the brilliantly leaping gazelle

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 13

One thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – is the queen.

Granted, the queen and the very idea of a monarchy existing – not just existing, but flourishing – in the second decade of the twenty first century is frankly totally immoral. But all that aside for one moment, the reason why the queen really waxes my woody at christmas more than any other time of the year is because she’s somehow exempt from the harsh realities that other welfare claimants experience. Although she doesn’t actually have to claim it, we – well the government – just hand it over.

Doesn’t she ever think ‘ Well I’ve got lots of empty bedrooms at my many palaces, castles, estates and houses, it might be nice for me to give something back for once, rather than taking the whole time, by opening them up to the homeless this christmas. Its immoral that I have such vast unearned wealth and a life of taxpayer funded privilege whilst so many have so little In fact, lets go the whole hog and open all the royal residences for shelter and accommodation for the homeless at Christmas. I should set an example, after all, if indeed charity begins at home, I’ve got enough homes to be charitable with.”

I mean, when former Mancester United footballers turned hoteliers are making you look bad occupying the moral high ground, then you need to question your principles.

But no-one calls her out on this. None of the Labour party leadership, do and as far as I tell it’s a non-issue on social media, which is odd because this is precisely the sort of issue which is time sensitive, fits easily into a charitable narrative, can galvanise people to effect positive change for the most vulnerable in our society and which everyone involved can feel good about. If any political leader really believed in social justice, as they all claim to do, they might consider this christmas dealing with the very real social injustice of homelessness.

I’ve written about this craven obsequiousness before, about how she gets an increase in the money we just give her and how we – at a time of austerity for everyone else, when use of food banks is on the rise, when the rollout of Universal Credit is hitting families hard – are paying for the renovation of one of her palaces.

 

Her credit is universal it seems.

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 12

One thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – is news. Or rather the trimmed down version of news that I get.

I write ‘I’ because I’m not so arrogant as to believe that everyone else believes that television news isn’t proper news – it uses lazy, often clichéd imagery to save the reporter from providing a coherent explanation into whatever item is deemed worthy of a three-minute inclusion.

By proper news I mean radio news, and by radio I mean Radio 4.The news on the radio is basically designed for people who’ve been paying attention to things and can retain previously imparted knowledge. This isn’t me being condescending either; watch the ‘Six O’clock News’ on BBC1 and then listen to the same days ‘Six O’clock New’ on Radio 4 on iPlayer. You’ll find it vastly superior in every way, unless you’re a mental pygmy.

However, news is trimmed back, somehow not as important at christmas than for the rest of the year for some wholly inexplicable reason. Does news happen if there’s no-one to report it? Has something actually happened? The news over christmas is neatly packaged into ten minute slots, which is insult enough, but then to add injury to it they use some of that precious time foe ‘sports news’: an oxymoron if ever there was one! It’s bad enough that the undisputed excellence of ‘Today in Parliament’ isn’t on, but going without ‘The World Tonight’ well, that’s just not on.

I should come clean about the only time I’ve written to Radio 4 to complain. A new controller had come in, and in order to signal his determination to shake things up, he’d changed ‘The Archers’ place in the schedules and in so doing, had taken fifteen minutes off ‘The World At One’ There was uproar, but only because he’d moved ‘The Archers” To me, the news is just like a soap opera, albeit one for people who want to keep informed.

But this christmas is going to be even worse than usual for news, following Monday’s ignominious goings on in Parliament. For ever since the public decided that yes, we’d rather like to be shot of the E.U, the BBC has had a succession of self-inflating windbags discussing how much of a disaster it will be. I mean, has anyone explained in clearly understandable language that an adult of average intelligence might comprehend exactly how and why the current proposal is so bad? Quite possibly it is, but equally possibly it may not

The BBC has been recently promoting the idea that the public have somehow shot themselves in the foot. Yesterday was a good example of this, discussing the consequences of something to do with Brexit. I think how a second referendum might happen was one of them, a general election another, and the sky falling in an increasingly likely possibility, despite the fact that, as far as I can tell, the only people who want a second referendum are the people who lost the first one. Guardian readers, who believe in democracy, but only if it gives the result they want.

I used to marvel the mindset of families and friends who’d fallen out because of the bitter divisions the Scottish Referendum unleashed.

Not any more.

Is news.

 

 

 

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 11

One thing that annoys me about christmas – and there are many – are poorly dressed christmas trees.

By that I mean christmas tree’s that decorated only where the tree is to be visible, meaning that if is front of a wall, then the back of it won’t be and depending upon how visible the sides will be, that will determine their fate. Think of a lazy man who only irons the front part of a shirt, hoping that he’ll have no reason to take his jacket off. It’s the same twisted logic and it raises the most glaringly obvious question, ‘Why not just buy a much smaller tree if that’s all the decorations you have?’

A few years ago I was in America at christmas and had always worked on the assumption – based on childhood expeditious – that dressing the tree involved untangling the ball of lights, some swearing when you realized some of the bulbs had blown on the lights, then realizing the tinsel was a bit threadbare but it was all you had, that some of the baubles were cracked, and that no matter how much taffeta you threw at the problem, it was still a problem. They did things differently.

So differently. Think of the difference between a Pot Noodle and a really juicy steak. That’s not even close.

For a start there was no alcohol involved! And all of the decorations had been carefully put back in their box from last christmas. Everything was calm, they went about things in a well rehearsed, ordered manner. This threw me, almost as much as having the tree dressed in the middle of their enormous living room, not only because it afforded them access to all parts of it, but also to put the decorations deep into the tree. Not on the surface, were they mad? And it wasn’t a rush job either, it took up most of the evening because every so often they would stand back and gaze upon their handiwork and critique it. Because it mattered, they saw it as an indication of what they were like as people. Visitors, if they were so minded, might draw conclusions about them based upon the tree.

This had never occurred to me before. What did my parents effort say about them?

The misanthrope’s advent calendar- day 10

Another thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – are handmade gifts.

Because unless the person who gave you the gift makes a living out of selling said item,  or is  a child aged under ten, they are nothing more than a hobbyist, and therefore the potential for it to be a bit rubbish increases. No matter how much they might say ‘I made it especially for you.’ it won’t dispel the feeling of being royally stitched up, if thinking ‘This is all very nice and everything. I can see the time and effort you’ve put into making this, whatever it is. But we do have shops that sell things’.

Of course my antipathy towards handmade presents is in no way related to my own experience some years ago. How could it be? I only got the constituent parts required to make the item – balls of wool to make the jumper – not the jumper itself mind but a promise it would be finished for next christmas. That was at least five years ago. I’ve lost count. The jumper has attained for me a mythical status, a bit like Petrocelli’s house.

‘Petrocelli’ was an American crime show many years ago. The relevance to the jumper is that our hero lived in a caravan in the desert and at the end of show, he would explain how he cracked the case whilst building his house, brick by brick. That we never saw him finish his house is the point here, it became as more of an intentional aspiration than an actual reality. Of course I’m aware that the chances of the jumper now ever becoming an actual reality have been greatly diminished by posting this, but as I wrote some moments ago, ‘it won’t dispel the feeling of being royally stitched up.’

Or not, in my unmade jumper’s case.

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 9

One of the things I hate about christmas – and there are many – are homemade decorations.

To me– and anyone else with an I.Q. larger than the radius of their kneecap – homemade decorations are an inherent contradiction. Yes, they may well look homemade, but in no way are they decorative. To be so generous as to call them decorative, they must either have been made by a small child of no more than nine years or…actually I can’t think of anyone else. Homemade decorations are are made by people who think they’re Kirstie Allsopp just because they watched ‘Blue Peter’ as a child and and are delusional in their belief  that some tinsel, some coat-hangers and some candles won’t create a fire risk, but will make an attractive decoration. There must’ve been millions of parents years ago, who in December would hear the words ‘Just ask your parents to step out of the room now,, with a feeling of dread. Those children have, unfortunately, a belief that something homemade is imbued with an integrity, is somehow more worthy than something bought.

Worthy of being burnt before befouling peoples eyes, actually.

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 8

One thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – are christmas dinners.

This requires some context, as technically, it isn’t the dinner itself, but who I eat it with that gives rise to some uncharitable thoughts.

Now this one, although it originated in my childhood, has become so much a part of my psyche that it applies not only to christmas dinner but to any meal, where an elderly person I hardly know, eats in front of me.

Every Christmas, from when I was old enough to be aware of such things and up until she didn’t, my great aunt Dora would come to stay with us for the duration and boy, did it feel like we were under duress. She was about as child-friendly as a scorpion and just as venomous. Me and my brother hated her visiting, it gave us another reason to hate christmas. I doubt that my father had much time for her and to make matters worse, I now know that my mum wasn’t overly fond of her either.  But we were all she had in England and – in your best Eastenders growl – ‘she was family’

Anyway Dora wore dentures and was not only not the best at applying them securely, but was seemingly unconcerned when they wriggled free either. This resulted in her being a messy eater and because of this that me and brother would try to sit in the seat next to where she would always sit for dinner well in advance of any meal. Even if just before the meal you were bursting to go to the toilet, you’d try and style it out until the meal had started and then go. I can’t begin to describe the lengths me and my brother went to not to face her at meals, but also to try and make sure the other one did.

Anyway one Christmas dinner – well in my recollection it is – for some reason I was facing her. Naturally my brother was solicitous with the gravy, asking her if she wanted more, as indeed I would’ve been had the roles been reversed. I was sat directly opposite her and had to pretend that her eating doesn’t now make me think of Mr. Creosote, but then was just disgusting. Mums cooking was bad enough as it was, without her adding to the chaos.

It was only then that I became aware of the facial hair on her chin, I must’ve blocked out that particular horror, but at the point I remember noticing was the point some the gravy escaped her mouth and began slowly snaking around her hairs, like an especially languid snake. It was as never ending as it was revolting. Meals with her at the table had been bad enough before, but now they were infinitely worse, the waiting, the dread, always waiting, never quite sure if this was the one. Meals now became like a culinary Russian roulette.

Thankfully, she died soon after that.

I know that may sound  harsh and a other more condemnatory epithets, but honestly, when I was ten the only feeling I had at hearing of her death was one of relief that I wouldn’t have to watch her eat.

My mum now lives in a sheltered housing complex, and the managers wife cooks a christmas dinner, which by all accounts is rather great, and to which she always invites me. However, whilst the prospect of watching one elderly person messily eat was bad enough, the thought of sitting amidst hordes of elderly strangers eating is hardly appetising.

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 7

One of the things I hate about christmas – and there are many -are Christmas songs.

Before my brain injury curtailed my shopping capability, which meant I was no longer able to troll about the West End and to faff aimlessly in Covent Garden as I used to, one way in which I measured my success in christmas shopping was by how long I’d managed to avoid Slades ‘ perennially awful So here it is, Merry Christmas’. Noddy Holders scream of ‘It’s Christmas’ was proof enough that everyone wasn’t ‘having fun’ as was rather ambitiously claimed, but instead suffering aural torture.

I was forcibly reminded of this the other day I had to get a black cab and the cabbie had the radio tuned into a radio station playing nothing but Christmas records. For the only time in my life I wished that they were playing rock, or better still, nothing at all. However, one thing you can do with a cab is ask them to turn it off. But at the barbers today, when he was shaving me with a cut-throat razor, I thought of the old adage ‘discretion is the wisest part of valour as I considered the wisdom of asking the barber to turn off the television that was tuned to ‘Magic FM’ It was playing a ‘sleighlist’ of Christmas songs, which wasn’t so named because listening to them all would set one off on a murderous rampage. Instead with forlorn ambition matched by dogged persistence, it was hoped that pampered pop stars, singing sentimental tosh about a reality that no-one in the history of ever has experienced, might induce one to lose their reason and believe in such trumpery moonshine.

Perhaps that’s why it’s called ‘Magic FM’

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 6

 

One thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – is having pretending to children that Santa Claus exists.

This was something I’d managed to avoid for most of my adult life, by the rather cunning ruse of not having children. But now I share a house with a couple who have a delightfully excitable daughter, who, a couple of weeks ago, sat down noisily on the sofa next to me, arms folded and a face like thunder.

Being highly perceptive, I at once deduced that something was amiss and enquired what it was. “They haven’t posted my letter to Santa yet and he won’t know what I want. ” She paused. “And they haven’t addressed it properly, so he’ll never get it, and anyway, he doesn’t exist because a boy at school told me.” This pronouncement was accompanied with facial expression that clearly indicated an immediate rebuttal of this was required. Again with the perception! Sheldon would be so proud!

Much like naked Twister, this put me in a difficult position; on the one hand, I didn’t want to lie to her, but on the other, there in front of me was her beseechingly pleading face. What was the more important consideration in that moment?

Of course I could’ve said, “ Actually, he doesn’t exist, it’s your parents who buy all the presents, they just get you to write Santa a letter so they know what to get you. It’s a tough lesson I know but you’ll thank me one day. Probably not right now though.”

But then that would’ve been me merely channeling my childhood skepticism about Santa onto her. Even though as a child I had no idea what skepticism was, I never believed in Santa. Even then I knew it was my parents. The logic and reason of that were contained in the poorly wrapped offerings under the artificial tree were proof. I mean, would Santa give an eight-year-old boy a pair of socks?

So instead I said, “ Well only a few know exactly where he lives, but if they address it to Santa Claus, North Pole then the post people there send it to the post people in Greenland and they send it on to a remote village near the Arctic Circle and the postmen there know where Santa lives and they give him his mail. That’s what I heard.”

I was tempted to add, “But who do you believe, me or a boy at your school?

But then, if her parents hadn’t left the letter lying about in the first place, the whole farrago could’ve been avoided.

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 5

One of the things I hate about Christmas – and there are many – is the way in which television over the Christmas period has become so unutterably bad, it’s almost as if the commercial broadcasters have given up. It was never like this when I was a boy; I’d flick through the Christmas Radio Times, marker pen expectantly hovering over the page to circle things I’d want to watch. Everyone in my family did, knowing even as we did so, we’d never watch most of them. The main thing was to optimistically imagine that you might, until unexpected visitors and dutiful visits got in the way. Even now I can fondly recall buying packs of three-hour blank videotapes because there was just so much good stuff on. It was as if they’d been holding back the good stuff – rather like a host serving cheap wine until the liggers and relatives they never see have gone and then gets the good stuff out. And quite often BBC2 would show a season of films, over consecutive nights featuring a body of work by an actor or director. One year they did a season of Basil Rathbone’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films, another they did a season of Billy Wilder films. And let us not forget the Christmas specials!

But that, alas was long ago in my youth, when the christmas Radio Times was thinner on account of there being only four channels. That was when we had the Christmas edition of ‘Top of the Pops on at 2pm on BBC1 on christmas day, before a Bond film at 3.10 over on ITV!

That was before satellite television and the opening up of the market, to give us, the viewer, even more choice. My annual christmas ITV rant, is I like to think – but those who hear it may not agree – a considered yet restrained critique of ITV and other broadcasters who lay in the pages beyond the listings for big four (and Channel 5). One of my themes is that as advertising revenues have become so diffused – many more get a slice of a shrinking pie – less money is spent on original programming. Look at ITV’s line up for Christmas day. It’s almost as if they’re in cahoots with Amazon Prime, Netflix, and oh dear, don’t get me started…!

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 4

And another thing that annoys me about chistmas – and there are a lot – is mistletoe.

Or rather, being kissed under the mistletoe.

Oh alright then, the real reason why I don’t like mistletoe is because those slightly awkward teenage snogs everyone had under the mistletoe?

They always happened to other people. I mean presumably I could if I’d’ve wanted to, at parties where alcohol helped loosen more than tongues but even as a teenager, it was an unshakeable belief with me – and trust me, my belief did a lot of shaking! –  that teenage girls, or a tad older than me, were just as clueless about  things as I was. By the time I was in my twenties the damage had been done. I blame my parents for this, because they had deeply unattractive female fiends, some of them looked more like Edward G Robinson than Mrs. Robinson! – as a hormonal teenager I could only imagine of the fleshy pleasures Benjamin enjoyed – and who had given their daughters an unfortunate genetic inheritance; I was a hormonal teenager, and as hormonal male teenagers are wont to do, I wasn’t always thinking with my brain. Not something I had much control over,  I blame evolution!

Naturally, I was as fine a figure of manhood then as indeed I am now.

So how was it that my bells were never jingled?