I really do not expect young people to leap up to let an older person sit down nowadays; those ideas of chivalry have long gone, but I do get a bit annoyed when mothers insist that their little ones, hardly out of a pushchair, sit by themselves and take up a whole seat.  Have they never thought of picking them up and carrying them on their lap, so freeing up a seat for an adult; obviously not.  There were the usual suspects on the tube, the Chinese girls, with immaculate hair and nails and Mulberry bags and Pierre Cardin spectacles , the black woman from my own generation laden down with bags of food and shopping and struggling to stand, the young lad in hoody and jeans at half-mast, showing a whole bottom full of designer boxer shorts, the gaggle of young girls all a giggle and showing each other texts and pictures on their mobiles, the smartly dressed business man with the gold tie-pin and cuff-links trying to read his minutely folded  FT amidst the crush, and me, squashed and too short to reach the hand hold on the roof of the carriage, and just two fingers touching a side pole trying desperately to keep my balance and not rub up too closely to anyone else, though through the multiple layers hardly anyone would have noticed if I had.

Democratic the tube may be, but so unpleasant, I really wished I had returned by my usual bus journey, but then I wouldn’t have had the subject for today’s little blog would I?

I’m having my mother over for Christmas

Thursday 22nd December

Edward and I always used to have my mother over for Christmas, but the last few years I have preferred being on my own rather than with people and I don’t really know why.   I do enjoy company and being with friends, but the thought of it, the anticipation, fills me with some sort of dread, whereas the actuality when it arrives is never so awful.  Christmas itself, though never overly celebrated as a child was still looked forward to by the young Catherine, not that I ever had that many presents really, certainly not compared to today’s over-spoilt children who tell their parents not only precisely what they want but also that it is only 99.99 – television’s pernicious influence I fear.  I used to get a box of pencils with my name printed on them in gold and a small tin of toffees from Aunt Maud and an encyclopedia or maybe a Bunty Annual from our cousins, and jewelry or clothes from Grandma and my mother.  When I was still quite young and only for a few years after we had moved to Putney I would run down the stairs to the hall when I heard the clatter of the letterbox as our Postman delivered cards during the week before Christmas.  I was only interested in the stamps and the postmark, but no, no foreign stamps and especially none from Cyprus.  Grandma told me years later that my father had written to me on my birthday and at Christmas, but I never saw the envelopes (or the contents either)– maybe Grandma had some secret magic way of spiriting them straight into her hands and so by-passing the one who they were truly intended for.

And so after four years without my mother I have decided that she is to come and stay for a few days, and I am almost having fun changing sheets and putting out new soap and towels for her and thinking about the food I will cook and the wine we will drink.  She has insisted that I needn’t bother on her account, and of course I need not, she is only my mother, but somehow I am making a real effort this time.  I am even having a few neighbours in for drinks this Friday and I have bought a copy of Radio Times, which is the first time in years, and highlighted one or two things I particularly would like to watch, in some ways it is almost like old times.  And this brings me to the real meaning of Christmas, it is the making of an effort, the sharing with people, the being with people that is important – not the presents and the food (most of which is wasted if not thought about carefully) but the simple act of sharing your time with people.

So, no more moaning about my mother, or what I often perceive of as a somewhat sad little childhood, but which in all probability I enjoyed as much as any child, I am going to be happy this Christmas.  I am going to fetch her tomorrow, and though she has told me not to go to the expense of a taxi, we will be travelling in style, after all, what else do I have to spend my money on.

So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun, as someone once sang.  Hahaha

A pen in my hand or keys under my fingertips?

Wednesday 21st December

Does it make any real difference, I am still not sure.  I had always written with a pen, (both at school and my neatly copied out poems) this used to be a fountain pen, or actually a whole succession of fountain pens which never seemed to last too long, Parker or not, before biros became universally adopted as the writing implement of choice.  The very feel of the thin stylus in ones hand is always so comforting I find, remembered childhood I suppose, but also there is hardly a day goes by without my putting pen to paper at some point.  I still carry a little notebook around with me, it is the first thing I place in my handbag and I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house with it.  I write quite slowly though I find, in a neat and uniform hand, one of the few attributes I left school with, but I find that if I try to speed up my writing so that my written words begin to catch up with those spinning out of my brain, my writing goes all over the place, the consonants melting into one another and longer words remaining unfinished – a start and then a blurry squiggle, as if I have invented my own form of shorthand.  All the neat loops and uniform slant of my handwriting begins to dissolve into a mush which even I struggle to understand; I can either write slowly and neatly or illegibly, there seems to be no middle way.

In a way though, simply because I am only able to write legibly at a certain speed, I find that this means that I have time to select the apposite adjective rather than the one I first thought of, or to attempt to construct my sentences properly rather than meandering with no commas or full stops.

When I transcribe my handwritten missives to my laptop I am really just copy-typing the text whole, making only the occasional punctuation correction, which more often than not I revert back to the original on re-reading.  I know that I have to commit it all to Word before it can be sent to the internet but I cannot quite get used to typing directly.  I wrote most of ‘Catherines Story’ by hand and then typed it up the next morning and got myself back into the story by this act of repetition, but the creative bit was written with pen and paper. But occasionally I do write straight onto computer, then I find the words are forming far faster than with a pen, but so are my errors and I find I am constantly misspelling even the simplest of words and having to go back and correct all the time.  And as there is less time between thought and finished words the sentences are half-formed and it doesn’t actually flow as well as when I took a bit longer and wrote it all out by hand.  Agreed I do not have to copy-type it all out again, and can see the spelling mistakes and what the computer thinks is bad syntax, which I often ignore (at my peril maybe).

So, although it takes longer I think the old-fashioned way suits me best.  It may take twice as long and is tedious and repetitious and eventually it all disappears into the vast maw of the blogosphere and may never resurface again anyway, but in a way I feel I am keeping a slightly outmoded tradition alive too, which is no bad thing.  So yes, while the keys of my laptop are quite familiar to me now, it is the pen and notebook I reach for first.

Rosemary’s Baby

Tuesday 20th December

A friend has just posted on Facebook that they have just watched Rosemary’s Baby.  I am not sure if she watched a DVD or saw it on Sky; there seem to be so many channels on Sky that it is quite possible that every film ever made is being shown on some obscure channel at some time.  And it reminded me just what an amazing film it was.  It was another of those films of the late sixties that like ‘The Graduate’ seemed to define a new era in film, and also in some way too define what the sixties was all about, and maybe it did.  I have watched it since a few times, usually late at night on BBC2 or Channel 4, and it always scares me.  It has such an aura of unease about it, you just know it is all going to end up badly for Rosemary and it is as if everyone, except Rosemary knows it.  But in another way Rosemary knows it all along too, and we are somehow complicit with her, and in the end I think that she is so determined to have the baby anyway that she disregards what is so obviously happening.

It was directed by Roman Polanski, at the height of his ability and early fame; he later of course earned notoriety in a different direction completely.  It starred Mia Farrow as Rosemary and John Cassavettes as her husband who is of course part of the conspiracy against her.

I won’t tell you the story, except that it is so believable and convincingly told that you find yourself believing it as much as Rosemary does, and yet nothing is really spelled out for you, and it is one of those films where the tension is beautifully ratched-ed up slowly and surely, layer upon layer, and it never quite topples over.  It is also one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen; disturbing but you just cannot stop watching it either.  The performance by Mia Farrow is superb and so harrowing you could just cry for her.  And it is of its’ time, nobody would make a film like that now, they would have to have lots of quick scene changes and tracking shots and cut-up camera angles that would ruin it.  It is the very slowness of the film that works so well.  Films today are generally far too long and complex and far too fast, as if they daren’t let you actually catch your breath long enough to start enjoying it, and you end up being bored and not caring about the characters at all.  And it was a landmark film in so many ways, Mia Farrow never seemed to make anything half as good again, it was almost as if the film had taken so much out of her that she hadn’t anything left to say.  And Roman Polanski was always judged by Rosemary’s Baby too.

So, if you are still stuck for a Christmas present for me, I wouldn’t mind the DVD.

The way things work – I’m not sure anymore

Monday 19th December

I used to think I was reasonably intelligent, reading newspapers, watching the news and generally interested in what went on around me.  And I thought that I had some sort of a grasp of what was going on, it all seemed to make some sort of sense.  But more and more I find it harder to see the wood for the trees, or rather I see both but have no idea who planted this particular forest or where those little saplings over there have sprung up from.  Is it that the world was actually simpler a couple of decades ago, or have I just lost the thread and slipped out of touch with what is really happening.  I think that computers have a lot to do with it, there is just so much more information out there.  We are actually being bombarded with data all day long, from the moving strap-lines on the news channels to adverts on everything, to mobile texts and tweets and face-book notifications, it never stops.  You see people glancing at their mobiles while talking to you, speaking on the phone while boarding a bus, reading their kindle or i-pad while listening to music on their i-pods.  So how do you keep up with it all, or do you just blank out loads of stuff and try to concentrate on what you think might actually matter.

Well, loads of people seem to manage perfectly well on complete drivel, and if the entries on face-book are anything to go by there are far more of them than of me.  More people I am sure are prepared to ‘vote’ on X-factor or Strictly than to actually go out and vote.  The latest by-election had a miserable turnout of less than 28%, so how can anyone think that the result has any validity; and this in the middle of economic turmoil and the euro melt-down too – it isn’t as if there is nothing to think about.  But maybe that is the key, to think of nothing – well nothing that really matters, and by some sort of Magic the world will get fixed.

We seem to be living in a rapidly emptying bath-tub, where the once settled waters are now beginning to swirl dangerously as we are all threatened with being sucked down the plug-hole.  Meanwhile more and more rubber ducks and other toys are presented for our distraction.  Maybe I should stop worrying and just soak in the last few suds of luxury while I still can.

But who is controlling things these days, what mechanisms are making the wheels go round and round, or are we, as I suspect, drifting into chaos – a chaos where nobody is in control, and what is more nobody has any idea who even thinks they might be in control.  It may be the bankers or the city traders but it certainly isn’t the politicians and even the commentators have no real clue.  And I too, who used to feel that I sort of understood what was happening am lost.  Lost in too much information really.

Maybe I should just switch off and stop worrying, everyone else seems to have.

Angel in a T-shirt

Sunday 18th December

This being almost Christmas, I have been reflecting on Angels.  They are as old as religion, and maybe as old as God himself; they certainly feature in the lexicon of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.  I think that the original meaning was messenger, this would tally with the idea that God resided in heaven and would from time to time send his Angels to earth to communicate with mankind.  An Angel was supposed to have told Mary that she was carrying God’s son, but by now it seems that the Angels were more like Lieutenants in God’s Court than mere messengers, and as time has passed the idea of Angels, as individual characters, both good and bad has grown up around the whole idea of religion.  Maybe this is some sort of hang-back to both the Greek and Roman pantheon of major and minor Gods, as if we couldn’t just be satisfied with one and one God only, and we had to back this up with a boardroom of Angels and a whole army of Saints, popes and martyrs to boot.

In western Art, Angels have developed from the earliest wingless but halo-ed icons to the rennaisance paintings where we begin to see those white draped be-winged and usually female creations.  This is now the standard image and is instantly recognizable from posters of famous paintings to Christmas cards.  And we all, old and young know exactly what is meant by the word Angel, even if children sometimes confuse them with Fairies. Not that there is that much difference really.

So, how to reconcile that with the similarly common use of the word Angel as a term of love or endearment – ‘Just be an Angel and help me out’ or ‘A teenage Angel’ where the mixing of worship and lust starts to become worryingly obscured.

Yesterday I was walking along and was brought up short by the sight of an Angel in a T-shirt.  Not a real-life messenger from God I hasten to add, but a walking piece of post-modern irony.  She was in her early twenties and quite chubby, I would say a definite size eighteen, and had bright chestnut curly hair with big ear-rings, short white skirt and footless tights (hardly the best combination) and a luminous pink T-shirt emblazoned in silver with the single word ANGEL.   A vision further from that depicted in all those religious paintings down the ages could not be imagined.  Not that she was ugly or particularly unattractive or in any way unsavoury, it was just that she definitely wasn’t angelic looking.  But this just demonstrates how far and how quickly language can mutate.  Everyone knew exactly what the T-shirt was saying, and it couldn’t be further from the original meaning either.

So, amidst all the Angels in Christmas lights and on top of trees and made of silver foil and tinsel with cotton wool wings and plastic halos, a modern day Angel in a T-shirt doesn’t raise an eyebrow where only a few years ago such blasphemy would have been hounded out of town. A change for the better I think and I am sure that an internet search for the word Angel would throw up even more outrageous images than I would like to imagine.  A strange and wonderful world we are living in, is it not?

So, do be an Angel and share this with your friends.

Seven deadly Sins – Envy (the last and deadliest too)

Saturday 17th December

Thank goodness this is the last of the deadly sins; what started out as a bit of a wheeze has ended up a slight chore.  And so Anna and her sister Anna the dancer arrive in San Francisco to discover Envy – the worst surely of all the deadly sins.  Envy eats you up from the inside, and is never satisfied – there is always someone who has more than you, and you will never catch them up, but just look behind you for once and you will discover that there are far more who have less than you do.  And they will never catch you up either.

The whole of our economic system works on envy, that most insidious of sins.  And the motor for this is advertising, without advertising how would we know what others have and therefore what we might not have known that we desired.  Try to imagine a world only a couple of hundred years ago if you can; if you were poor, as the vast majority would have been you either worked on the land, like your fathers and mothers before you, and would have known little of the world, and even if you had money you almost surely knew your place and just how far you would be allowed to rise up the ladder – and how far you could slide down too.  You would have seen the rich pass by in their grand carriages and big houses, but no seeds of envy would be germinated; how would they grow if they were without advertising to fertilise them.  Then as commerce and communications improved, so too did envy, until during the First World War large numbers of working class lads saw at close hand how the rich disported themselves, and revolution was in the air, driven no doubt by a degree of envy.  And now with advertising everywhere, every minute of the day bombarding us with envy, feeding our sense of entitlement – why should we not have all these gadgets and clothes and jewelry and cars and happiness that these other people all seem to have in abundance.   Well, the reason is my friend that the having it will not make you any happier at all, but getting rid of envy certainly will.  It will be like a weight off your shoulders when you stop worrying about what others have, and just enjoy whatever you have yourself.

And after coming back home after seven years of travel and discovery, the sisters Anna have by a combination of hard work and employing some of the sins they have seen, succeed in earning enough to buy the little house back in Mississippi, but as a result Anna the dancer begins to be resentful of all those who engaged in the sins which she has deprived herself of (she left the sinning to her sister Anna), and the epilogue ends in a sad reflective mood, with Anna’s resigned response to her sister, “Yes, Anna.”

I have never really understood this much loved cautionary tale, no doubt the seven sins did enrich but corrupt the first sister Anna, but the pure untouched sister Anna was not satisfied either.  Is this the message then; the human condition means that whether we experience the deadly sins or not we will still remain unsatisfied.  Anyway, no more sins – it will soon be Christmas, which would surely have to have been invented by now if it wasn’t here already.  How can we possibly face the coming winter without this annual cheering up?

I hope you have enjoyed my interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins, now go out and buy the music – there are several recordings but I still like the one by Marianne Faithfull the  best.