It is getting lighter!

Christmas is over and a new year is almost upon us. Traditionally this is a time for reflections and resolutions but for me this is time out. I’ll reflect and resolve as best i can in January. It’ll help take my mind off the cold and dreary darkness. Did you enjoy your Christmas? I enjoyed mine, but then i almost always do. Some part of me returns to childhood at Christmas, and while i don’t regress as far as actually believing in Father Christmas, i do get that same thrill of anticipation. It feels as is anything could happen.

This year i stayed at home in London, instead of trekking up to North Wales as i usually do. On Christmas Eve, with all the food bought and my presents arranged round the Tree –  a real tree this year! – i settled down to watch (and of course listen to) carol services from Cambridge and Llangollen; and later watched Midnight Mass from Westminster Cathedral. Carol services make Christmas for me, but i can’t sing so i prefer to observe them from afar where there is no danger of being “invited” to participate. Afterwards, i took myself off to bed, glancing sadly at the Christmas Tree on my way. Every year the same thought: if only it were possible to have both the magic of the gifts round the Tree AND the gifts themselves. Never mind, at least i’ve got gifts.

In the morning it was time to unwrap and marvel at all the things i’d received, especially the books. There were over twenty of those ranging from a bilingual selection of poems by the Bangladeshi poet Shamsur Rahman to a biography of the actor Claude Rains and Joe Sacco’s graphic novel Palestine. My favourite however was a book of facts and photographs about the place where i grew up. It was written by a local historian and my mum went to a great deal of trouble both to source the book and then to get it signed for me by the author. About half way through the book i found a photo of my old headmaster, he of the beige everything.

I also got a CD containing a reading in the original Anglo-Saxon of the poem Beowulf. I am very excited about this but am waiting for the companion present to arrive which is the bilingual Anglo-Saxon/Modern English edition of Seamus Heaney’s translation of the poem. I want to be able to follow the text as it’s being read. And i got jigsaws: three in all. Equally pleasing, the presents i bought for friends and family all seemed to go down well. Panic over.

Later in the day i walked over to a friend’s for tea and chat. Christmas Day is a wonderful day to go walking as hardly anyone seems to leave their house. The snow had all melted. Only on the way back, walking along the river, did we encounter ice. After that it was two days full of a cold and feeling sorry for myself; but once that passed i was able to go out walking again and journeyed across London to spend a very pleasant day with friends. It was just a shame that making that trip meant i had to meet commuters who were working through the Christmas period. It rather spoilt the magical feeling that time had been suspended. Again, never mind. Good friends are a treasure – and, anyway, there’s a limit to the number of times that even i can sit watching The Sound of Music.

Now i am home again and waiting for the New Year. Unlike Christmas this depresses rather than excites me. I think i am always aware of how little i have accomplished. But it’s also because once New Year’s Day is over time starts flowing again. The spell is broken. By Monday i’ll be back at work and hoping that, for once, January – that interminable month – will fly by. I comfort myself with the fact that we have now passed the darkest point in the year. It is getting lighter! Remember that.

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The beige years

What do you remember about the Seventies? I remember they were beige. The bank in which we used to queue for hours for example: beige carpets, beige wallpaper, beige uniforms – I swear, even the wood of the counters was beige. I could be misremembering this of course, not least because beige is contagious: once it gets into one of your memories it spreads until it contaminates them all.

So my school too was beige: the headmaster’s suit, his shoes, his hair. Actually, I lie: his shoes weren’t beige, they were tan (even worse!). And they squeaked. My main memory of the school, apart from the headmaster’s feet, was the odour of “posh” instant coffee. Does anyone remember when there was such a thing as posh instant? Douwe Egberts for instance, such a step above Nescafé – though even Nescafé was better than that stuff made of chicory which came in a bottle. What on earth was that called? The teachers drank posh coffee. Their staff room, that mysterious place strictly forbidden to us, stank of it when the door opened. But then they were middle class and that meant something then.

Looking back, the Seventies is all about school for me. When weren’t at school we were on holiday from school. The summer break (six weeks!) was heaven. In my memory every summer was hot and sunny. Health & Safety hadn’t yet been invented so we ran wild “down the meadows” and in “the woods”. We swam with our dog in a river full of whirlpools. We dared one another to walk along a high wall of crumbling brick – with concrete on either side. We played football. We got into fights.

Easter i’m a bit vague about but Christmas was “ace”: suddenly beige was no more! The ceiling would be covered with crêpe streamers: pink, orange, green, red and blue. There would be balloons, there would be cards, a real Christmas tree (always huge in my memories) which we’d cover with tinsel and shiny balls, and then top with a star. Of course there were presents, almost all of them from Woolworth’s and only a few of which i can recall: a blue bike, a Monopoly set, two Tell Me Why books. Food: brazil nuts and tangerines. Television: Morecambe and Wise.

All too soon though it was Twelfth Night and time to take the bright colours down. Back to beige and back to school.

— For “M” —