Do you remember Sleeping Beauty ? That the royal parents of some long ago land had a little girl so they invited all the fairies to come and bring gifts for her christening. But (these things will happen – be warned), they forgot a notoriously difficult one, who turned up in a terrible temper. She cursed the child, so that if she ever pricked her finger, she would got to sleep forever or until wakened by the kiss of a handsome prince – well, any kind of prince really – but in these stories, he is always handsome, just as she is always beautiful – and he has a hard time getting to her. We’re human, we need these stories.
We have reached the stage where a national newspaper can run a piece entitled Shunning Christmas and I don’t think this is disagreeable. It just doesn’t fit into the writer’s life and I have more regard for someone who declines the whole thing than those who have surrounded me for the last several weeks, laden with debt and parcels, grinning over the grinding of teeth, subscribing to every kind of excess – and not really enjoying it. Seriously not inspiring.
I mourn the passing of the story. It is a wonderful story of flight and survival, poverty not lack, three grandfathers instead of two (the kings), so-called “ordinary” people (the shepherds and the innkeeper), angels and animals, light (the star) and time out of time, a sense of the clock stopped, as it often is when a baby is born. In old Northern European tradition, on Christmas Eve, the animals can speak to each other and I love the idea of the ox pushing hay towards the tired donkey, saying in the voice of a crusty but kind former soldier “Eat up, old man, you look quite done in …” And the birds muttering about it all, where they shelter in the back of the stable. It is of course at least frosty and ideally snowing a bit because that accentuates the idea of gently muffled clear quiet.
There is a new version of Scrooge on tv and a new version of Little Women in the cinema, both of which are the archetypal fairy tales for slightly older children, is it too much to hope that next year some writer will get his or her teeth into reinventing the Christmas story for its human magic which has nothing to do with glittering technology and everything to do with hope ? God knows, you don’t have to look far for refugees, or people in flight from an unfriendly regime (among our nationals, too) and a clean outhouse with a door to shut and warmth inside would be heaven indeed to most of them. And enough to eat, just for a while … till you travel and try again.
Some time ago there was a fashion for angels who were always with you which is not terrible appealing to anyone as twitchy as me. But I do have Christmas fairies, who unfailingly, just as I falter, come through for me.
A very tall good looking one went past my door sometime in early hours, going home through South London, after late radio work – and left a small package and a card on my front step.
A woman who is good with her hands, who had made a living out of painting and restoring and making jewellery, whom I would never have met if I hadn’t started a conversation in the street, has sent me a package to wait until Christmas Day.
My friend Snowdrop gave me something to wait for, when he went off to see his brother in Australia.
And , less tangibly, a few nights’ ago I sat next to a pretty woman with shining hair, attractively rounded, becomingly dressed. I opened my mouth and shut it again. I do sometimes. But as we got off the bush we spoke in a different connection – and then I paid my compliment. She stopped in the street and looked at me. “Me ?” Her husband has just left her telling her she was old and plain and fat. We stood in the street while I explained projection. We’ll meet next year. The stories change, but there are always stories.
And there will be more from 7 January 2020 – and in the meantime, I wish you every good thing.