The backwash of Black Friday (apparently a week’s plasticfest, not a day) – plus roads up everywhere while the Mayor throws his weight into building cycle super highways that cyclists don’t even have to use – means getting anywhere in London after 5.00 am takes hours. I set out to redeem a lamp from a specialist shop, going against the traffic but it didn’t seem to make any difference, the journey just went on and on. Never mind road rage, I should think bus drivers need tranquillisers.
Coming back, there were two voices behind me in the bus, one younger, one older, both women. And the younger one suddenly said “I can dress a tree perfectly well, thank you !” (It’s a funny phrase, isn’t it – “dress a tree” ? You imagine coaxing branches into sleeves ) Then the older woman said something to which the younger replied “I see, but do you usually take tree decorations with you to somebody else’ s house ? “ Murmur,murmur. “The decorations in the kitchen will already be up.” Pause. “ No, not the ones you brought last year.” Murmur. “Mother, you’re impossible.”
Oh, Happy Christmas.
Leaving aside the endless dream machine of the Christmas advertisements (no thank you M&S, no thank you John Lewis), all sweetness and light, hideous clothes and bottomless piles of unnecessary food, I shall be sending a fan letter to House of Fraser which seems to have had the nice idea of sending itself up with the result that, even though the ad runs repeatedly, you can giggle. It is also shrewdly stylised into unrealism, built round an old rock tune instead of “inspirational music”.
But the gap between the have’s and the have nots – what David Shepherd as Bishop of Liverpool long ago called “two nations” – is very unsettling.. Those who have, have to have more and more and more, while those who have not must just get on with it. The bridges between the two have been dented by endless marketing and the shame of being poor. All reason is lost. Never mind whether you are bright or beautiful – have you got money ? Because if you have, there are endless ways to spend it.
Money or no money , I have escaped much of this. I amass various kinds of candles and fir cones but I don’t buy a tree. I acquire gifts as I find them through the year, there aren’t many and finding them is a joy: I’ve got several, there is time. I don’t like Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, stollen (tastes of scented cement) or mince pies but I am a sucker for pannetone. I am already stockpiling boxes of apricots, dates and figs dipped in plain chocolate – one for me, one for my son and one for everybody else. By the standards of the day, my greed is quite restrained and I aim to keep it that way. This year I have been introduced to an easy rose, a quaffable white and a magnum of Prosecco but I have drunk less than for years: I love it but it doesn’t love me and I tire of not sleeping.
In an expensive Scandinavian shop I found delightful tree decorations made of thick felt in primary colours (for my grand daughter), a silver owl with a small rattle in it (I can’t part with it) and other joys – all under £5. I’ve collected Christmas cards and was given my calendar with a staff discount – how handsome is that !