the brilliantly leaping gazelle

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 16

One thing that annoys me about christmas – and there are many – are ‘Bingo presents’. So called because they are presents received but not opened or tampered with, that belie no sense whatsoever of ever having been a present. In this way, the recipient can then re-wrap it the next year so that they can wrap it up and pass it on. Perhaps you know as something else, but whatever there called, they suffer the exact same fate. I mean, we’ve all done it, some more than others; it’s like shoplifting, but without a criminal record.

This money saving tactic is usually reserved for friends and relatives you rarely see and neatly solves the problem of what to get them, if they visit unannounced, or both. This goes hand in hand with the ideal way to open any present, which is to be looking down when you open the present so as to conceal your initial reaction to it, and then to raise your head with a beaming smile and exclaim ‘Oh, it’s just what I wanted!’

For me, the ultimate in a bingo present are Guylain chocolates, because everyone likes a box of chocolates at Christmas and they suggest a level of expenditure that both isn’t cheap or extravagant. It’s a present that everyone can feel good about. I mean, I doubt if anyone has been into a shop and actually bought a box of Guylain chocolates since 2012. Quite possibly just like Saturn, there’s a ring of Guylain chocolates just doing the rounds, being passed on year after year, until their sell-by-date has expired (although it didn’t stop my partner’s mother once getting an edible present that was long past its sell-by-date).

Of course, the inherent problem with bingo presents – and the reason that I call them bingo presents – is the risk of you giving someone a bingo present that they gave you a few years earlier! To no-ones surprise, this week we discovered that Donald Trump Jar has suffered this fate at the hands of his father! From ‘birther’ to ‘re-gifter’!

Is there start to this presidents talents?

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 15

One thing that I hate about christmas – and there are many – are supermarket food adverts. At a time of austerity, when the use of food banks is increasing, it seems wholly incongruous for supermarkets to run adverts that portray tables laden with all manner of delicious foods, when for a quite a sizeable amount of the population it is not going to be their experience of Christmas.

So much for the reality for millions of Britons of savage austerity, food banks and Universal Credit. Which seems extremely counter intuitive as supermarkets are brands and brands want to be seen as inclusive as possible or equally important not to be seen as excluding or marginalizing anyone from their conversation, for fear of creating a social media backlash leading to a consumer boycott and a falling share price, giving their competitors a market advantage. Because, as Gore Vidal once said, “It is not enough that I succeed but others must fail.”

I understand that supermarkets through their advertising have to promulgate the myth that in buying the right kind of food – which just happens to be their food – you too will have the right party with the right amount of guests – the right combination of colours, genders and ages. Every table is laden with food in abundance and everyone is dressed to impress, bedecked in their finery. And no-one will be standing alone in a corner!

And then the ads become news stories in themselves; John Lewis cornered the market in ‘heartwarming’ Christmas ads, but Iceland went one better this year and had their advert banned! Apparently, it broke rules about political campaigning, highlighting as it did their removing palm oil from their own brand products.

 

However the latest Sainsbury’s advert is but the latest vomit fest, a rip off a rubbish film ‘Love Actually’ which if it were a soft drink would be banned due to its high sugar content.

 

 

Just once I’d like a supermarket to run an advert showing a stock image with a voiceover explaining that, instead of producing a lavish advert, they had instead donated the entire cost to a homeless charity!

 

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 14

One that annoys be about christmas – and there are many – is the nativity story. The nativity story play, as performed at primary schools

I mean, whilst it’s fine for children in a ‘not really’ kind of way, it does need a bit of a updating with a dose of reality. We are, after all, a society with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, so instilling impressionable young minds the patently ridiculous notion of a virgin birth, isn’t possibly the wiset of ideas

Anyway, Mary and Joseph, instead of having to move because of a census requiring them to do so, they could instead be seeking accommodation because they’d been made homeless by a draconian benefits regime. Even though Mary was heavily pregnant, this would cut no ice with Herod, I mean the D.W.P. Instead of finding a room at the inn, they could find it increasingly difficult to find private landlords willing to house welfare claimants. The three wise men would be bearing gifts; they’d be three loan sharks hunting them for unpaid debts.

In this scenario Mary and Joseph would of course have no extended family to assist and of course no savings to draw upon. They would be completely reliant on the State and the State would be in a right state. Eventually Mary would give birth not in a stable, but in a disused garage lockup that Joseph had forced open and instead of the cattle lowing – whatever lowing is – there could instead be the sound of bored teenagers smashing things up in the streets outside.

However, I imagine trying to produce that in a school play might upset a few people.

 

 

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’