"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Christmas Shopping, CJ Style

Bah Humbug! OK, I have to accept that now it’s December people are going to talk about Christmas. Unlike Lisa I love Christmas – and as her birthday is three days before and no one is ever available to go out or do anything for that reason, I can see why she is not keen on it. I have favourite Christmas Songs – I think Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas (Youtube: contains sound) is my favourite, which will surprise nobody.  Still having to listen to them every time I leave the house is enough to kill anyone. If I had the money buy a copy of Lou Reed’s album Berlin and Pink Floyd’s The Wall just to cheer myself up. (Incidentally if you don’t know those records, don’t try this at home. I mean it folks!)

So we are back to that time of year when I have to listen to all the bollocks about the pagan origins of Christmas from people who think QI is a reputable source on second and third century Roman Festivals – yes I like Stephen Fry, but he dislikes Christianity intensely and lets his prejudices show occasionally. I will blog on this later, I can’t be bothered today, but anyone mentioning the word Mithras round me may end up brutally slain, unless they can actually come uo with some hard evidence, or indeed any evidence, other than the generations of pseuds who misread Cumont. OK, rant over.

Yet I still like Christmas. Admittedly, and Greg Lake excepted, because he did it with wry humour, I can’t stand to be told again “Christmas is too commercial”.  In the first case, sure, I agree, but what are you going to do about it? Live a life of monastic austerity through the whole season and refuse to step outside the door? Stop sending cards? (or perhaps in my case, start?) Become a Jehovah’s Witness? Or if already one, avoid every shop in town? I admire the JW’s courage in avoiding Christmas sometimes, even if  think their reason – that Christmas has pagan origins- is a complete nonsense historically.  I know! I know – take a flame thrower to Marks & Spencers and blow up Tesco?! I guess my problem with people who think Christmas is too commercialized is that they lack courage in their convictions – we can all resent it maybe, and yearn for something simpler, but have you actually tried it?

The Simple Non-Commercial Christmas As It Really Is

Flashback a few years: on the way back to Suffolk for Christmas, Christmas Eve. Hugh driving, and Lisa has decided to come with us, but Liz (now Jake) remained behind.  It’s in the days when we lived at Pete’s. About twelve miles out of town Lisa gets really ill – she had been feeling bad before we left – so we turn back, and Hugh drops us off. We wander in, to find the freezer has broken down sometime in days before I presume, and in the hour or so we have been gone it has leaked all over the floor. Not that we actually had any food, we were planning to go to my family for Christmas. Hugh got back safely to Exning, and  at about eleven on Christmas Eve I went out in search of food. I somehow talked a pizza shop manager who was juts closing up in to giving me a big discount, opening up, and cooking. Given my sob story his heart must have melted – anyway we got a lot of pizza. And we ate it that night, and as I recall Christmas Day, sitting around a house with just an electric fire for heat while Lisa lay in bed ill, watching the rain hit the window. I even overslept and I missed church. On Boxing Day I braved the couple of miles walk to Sainsburys-on-the-edge-of-forever as they were open, bought a load of shopping, and in the absence of buses trekked back. It sleeted and rained, freezing me, and I became really ill and was miserably unwell over New Year, as was Lisa. We did not have any presents (they we gave were in the back of Hugh”s car and Hugh dropped them off) we had precious little money, no decorations, no heating and almost no food as most shops closed.  So I have done the simple noncommercial Christmas, and I would not wish it on a banker. It’s a romantic ideal – so is dying young of tuberculosis, which to be fair may well feature in this Christmas plan. Seriously, forget it.  Campaign to get a bylaw passed banning Christmas window displays before December 1st by all means, and feel free to moan at Christmas shoppers, but unless you are going to start blowing up Santa’s Grottoes or holding hunger strikes against it, I’m just going to out whinge you. Because I can… you think you can do bleak and cynical? Hell I’m like the lovechild of Leonard Cohen and Charlie Brooker. Oh no, sorry, that’s Lisa…

What Christmas is Really About

Anyhow where was I? Oh yes, full of festive jollity! Actually one more whinge – people who say “people forget what Christmas is really about”. Usually this is followed by “it’s for the kids” or “it’s a time for sharing” or sightly more accurate “it’s remembering the birth of Jesus”. Actually Christmas is about whatever you want it to be about. Ronald Hutton’s superb Stations of the Sun will give you a good overview of the last few centuries of history of the festival in England, and it’s a fascinating story. There may well be other books which deal even better with the pre-Reformation Christmas — if anyone has one, I’d like to read it. Obviously it’s a religious festival, with a clear Christian context – but that does not mean that people should not celebrate it however they want, and indeed many folk of other faiths which acknowledge Jesus in some role do mark it, but even devout atheists should have a good and enjoyable Christmas season, even if they must call it Winterval or Festimas or whatever. Hey, just, eat drink and be merry, I doubt the Archbishop’s secret police are going to kick your door in for sacrilegious consumption and exchange of gifts without proper theological license. Though if Rowan Williams does I want to be there to see it! I know some atheists seems to believe the CofE wants nothing more than the godless roasting on an open fire but it’s a bit nippy for open air barbecues and would you really want a slice of Dawkins with Cranberry sauce? I’ll stick to the turkey.

Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - not Santa Claus, us Anglicans don't ask children to sit on our knees.

Anyway, woke up this morning to a rejection letter – always a good start to the day, only two weeks after the interview, a triumph of good administration that – actually pretty typical of the wretched state of British universities, but hey anyway – so I decided to go out and as the rent has gone out and I have paid the bills I thought I’d take the little  I had left and get my chicken kebab.

It is NOT the Thought That Counts

Except then as I stood on the High Street under the Christmas Lights a wonderful thought hit me, and it came as a stunning revelation – “it’s almost Christmas!” Somehow I had sort of failed to take this on board, so I realised I must do shopping.   OK I’m lousy at cards, if anyone has ever received one from me frame it, it might be worth a lot of money, but I do usually buy my family and friends little presents. And boy are they little – my shopping budget is rather sparse. Still I try, even if not really convinced it is the thought that counts. I know when presented with a pullover which does not fit or something which doe not work I say that, but I’m not sure if I actually mean it or not? I think I may do.

So with that in mind, to any of my friends and family, let it be known that this year I have Thought long and hard about all the wonderful presents I want to buy you. As I no longer have any money left that is all I am going to do though. I hope you appreciate my Thought,and it counts, and if you don’t like it parcel it up, send it back, and i’ll send a replacement Thought ( –like “what an ungrateful bastard.” :))

Oh and just in case anyone was thinking that I might like to count on a Thought myself for Christmas this year – actually, I am rather overrun with thoughts right now. I have so much thought I am often lost in it -please don’t send me any more. Just money would be nice, or better still non-fiction books on almost anything, or roleplaying game products (Sartar Kingdom of Heroes anyone?), from http://www.leisuregames.com, or blondes in Christmas stockings tied up with a nice ribbon.  But please, please, please — no more thoughts — I have plenty!

So What Went Wrong With CJ’s Christmas Shopping?

So I was standing there on Cheltenham High Street, suddenly struck by the Christmas lights (not literally or I would sue Cheltenham Borough Council and be a lot richer), with a tenner in my pocket, thinking I needed to buy Christmas presents.  OK, a tenner might have not gone far, but still – what happened? Er, I spent it. On myself. Yeah I know.

I went in to Banardo’s charity shop to get out of the cold, and inevitably I bought books.  Erasmus wrote “When I get a little money I buy books; if any is left I buy food and clothes”. Oh too true, too true! Still at least Tiny Tim will benefit – it is hard not to think of the orphans at Christmas, yes? For a tenner I got a copoy of The Book of Common Prayer, The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, Trolley Wars: The Battle of the Supermarkets, Chorley & Smart’s Leading Cases in the Law of Banking and finally NASA’s Selected Documents in the History of the US Civil Space Program, Volume III: Using Space – hence covering a number fo my interests. I’m sure i’ll still scrape around to buy my parents and friends something but if you planned to buy me something, then previous jokes aside, please don’t!

Christmas Shopping for CJ

Instead go to a charity shop, and spend that money buying yourself something you really want, so that the charity benefits, and you benefit, and I’m happy that I did not leave you out, even though I could not afford to buy you anything. Christmas is a hard time when you have  little, and I really can’t afford to buy people much this year, there are so many of you, so I hope you understand. This is the best solution. :)

So I wish you a Merry Christmas, and will sign off with the lyrics of Greg Lake - do buy a download of  his song if you can –

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah! Noel! Be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas you get you deserve.

cj x

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