Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Eve’
After helping to clean out the hens this morning I headed for the shops. Old habits die hard and I still leave my present-buying until Christmas Eve. Not a sensible practice in this bustling age and as I was swept along by the hordes I spotted young people sitting despairingly on the pavement. Presumably they are part of the abject poor on whom ministers of the coalition pour forth much venom. If it weren’t for food banks, soup kitchens, charities and volunteers the lot of such victims would be grimmer still. I found myself wondering what Jesus would think of Christmas now.
This is, we are constantly reminded, an age of austerity. By comparison with recent times it is, but I find my mind going back to earlier times when people seemed happier and more compassionate, a time when Christmas Eve was a magical day, when children hung up their stockings in anticipation of gifts that today would be regarded as trivia one throws into the basket at the check-out.
For many years I regularly visited an elderly lady in a nearby nursing home. Whilst chatting I invariably noticed a doll which sat on Grace’s bedside cupboard. One Christmas Eve Grace told me the story of her ever-present companion, Alice.
Grace lay back and closed her eyes and talked softly of a December 24th back in the 1920s. It was, she recalled, a cold but clear night. As she finally succumbed to sleep she thought she heard sleighbells gently ringing in the frosty air. She slept. When she awoke dawn was breaking, and as she sat up in bed she saw a beautiful doll resting on the foot of the bed.
There and then she named it Alice and it has travelled a long journey with her, has shared her joys and sorrows. Right up until she died in her 92nd year Grace always regarded Christmas Eve as a magical day. As she grew up her parents never explained how they had managed to afford that present of a lifetime. It had, they insisted, appeared as if by magic.
That Christmas Eve when Grace finally told me the story was her last. The thing I most remember was her insistence that only small children can experience the magic of the most magical of all days. Once they pass the age of belief in Santa the magic disappears and grown ups, she said, should set aside their own Christmas activities to point the way, to sit with their children and to open their minds to sleighbells that only children can hear.
We grandparents, parents, and anyone responsible for putting small charges to bed tonight should pause and remember that we can stimulate a magic that they will always recall. Only a few years are available, today is one of them.
Sadly hens still require feeding and cleaning on Christmas Day, so all the names of the various chicken-keepers went into Albert’s cap and out came the unlucky pair. As a result Tommy and I have just spent an hour or so chasing over a hundred hens around. Once I have typed this we will be heading for home to unwrap our new ties and socks before heading back to boil spuds and bran.
And we will be back again at 5.00pm to carry out the anti-fox routines before settling down to family get-togethers. By now the wrapping paper will be sky-high and few will remember who gave what to whom. But merry we will be and will remain so until we see our credit card statements.
Meantime, on behalf of all of us codgers, can I thank you for all your support over the past year and wish you and yours a very happy Christmas. I shall be back tomorrow but on this unique day of goodwill to all men shall refrain from so much as a comment on all those who continue to mess up Britain.
On what is above all else a day for the children, may all your troubles be little ones!
ANSWERS TO THE CHRISTMAS EVE QUIZ; 1. Mary, Queen of Scots 2. Mark Owen 3. Sizes of paper 4. The Dukes of Hazzard 5. John Reid 6. Simnel cake 7. Gary Numan 8. Arsenal 9. Meryl Streep 10. French and English
When you reach my age almost every day is much the same as any other. I say almost because today has always felt special. The likelihood is that, like me, you remember lying awake wondering if Santa was near. Somehow I always seemed to be asleep when he actually arrived, but the sheer magic of seeing that pillowcase at the foot of the bed confirmed that he had been.
For many years I didn’t mention these memories, rough and tough chicken-keepers have surely put aside such childish matters. And then some years ago now I began to visit an elderly lady in a nearby nursing home. Whenever I called I noticed an attractive doll on her bedside cabinet, but it was at the first Christmas of our freindship that she told me the story of Alice, her golden-haired lifelong companion.
Mrs Grieves leant forward that day and told me of a Christmas Eve of long ago, a time when presents were few and far between. It was a cold and frosty night and, in the pre-car age, all was still. She had no expectation of more than an orange for, following the death of her beloved Dad, she understood enough to know that money was scarce. So as she lay there she prayed for a friend, for someone to play with.
As she did so she heard a tap on her window and even thtough closed eyelids the room seemed suddenly bright. As she lay there a warm glow came over her and she lay wrapped in that state midway between being awake and asleep. And then she hear the faintest sound of sleighbells echoing across the cold night air. As they faded she slept.
When she awoke she clambered out of bed, intent on running in to Mum. It was then that she first saw Alice. The doll that was to be her lifetime’s companion, through good and sad times, was sitting on the bedside table. Of course we cynical adults believe that we know how she arrived. But my friend was adament, she was visited by an angel and, in her wake, Santa himself.
On the last Christmas that I was to see my friend she implored me to make a special effort to ensure that my grandchildren had a magical Christmas Eve. Such an experience lasts a lifetime, she insisted, and there are but a few years in which it can happen. Tell them to listen, she said, there are angels and sleighbells out there but only small people passing but briefly through the land of imagination can hear them. Only they have access to magical moments that occur but once a year and for but a few years.
Alice now lives with us and every so often I glance in her direction and wonder and wonder.
A magical Christmas Eve everyone. Chickens still need service on Christmas Day so I shall wish you a happy and blessed Christmas tomorrow.
YOUR CHRISTMAS EVE QUIZ: 1. Which Queen wrote the Casket Letters? 2. Which former Take That star had “Child” at No 3 in 1996? 3. What can be metric royal, metric demy and metric crown? 4. In which TV series was the character “Boss Hogg”? 5. Who succeeded Charles Clarke as Home Secretary ? 6. Which almond cake is traditionally made for Mothering Sunday? 7. Who had hits with “We are Glass” and “Cars”? 8. David Bentley joined Blackburn Rovers from which London club? 9. Which actress had lead roles in the films “Out of Africa” and “Silkwood”? 10. Which two European languages are spoken in Madagascar?
ANSWERS ON CHRISTMAS DAY MORNING!
Several of my allotment pals had a copy of the last ever edition of the News of the World in their pockets this morning. Some of them have been regular readers for many years and seemed genuinely sorry for the staff who have lost their jobs. Few of them had any involvement in the hacking scandal. Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch remarked that he is not in the business of pushing innocent people under buses. But that is exactly what he has done. He also stood by Rebekah Brooks who was in charge at the time of the worst excesses! That young lady appears to have powerful friends for Murdoch describes her as his ‘favourite daughter’ and the Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, referred to her by her Christian name during an interview.
As the revelations unfold one thing above all others registers on the corruption scale. We are deluged with pictures of the Blairs, Browns and Camerons mingling constantly with the Murdoch clan. It seems that nothing was too much trouble for the disciples of the great man. We tend to imagine the United States system as corrupt, an assumption based on Nixon. But there the realtionship between politicians and media is a distinctly remote one. The kind of socialising that we see regularly here would be seen as improper. And it would be impossible to imagine Obama spending his Christmas Eve at the home of a press baron in the way that the Camerons did with Rebekah Brooks.
To the surprise of many, one politician has broken ranks by openly declaring war on the Murdoch empire. Ed Miliband initially demanded Brooks’ resignation and received warnings from Murdoch’s men that he would be targetted come the next election. Many of his MPs flinched at this, the longer-serving had been brought up to understand that keeping in with the all-powerful was crucial. But now he has gone one step further by launching a Commons bid this week to suspend the planned takeover of BSkyB until after the criminal investigation into phone hacking is complete – a process that could well take years.
The vote will be held on Wednesday, the day on which the Opposition sets the business of the Commons. On such a day, even if Miliband wins, it is not legally binding on Cameron and Hunt, the culture secretary. However the political fall-out from defying the House in support of Murdoch would be devastating. It is therefore safe to assume that what happens on Wednesday will destroy or endorse Murdoch’s ambition to control the greater part of the British media. So we at last have a clear test of just how deep the corruption runs.
The pundits believe that Miliband may well attract support from a lot of Liberal and Tory MPs. They may be proved wrong if Cameron and Clegg cobble together an escape route. One favourite might be to argue that approval of the deal should only be based on media plurality. Another might be some supposed concession or other offered by Murdoch. Despite his gaffe in declaring Andy Coulson to be a close friend, Cameron is a clever political operator and anything could happen. But the simple truth is that unless he and his ministers vote for the Miliband proposal they are deep in Murdoch’s pockets.
There are those in the Opposition who doubt the wisdom of what Miliband is doing and without doubt the new seven days per week Sun will be a dangerous enemy. But he appears to be that rare thing, a politician who is not prepared to be bought off. Without doubt were he able to deliver a majority demanding suspension of the takeover this would be a major rebuff for Murdoch. And that means that Cameron has to stop it to avoid also incurring the tycoon’s wrath. But on the other hand he risks incurring the wrath of the electorate which is repelled by what has happened.
Of course things are moving fast and almost anything could happen between now and Wednesday. Maybe even Miliband will lose his nerve. But whatever happens we will at last know exactly who is really dancing to the tune of an organisation that allowed the most appalling behaviour in the history of British newspapers!
Wednesday just could be not merely the end of the Murdoch dream of total power. It could also be the moment at which an historic clean-up of British politics began. One suspects that, even as I type, frantic talks are taking place between News Corp and its political lackeys!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A NEW PUB QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It seemed odd to be carrying water to the allotment this morning, rather like taking coals to Newcastle. The sudden thaw has converted snowdrifts into lakes. We always knew this would be the eventual outcome but wait a moment. Phil had his radio on and the weather forecast told us to expect a return to Scott of the Antarctic come tomorrow night. At least it prompted me to go up to te Sales for a pair of boots heavy enough to put Rooney out of action for a month. It has to be admitted that this long period of appalling weather has begun to rattle us.
On Christmas Eve one of our members had a family funeral. It was a bad enough experince for Alec and his clan without the added burden of having to walk behind the coffin for the final stretch to the town centre church. Even there the council has failed to make any effort to clear the pavements or side-roads. The government has threatened the airport authorities with fines for inadequate ice-clearance, perhps they should extend this idea to local authorities!
But the coalition probably has other things on its mind, not least today’s opinion poll which shows that after six months of Conservative/Lib Dem rule the 58% that thought the idea of a coalition a good one has shrunk dramatically. Now only 43% give it their support. Within the coalition the Tory vote has held up well but the Lib Dems have almost vansihed off the public radar. If an election was held tomorrow The Miliband family would take over which I guess tells us just how poorly the Cameron/Clegg set-up is regarded.
Apart from the seemingly endless revelations about the feelings of Lib Dem MPs toward the coalition, its biggest problem is that it resembles a town hall clock. It has various faces and the hands are spinning. Today we hear of a U-turn on free books for children. This followed an attack by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who described the decision to end the £13 million grant which funds a book-gifting programme for disadvantaged children as the behaviour of Scrooge at his worst. Others joined in the barrage over the Christmas break including Ian McEwan, author of Atonement. He said that programmes such as this are our only hope of measuring ourselves as a mature and thoughtful society. A U-turn, he said, would be an honourable choice. No sooner said than done. Michael Gove interrupted his holiday to arrange the latest about-face.
Only three days earlier the government had to backtrack on its decision to end funding for school sports.That was another mean-minded decision made without consultation or regard for the consequences. And every week brings another reversal. One suspects that the tactic is to name every service for termination and then to await reactions. If that is the plan it is a disastrous one politically as shown by the polls. A less charitable explanation is that Gove, Lansley and company haven’t a clue.
Either way the simple fact remains that all these small amounts shrink to total insgnificance when compared to handouts to Ireland and other in-trouble Euro users. How we could afford to suddenly produce up to £10 billion is beyond the mental grasp of mere mortals.
All the signs are that the coalition is in a nosedive. On January 13th we will find out just how steep this is. At the general election the Lib Demmer was within a hundred-odd votes of the subequently banned Woolas. So they should walk it this time around, not least because Cameron has banned all active support of the Tory candiudate. If they don’t win we can expect a revolt by over half of the sitting Lib Dem parliamentarians. And bang goes the coalition.
We shall see and it is posssible to pull out of a nosedive. However if some of the crew bail out that becomes less likely! Perhaps Mrs Cameron should hold back on those expensive deluxe velvet curtains!
RETAILERS UNCERTAIN ABOUT PROSPECTS!
I can never fathom why people are prepared to queue throughout Boxing day night to join the mad stampede when the doors open for the Sales. Yes there are a few tempters that go quickly but most of the cut-price goods have been purchsed as such and stocks usually last out the sale.
Be that as it may it cannot be denied that yesterday’ numbers were encouraging for retailers who failed to do record sales in the lead up to the great day. But we have to remember that businesses ultimately survive or otherwise according to profits related to investments. Items in the sales are not to any significant extent profitable. The big test will come in the new year when shoppers face the VAT increase plus rising unemployment and uncertainty.
Right now some large companies are less than optimistic and the sight of hordes snapping up low-profit bargains will not have shifted their plans for extreme investment caution.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Lewis Casson 2. Alison Uttley
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon announce their seperation? 2. Who was elected mayor of New York in 1977?
Bitterly cold this morning but for once there were no complaints for today is Christmas Eve. It may sound ridiculous but even at our venerable ages many of us still associate magic with this day of all days. I guess I was about eight years old when on Christmas morning I awoke to find a fort. The war was on and how my parents acquired such a thing I know not but I can still recapture the thrill of surveying my gift from Santa. In some mysterious way that letter had reached the north pole!
An even more poignant memory was regularly related to me over the many years that I used to visit an elderly lady in a nursing home. Sadly she has gone now and I often wonder what became of Jenny. Jenny was a doll and I always noticed her sitting in pride of place on the bedside cabinet. On a Christmas Eve several years ago my friend told me the story of Jenny, her lifetime companion. She used it to illustrate her concern that the most magical night of the year has become “too noisy, for noise destroys magic”
My friend was a lady of self understanding and loved to recall that long-gone night when everything was clothed in snow and she hung up her stocking and put in the hearth a sherry for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph. In those times children expected little in the way of presents but as she went to bed the little girl was told that Santa might bring something very special as reward for all her good behaviour. Sleep was hard to come by and eventually Mum read of ‘Christmas Eve when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. As her eyelids became heavy Mum told her to listen for bells tinkling through the frosty calm.
Memory can play tricks but my friend always declared that, as she finally entered the land of Nod, she heard reindeer bells. Then all was quiet. She awoke early and sitting by her bed was the loveliest doll she had ever seen, in fact it bore a remarkable likeness to one she had often admired as she passed the local ‘pram shop’. There and then she named it Jenny and by her bedside it has always remained. Her long life of joys and sorrows were shared by a friend who never waivered.
I had young grandchildren at the time and Margaret always implored me to make a huge effort to help make their Christmas Eve a magical experience. “Only children up to the age of eight or nine can hear the sleighbells and sense the magic” she would say. “Turn off the modern gadgets and listen with them. The years fly by and before you know where you are it will be too late for them to experience something that will last a lifetime” was her final plea.
Tonight also promises to be an icy and silent one. If you have small children do remember Margaret and Jenny. You may scoff at sherry and carrots but that is because you are too old to hear sleighbells in the snow. But for those who qualify they are out there ringing for true believers.
A very happy Christmas!
ASHES TEST; CAN ENGLAND RECOVER?
The 4th Test begins at Melbourne on Boxing Day. A gate of 100,ooo is expected and the younger England players may find that daunting. But the promotion of Ian Bell should help for he has developed nerves of steel. The pitch may offer some turn but will not be as helpful to paceman Mitchell Johnson as was the Perth version.
There is little doubt that England has the talent to beat this Australian side but much will depend on the performance of the top five batsmen. Any repeat of the suicidal flashing outside the off stump could mean curtains.
Surely we won’t repeat those schoolboy errors. Will we?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The 1976 Nobel prize for peace. 2. South Africa
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which British prince gained a degree in history at Cambridge? 2. Which political leader’s wife Caroline was killed in a road accident in 1970? (ANSWERS TOMORROW. CHRISTMAS DAY)
No ice of note for the third morning as we sorted out the chickens. The allotment has quite a Christmassy feel to it and I am not referring to the scraggy looking paperchains that Albert has draped along the shed roof. It is Mother Nature that is providing the seasonal backdrop. The trees have a lot of ivy clinging to their barks and in front of them are two large holly trees. I have never seen so many bright blood-red berries. If they survive the birds for another nine days we shall be getting the secreteurs out. We also have some mistletoe, the product of some grafting performed some years ago by Tom, but at our age we won’t be culling that.
All of which reminds me of the festive seasons of my youth. My self understanding warns me that distance lends enchantment but I do remember that it seemed a very relaxed time, far less stressful than is the case today. I am not going back to those supposedly magical days when every child had an orange and little else in their stockings, they sound horrendous. No, we had presents but fewer, and we seemed to treasure them more. A new book was something to covet but that is hard today when the kids have lots all year round. And our parents could only buy what they could produce the cash for, often they paid into a Christmas Club. So there were no credit card crises looming for the New Year.
But the thing I most remember is going into town with my Gran on Christma Eve to get the wherewithal for the special meals and treats. Yes, Christmas Eve! And the shopping for presents all took place during Christmas week, in fact the shops only received their stocks eight days before. I guess the result of all that was that even those old ‘uns inclined to get hassled had very little time in which to do so.
Another aspect that comes to my mind even after sixty odd years is the series of parties that many families held. In our case we had one at home and two away and they rotated year by year. Supper was a real treat; spam and mash followed by blancmange (this was soon after the war). Card games and pass-the-parcel dominated the evenings and everyone became involved with each other and very merry, something that doesn’t happen when the gathering is staring at a screen.
It would of course be stupid of me to argue that times were better then, they most certainly were not. But there are maybe lessons to be learned. Because Christmas is their big earner the shops start it earlier each year. The result is not merely that we spend more than we can afford but also that by the time Christmas actually arrives most people are sick of it. Back in late Septemeber a cash-out lady told me that she was already weary of listening to King Wenceslas, by now she is probably hiring a hit-man!
Christmas always was, and always will be, a magical time for small children. But now it seems that they alone delight in it. A lady in the hospital waiting room recently told me that it is the one time in the year when she feels stressed “to her eyeballs”. She is not alone. Perhaps we should all resolve to put aside the cash that we can afford and only spend it during the ten days befire the big day. It won’t happen I know, but if it did the commercialisation would be curbed.
The original idea was a break in the long cold winter. Given this year’s forecast, it seems a great pity that we cannot restore Christmas to its former twinkling, magical delight. We needn’t go as far as Albert in using old decorations that probably hung during the Boer Wa,r but it would be nice to recapture some of the real joy and love that once was there.
IS PICKLES GETTING IN A PICKLE?
I confess to being a bit of a fan of the larger-than-life Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles. He usually calls a spade a spade and could be relied upon to start a fight in an empty telephone box. A bit like Neil Warnock, another of my ever reducing list of heroes. But this time he has me bemused.
Yesterday he announced that local parish councils are to receive sweeping powers previously held by Whitehall or County Councils. He made clear that they will not be allowed to form their own militias which is a relief to those who already fear ‘mad Jack’ of our local version, but anything else goes.
They can grant planning permission given the support of the community, can set up a bank, take over a library or leisure centre or run a bus service. In fact their powers are little short of those enjoyed by Barack Obama. But how will it all work and who will do so much on a voluntary unpaid basis?
I realise that the council portrayed on The Vicar of Dibley was a church council but I confess that some of the parish councils I know comprise similar people plus a few talented folk who can spare little time. The idea of their setting up a bank does seem a little way out. Presumably they would go out to tender and Barclays (whose manager is the village Mannering) would win the contract. But wouldn’t they then be back to square one?
I mock only because I haven’t the faintest idea what big Eric means. I hope he doesn’t read this ‘cos he knows where I live!
YESTERDAYS QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Clive Dunn 2. George Harrison
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Kobayashji-Berger-Milon was discovered in 1975. What is it? 2. Which company introduced the Walkman in 1979?