Christmas 1975 was the last and best year, for me anyway–the very last year of Santa. Christmas had built and built for this Zenith of all Christmases, but what goes up must come down: Excitement gravity rule.
4.30am start, I would have sworn on the Holy bible and/or an affirmation that I had heard Father Christmas’s sleigh outside! The dawn chorus: Mud, Mud, Rock Volume 2, the first album (cassette) ever bought for me – I think I wanted Slade though. Serves my dad right, that I woke him up with it. Then all the wrapped presents, but forbidden to come go down until 7am, which seemed a strange caveat, as it meant less sleep for my parents: something that was hard to fathom at the time, my brother and I thrutching excitedly in our shared bedroom, but all would soon become apparent. Then like a family outing we all descended the stairs together, as if we were going to be introduced to a packed ballroom of surprised guests.
Two enormous packages, games: ‘Rebound’– as the name suggests, you had to rebound large ball-bearings in plastic collars so they glided to a graduated scoreboard; if you hit them too hard they fell into the ditch. If you had enough wile and gilly (Trevor Boulder, The bass player in David Bowie’s Spiders, lived down the road from me), you could knock your opponent in, and be top-dog, and even better ‘Crossfire’, which fired ball-bearings onto what appeared to be a smooth ice hockey pitch, with the objective of scoring a goal in the opponents half. The greatest tactic to keep the puck out of your own net, gather all the ball-bearings in your trough, load up your gun barrel, and then release shock and awe. I played the game so much, especially when my two uncles came round later in the day, that I obtained a large watery blister battle injury.
What was also in the trove of presents was a piece of machinery from the Apollo moon landings, or so it seemed to me back then. It was in fact a cassette/recorder! (Don’t laugh yowts, they were simpler happier times, the grass was greener (and less potent), and it always snowed, (before global warming was discovered). My brother lost patience explaining the small number of functions the hardware contained, ‘I’m not telling you again, you’ll work it out.’ Like some kind of trial and error operant monkey, I did.
The excitement of waiting for The Top of the Pops: Christmas Special; all the best-selling singles of the year and the odd star that had not gone away for the festive period. Jimmy Saville was presenting and Gary Glitter was one of the ‘guests’…!! The only thing I remember now is the new cassette/recorder packed next to the telly speaker, sound proofed against the outside world by the polystyrene packaging it had arrived in. Me wound like a coiled spring two digits over the record and play buttons, admonishing even heavy breathing with as sterner look as a young boy can produce, sorry, sound engineer. Bohemian Rhapsody may be a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me it only means one thing: Christmas 1975 – The best Christmas ever.
I have a very close friend that is a concert promoter in major city on the other side of the world, and he detests Queen with a strange vengeance. They’re not a band I would find the time to dislike, maybe be ambivalent to, possibly, but for me they are Christmas 1975, so for that reason there is a glow of contented rosy reflection for me. The irony being he had to put them on quite recently, which I found quite amusing. He had a particular dislike for the well-dead Freddie Mercury, which again I thought was a great frontman. The moustachioed microphone wielder went down a little in my estimations when a friend was part of a roller-skating dance troop that were performing in a gay club in London, and Freddie with his over-sized teeth decided he liked the luck of his arse, so much so he took an over-sized bite out of it!
It is a day even now I never ever wanted to end, a day that if it stretched into infinity would still have been too short. This is the Christmas I tried to recreate with my own children–the Christmas their misguided mother tried to deny them in in the name of logic and honesty. A Christmas/s I hope we managed to achieve, an experience every child should experience, forget Disneyland, that’s a pale second. When The Girl was eight, we were in Disneyland Hong Kong, and were sold the dream of snow: snow in a tropical region! We were all intrigued how this might come about, several hundred snow-blowing machines, a Hercules Bomber seeding the clouds–this is Disneyland after all. Foam, bloody foam blown from behind the High Street, even the fireworks did not negate the disappointment. Thank all things druid and holy that we had the magic of Christmas in the memory locker. Eventually all good things come to an end, and like the old saying: we don’t remember what people said to us, but how they made us feel.
So is Christmas, we don’t remember all the incidents, presents, food, events, parties, advent calendars, tv, etc, but we remember how it made us feel. Then we remember the sacrifices our parents had to make, what they had to go without, how much extra overtime they had to do, to make it special for us, and by association for them, because that’s what love and family means: Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. That is the meme that is passed down ad infinitum… That’s why Christmas is special, and always will be… But then The Girl is eating with us, Hollyoaks must not be on, enticed into the kitchen area by the twice yearly homemade chips. “I don’t think it is right to lie to your children about Father Christmas, and all the other things, the Tooth Fairy (we had the Tooth Fairy in our house, and I don’t know whom is negotiating their pay rises, but the public sector could do with them on their side.) I look at The Wife and she is about to start with story of how Christmas was nearly kidnapped and rendered and placed in an orange suit forever. Instead The Girl chips in again, “This is how religions work, by lying.” The Wife is still deep in thought about that Christmas back in the mist of time. She starts spouting facts about what she perceived she had said and decreed. “You need to read my blog Wife, it’s all in there.” “You don’t write about me in this blog do you?” “Course I do, I don’t get out much these days.” “Can’t be that bad, Tom* at work reads it and if it was he would tell me.” “The autistic-savant that is in charge of the photocopying, and not allowed any sharp objects.” I unwisely say out loud. I quiz The Girl further, she can see the consternation on my face, but is unaware of the bloodshed that led to The Boy and her having Christmas. I go through the ‘magic’ of Christmas once more; she is still on a moral crusade. It is not working, I try a different tact, code between the two of us to preclude The Wife/Mother from the conversation; they are ganging up on me. “Have you forgotten the ‘Electra complex’ Freud and I taught you about?” “I haven’t castrated our daughter The Wife protests, when the theory is explained to her. The Girl is not budging, I think I preferred it when she used to internalise more and I sailed along in blissful ignorance of reliving the magic of Christmases once more in the future. “No, if I have children we will not be having Christmas!” Shit, not just Santa, she’s expunging the whole of Christmas. I’m tempted to wave the Argos catalogue and Baileys under her nose. She’s worse than The Mother. How has this happened? How have I allowed this to happen? She is no longer the spawn of my loins, but of her mother’s womb and persona. She will see things differently on December 25th, it’s the wreckage I’m clinging to, not for me, for the grandkids, for the sake of humanity.
Christmas and the approaching end of the year would not be right without a countdown.
Here’s my top 10 Christmas songs of all time, try making your own, it’s bloody hard!
10 Stay Another Day – East 17
Once you hear this on the radio it is officially Christmas, officially. Don’t think what they are all up to now, it will only depress you. Especially fixing roofs at this time of year! “Banging out 12 eaves a night!”
9 It may be Winter Outside – Love Unlimited
Ok, it’s not necessarily a Christmas song, but if you don’t associate it with the festive period, Pavlov’s classical conditioning has passed you by.
8 It’s the most wonderful time of the year – Andy Williams.
Well it is, isn’t it? [Unless you’re on a holiday in the summer.]
7 The Power of Love – Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
You don’t need the end of the cold war, sorry, break in the end of the cold war to be over, and the warm glow of alcohol for this to get you dewy eyed.
6 I wish it could be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
Christmas 1975, released in December 1973, need I say more! It’s not meant to be taken literally, if you are that sad guy that celebrates Christmas every day of the year and wrap your own present, join a group, get out more, get a life, or at least wait until you have Alzheimer’s, then at least you won’t know what you’ve bought yourself. What do you buy the man who celebrates Christmas every day? – Something cheap, as a guess.
5 Driving home for Christmas – Chris Rea
If it’s just before Christmas and you are driving home, this is as good as life can get. This song always reminds me of visiting the in-laws and driving home, warm in the womb of the car with the family, until you hit the gritting lorry on the motorway and you think you are being stoned for a sin from a previous life and worshiping the false idol of consumerism.
4 The Day the Thames Froze – Smith & Burrows.
This is a relatively new one, and possibly one you may not know. There is something so beautiful and atmospheric about this song, resonating with real hope, just a hint of Sinicistic realism. I stole the idea in the video for a part in a book I have out next year, and this is one of those songs that always gives me inspiration. Check it out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=644U-jMpDUw
3 Merry Xmas Everyone – Slade
Christmas 1975, and every Christmas since. Released the same time as Wizzard, a good year for Christmas songs.
2 White Christmas – Bing Crosby
This is a sentimental one for me. I once asked my Granddad what his favourite song was, and without a flicker he replied, “White Christmas, Bing Crosby.” (He also worked at Hull University when Philip Larkin was alive and the head librarian, and when I asked him what he was like he replied, “A miserable bugger!” Which I think even the late Mr Larkin would probably have had to agree with.) You try stating what your favourite song is, and endeavour not to start with the prefix of, ‘Oh that’s a hard one, depends…’ If anyone can tell you what their favourite anything is, I’m always impressed, unless they are Psychos of course, and it’s torturing pit-ponies. If anyone ever does I immediately go and check it out, (not CIA pit-pony torturing). I once interviewed Arthur Scargill, (after the miner’s strike of the 80’s), the then leader of the National Mineworkers Union. I asked him what his favourite book was, “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell.” I wish he had chosen something more enjoyable; it goes on forever and involves a lot of decorating!
1 Fairy tale of New York – The Pogues & Kirsty McColl
Does it need explaining? It’s the reason why Christmas is full of magical hope even on the bottom rung. I once worked with a guy who didn’t get it even after I explained it, he will never get it, sometimes you have to move on; there will always be casualties in war, not unlike the song! Not all Americans know this song. Children in assemblies and Christmas concerts sing this song in the UK and Ireland (although they change the f****t word to something less offensive, often ‘mother’). Look at any poll and it is nearly always in numero uno, why wouldn’t it be? If you have had the misfortune to have never heard this – which is a bit like never having watched Star Wars, there is only one virtual destination for you now. People in The English-English speaking world reading this will think I’m taking the festive jus. But just in case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8
The bonus is you can be tone death (and drunk) and still sing the Shane MacGowan part at the office Christmas party.
I will leave you alone across the yuletide and see you in the early New Year.
And I hope you get all the love, family and friendship you deserve this festive period–that we all deserve this Christmas. Go on ring them; YOU should have done it last week. YOU know to whom I’m talking, just ring them, it’s Christmas; they’ll forgive you, because they love you, and love is not just for Christmas. Love needs to cascade down through time, because without love we are little more than murderers and prison guards…
Remember, you can still be anyone…
BIG LOVE. (and a Happy New Year)
I’ve got another book out before the Xmas (13-12-14*1): Foot-sex of the Mind. It’s not a trashy love story; it’s a book about finding out far too late in life what is truly important.
Corrections and apologies
In last weeks’ blog it was wrongly stated that a cowboy outfit was partly instrumental in the swaying of The ‘Grinch’ Wife to relent on the creamy-white lie of Santa, and allowed her to expand her heart two sizes. The outfit in question was that of a Native American, which may well have been referred to in those days, and after several rounds of ‘fire-water’ as a ‘Red Indian*2’ outfit. The wearer of the reproduction traditional wear (purchased from Setam’s, Hessle Road) was a Mr R Fox, whose outfit was slightly bespoilt by the fact that his mother made him don an insulating vest. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise with the upmost grace to what is in no way a pedantic complaint. Mr R Fox would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to his then next-door neighbour Mrs Piper for mistaking her cat for a buffalo, and attacking it with a Swiss Army knife tied to the end of a bamboo cane. No animals were injured in the re-enactment of that mass extinction.
I would also like to state clearly all complaints are swiftly dealt with, with the upmost stealth and respect by my complaints department in India, except ones arguing for an omnipotent/omnipresent being, unless valid empirical evidence is produced, but they are prepared to make exceptions at Christmas as long as Johnny Mathis happens to be playing the background. – A R A Hope, Customer Wellbeing Resource Vacillator Manager.
* For Tom read Tim–Sorry Tim–you are not an autistic-savant, just special.
*1 Anorexic Barbie!
*2 Sorry, descendants of the original natives of America.