Friday, 27 December 2013

Thoughts on Christmas past

Boxing Day at the 'mall'. What it's all about?
Over and over again on Christmas Day came the call: ‘The telly is crap!”

Admittedly it wasn’t the only recurring theme on Twitter and Facebook: there were also plenty of complaints – from young adults mostly – that they hadn’t got the ‘right’ presents and that, as a result, their Christmas had been ruined, just ruined.

Now the latter could well be the social media-savvy attention seeker getting themselves some, so in that case, let’s stick with the former – for the moment at least.

But where to start precisely?

There’s ‘nowt on telly’? For goodness sake – you’ve probably got access to 200 channels at least!

Back when I were knee high to grasshopper (stop that laughing at the back), there were just three channels – if you were lucky.

This was in prehistoric times before the video had been invented; a time when computer and console gaming were things of sci-fi movies, and social media ... ? Well, hardly even imagined.

Let’s face it – this was when Orwell’s 1984 was set in a distant future. As only a slight aside, Blair’s dystopian vision was rather less subtle than the one we’re living through now.

But back to matter Christmas.

On those three channels, we always found something to watch.

And if we didn’t, we’d do something else – we might even play games. We didn’t actually expect to be entertained.

Perhaps the 1970s were actually halcyon times and we simply didn’t realise it. Or perhaps society in general has become so obsessed with ‘things’ and with having every possible entertainment provided for it that it has become, in general terms, spoiled and stupid.

For fuck’s sake: out of 200 channels, it’s highly debatable that you won’t find something bearable to watch – and whatever happened to the philosophy of switching off and making your own entertainment?

Why not read a book?

It’s like: ‘hand me everything on a plate: NOW!’

Things – that’s the heart of the problem: things.

And things were what drew people out yesterday – sometimes even foregoing Christmas itself in order to queue – to the shops and malls (the latter, another abysmal import from the US) to do yet more buying of Things.

Now let me be quite clear: it’s nice to get pressies – and it’s nice to give them. I am not averse to having nice possessions.

But people – get the fuck over yourselves. There are limits to how many Things you (we) need. We do not need to shop on Boxing Day – thus ensuring that other people have to do (mostly) low-paid jobs so that we can scramble for something that we probably don’t really need in the first place.

Credit Margaret Thatcher and the neo-liberals for knowing something that many of us didn’t: that large amounts of society appears to genuinely believe that 24/7 retail, for instance, is major progress, and that cheap credit was a master stroke because it gave us the chance to own more and more Stuff.

Are we happier?

Is Christmas better?

Or was that part of the reason that, even with more Stuff – more TV channels, and many more entertainment systems – – so many people took to social media to express their disillusionment?

Of course, part of the problem is that Christmas has become an overhyped commercial event on which a substantial chunk of the national economy relies.

Quite coincidentally, I’m currently reading Alison Uttley’s A Country Child, which I first read in my first year at grammar school – and hated.

A few years ago, some memory of it started to nag at my little grey cells and, eventually, I tracked down the title, who it was by – and a copy.

It takes place over a year in the life of a child from a Derbyshire farm in the late years of the 19th century.

And yet there are many things that I can recognise from the times spent as a child on a farm not many miles from Tebay in Westmorland (or Cumbria, as some insist on calling it these days).

Those were arguably the very happiest days of my childhood – in a simple world that was full of heartiness and joyfulness.

I don’t know how I’d get on with it these days: it was also a very religious world – but not in the dark, surly, Victorian puritan way of my father’s relatives in Plymouth, or even the chapel hellfire and damnation of his own early ministry and of many a dinner table at home.

In Uttley’s book, Christmas is special – and remarkably simple. And whenever I find myself aware that nothing has met the festive hype, I find myself wishing for such a simple world and such a simple Christmas.

In the last few days, The Other Half and I have spent hours in front of the telly, watching – for the most part – family films that leave you with a sense of joy.

In the coming week, I fully intend to ‘do some things’. But even if I don’t, it’s my responsibility – not that of someone else.

That we expect others to serve us up Christmas – or believe that we can simply buy it off the shelf – seems very little removed from how we largely seem to treat politics these days: we want easy options with no demands on our time or intellectual resources.

And in both cases, we lose – and leave others to win.

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