Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Christmas Card Audit 2016

I was veering towards another indolence year (like 2014), but overwhelming public demand from Sir Bruin has persuaded me to make the effort.

Executive Summary: 

Note: For the first time, this year’s audit includes cards received by both me and Z.  This does not, of course, affect the overall findings, but I just wanted to say so. 

This appears to have been a year of consolidation, with few significant changes to previous trends.  Points of note:
  • Animals and Birds are holding up well.  I have again given a breakdown of this category, with a further sub-division of the birds. 
  • Robins have made a small but welcome comeback, as has snow.
  • There are a few interesting new categories: mailboxes, choirboys and – surprisingly - booze.
The full figures (2015’s, where applicable, in brackets):

Snow/Snowmen/Snowflakes:               10 (2)
Santas/Reindeer:                                  3 (1)
Animals/Birds:                                     16 (13)
of which

Robins:                                     3 (1)
Free-range reindeer:                 3 (4)
Horses:                                     1
Foxes:                                      1
Sheep:                                      1
Cats:                                        1
Squirrels:                                 1
Wrens (we think):                   1
Owls:                                       1 (1)
Penguins:                                 1
Partridges (in pear tree):          1
Bullfinches:                             1
Landscapes:                                         4 (4)
Nativities/Wise Men/Angels:              7 (6)
Christmas trees/Baubles:                     9 (6)
Abstract:                                              2 (3)
Mail-letterboxes:                                 3
Choirboys:                                           1
Booze:                                                 1

Special categories:
Homemade/designed:                          4 (4)
Cards with glued-on glitter:                10 (12)
Wonderfully weird:                             1 (0)

I can’t nominate a Card of the Year award this year – they are all equal in splendour.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Family Christmasses concluded (for now)

So now all the cards are down* and the tree is sitting naked outside the porch, ready for its final blaze of glory on the bonfire, it’s time to tell you about Christmas with my fourth and last family. 
Except I can’t, because circumstances have dictated that the two I’ve had so far have been only partial gatherings of the entire clan, and although I could retrofit several full assemblies and make it up, that’d be cheating.  So I’ll just say that the two so far have been wonderful in quite different ways, and instead share a few more details from previous lives:
The only first family Christmas I remember clearly was when my brother was born, on December 23rd.  My sister and I were standing in the hall beside my father when the phone rang, he listened, and told us the news.  It was snowing heavily, and we played out in it next day.  That’s the whole memory, anything more would be made up; but its sharpness still sparkles so I’m sharing it unembellished.
The singsongs started out a bit tentative, but over a couple of years settled down into a tradition: Sloop John B (a gleeful travesty of the Beach Boys, everyone wanting to do the ‘doo-do-da-doo-doo’ part); Alan and my immaculate harmony on the Ev’s All I Have To Do Is Dream; in the early years a lovely solo of a pre-war song I shamefully forget by Alan’s dad Les; my take on Buddy Holly’s Everyday; other stuff; and the grand finale, American Pie, in full.   Eventually it became a chore for me (I was the bandleader, after all) and I almost started to dread it nearly as much as the present-issuing routine.  Now, I wouldn’t mind another crack (if I could still play the guitar – must check that sometime).
*I might do my spasmodically annual Xmas card audit soon, if I can be bothered.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Family Christmasses (cont’d)

When I got married in 1988, I joined my third family.  That was in August, and in about October the subject of Christmas came up.  I’d already realised that they did it on a scale I hadn’t yet experienced, so in a moment of self-confident rashness I said “Well, we can have it here, can’t we?”  There were expressions ranging from bewildered through delighted to highly relieved.  Afterwards, I was consoled.  “Well, you weren’t to know...”

It turned out that we were sleeping eight adults and two pre-teens in our just occupied, barely habitable three-bedroom house.  That proved easy once modesty, privacy, all that kind of stuff had been sufficiently downgraded – after all, I was used to roughing it.  What proved to be harder to cope with was the sheer scale of the thing.  Especially the presents.

This family’s approach to present-giving, it seemed, could be summarised as: if you know you need it, or are going to need it – a shirt, a suit, a pair of shoes, an electric toothbrush, anything –  in the next twelve months, wrap it up and call it a Christmas present.  (I exaggerate, but not much.)  This wasn’t in itself a bad idea, and it did add to the general jollity for the first hour or two – everybody likes a pressie, whether their own or someone else’s, don’t they? – but the rule, it also seemed, was that each one had to be opened, inspected and if you were unlucky passed round the whole family to be admired, before the paper on the next one could be touched.  Time passed.  Slowly.  Eventually lunch came to the rescue.

My exact memory of how it went is hazy now, but I’m sure that at some point after the pudding and before the next round of gifts – probably during the coffee and brandies, come to think of it – I had an inspiration. 

“Sing-song anybody?”

Twenty eyes lit up.

This story will be concluded in my next post.



Monday, 26 December 2016

Family Christmasses

I reckon I’ve belonged to four families so far, if a family can be thought of as a bunch of people you spend Christmas with. 
All four families were very different, but all four Christmasses were the same in essence, which I don’t need to spell out but will anyway  - gifts; food and drink; laughter and love; the occasional spat and reconciliation; exhaustion and unexpected energy reserves… I didn’t need to, did I?  So I’d like to have a look at the differences.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a time to be taken for granted, of course – I was a child, and children have the feelings they’re taught to and don’t question them much, do they?  So I won’t dwell on childhood Christmasses except to note that gifts were pretty frugal: this was the forties and fifties, and though my parents were well off by most people’s standards, there wasn’t that much left over for extravagance, which in any case wasn’t in their nature.  So our stockings would be bulked out with  tangerines and walnuts – strangely, those are the gifts I seem to remember most vividly.
Then I joined an Italian family.  The emphasis there was on the food and drink.  I read an article recently which feared that this was in danger of dying out, and there’s probably a risk of that, but I have few direct connections with Italy any more, so can’t say.  My Italian family was from Reggio-Emilia, which meant antipasto, then capelletti (or tortellini) alla panna (in cream; none of your wimpish brodo round there), then a huge bollito misto with salsa verde and rosso; cheese (appropriate wines to accompany all that, often home-made lambrusco, but not as you might know it – real lambrusco is raspingly dry and low in alcohol, drunk more in the manner and quantities we’d drink bitter); various desserts probably including zuppa inglese (English soup: trifle to you); rounded off with coffee, a slice of panettone and a grappa or cognac or several.  After all that there wasn’t much time, space or energy for anything else.
The third and fourth families will be along tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 November 2016


Oh heck, there’s a limit to how much of a fatberg can build up in the world before it accumulates until the sewers overflow and it bursts out and drowns us all in colourless gunge. 

OK, here comes Rational Tim.  What can we (I use ‘we’ to mean those of us who are sane, and I use 'sane' clinically) do?

  1. Make it geographical.  What happens in one place doesn’t have to happen in another.  So let’s revive and pervert localism (remember that?).  Let’s encourage the inhabitants of Shitsville Iowa and Crudham Doughshire to fight amongst themselves.  That way they’ll lose sight and interest, and the big issues will get swamped by the little ones.  Which leads to:
  2. Make it complicated.  Earlier this evening I heard a lawyer explaining on the radio just how convoluted the legal and judicial processes in both the U.K. and America are.  Doing this stuff with due process will, or should, require many man-years of expertise to achieve.  And if anyone tries to ride roughshod over due process, well, they’d be digging their own hole.  The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.  And having done all that:
  3. Make it moral.  Artists are the custodians of morality, aren’t they? 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


Earlier this evening, I mistakenly described making risotto as boring, which it isn’t. *  Z put me right by pointing out that, in the right circumstances, making risotto can be quite comforting.  So boring it isn’t.

It is a routine, though.  At least the early stages (the fun comes at the end, when you transform this soggy mess into something uniquely exquisite, or thereabouts): soften the onion, add the rice, then half an hour of ladle of stock, stir, ladle of stock, stir, ladle of stock – with exact timing and quantities, so you’re not even allowed to wander off and do something else.  But you are allowed to think, so naturally my thoughts turned to breakfast.

Now that’s a routine!  Everybody must have one.  (Or at least everybody who actually eats breakfast.**) How else would we get to coffee time?  I’m not suggesting it has to be the same every day, of course; but the breakfast routine is the default when any or all of imagination, energy and willpower fail.  I won’t bore (ha!) you with the details of mine, except to say that feeding the cat figures in there, somewhere between the tea and the toast phases, and that timing (which I find is a key attribute of a good routine) has to be flexible: which keeps the routine from becoming a habit.

Which brings me to what I really wanted to say.  Routines are good, because they can be pulled in to take care of unimportant but necessary business.  Habits are bad, because they can’t be pushed out to make way for anything.  The trick is not to let the former turn into the latter.  Thinking helps.



* I will never tire of repeating my definition of boredom, which is wanting to do something but not having anything you want to do, even though I know I delighted (not to say bored) you enough with it years ago.

**Marco Pierre White once claimed he always had a three-course breakfast: a coffee, a cigarette, and a cough.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Leeds (4)

I half-promised the other day to write about a certain breed of small vehicle (now thankfully extinct), and as I’ve resolved to blog more often, in the hope of doing my bit towards revitalising this dying art, here goes.

The car in question was an anagram of Brian Retail – although I’m sure they’re no longer made, I’m also sure there are still owners, whom I wouldn’t want to upset should they goggle their enthusiasm and light upon this post.  You know what I mean.

Anyway, this particular one was owned by one of my first digsmates in Brookfield Avenue, Leeds, whose name, as it happens, was Brian.  Brian (who was a dental student and as far as I know never went into the retail trade, but never mind) was quite challengingly mischievous, in a good if dangerous way.  Having ferried me around for a while in this contraption, one day he asked me if I’d like to have a drive.  I’d recently passed my test, and any such opportunity wasn’t to be passed by, so I naturally accepted.

The driving position, as I recall, meant that a tallish person like me had to scrunch himself up like a used tissue just to fit in there, never mind drive the thing.  Having been instructed in the peculiarities of the pedals and the column shift, we set off. 

Brian gave me directions – “left here, straight on a bit, right” – and I was getting quite into it, feeling my way into the car’s unusual responsiveness to instructions, until he said “OK, go left here.  Best you change down to first.”

I did say he was mischievous.  He’d taken me to the top of the steepest hill in, if not all Leeds, then certainly the Harehills district.  It was about one in eight, a good hundred yards down. There was a set of traffic lights at the bottom.  Giggling, Brian told me how to proceed.

“What you do now, you put both your feet on the footbrake, you pull the handbrake up as hard as you can with both hands, and you stand up.  Oh, and pray for green.”