Crossing Fingers

Ready for Christmas? Those words ought to be outlawed at all times, but especially as it draws towards the 25th of December. I know most people are just making conversation and don’t mean anything by it but under normal circs, doing anything for Christmas? is vastly preferable to the potentially panic-inducing alternative. But! this year I can be frightfully smug because we are in fact ready for Christmas. The food is bought, the cards are sent, the presents are wrapped or posted and the tree is up and lit. Of course it helps that this year things are particularly low-key: apart from my nephew popping over on Christmas Eve we won’t be seeing anyone, and Christmas lunch will be a fairly pared-down affair. We’ve got a few nice snacks and treats and a bottle of wine, but that’s it – we’ve not gone overboard and you know what? It’s actually much better. This year I’ve adopted the attitude that what we haven’t got we can do without, especially bearing in mind that this time next year we’ll probably be dining like Bob Cratchit and family because nothing will get through the stupid borders that this ridiculous government has insisted on negotiating. Oven-ready, my arse!

Deep, calming breaths… and now it’s time for another TV review. If you want to read my past TV reviews you can click the category TV Reviews in the category cloud to the right of this post. Today I’m going to discuss the excellent Steve McQueen series Small Axe comprising five separate stories dealing with the West Indian immigrant experience in the 1960’s. I was reluctant to view them at first because I thought they might be violent or horribly upsetting – the same reason I don’t watch films about the Holocaust – but there was a hopefulness to these programmes which counterbalanced the awfulness of their situation. But in the end what made them watchable was the completely different rhythm of the drama. I spent the first hour of episode 1, The Mangrove, wondering when something was going to happen; life went on, and on, and on; people came to the cafe and left, the police raided it and arrested people, then things went back to normal. This happened over and over until the last hour when a stand-off with police ended in a long trial and ultimate acquittal. The dramas are not all the same length: The Mangrove was over two hours and the trial scene seemed endless, but I think that’s Steve McQueen’s point; he wants you to feel it. He wants you to get inside that experience and know what it’s like, not just by seeing but by living it, in what almost feels like real time. That’s certainly true of Episode 2, Lovers Rock, where nothing at all happens for a whole night. People go to a party. There are men and women and DJ’s with a sound system. And the music. Oh, the music! It gets right into your bones and as the camera goes round and round you start to feel that you’re in the centre of the action, dancing and smooching, going round and round and on and on. There are no real central characters here; the party is the character, the action is the character and the more it goes on the more you start to feel in that dreamlike state that constitutes a good night out. True, in the middle there’s a mini-drama as a man tries to rape a woman in the garden, but he’s discovered, the rape is prevented and the man ejected from the party. It ends with a woman who we’ve sort of vaguely followed walking home with a man she’s met and danced with. They say goodbye, she points to a phone box and says ‘I’ll phone you tomorrow. 5 pm. This phone box.’ Then she climbs in an upstairs window and into bed fully-dressed; a moment later her mum knocks on the door and says ‘Get ready for church!’ And that’s the end.

Other episodes centre on a black man’s attempt to change the police force from within and a black prisoner who is helped by a Rastafarian cellmate to change his life. The final one, which I watched last night, concerns the black child’s experience in education and how they frequently ended up being classed as ESN (Educationally Sub-Normal) and sent to special schools. But here too there is hope as black campaigners infiltrate the school and to compensate for its woeful inadequacies, set up their own Saturday school.

Many things have changed since then but it’s clear to see that racism still exists; all too many police officers see a fist-bump between black men as a drug deal and a black man driving a BMW as a thief. And don’t get me started on this government…

So, after all that, why am I crossing my fingers? Because the car is being MOT’d. For some reason whenever the car goes into the garage I feel as if my whole life is under the microscope being rendered up for inspection. ‘Why did you break the speed limit on 24th November? What were you doing in Doncaster in August? And why haven’t you topped up the water?’ These questions run on in my sub-conscious, but my main concern is getting a phone call saying it’s failed the MOT and needs something huge and horribly expensive done to make it roadworthy again.

Ah well. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Kirk out

The Ghost of Christmases Past

The tree is up and decorated, the presents bought, the cards written, the carols on the boil and I’m starting to feel a tiny bit like Christmas. That didn’t seem possible a week or two ago; I was feeling terribly gloomy and uninspired but it generally creeps in about the beginning of December. We’re not having any family get-togethers this year because of the pandemic, but will be zooming or skyping on the day. Food is coming together; we’ll be having the usual nut roast with sausages etc though probably a fairly pared-down version. Lunch will be eaten with the Aged P (a rather less benign version of Dickens’ character) and later we will hang out with the Son and possibly nephew with an assortment of snacks and dips. So that’s all good.

I guess every family has its Christmas rituals. We do generally watch the Queen just in case she says something this year, but also because watching the Queen is something we do every year. It’s easy to decry this type of ritual as empty and meaningless but it’s reassuring, particularly in dark times, to do the same things every year; it knits together the past and the present. Of course you can get stuck in ritual and become resistant to change; it shouldn’t take over your life, but I think it’s a mistake to dispense with it altogether. There’s something in our nature that requires it.

I’ve blogged before about Christmas when I was a child; the compulsory church, the oven lit and the turkey put inside at some ungodly hour, the vegetables prepared the day before, the glass of sherry before dinner, the huge oak-veneer table in the dining room brought out and a dozen chairs put round. We always hosted Christmas as no-one else had a house big enough and it was the only time we ever used the huge, dusty dining room as it was normally a repository for our mother’s embroidery projects. She did at one point have visions of turning it into some sort of salon – in the 18th-century sense, not in the hairdressing sense – and painted the walls turquoise with a gold frieze and even bought a turquoise chaise-longue to go in it – but that was as far as it got. As far as renovations went that vicarage was a hopeless cause and has now been reinvented as a block of flats. It’s a strange feeling to go round the drive and see a quartet of doorbells bristling in the porch where our one clanging bell used to sit; I always have the urge to ring every bell and tell people they’re squatting on my memories and should leave immediately.

The dining room had a hatch for serving food; when the house was built the kitchen would have been the repository for servants and the scullery a hell-hole of steam on wash days.

After lunch there was of course the washing-up, though thankfully most of it went in the dishwasher; then the grown-ups went for a rest while we hung around bored and speculating on what our presents would be. As children we got stocking presents in the morning (usually around 4 am) but had to wait until the afternoon for our main presents. This struck me as a cruel and unusual punishment, to be forced to hang around till everyone had finished napping and come downstairs and then give out presents one at a time – no frantic ripping of paper for us – in a ritualised manner. After the presents there would be tea and cake – Christmas cake, obvs – then (this never ceases to amuse me when I think about it) the adults would go upstairs to change into evening wear – a shirt and tie for the men, long skirts or dresses for the women – and we would play parlour games. Actually I quite enjoyed this part – we’d play charades or squeak, piggy squeak until it was time for supper. But – here’s the shocker – at no time did the TV go on during the whole of Christmas Day!

Now there’s cruel and unusual punishment.

There; I got completely diverted. But as far as Christmases go the past is definitely more interesting than the present.

Kirk out