The Power of the Written Word

So 2019 is grinding towards an end, and what a complex, mangled year it has been for us, here in the UK.

On our small island with its natural water barrier between us and the world, a civil war of words has raged since 2016, over whether we should pull up the drawbridge to our sea moat and withdraw into our brittle little shell or continue to relate with our nearest neighbours in the same convivial way we’ve enjoyed for 50 years.

I’m disconsolate to say to my overseas readers, not only that the drawbridge fans have won the war of words, but that all of we ordinary citizens, those of us who don’t have huge investments squirrelled away or are not hedge fund managers, who are not the fabulously rich elite and right wing newspaper owners, we have all lost.

I can’t dwell for too long on an issue which has been divisive enough to make me sick at heart. Instead I turn for comfort to my own community and to the groups which provide solace, friendship and distraction in these gloomy times.

While I have only been a member of my current book club for about a year, the members feel like old friends already, with their lively, cheerful discussions and their enthusiasm for reading and sharing views. During the evening we spent enjoying a Christmas meal I discovered I am the oldest in the group [by 4 days!], although I’ve never felt myself to be a different generation. I love the range of ages and stages of life. Members relate to the books differently depending on these stages, which provides a wealth of varied insights. The group has grown so much that numbers have had to be regulated!

In contrast, my writing group, the wonderful Spokes, has kept going for years with fluctuating numbers, on occasions dipping to three of us, the original three. We’ve moved venue several times and seen writers come and go, some getting published, some moving to new areas, others giving up their writing journey. But new members always turn up, currently a disparate but interesting set of characters with very different levels of expertise to bring to our group. People have different reasons for attending a group; perhaps writing is an outlet for them, perhaps they are serious about pursuing writing as a career, or perhaps the feeling of belonging and being valued is all they need.

We are fortunate, these days to be housed in our wonderful, local library, a facility denied to many since austerity crept around the country pruning services to the ground. If you are still lucky enough to live near a functioning library, please use it! There are few greater treasures than books, even in this digital age.

So at this point, I wish you-readers from all around the world, all faiths or none, all nationalities, a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

 

2018. Farewell or Good Riddance?

2018 is drawing to an end. Here in the UK I would imagine that most would say it hasn’t been their finest year. Personal lives differ, of course but unless you’ve spent the year locked in an underground bunker without access to media you’d have to have formed some kind of opinion about our squidgy little country’s disarray; about the mountainous mess it finds itself in.

There were a few pockets of hope here and there. A large manufacturer of crisps [that’s ‘chips’ to US friends] is offering to recycle its discarded packets. That is if you are prepared to get into your car and travel to your nearest crisp packet recycling point, which may be some miles away. So far I haven’t noticed fewer crumpled crisp packets amongst the litter on the streets or in the countryside, but hey-it’s a start.

What else? In India homosexuality is no longer a crime, which is positive-although no doubt discrimination will continue for some time in less enlightened communities.

The EU has banned insecticides that are harmful to bees, which is great-except that we, of course, that idiotic little scrap of a marginal country that is the UK has opted to get divorced from the most progressive collective the world has ever seen. Presumably UK bees can continue to be poisoned to death with abandon then…

A fair number of people [around the world] have begun to eat less red meat in response to the impact beef and lamb farming has on the planet. Here at Chez Nous, Husband and I are making our own attempt at less meat consumption, trying not to consume it more than half the time. This, however is made more tricky by my conversion to dairy-free produce, making cheese-based meals a no-no. A ‘Free-From’ cheese sauce mix was deemed an unmitigated failure. A visit to Pizza Express to try a vegan pizza, however yielded a not-half-bad result. You win some…..etc. The Australians, apparently are the greatest meat consumers, followed by Americans, so maybe we British are not all bad…

Women began to stand up against abusive behaviour [Hooray!], renewable energy became the most economical, a few species of animal returned from the brink of extinction.

Am I alone in thinking this is not the most impressive list of positives? If I were to begin on the gargantuan wave towards populism, the evil, cynical assassinations, the oppressive cruelty that still exists, the gung-ho waste of resources and widening gap between obscenely rich and desperate poor that persist there would be little worth celebrating.

So here comes a new year. You have to hope, because there’s not a lot else to do. And so I wish you, readers the happiest and most optimistic of New Years. And see you in 2019!

 

 

Mistletoe and Whine…

By the time this post is published I will have heard Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’, Slade’s ‘So Here it is, Merry Christmas’, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, Wizard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ [a nightmare scenario in my opinion], Shakin Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, Band Aid’s ‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’ and all the rest of the sorry, repetitive regurgitation of Christmas musical tat that is on a loop everywhere at this time of year, about 1000 times.

You have to feel some empathy for the hapless shop assistants. Not only must they pander to the whims of increasingly irritable customers whilst wearing ‘amusing’ festive jumpers, hats or elf outfits but must also suffer the incessant caterwauling of the aforementioned Christmas songs; an assault to the ears, a type of audio Chinese water torture.

I am not so much of a Humbug. I like the lights and displays. I like the food and drink. I love bestowing gifts [especially to my grandchildren]. But there are about 100 Christmas ditties that have remained to try everyone’s mental health over the years.

Among the dross, though there are some gems. They are played less often are, perhaps more obscure; or they have fallen into the past to be forgotten by my own [ancient] generation and unknown to later generations. I’ve no clue at all as to contemporary Christmas offerings but I suspect that the Christmas-themed song has become redundant now and that a Christmas Number 1, while being a desirable ambition for a musician will have no relevance to Christmas whatsoever.

So here, in no particular order are some of what I personally consider to be the better ones, the Christmas songs that don’t make me wince.

  • I Believe in Father Christmas [Greg Lake].

Greg Lake’s gentle, winsome melody is a balm to the more abrasive and tedious dross thudding out in each and every store but the lyrics have a little edginess with ‘the Christmas you get you deserve’

  • Fairytale of New York [The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl]

I can’t listen to this without picturing Shane McGowan’s oily, toothless drawl in contrast to Kirsty’s ‘girl-next-door’, fresh-faced persona. But it works.

  • 2000 Miles [Pretenders]

This continues to be my favourite Christmas hit, although it is rarely played. Chrissie Hynds’ voice is unconventional and has that punky twang which makes the song sound plaintive and mysterious. The words could hardly be simpler, with phrases such as ‘it’s very far’

And the worst of the worst?

For me, the ghastly ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ [Cliff Richard] hits rock bottom, with its doggerel lyrics, boring melody and attempts to be quirky- ‘wi logs on the fire’. Really? ‘wi’? 

Honourable mentions should go to Dora Bryan’s ‘All I want for Christmas is a Beatle’. And while novelty Christmas songs had almost died a death in the last fifteen years or so, this year’s ‘We Built this City on Sausage Rolls’ is hard not to like.

If you’ve made it to the end of this highly subjective post you may have your own preferences. If so I’d love to hear about them! In the meantime-a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS to all readers, visitors and especially Anecdotage followers. Have a wonderful 2019. See you next week…