Friday, 25 December 2009

A child's Christmasses (in, as it happens, Wales)

On having just read, for the first time, A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, which we found a copy of here at my inlaws house in Bodelwyddan, North Wales, which we sought out having watched Mark Watson's A Child's Christmasses in Wales and wondered how close the two were to each other (the answer, by the way, being not very).

I have random memories from random Christmasses, which I jot purely in note form (I may be many things, none of them a poet).

Nick & I went Christmas carol singing with our guitars. It can't have been that cold because, well, because we had guitars, we were outside and we could play them. We clearly didn't want to impose upon anyone as we sat on a bench outside the church and sang our songs there. We did our group's version of White Christmas (I have subsequently mastered Nick's guitar solo which, at the time, seemed daunting and impressive) and anything else that could be sung using E, A and D or C, F and G.

When my Illustrated Picture Diary was getting into its stride, which began when I was 11 in the last week of what the kids would now call year 7 and fizzled out in the first year of art college, I devoted a double page spread to illustrating my Christmas presents. They included that year's Giles annual. Sigh, I am old enough to have been able to get new Giles annuals, while he was still at his peak.

The first Christmas at Heather's in Basildon was my first away from home and I was disturbed by all the thing that were different. Or, as I saw it, wrong. Christmas dinner was at the wrong time, the presents weren't opened first thing in the morning, the crackers were ornamental and not for pulling, and there was crying. Crying? Nobody had ever cried in my family's household at Christmas (and, I think, has not yet). Since that first Christmas away from where I'd spent my childhood Christmasses I can no longer remember when things were supposed to take place, or how or why, but I'm pretty sure they've never been quite right. Being a kid, who would no doubt be diagnosed as having OCD or ADHD or Arseburgers (I know I know) these days, was very bliss.

I have probably not laughed so much before or since as I did at Jasper's Carrot's Twelve Days Of Christmas. I still have the recording we made of it. VHS had not yet been invented, not in our house leastways, so I pointed a microphone at the telly from my cassette recorder. The loudest thing at many points is our laughter, particularly mine and Mum's. "Three clack and bangly wogglies, two niddly niddly woddlies, and a piddle up your poggle woggle." They don't write em like that any more.

For many many years there were Christmas records that you just couldn't get. In the long lost wilderness years before Now The Christmas Album there were songs that you'd heard on the radio or seen on the TV, but there was no way of getting your hands on them. Bing & Bowie's Little Drummer Boy was no unlikely that I had arguments about it, swearing blind I had seen them perform together on TV in 1977 and being soundly and roundly disbelieved (it finally came out as a single in 1982, which settled the argument). Anne Nightingale had played Bruce Springsteen's live version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, once in the late 70s, but no-one had ever seen a copy on vinyl, until finally it snuck out as a b side in 1985. The most elusive was The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping. Simon Mayo would play it every year, but I could never find a copy. And it had never been on an album at the time, and singles were deleted pretty fast, especially Xmas singles that never even made it into the charts. Finally it popped up on a CD compilation in 1993, around which time everything seemed to become available and a little bit more mystery was lost forever.

I remember my dismay when, in 1981, a friend's family said they'd watched a video on Christmas Day. The thought of not watching the same Christmas Day TV as the rest of the country was anathema.

The big TV advert of Christmas 1983 was for Laserdisc. Two policemen walked round a deserted Trafalgar Square, explaining that there were no crowds this year because everyone was at home watching their Laserdiscs. No they weren't. I know the one person who bought one. His name's Steve. He only ever had two discs for it: Grease and Lenny Henry Live. I don't think he watched either.

Last Christmas we were in Edinburgh, in a flat on the Royal Mile, looking out over the snow free rooftops. Our tree was areal one, walked from the foot of Broughton St all the way to the High St. A number of people asked us where we'd got our tree from, as if we were locals and the only people who knew where to buy a tree. It ended its life being smuggled among the trees outside the Spiegeltent in Princes St Gardens. I wonder if anyone ever noticed.

There are more Christmas memories, but that will do for the moment.

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