Plus ça Change…

There is always a Christmas Post here on the blog. In all the years, through all the Christmases, there has always been something seasonal. The subjects have varied down through the years, How Santa is Real, Off Colour Seasonal Jokes, Insular Christmases, Yuletide Ghost Stories. You name it, this old blog has covered it. Hell, there’s even been a Covid Christmas Blog. I didn’t think there’d ever be another.

Some years, Christmas Day falls really close to my Sunday ‘Blog Posting’ day and that’s always kind-of handy. For those years, I can perhaps squeeze some words out of the festive marinade I’ve already steeped myself in. Not this year. Here I am, Saturday afternoon, and Christmas Eve seems a million miles away. There are four days work left to do and a lot to do in them. There is shopping and stocking-up and even some more baubles to be hung on the semi-decorated tree.

Maybe that’s why it’s hard to get seasonal yet.

That’s the bother. This post has to be the Christmas Post because it will be all over bar the shouting by the time next Sunday comes along. But, yeah, I’m not feeling it. Maybe it’ll kick in f I keep typing. So, keep typing.

In trying to concoct a blog post for Christmas this year, most of my thoughts have been about Christmases past and thinking about how long ago they were but also how not very different they now seem to have been. This is a thought sparked, at least in part, by having read ‘Small Things Like These’ by Claire Keegan, which is a very, very good book. In it, an Ireland is described which seems particularly old and tired and like something from ancient history. But here’s the thing, it’s Christmas 1985.

Though I loved the book, my brain found it hard to parse this literary vision of 1985 with my own memories and experience. The Ireland of the book seems more like a 1950’s place than a 1980’s place. Granted, by 1985, I was gone to London. In 1985, I went to Live Aid, Ghostbusters and Gremlins had already been out for a year, Shakin’ Stevens was Number One. This was not a time of coal trucks and power-wielding convents. This was not such an old time.

Except, of course, it was.

I’ve growing a theory off the back of this. A bit like that human ear on the back of that mouse. It’s simply this: Things that happened in our own lifetime do not seem so old. Things that happened even one day before we are born, seem ancient and from another world.

For me, my Christmases don’t seem to have changed very much at all over the 58 ones I’ve had. High Society and Ice Station Zebra have always been on the telly. There has always been a good exciting present to receive. There was always food and family and fun. Nothing’s changed.

Except, of course, as we all know, everything has changed. Those film I mentioned may be still around, but they are now buried on some classics channel where once they were the main attraction. Gifts have grown in size and quantity, as has the food and drink. Most profoundly of all, the Family is a different Family – my Family. That Family of 50 years ago (also my Family) is scattered and some are (tragically) gone.

All feels the same, yet all is changed. It’s like that old French phrase except reversed.

I look to movies from my life span, and they don’t seem all that old. The Beatles, in the clips I’ve seen from that new documentary, seem fresh and vibrant. I look to something made before I was born, like West Side Story, and it's like it is from another planet.

It’s all just another Christmas illusion. Last night, on the telly, ‘Die Hard’ came on. For perhaps the first time, it looked a bit dated and old. Perhaps that’s because I only saw the opening ten minutes and that’s a part I rarely see. There are openly displayed guns on planes and smoking in airport terminals. The hero ogles every other female as if they are a piece of meat. It’s from another time, just like I am. (It’s still great when it all kicks off though).

'What is the point of this story?', as Paul Simon once said, 'what information pertains?'

I don’t know, really. Christmas is a time for reflection, yes, but the reflections can be distorted and given a golden hue, as if reflected in one of those baubles on the tree.

Best not to dwell on it all too much, perhaps. Elder son arrives on the train on Tuesday evening and Younger son is fresh returned from London. Once again, it looks like we will all be allowed to be here together, under this roof. That’s the best thing ever. It should be nice. It always is. But the weight of the years bears down a little, the trickling fear of the virus creeps persistently around the back door.

And, where once a toast to absent friends was nothing more than a series of words to be spoken, these days the memory of those absent friends sits across from us at our table and smile at us with their eyes, from across the years.

Thank you for stopping by the old blog this year. It has meant a lot. I wish you a Happy Christmas and hope it brings you some light and warmth and a little respite from the everyday.

Nollaig shona dhuit.


Marc Paterson said...

Merry Christmas Ken.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you, Marc. A very Happy Christmas to you and yours. x

Jim Murdoch said...

There are constants in this life, things to be relied upon, and Christmas used to be one of those things but in recent years (and not just since COVID) our Christmases have been struggling to keep up. My daughter is the driving force (we always let her set the pace) but, and I’m sure this is the case for more of us than we like to admit, she has to fit in four Christmases and there’s only so much magic to go round. When she came back into my life at seventeen Christmases became major events with dozens of presents for her and whoever she ended up having over, friend or beau, and no one was left out. I’m quite happy to throw my hands up, I went completely overboard. The last time we discussed Christmas plans she’d be thirty-nine and was trying to talk be down to one present per person. One soddin’ present! We negotiated and a limit of three was agreed upon and two could be small gifts like chocolate but that was it for me. Now Christmas is a chore. We’d already given up on birthdays and so the writing was on the wall. This year when I e-mailed her asking for ideas for her partner she said he'd be happy with his annual tipple and so that was that. Their four sad little packages are sitting on their own beside the TV and, since we felt it wise to cancel a visit this year, they’ll get them when they get them and I’m sure they’ll be grateful (they’re never ungrateful) but they won’t be joyous. None of us will. I’m a grumpy sod as you well know but Christmas was the one time in a year where I let my hair down and I’m not sure we’ll ever get that back.

Yes, Ken, we always knew Christmas was an illusion but illusions are all part of any magic act. We buy into them just like the magic of cinema. Illusions aren't bad in themselves.

Have a good one and I’ll see you when it’s all over.