Sick Again

Seasonal tradition – the pre-festive flu

 

Body aching like I’ve been thrown several times against a wall. Head hurting like it’s been clamped firmly in a vice, and someone is still turning the screw and I’m coughing like an old tramp nurtured on full tar cigarettes and left out for several days in the rain.

« Can’t give you any antibiotics » says the doctor,

« Just stay home in the warm. Take plenty paracetemol and above all, do nothing. »

And with a flourish of his drug company-sponsored pen, the doc signs off « Here you are » he announces and with a big beaming smile he pushes a form a across the desk

« What’s this? »

« A médical certificate for a week’s sick leave. Doctor’s orders, stay home for a week and do nothing. »

« Nothing ! »

Yes, those are the doctor’s orders – nothing.

Now, there are some people I know who would simply ignore médical advice, and, even with a médical certificate, would crawl into work and work, just to prove to everyone else, that what they do is so important, that no one can do without them, and it is thanks to such « heroics » that a everyone else gets sick.

I am going to firmly follow doctor’s orders

YES you’re ill. You’ve got flu or something nastier and though you are not going to die, you certainly feel in a state close to mortal demise.

Get it into your head that you won’t be fit for work

Doctor’s orders – DO NOTHING.

And that is exactly what I do for a week. I do nothing.

I head home, a shivering wreck. I pop a fistful of paracetemol, pull on a grotty old tracksuit, fill a hot water bottle and then wrap myself in a huge duvet and settle down in front of the TV for a week of nothing.

Yep folks – I’ve spent all week watching TV

The news channels, the soap channels, the shopping channels, the kids’ channels, the vintage re-run channels, the religious channels, the crafting channels.

I’ve watched watched North Korean Missiles tests with non stop beaming faced images of « Rocket man ». I’ve seen Laura Ingells comes to blows with Nelly Olsen, I’ve cruised on the Love Boat, I’ve solved murders with Angela Landsbury, I’ve been to Southfork and back via Falcon’s Crest. I’ve learned how to make « lovely » Christmas décorations and « scrapbooking-style » Christmas cards. I’ve learned how to cook the perfect turkey. I’ve drooled over everything from hot rocks and cool diamonds on the jewelery channel to power vacuums, slow cookers, fitness machines and stairlifts on the shopping channels. I’ve watched Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs all ranting their rants – I’ve had calls to prayer, calls ro reason and advice to bring me closer to God.

And in-between the programs – commercial and more commercials with slippers, surgical stockings, death insurance, more bloody chairlifts, exercise aids for the elderly, Christmas chocolates and incontinence pants and checks for colon cancer and urinary probems for older men

AAAAAGH – If I were old. I’m only 52 and in every bloody ad or programme or propoganda slot for the « elderly » it is echoed and re-echoed «NOW YOU ARE OVER 50 … »

Yes I must accept that at 50 you turn into a gibbering, slobbering, incontinet, piss stinking, disabled, semi senile , pyjama-wearing, slipper shuffling wreck. AAAAAAAGH.

Oh Thank God, I’ve found Boomerang TV on the satellite – re-runs of the original Hanna Barbera cartoons – Scooby Doo, Flintstones, The Jetsons …

Hey, If advertisers think I should be senile at 50, might as well watch some kids TV.

What I have loved about this week in the Twilight TV sickness world – all the mid morning ménopause unf*** your f****d-up life TV –

Forgotten second rate stars back from the grave with a book to sell and a career to relaunch.

The youngish, late fortysomething replastified bimbo looks caringly and meaningfully into the UV gaze of the late sixtysomething soap survivor –

« Tell me how did …

ménopause

breast cancer

the loss of your pet dog

Alcoholism

Drug addiction

Bankruptcy

Sexual breakdown

Divorce

affect your life ? »

« And what is the subject of your new book ? »

ALL OF THE ABOVE

And in this week of TV watching, I have loved all these heart-tugging broken family shows – like Jeremy Kyle

Get a mid morning TV slot, when all the world’s misfits are just rolling out of bed, and wheel some obese, loud-mouthed, no-brain, white trash dysfuntional families into the studio, get them screaming at each other, and you’ve got one shit hot TV show.

The Usual stuff :

Mother sleeps with daughter’s boyfriend a few weeks away from the wedding.

Husband-to-be is sleeping with his fiancé’s sister.

Father-in-law having a fling with his future daughter-in-law.

And after a venomous slanging match it all ends in tears and a big hug.

When I hear people at work reeling off about their perfect lives and their perfect kids, I always feel that I have kind of failed somewhere in my life, but it takes a week of watching Daytime TV to show me otherwise – aspiring and subscribing to the dreams, hopes and fears of the stay-at-homes – for whatever reason people have to stay home.

It takes all sorts to make up a world, and we all need some kind of place in this crazy world.

Back to work tomorrow – fighting fit and one thing is for sure – the first thing someoneis going to say « Did you enjoy your holiday ? »

 

 

 

 

 

OF RESOLUTIONS AND REVOLUTIONS

Possibly my last post about New Year (promise)

A GOOD RESOLUTION, A LIFE-CHANGING REVOLUTION, RESOLVING TO DO GOOD DEEDS AND WHEN TO TAKE DOWN YOUR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS

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It is that time of year, the turning of the year when we resolve to make ourselves better, fitter, happier healthier people. We decide, to give up bad habits, to divest ourselves of those physical or mental burdens that make us unhappy. We resolve to change our ways. We are full of good intentions.

Ah yes, the good old New Year’s resolution, but never a revolution. Where there is a will there is a way and it will take us all our frail human determination to accomplish those goals which we have set ourselves, therefore, we are not going to undertake anything too difficult that might just revolutionise our lives. Radical change? Heaven forbid. Just the act of going back to work after the festive blip is going to require a heroic effort.

The return to normal life. I know on the first day back at work, everyone will be wearing glazed expressions of emptiness. It will be like a train station or an airport during a computer glitch or a system failure – transport staff put up large signs “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible”. We will all be wearing such signs until late January, when finally the last vestiges of Christmas decoration have been taken down and it feels like we are all “back to normal”.

Hold on though, why are we all heading back to work when it is still officially Christmas? Why are we all slaving away? The Wise men haven’t arrived yet. Jesus is still in his manger and Mary and Joseph are still sitting in the stable. Christmas does not officially finish until February 2nd – Candlemass or Midwinter’s Day. Why are you ripping down the Decorations on Twelfth Night? You can leave them up until Candlemass. Yes, but isn’t it just a tad depressing, heading off to work on those cold January mornings with your tree and tinsel still up? Yep, what is worse than crawling to work in mid-January and passing shops and houses still festooned in their festive garb.

Candlemass

Candlemass commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. In a more “sinisiter” vein, it also marks the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of her son.

Up until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the “purification” of young mothers was a common ceremony in some churches – it was called “Churching” – There was something inherently sinful in the act of procreation and something “unhealthy” about the act of childbirth, therefore young mothers underwent a purification ceremony before they were allowed back in church again, or allowed to take Holy Communion.

This ritual purification dates back to biblical times. When Women weren’t allowed to worship at the Temple or Synagogue after childbirth. The length of time that women were excluded from worship depended on the sex of their baby. In the case of a boy, young mums got a 40 day ban that increased to 60 days if they had given birth to a girl. So, if Jesus had been Jessica, we might well be keeping our Christmas decoration up until late February.

Jesus or Jessica ?

Of course Jesus wasn’t Jessica, but I am just wondering, if, next Christmas I could ask my employer for forty days off work for the festivities?

Oh Lord! Can you imagine celebrating Christmas for 40 consecutive days.?

40 days or 60 days. If Jesus had been Jessica, that would certainly have thrown the Christian calendar out of synch. Imagine Jessica spending 60 days in the wilderness – a 60 day long Lent. Of course this means that Easter would come 60 days after Ash Wednesday, meaning that Easter would fall firmly in Spring and we might actually get some decent weather for Easter.

Candlemass, like all good Christian ceremonies is of course based on a Pagan Ceremony – Midwinter’s day and the Festival of Light. Time to light a few candles and bonfires to mark the halfway stage of winter and a slow return to longer days right up until June 21st – Midsummer’s Day, the point at which days start to get shorter. Seems a bit weird that those long summer days are actually getting shorter in the run up to winter.

A Good Deed a day

 So, back to resolutions. I have decided to have daily resolutions or rather good intentions – that good old boy scout thing of « a good deed a day ». Some small act that will make someone else’s existence a little easier such as holding a door open for the person behind me, rather than letting it fly and shut firmly in their face.

Yes, there are plenty of day-to-day things you can do. When you driving along a main road with a huge line of cars behind you, why not stop and let through the poor bastard who has been waiting all day to come out of a side road. Do the same at roundabouts, give way to a couple of cars. If every motorist just let one car through on a roundabout it would do wonders for traffic flow. In the same way, stop at crossings and let that little old lady across.

Pity The Old Lady and her tin of cat food

Good deeds in shops. There you are at the checkout, a trolley laden with shopping and behind you, a fellow customer with just one or two items. Let the, frail little old lady with her tin of cat food go in front of you. Statistically you have longer to live than her. So you have the time as she pays for her cat food in one cent coins.

For all those small good deeds you do, the one day that you need a good deed just to make life a little easier, well generally it happens just when you need it.

And finally a good deed that costs nothing. A warm morning greeting with a smile for friends, neighbours and colleagues. You know, when you are down in the mouth with a bad case of the Monday morning blues, it just takes a smile and a heartfelt greeting from a colleague to make your day.

Sun-Drenched Beach

Oh dear, this all sounds so trivial, but then you don’t need a spanner in the works to make the machine breakdown, sometimes just a grain of sand will do. I’m hoping my grains of sand will pile up and form into one long sun drenched beach, for this is also that time of year that we traditionally think about booking our summer vacation, and every year, the stress levels in our house go through the roof as I annoy my family with holiday plans. This year I’ll go with the flow and pick up something at the last minute. And so, to my final resolution – cease stressing those around me with my plans, fears, worries and good intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festive French Stuffing

Christmas !!!!! Humbug and balderdash !!!!!!

The Sunday before Christmas – the shops are open and the world has gone mad. Down the local supermarket there is barley room to swing a turkey as shoppers jostle for position, their trolleys heaving with festive fare. It is reminiscent of the ghost of Christmas present, sitting atop of mountain of delicious seasonal victuals as he welcomes in a cowering and timorous Scrooge.

Four turkeys! – The woman in front of me has four turkeys in her trolley – either she is off her trolley, or she has a large family or a large freezer. This is France though, and Christmas is all about food and family – inviting the entire family round and then getting stuffed with a Christmas dinner large enough to sink several battleships.

A work colleague tells me he is having 26 people round for lunch on Christmas day – all family. I suppose you’d need four turkeys to feed that amount of people. Coming from a small family unit, I can’t quite imagine 26 people all related in some way, but by the time you add aunts, uncles, grandparents, distant cousins and « hangers on » like the current boyfriend or girlfriend of your offspring – I suppose you could quite easily get to 26 people, but is there anyone with 26 chairs in their house? « Of course you can come for Christmas, just bring your own chair. »

So, Christmas in France, like any other occasion is primarily about food. Traditional festive favourites include salmon, oysters and that particular French delicacy – foie gras – or goose liver pâté in the English translation – which greatly annoys the French, because foie gras is not actually pâté.

For those unfamiliar with foie gras, this is that French gastronomic delight that has animal rights campaigners across the world seething with anger and indignation.

To produce goose liver pâté – obviously you are going to need a goose (though you can do it with a duck) – once you have your goose (or gander), imprison the poor creature in a wooden box – of course leaving a hole for the neck and beak, then force feed the bird on corn until it is too fat to move. And how do you force-feed a goose? Well, you stick a funnel in its beak and just empty down corn. Yes it does sound very cruel and for this reason, there are those States in the USA that ban the sale of foie gras, and this gets French foie gras producers very angry.

If Europe and the US ever do get some kind of meaningful trade agreement together, there are those foods that might be firmly off the menu. This week we had the case of the American « chemical chicken » – the fact that in the US, all chickens destined for human consumption are rinsed in a chlorine based solution to cleanse them of harmful bacteria.

Now, I do know those Brits who will actually rinse their chicken under the hot water tap before roasting – a pretty revolting idea in itself, but as for chlorine. Well, the French don’t want American chickens and the Americans don’t want French foie gras or those stinky French cheeses made from unpasteurised milk. The French would argue that this is not a food but rather a cultural matter – they’ve been gorging their geese on corn for centuries to make foie gras and no matter the risk of listeria – Camembert just ain’t Camembert if it ain’t made with unpasteurised milk. This is a country where food is firmly part of the national heritage. The French don’t eat to live, they live to eat.

Cultural considerations aside, foie gras is big business. France produces three quarters of the world’s foie gras – almost 20,000 tonnes a year from 38 million birds. The « industry » is worth around 2 billion Euros and employs 30,000 people. Outside of Europe, the biggest market for the stuff is in the far east, namely Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. If you can’t quite imagine the value of 2 billion Euros, that is roughly the cost of a small aircraft carrier.

As for the smelly cheese – there are 51 cheeses made in France from unpasteurised cow and goat milk. In 2014, France’s 20,000 producers of Camembert, Brie, Roquefort and cheeses of this ilk, produced 250,000 tonnes of the stuff. This particular part of the cheese industry was valued at 1.8 billion Euros in 2014.

So, the impact of smelly cheese – I live in a region of France, The Berry, famous for its goat cheese. I personally know small independent producers who have herds of 30 to 40 goats and produce a few hundred tonnes of unpasteurised goats cheese every year. They will sell the stuff on local markets, many sell lit to local restaurants and others to the nation’s major retail chains. Fresh goat cheese is okay, buts as with all things cheesy, it is better, the older, harder, mouldier, stronger and smellier it gets. Give a decently matured goat cheese to the uninitiated and chances are, the victim of your generosity will turn his or her nose up, possibly leave the room and might just even Chuck the cheese in the bin – for goat cheese fans though – well here are some prices – my local goat cheese is the Crottin – on local markets a small Crottin will sell for anywhere from 1.30 Euros to 2.50 Euros. In Paris, the same cheese will sell for 5 Euros, and in the UK in posh shops, the price is such that I wonder why I haven’t started up my own goat cheese export business – a Crottin in that exclusive London luxury emporium, Harrods, retails at around 7 Euros.

This was supposed to be about Christmas, which in France (as mentioned) is all about food. So, what do the French eat at Christmas dinner?

For starters – they have starters: traditionally a meat starter and a fish starter. At the main course (if your hostess with the mostess is doing things properly) there will be a main meat course, followed by a main fish course – all this will be followed by a general distribution of brandy or Calvados liqueur – a good swig to get the appetite up and running again – next up the cheese, salad and then a massive desert, normally a Christmas Log.

Traditional fare – much like where you live – Turkey and all the trimmings – Brussels sprouts, roast chestnuts, or chestnut purée, roast potatoes, carrots …. If you’re not eating a turkey, then this is the time of year for capon, quail, guinea fowl, goose or even a game bird. Wild boar and venison are also very popular.

Apart from foie gras, served as a starter, oysters and smoked salmon are also popular. This is the big time of year for oysters, you normally buy them buy the dozen or by the kilo in a wooden basket that the French call a bourriche. As for salmon? Well France isn’t really a salmon producing nation and most of the stuff we get comes in vacuum-packed cellophane packets fresh from those very unhygienic Scottish fish farms – try some trout instead.

As for dinner in this house? We will see what is still available in the shops on Christmas Eve. Personally I won’t be eating foie gras because I don’t like the stuff and as for salmon – it is always so second rate. Oh for the good old microwave, supermarket, Christmas dinner for one, as sold in some UK supermarkets. Five minutes in the microwave then peel back the wrapping and eat it on your knees whilst watching the TV. Bliss.

Finally, a word on humbugs – well, I’m quite partial to a humbug.

Resolutions and Revolutions

A good resolution, a life-changing revolution, resolving to do good deeds and when to take down your Christmas Decorations

It is that time of year, the turning of the year when we resolve to make ourselves better, fitter, happier healthier people. We decide, to give up bad habits, to divest ourselves of those physical or mental burdens that make us unhappy. We resolve to change our ways. We are full of good intentions. Ah yes, the good old New Year’s resolution, but never a revolution. Where there is a will there is a way and it will take us all our frail human determination to accomplish those goals which we have set ourselves, therefore we are not going to undertake anything too difficult that might just revolutionise our lives. Radical change? Heaven forbid. Just the act of going back to work after the festive blip is going to require a heroic effort.

The return to normal life. I know on the first day back at work, everyone will be wearing glazed expressions of emptiness. It will be like a train station or an airport during a computer glitch or a system failure – transport staff put up large signs “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible”. We will all be wearing such signs until late January, when finally the last vestiges of Christmas decoration have been taken down and it finally feels like we are all “back to normal”.

Hold on though, why are we all heading back to work when it is still officially Christmas? Why are we all slaving away? The Wise men haven’t arrived yet. Jesus is still in his manger and Mary and Joseph are still sitting in the stable. Christmas does not officially finish until February 2nd – Candlemass or Midwinter’s Day. Why are you ripping down the Decorations on Twelfth Night? You can leave them up until Candlemass. Yes, but isn’t it just a tad depressing, heading off to work on those cold January mornings with your tree and tinsel still up? Yep, what is worse than crawling to work in mid-january and passing shops and houses still festooned in their festive garb.

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Candlemass commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. In a more “sinisiter” vein, it also marks the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of her son.

Up until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the “purification” of young mothers was a common ceremony in some churches – it was called “Churching” – There was something inherently sinful in the act of procreation and something “unhealthy” about the act of childbirth, therefore young mothers underwent a purification ceremony before they were allowed back in church again, or allowed to take Holy Communion.

This ritual purification dates back to biblical times. When Women weren’t allowed to worship at the Temple or Synagogue after childbirth. The length of time that women were excluded from worship depended on the sex of their baby. In the case of a boy, young mums got a 40 day ban that increased to 60 days if they had given birth to a girl. So, if Jesus had been Jessica, we might well be keeping our Christmas decoration up until late February.

Of course Jesus wasn’t Jessica, but I am just wondering, if, next Christmas I could ask my employer for forty days off work for the festivities?

Oh Lord! Can you imagine celebrating Christmas for 40 consecutive days.?

40 days or 60 days. If Jesus had been Jessica, that would certainly have thrown the Christian calendar out of synch. Imagine Jessica spending 60 days in the wilderness – a – day long Lent. Of course this means that Easter would come 60 days after Ash Wednesday, meaning that Easter would fall firmly in Spring and we might actually get some decent weather for Easter.

Candlemass, like all good Christian ceremonies is of course based on a Pagan Ceremony – Midwinter’s day and the Festival of Light. Time to light a few candles and bonfires to mark the halfway stage of winter and a slow return to longer days right up until June 21st – Midsummer’s Day, the point at which days start to get shorter. Seems a bit weird that those long summer days are actually getting shorter in the run up to winter.

So, back to resolutions. I have decided to have daily resolutions or rather good intentions – that good old boy scout thing of a good deed a day. Some small act that will make someone else’s existence a little easier such as holding a door open for the person behind me, rather than letting it fly and shut firmly in their face.

Yes, there are plenty of day-to-day things you can do. When you driving along a main road with a huge line of cars behind you, why not stop and let though the poor bastard who has been waiting all day to come out of a side road. Do the same at roundabouts, give way to a couple of cars. If every motorist just let one car through on a roundabout it would do wonders for traffic flow. In the same way, stop at crossings and let that little old lady across.

Good deeds in shops. There you are at the checkout, a trolley laden with shopping and behind you, a fellow customer with just one or two items. Let the,frail little old lady with her tin of cat food go in front of you. Staistically you have longer to live than her. So you have the time as she pays for her cat food in one cent coins. For all those small good deeds you do, the one day that you need a good deed just to make life a little easier, well generally it happens just when you need it.

And finally a good deed that costs nothing. A warm morning greeting with a smile for friends, neighbours and colleagues. You know, when you are down in the mouth with a bad case of the Monday morning blues, it just takes a smile and a heartfelt greeting from a colleague to make your day.

Oh dear, this all sounds so trivial, but then you don’t need a spanner in the works to make the machine breakdown, sometimes just a grain of sand will do. I’m hoping my grains of sand will pile up and form into one long sun drenched beach, for this is also that time of year that we traditionally think about booking our summer vacation, and every year, the stress levels in our house go through the roof as I annoy my family with holiday plans. This year I’ll go with the flow and pick up something at the last minute. And so, to my final resolution – cease stressing those around me with my plans, fears, worries and good intentions.

The Inter Seasonal Neverland

Some nonsensical seasonal ramblings.

Into the Light

There was the pre festive frenzy; that mad magical mayhem the buying presents, the laying in of seasonal victuals and decorating. Those days in the lead up to Christmas when we deck the halls and dress our day-to-day dwelling in the gaudy accoutrements of the season – lights, tinsel, gold and silver balls … they shine out keeping the darkness and creatures and spirits of the cruel winter night at bay. The lights shine like a beacon of hope – like the far off glow of lights at an inn, a reassuring sign of respite and sustenance for weary travellers. They shine out like a lonely star in the night sky guiding Wise men on their quest for a king

This year though the lights have been fewer and dimmer. Those houses normally so lit up that they might be visible from space are invisible. Not a flicker, not a sparkle, almost invisible.

No lights. No hope. For sure we have made it through another year. We are happy that it’s Christmas but in the grey days of winter there is a spirit of grey resignation, a palpable despondency.

« Can’t be bothered with lights this year, » says a colleague at a somewhat sad and morose pre-Christmas workplace gathering. Too much effort, no time and an all-round lack of seasonal sprit. « What’s the point? » reiterates my colleague. « All that effort to put the bloody things up just so I can take them down a couple of weeks later. »

The media thunder away about (what the French call) the ambient morosity. Economic crisis, global warming, global warring, « the highest unemployment levels for a decade » announces one stony-faced newsreader. Things are bad, worse than bad and they can only get worse still. OH PLEASE! Tell us some good news. There must be something that will cheer us up.

Motion without Emotion

In local shops and supermarkets, people are « going through the motion » without emotion. Crowds of shoppers stock up on mountains of victuals – Like that great Dickensian mountain of festive fare atop of which the sits the jovial ghost of Christmas present as he welcomes the mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, with a hearty Christmas laugh. A great belly laugh filled with reassuring relish, hope and merriment like the peal of bells on Christmas morning.

Here though, queuing at the butcher’s counter there seems to be little appetite for Christmas, no matter how the rotund and red-cheeked jovial butcher tries to goad his customers with Christmas spirit. « Just a small turkey this year, » announces the lady in front in a voice as feeble as a small boy making a weak and wet excuse for his misdemeanor. Al the while, the lady tries to ignore the plump, majestic turkeys hanging above her. Turkeys in their festive finery, freshly-plucked save for a small feather collar, they hang lifeless, waiting to fulfill their one purpose in life – to adorn your Christmas table and satisfy your hearty seasonal appetite.

Kafka Christmas

I imagine all those sad shoppers sitting down to their Christmas dinner as if it were a funeral wake. I imagine them tastelessly and morbidly masticating their way through their festive feast in Kafkaesque ritual. Franz Kafka, that depressing playwright who was rumoured to chew every mouthful of food 114 times.

Like Henry James and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kafka was a disciple of an early 20th century dietary fad known as « Fletcherism, » Horace Fletcher; an American health food enthusiast argued that every mouthful food should be chewed at least 100 times before swallowing. Food chewed down into a liquid state is easier to digest. Fletcher also advocated that people examine their own excreta to ensure they were digesting well.

We are having a truly Kafkaesque Christmas. Oh, for a happy metamorphosis.

As we masticate our way in misery through our festive food mountain, we know that at least half of what we have bought will end up in the bin as it creeps dangerously near to its « eat-by » date.

Peeling Back the Layers of Christmas

Thanks heavens for the children – those last true repositories of the true spirit of Christmas. Starry-eyed and filled with hope, redolent of the Christ child himself (so our priest claimed at his sermon on Christmas Eve) They eagerly await Santa, refusing to go to bed, until, drunk with fatigue they flop into their beds and come Christmas morning, the old chap. has been. Brightly wrapped present sit thick under the tree. The children jump on them, ripping off the paper and … Christmas is over.

It’s all so quick and so unceremonious. After all the careful build up to this one moment, we reach festive climax and just don’t stop to enjoy it. We should carefully tear away the layers of paper on those gifts that have been so carefully, beautifully and lovingly wrapped. No, we just thoughtlessly strip away the layers of Christmas. Now you’ve got your gifts, what happens next?

We take our gifts back to the shop, exchange them for something we really want, or just try and get the cash. We sell our gifts on the Internet. We negate all the love, the time and the effort that someone has put into offering us a gift. Those minutes, hours or even days someone spent choosing something they thought we might like, that time that they spent thinking about us, that tile that we existed in the hearts and minds of those who love us or like us enough to « make the effort ».

New Heaven and a New Earth.

And now the gifts have been given, sold and exchanged. The food eaten, thrown up or thrown out. The decorations looking just a little limp and the tree losing its needles, we enter the festive limbo, that inter-seasonal purgatory, where we err as lost souls, wondering what we can do until New Year brings some kind of salvation. That moment when we can finally enter the New Year as if it were a new realm. We hope for a new Heaven and a new Earth as the old Earth fades away. For sure at midnight on December 31st, everything will change for the better. New start, clean start, clean slate, resolutions, good intentions. Why do we place so much faith in a simple calendar change – a man-made manipulation of time?

Never Land

I like this inter-seasonal Neverland. It is a place/moment when time stands still. We drift on those post-Christmas currents that will “sail” us into the inevitability of New Year. Fight against the current all you want, in the end you just have to go with the flow, down to the river’s end and finally out into that great unchartered ocean that is the New Year.

Purgatory

Down on the banks of the mighty Loire – My chosen place of solitude. It is high tide and the current is flowing fast. No matter how fast or slow the river runs, it has only one destiny.

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I am not alone on this grey, windswept, drizzly day. We are several errant souls, pacing up and down contemplating the river. Lonely souls in this forlorn winter place. We exchange brief greetings if we come face-to-face, but we are trying to avoid each other, each lost in his or her own thoughts.

In the late afternoon mist and drizzle my fellow walkers appears as ghosts. Perhaps they are. Trapped on this river bank as if in purgatory. Each ghost locked in its own time. Each lost soul waiting to cross the river.

It is a supernatural place. Houses, restaurants and cafés all shuttered up for the duration until those happier summer souls return to make the place live again. It is like a sad seaside town out of season. Come the long sweet summer days, the cafés open for business. Holiday homers take down their shutters and throw open their windows to let in the summer world. Day trippers come here for picnics – spreading their chequered rugs, to eat, drink, laugh and then snooze off their wine in the afternoon sun. Anglers wade out into the shallows, casting their lines far into the water in the hope of catching a succulent fresh water fish. People mess about in boats and Sunday cyclists pedal their leisurely way along the bank, and at the end of the day, lovers sit “entwined” at the water’s edge to watch the sun set into the flows.

I prefer this place in winter though. This riverside purgatory in its grey and ghostly guise. I like the shuttered-up houses – The sensible squat stout cottages that once belonged to local watermen. The many spired art deco villas that look as haunted as the errant lost souls on the bank. Rambling villas in various states of graceful decay. Crumbling mansions built into the remnants of old chateaux. It is all redolent of a bad B movie remake of the Shining.

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I like it here because we are in the nakedness of winter. The world has long lost its glorious summer raiment, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has evaporated and withered away. This is grey winter – the grey skin that hangs on a skeletal winter world – all stripped and laid bare like a corpse awaiting the last rites before burial. In this inter-seasonal moment, Christmas has died like one of the Dickensian spirits and now we await the last rites of the New Year festivities.

Redemption and Communion

Winding my way home through the steep, vine-covered hill sides of the Sancerre region.

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I am always thankful that when God created this great good earth, amongst the flora and fauna he made to fill his creation, the Almighty saw fit to include the vine. What art and what foresight, giving Man the means to produce that nectar which our God Lord would take to symbolise his blood at the Last Supper. Every glass, every sip is a moment of communion, a moment for reflection and even a moment of redemption at the end of a hard day. What better time than this season to be in the vines, a few days after the birth of Jesus.

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At this cold and skeletal time of year, the vines are like the baby Messiah – naked and vulnerable. Steep and rolling hillsides as far as they eye can see, all covered in naked vines. Looking down from my vantage point it is difficult to believe that over the seasons, these vines will bear any fruit.

Obscured by mist, the villages below become blurred, though sweet wood smoke rising from chimneys is a proof of the human presence. It is cold. It is time to head home for the sweet redemption that only a glass of good wine can bring.

 

 

Christmas Thoughts

Christmas Eve – it’s that reflective time between the shops closing and the start of the festivities – that time before we all start the Christmas rituals of ripping open presents and gorging ourselves. Hope that Santa pops a few indigestion pills in your stocking. Anyway wether you deserve what you get or you get what you deserve, you will get what you get, unless you get nothing. We all know that something is better than nothing and nothing is better than …  Homespun philosophy over, time to share a few festive photos with you from the lights of Paris to the snowy Alps. A merry Christmas to all of you.

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Christmas Stuff part One

Ever noticed that all the major newspapers and magazines over Christmas are written months before? When I worked for the French press we were preparing our Christmas specials in the suffocating August heat – slaving away trying to find as much Christmas spirit as we could in the stifling mid-August dog days. Imaginary Festive frolics whilst the rest of the world is at the beach. I actually remember writing a series of Festive articles sweltering away in a trailer home, whilst my family were sunning themselves on the beach at St Tropez.

What follows is a “Christmas Miscellany” – blog articles, press articles and extracts from my book, written over the past ten years. Everything from Festive journeys to the true misery of a real French Christmas – and God knows if there is one nation on earth who can’t keep the real spirit of Christmas it is the French – despite all the glossy magazine articles you might have the misfortune to read. So, unless I have put you off, try and read on. And a final word. Despite being a totally miserable bastard myself, I do enjoy Christmas.

1 – FESTIVE JOURNEYS

Christmas used to be a true destination. A gaudy, magic, tinsel town. A place of glistening, snow-covered, candy dreams. It was last place on the long hard yellow brick road through the year. It was a safe and reassuring place. How many times did mum and dad say, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be right come Christmas.”? So, as a kid, I was always glad to get to Christmas, because mum and dad always made sure that everything was right. Of course, as a kid, the road to Christmas wasn’t too hard. You just had to sit in the back seat, stare out the car window at the landscape, and try not to get too bored or to annoy mum, who was navigating, and dad, who was driving.

Then one day you grow up, and it’s you in the driving seat. Christmas is no longer a destination, just a stop-over on life’s long road. Christmas becomes a night in a cheap hotel with broken air con and a lumpy bed. It’s a refuelling stop in motorway service station – filling up at the pump, a lukewarm ersatz coffee from a vending machine, a trip to the loo, and then a saunter round the shop for chewing gum, cigarettes, paper tissues and something to keep the kids happy.

Christmas is a name on a map, somewhere to break your journey. You’re sick of driving, but you’ve got to carry on until Christmas. Then you see the signs. Christmas is getting closer, but the last miles are the hardest. The road seems never ending. Finally though, you pull into that blob on the map you’ve been aiming for all year. No magic tinsel town, just a one horse town, that no sooner you’re in, than it’s gone. A drive-through festive blip.

Eventually, you give up caring what Christmas is like. As long as you can get a shower, a cold beer, some food and a decent night’s kip, you’re happy. Usually, Christmas is that cheap hotel, occasionally though, you might get lucky and have a five star festive stop-over. For sure, these are the Christmases you cherish.

2 – SEXY CHRISTMAS

First there’s the build up. The weeks of tempation, anticipation, seduction. Dressing the world in tinsel and lights, erecting the tree … and after the festive foreplay we get to Christmas Day, the bit we’ve all been waiting for. Rippers and strippers all. We unwrap our presents, zealously ripping the paper or carefully stripping it off in delicate anticipation of the final result . After all these long weeks of waiting you will know if the finality will be orgasmic or just an anti climax. Of course, you may have been prodding the presents before, peeling back the wrapping for a peak as the gaudy packages are nestling under the tree. This is all very premature

And there are those Christmases where we just go through the motions. Certainly pleasurable, but next year, you’d like just a little more zest and originality. No matter if you hit the highs or not, Christmas is Christmas, what did you expect. Weeks of build up and over in minutes.

I like to think of Good old Scrooge – leaping out of bed, cock-a- whoop with Christmas after a night with the Spirits. Even Christmas (we hope) can turn the meanest, and grumpiest of us all into « better » people – so like Scrooge we are « glowing with good intentions. » and we can learn to live in the past, the present and the future.

No matter how you feel about Christmas, have a good one.

December 2013

3 – WAS IT EVER LIKE THAT?

The ex-pat Christmas – an amalgam of all those festive moments that you are never actually sure you had – a tapestry of times and traditions, festive food – Got to have a mince pie, must have a Christmas pudding ‘cos they’re traditional. Hang on a minute – we never had mince pies and Chrismas pud in our house – no one liked them. (or mum didn’t like them).

What was that Christmas past that I’m never sure ever was

Down the pub on Christmas Eve, getting into the Christmas spirit with complete strangers, rocking around to Slade « Merry Xmas. »

Strolling sozzled into Midnight Mass. Tanked up on enough goodwill and whisky to sticke a fiver in the collection plate – Hey it is Christmas.

Carol singing with friends – woolly hats, lanterns and mulled wine .

Late Christmas shopping – finding that last minute présent before the shops close on Christmas Eve.

Rowdy Christmas parties.

I think I’ve done them once, but they weren’t regular festive activities, as an ex-pat though, you tend to roll everything into one for a bright, shining festive memory of a typical British Christmas – a Bright shining but very comforting lie.

Over the years I think I’ve stopped pursuing the traditional British Christmas. Try explaing Christmas crackers to the French. Try and get them to eat Christmas pudding or Christmas cake … IMPOSSIBLE. There are no French Christmas carols as we know Carols in Britain – well the French never had Dickens and the Victorians seem to have given us most of our traditions and elevated the festival to cult status.

December 2013

4 – WRAPPING UP

Monday morning (22/12)/2013) down my local watering hole – the Nemrod – bar, tabac, presse and betting shop – buy your cigs, have a few beers, buy a newspaper and even bet on the horses – what a civilised place.

« You broken up then ? » asks Didier, (le patron) as he plonks a cup of coffee and a packet of 20 Marlboro lights down on the counter.

« Broken up ???? » Queries I. « Well when I left the house half an hour ago I was still in a long term, stable and loving relationship with my better half, but, if you are referring to the festive blip – yes, I have broken up. »

And as I stand propping up the bar sipping my strong coffee, I feel relieved that we have made it to the end of another year and for the next few days all I have to do is sit and gorge myself on festive victuals as only the French know how.

Into town for Christmas shopping. I’ve left it late this year. Start with a saunter round the Christmas market. The usual ecclectic mix of unfestive crap that you would never dream of giving and certainly hate to receive. Who buys their nearest and dearest hand made scented soap for Christmas. First and foremost their is the pleasure of giving – I wouldn’t give this crap to anyone – a total waste of money, and, if a présent is an expression of love or friendship – well there are quite a few things on this market that would be a pretext for breaking up.

« Happy Christmas darling, this is for you. » and as the better half unwraps her pottery vase / scented soap / hand-painted teapot /Peruvian shawl … consternation, feigned pleasure and one more waste of money présent that would even shift on e-Bay.

And that’s another new phenomenon – seling your unwanted prsents on e-bay coming Boxing Day. Give someone a present they want or just give them money

So, what are the French giving each ther for Christmas ?

This year’s biggest sellers in France are smart phones and thse do-everything tactile tablet things – an i-pad for mum and dad and a VTech Storio tablet for the littl’uns. In all, the French are reckoned to spend 2 billion Euros on high tech gadgetry tgis Christmas

Best-selling kids toy is not the Teksta digital puppy , but the Furby. So ar 1.4 million of the big-eared, bug-eyed geeky digital gonks have been sold in France in the run up the Christmas. This ghastly gonk can sing, dance, laugh and (according to the ad I am reading) « relay its inner emotions via it s eyes » which are equipped with mini LCD screens. And I bet after al that, come Christmas day, the kids will cast the freaky Furby in a far corner of the room as thet play with the wrapping. Folliwing the démise of the Beybalde spinning top craze, it is the Furby that has saved the Hasbro toy company from oblivion.

Now, for the gentlemen reading this, you may be living with the real fear that you are getting a sweater for Christmas. I have noticed in France at least that those awful chunky knit reindeer sweaters are back in fashion – however the « in » garment for this Christmas is the cachmere sweater. Ladies, this is the absolute MUST for the man in your life. You can pick up a real cachmere pullover from 70 Euros upwards, though Japanese clothing retaiers Uniqulo sell a cachmere « mix » for around 30 Euros. Top notch French sweater maker Eric Bompard have so far sold 180,000 cachmere sweaters in the run-up to Christmas.

One présent that has fallen off everyone’s Christmas list this year is the « Box » – the Smartbiox or the Wonderbox – you must have seen them. For upwards of 100 Euros or so, you can buy the love of your life the expérience of a lifetime, be it hurtling round a race track in a Ferrari, eating in a top gourmet restaurant, or ballooning over the Château of the Loire. Sounds great, but for experience I know that a hot air balloon ride over the Chteaux of the Loire is going to set you back more than 100 Euros. Anyway, it seems that quite a few people were disappointed with the « expérience of a lifetime » – it would appear that hurtling round a race track in a Ferrari was no more than a ride in a simulator, and as for that gourmet restaurant – well for the 50 or so Euros the « box » cost, you only got a starter abd had to add on the rest.

Ah well, I hope you like what you get, or you get what you desreve or you even desserve what you get. Know that the average French expenditure on presents is just over 300 Euros per person. In this most gourmet of nation’s, food accounts for an average spend of 175 Euros per person – yeah, you’d think that the French would be spending more on food than gifts.

Oh well, enough on presents, I’d better go and wrap mine.

December 2013