Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Of Mastodons, Eels, Kittens and other people

Apologies to my regular readers in Ukraine, Russia, China, Romania and Indonesia, to whom this post will mean very little.  Also to my three or four readers in this country, who might be too young or old to share my nostalgia.  I hope everyone else enjoys it.

I’ve just finished reading the two Arthur Ransome books Z gave me for Christmas.  These are ‘We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea’ and ‘Secret Water’ (both of which are set, or in the case of WDMTGTS, start and finish in East Anglia, which presumably explains why she found them, in almost certainly the same 1950s editions that I’d read the first time around, in a local bookshop.)

My parents – my mother to be precise, because my father wasn’t a great reader; actually you can leave out the ‘great’ – dutifully supplied us kids with age-appropriate reading.  I don’t remember the full range, but it boiled down to two varieties: numerous variants on Enid Blyton’s single imaginative product; and Swallows and Amazons.

Although Z and I had shared our recollected love of these books, I was slightly nervous about returning to that world after an absence of at least sixty years – that world wouldn’t have changed, but I probably had. 

I’m not writing critical reviews of these marvellous books (oh, oops, I just did), nor will I spoil them with summaries of the plots (though I could quite easily: bunch of kids are placed in unintended peril by their remarkably self- and child-indulgent parents, survive imaginary and real threats by a combination of good luck, rapidly acquired skills and quite implausible grown-upness) or textual analysis (they do talk a bit quaint like, innit?)  Instead here’s a quick breakdown of the main characters and, most importantly, two words each on what they gave me all those years ago.

The Swallows: John (practical, anxious); Susan (elder sister); Titty (mischievous fantasist), Roger (word-playing joker).

The Amazons: Nancy (intoxicated challenger); Peggy (invisible make-weight).

Almost everything else has vanished, if it ever existed; but they haven’t changed, and nor have I.

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.