Connect Magazine Bard’s Eye View Dec-Jan 2004

Bard’s Eye View

So, it’s that time again. Connect’s illustrious industrious editor e-mailed to give me an absurdly early deadline for this piece, pointing out as he did so it that since this was the December/January issue it might be appropriate to turn my attention to New Year’s Resolutions. Mr. Foster doesn’t know this but the way this suggestion turned my thoughts at once to resolutions made me question my own suggestibility and I at once resolved to be less suggestible. Then I realised I’d broken the resolution in the act of making it. So I decided to put it off ‘til the New Year, to prove I was doing it in my own time and of my own volition. Thereby playing right into his cunning hands. Damn.

A New Year’s resolution I often used to make was to stop procrastinating. I’d resolve it in December, to start in January, but that delay in itself set a powerful precedent and I’d always end up putting off full implementation ‘til next year. After keeping this up for several years I decided to turn my procrastinating skills to work on themselves, and resolved, rather than give up procrastination, to simply put it off indefinitely. And it worked. I now have all the time in the world, I just never get around to taking it. It’s a great method. A bit like the Atkins diet but with lower attendant risk of heart failure.

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But this time of year isn’t just for looking forward, albeit with hope, optimism and good intentions. It’s also a time for reflecting in what has been, for looking back with satisfaction, relief, and misty-eyed indignation. When I glance back over my year what stands out are the festivals of the Summer and Autumn, in particular the WestCountry Story-Telling Festival at Hood Manor, Dartington, organised by Toby Fairlove and Chris Salisbury, and the Off the Wall Comedy Festival in Exeter run by Mandy Williamson of Mind. Very different festivals run by very different people on entirely different scales, but with one thing in common – I thought they were terrific. The magic of the former and the chutzpah of the latter will probably not be seen again this year, unless of course you make it to the One Night Stanza at the Kingsbridge Inn, Totnes, on December 19th. This will be hosted by Hilary Menos and Stephen Park. Be there or be cast adrift on an ocean of aridity.

Of course it’s also a time for looking neither forward with anticipation nor back with affection – but around, in bewilderment. Every year Christmas seems to come earlier, costlier and crasslier. Every year we shake our heads over the commercialisation of Christmas and every year satirists bemoan the efforts of the clergy to dilute the traditional consumerism of Christmas with religion. One year a member of my family – who later denied it – told me that ‘Christmas is a time for saying things you don’t mean to people you don’t like’. I thought, I hope you’re not just saying that. But of course what this person was referring to in their playful, cryptic way, was that this is the season of goodwill. Which it is, for me. Families get together – or at least take the trouble to come up with excuses why they don’t – there are fairy lights, carols (proving the devil doesn’t have all the best tunes) and, um, cards.

When I first came to the South Devon area I didn’t get many Christmas cards. However I did receive a range of cards wishing me a Warm Solstice, a Merry Saturnalia and once, slightly inaccurately, a Happy Hanukkah. Because Christmas isn’t just about Christmas. Or rather, there’s always been Christmas at Christmas, it just hasn’t always been called Christmas. There’s always been a festival of light in the darkness, of renewal, an affirmation of warmth and light in the midst of the cold and dark. This ancient thread is unbroken with the secular tradition of Morecambe and Wise Christmas special repeats – the closest thing to communion I experienced as a kid, culminating always with the ritual singing of ‘Bring me sunshine….’

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Recently I went online to research the pagan origins of Christmas. Google came up with a list of likely suspects with all the key words in the right order, but rather than scholarly sites digging into the rich anthropological soil of pre-Christian worship, they were all Fundamentalist sites denouncing Christmas as essentially pagan and thus likely to put the souls of the faithful in jeopardy. It reminds me of time not that very long ago when a yoga class was cancelled in a nearby church hall. Cancelled not because too few people signed up but because someone decreed that yoga, being developed over thousands of years by Hindu ascetics, was unChristian. And thus mildly satanic – if you can be mildly satanic. Perhaps it’s true what they say – the devil has all the best postures.

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I like to think my own round-shouldered posture has been developed through ours spent hunched over a word-processor, but the truth is I never do as much writing as I do mooching.I’m often asked ‘Been writing much?’ and when I say, guiltily, ‘Not really’ people become sympathetic: ‘Writer’s block, is it?’ And before I can admit I’ve just been lazy and unimaginative they’ve excused me with this mysterious ailment. Writers block. Like tennis elbow or athlete’s foot. Or builder’s bum.

But being blocked isn’t the sole preserve of writers. A waiter with waiter’s block gets short shrift from customers and fellow waiters alike; when plumbers get blocked it’s both difficult and embarrassing; GP’s struggle through their block each time they write a prescription; and Solicitors who get blocked even have a special name – ‘conveyancers’. In fact all occupations suffer from intermittent blocks, but only writers get any sympathy.

How did this inequality come about? We’ll never know for certain, but probably a self-appointed group met up to decide who’s designated ‘malingerer’ and who’s officially ‘blocked’. In just the same way, I imagine, as church elders once met to formally debate whether animals had souls. The militants said they did, the liberals weren’t sure, and the hard-liners argued that not only did animals have no souls but nor did poor people, either. The debate was long and acrimonious but they eventually reached a compromise and decreed that poor people were edible. (This was not that long ago either, and is a matter of public record. People tend to forget quite how bad things were under the Tories.)

Anyway, I’m able to by-pass my block to wish you a cracking Christmas, a smashing Solstice and an unprecedented New Year.

Shalom.

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