Thursday, 31 December 2009

STANLEY

2009 was in most ways a very bad year for me. Apart from a nine-month struggle with my health, a message came, just before Christmas, from a friend in Australia:


"...I'm afraid to have to pass on the sad news that Stan passed away last Thursday night. After spending about 6 months in Tobago he was in New Zealand for the Tests against Pakistan. Staying at one of his favourite places in Wellington he had a suspected heart-attack during the night and died in his bed. I'm sure that this would have been one of his preferred ways of leaving us. I just can't imagine Stanley having a long illness, being in a home etc so this would have suited him just fine I'm sure. The day before he was still jogging the streets on Wellington and I've no doubt he was pounding the dance floors that evening too..."

Stanley was 72, or maybe slightly older. At least, I remember sending greetings for his seventieth birthday a couple of years ago. We never met in the flesh, having being 'introduced' over the internet by the same friend who sent the sad news; but Stan did ask me to meet him several times, when he was in Europe: to show me round his London Club (The Oxford and Cambridge, I think) and once to share a pizza at the budget hotel in the south of France where he was spending the summer. He had no base or family left in England. We had a daily correspondence going at one time. Stan spoke seven languages, once for each day of the week. I had run out by Wednesday or Thursday but kept it up heroically for a while, trying to call his bluff. He wrote poetry, as well as various articles on cricket, and emerged (in my reading) as something of a Romantic, in a buccaneering, Byronic, experience-chasing way, which the lines about him from my friend would seem to bear out. I never experienced Stanley doing his thing on the global Test cricket circuit, which was maybe a good thing since I think I would have liked that side of him less. Meeting him, I suppose, would have meant one of two things: disappointment or consolidation - but of what, though: a correspondence conducted in the ether where words have a different significance perhaps from those that come out of the mouth? The air is full of sound waves, radio waves, unseen impulses. The Stan I knew is still among them.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

I NEVER GOT WHERE I AM TODAY BY WEARING UNDERPANTS WITH BEETHOVEN ON THEM....

That's a quote spotted in this month's Saga magazine to promote the remakes of the Reggie Perrin series. As though Martin Clunes (Patron Saint of Middle England) could ever replace the immortal Leonard Rossiter, who caught the role to a tee in all its poignant, existential - funny - essence. LR was a performance ARTIST!

Before I blog off Intertalea for a while, I want to send a message to Middle England...I signed ofF sick from my cancer blog (www.topicofcancer.blogspot.com) yesterday with a piece about my grandma Edith. Now the only 'crime' of Grandma E, an eccentric and sometimes 'difficult' woman (she certainly stood out....) was to be full of potential and taste and talent. And the Hocus-Pocus of the See of Eeee and the Village Hall doesn't like that at all.

This is such a banal evil, this demon of Middle England: the irritating spirit of mediocrity (and how!) and limitation that senses its own shortcomings ((well perhaps it senses because it ain't great at insight:" I never think about myself....I am always running after other people...." being a common cry) and projects them onto other, finer spirits whom it seeks to crush. I am absolutely serious about this. This is why so many shy, retiring, hesitant souls get labelled 'schizophrenic' or difficult Within the Family, or need their bums smacking or taking down a peg or two by Hocus Pocus of the Harvest Supper. Or by Hocus Pocus at the Doctor's Surgery (blank stare - if you're lucky; click; 'take a seat please in the smelly shit-filled downstairs waiting room...').

Had she lived under the Nazis, I am convinced that my mother (a Parish Assistant at the Chester See of Eeee Diocese) would have been one of the low-grade administrators who kept the sinister regime in motion - not in a spectacular way; it doesn't have to be spectacular; it just has to go on functioning. My mother - in her supreme authority - removed a bottle of whiskey and a fruit cake from the grave next to my late father's because it was 'against the rules' to leave things like that littering what is actually a revolting blasted heath of a cemetary. No celebration of life there in any way whatsoever. I asked what she'd done with the cake and the bottle i.e. given them to the Homeless (although not many of them hanging around in rural, rich Vale Royal); but she said she had thrown them in the bin. As she put the late Deborah Hutton's cancer help book (the one I asked her to get when I was diagnosed four years ago)) straight up on the shelf - unopened. And my own first novel - in the same place ('When I saw what it was about, I couldn't read it' , she said....), until I retrieved the copy at Christmas and gave it to a very dear friend - who did want to read it, but didn't even know I had bloody well written a novel at all, let alone two more since! That's what happens when you spend your time with Hocus Pocus, locked up in a drawer, condemned (well not quite...) to a sugary diet of cakes and biscuits (terrific bakers, these parish assistants, it has to be said) and - worse - a soul feed of tacky 'women's' novels about poor Victorian virgins who don't quite get into THAT sort of trouble, but sail pretty close to the wind. They're not even as good as Barbara Cartland books- because at least the Pink Dame's stories are full of tight-breeched Bucks, who let the virgins know what they are after in no uncertain terms. At least some RUTTING spirit there...

I think about the Parish Assistant wielding the Chalice up at the altar this last Christmas in her ridiculous red wool, special Christmas cape. The Christmas Day service at that Cheshire church had every trapping of a family holiday - about 50 people there (the visiting relllies boosting the usual number of four-five old regulars); there was even a sprinkling of snow. My daughter refused point blank to go up to the rail; but I went up ('Horrible for Joan if she doesn't...' muttered a person unknown to me - an old lag, from the pew behind...). But I am not in communion with the See of Eeeee anymore; so I did not take the Sacraments. The Vicar put his hand on my head - which was nice, and I avoided the parish assistant's eye. God, she was hanging on to that Chalice for dear life, apportioning out the fair share.

But what was in it, I wonder? I always thought it was an Article of Faith (cultural practice) in the See of Eeeee to say the Creed before Communion (my poor, seeking father and his Articles .....). But all we'd done was sing some peculiar song (well, Cara wouldn't sing it..), the Vicar making us repeat one verse three times (in a teribly shambolic and embarrassed way), though the signifance eluded me then, and I certainly can't remember it now. The other embarrassing moment at such services is the exchange of the Sign of Peace, where total strangers (British strangers - Gawd!) are meant to turn to one another and shake each others' hands. Imagine it - and here, for a wonderful book about British Behaviour, I highly recommend Kate Fox's 'Watching the English'; or any Popular Anthropology by Kate Fox. You would have to Google her... She's highly entertaining - but her research is bona fide. Meticulous.

The couple in front were game though, the woman swaying and holding up her hands; so there must have been some significance, somewhere. 'Let's get out of here,' Cara said; but, of course, we could not. That would not have been polite, and certainly not the right form on Christmas Day in rural Cheshire. I can't stand to see bad manners developing in my girl (local Ed Authority that offers no sort of moral leadership in its overtested over statisticised schools managed by people with MBAs take note) - so she sat on and stuck it out. The Vicar did preach, opening by asking the assembled who had opened their Christmas presents yet, and who was waiting till later. We were waiting (very good of Cara, I thnk, though in my case, I didn't want any bloody Christmas presents: I was feeling ill and dizzy and dreading the anticipation of having to lug a whole load of unwanted gifts back down to Cornwall on the blasted CrossCountry Train that doesn't have adequate luggage space - putting it mildly. I went into a reverie, planning where around my mother's spacious house I would jettison the loot - not difficult to do amongst her doll and teddy collections; she has well over a hundred dolls, sitting about the place with sinister little glass eyes and china cheeks; and about the same number of teddies, some dressed like Mrs Tiggywinkle or Hunca Munca. You get the picture. Beatrice Potterland - Big Time. Must be worth a few quid though. She was always promising them to my daugher. Oh no......No. No.

Anyway, after the present speech (about half had opened; half not), I can't remember what the Vicar went on to say. He was entertaining though; and I liked him - of course - because he came from Liverpool. (Beloved City where I went to the truly excellent and pioneering Belvedere School.) The last Vicar there to cover those 3 village churches though, was involved in some sort of scandal for giving let us say inappropriate comfort to a number of widows. (My poor father - he'd liked that vicar, too - talk about 'Jamaica Inn' - the ravenous Vicar of Altarnun, a real wolf in sheep's clothing, that one, and one of Daphne DuMaurier's very best creations. She sure spotted a Universal type there.

Anyway widow-chasing Vicar's wife - a very drab-looking, crushed sort of jam-making woman, had a sideline flogging Tupperware (TM) around the village while the Parson (interesting etymology: it comes from the Person of the parish - i.e. the Man in Charge....the Man the great revisionist John Wesley wanted to kick off his smug little perch....) called on his flock. I was up there once - when Cara was small, we only ever visited two or three times - I think you'll get why. Cara was about 3, and needed to eat around six; but Parson Widow- Chaser just sat there, my parents fetching him tea, waiting for his wife to return with her Tupperware (TM) money. In the end, I got up and said I was going to to need to fix some food for Cara; at which point he took the hint. My parents didn't like it though. The parish assistant was mortified. And boy, did I get it from my father!

But there is light at the end of this sad litte tunnel, for Parish Assistants end up in an old folks' home, out of sight and out of mind. (Well, certainly out of mine!) Parish Assistants end up in 'Shady Pines'. Remember that marvellous, Golden Girls series (US ) in which the feisty Dorothy, a Jewish (or is she Italian?) Matriarch from NYC, under seige in her autumn years from her doddery Ma, threatens the old bag every time she slips up with the immortal admonishment: 'Shady Pines, Ma! SHADY PINES.!.'

Anne Morgellyn 27.4.09

Thursday, 23 April 2009

ST GEORGE'S DAY

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW TO ST GEORGE - just might help straighten out who he is, if not quite why we do or don't celebrate his Day in England now....For those who don't know, George is our Patron Saint, like the Irish have Patrick (we've all heard of HIS DAY, sure, with the Guinness chasers 3 for 2 in pubs in Taunton when I was there on 17 March this year (sneaking an early Pizza Express at 5pm, before the streets got too slicked up with vomit....), and 'the English' peasantry running around in daft green wigs and leprechaun hats.....


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George


England. Ah England. My Lionheart. We no longer deserve a saint like George, though he'd do well to come and give us a bloody big kick up our mealy-mouthed, resentful, whingeing little pants (Arthur Smith of "The One Show " (BBC 1 today) - embarrassed about being English and wittering on in that ASININE postmoderist/mockney-accented way about multiculturalism (as though that precludes the celebration of a national day), please take note.


We deserve an Adrian Childs Day, or a Martin Sodding Clunes Day. God, George, how the mighty have fallen. No more heroes anymore...

I was at the Crown Court in Truro yesterday, swearing an oath with a receptionist woman (not even a paralegal), who looked as though she'd just got up to to dig the garden (old pants, unspeakable shapeless jumper, and frizzy hair. What does it cost to put on a skirt and blouse (and a smile) and say, good morning?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

POD OF DOLPHINS....

BBC report a sighting of dolphins in the Carrick Roads area.

When I hear things like this, I am reminded exactly why I made the decision to move to Conrwall. That is, Cornwall itself. The land. Or, in this case, the sea. My name - in Cornish - yeah, see, I do know some Cornish (unlike the numpties on the Piazza in Truro the other week, who told the roving reporter that they were LOCALS - but when asked to come out with a greeting in Kernwek, couldn't even muster an 'ello, my ansome...'). Anyway, my name....My name, mor ((sea) gellyn (holly).

And when I hear that the dolphins are coming back, the low numpty culture that, sadly, blights the people of this place through its pathetic attempts to administer any kind of social benefit, be it in local state education, city planning, or plain simple everday common courtesies between human beings, can do no evil.

Glorious morning at Malpas yesterday, with the tide in and the sun gleaming on the river....

Monday, 2 February 2009

Weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania | Photo - Yahoo! News UK

Weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania | Photo - Yahoo! News UK


http://uk.news.yahoo.com/22/20090202/img/pod-weather-prognosticating-31a4c5e56899.html
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Two Terries

I know two Terries in Truro: He-Terry (Terry) and She-Terry (Terri). Tonight, I came back to a gentle admonishment from He-Terry (who kindly follows my blogs) that I should make these posts more positive. He is quite right, of course. I have no right to be so grumpy and crone-like, even if I have nearly attained the age of The Crone - a female archetype which, so my Falmouth friend, John tells me, gives permission to let oneself go and go on at all and sundry as a sort of warm-up to full-tilt Old Git-dom. In mitigation for these bursts of Crone-like crabbiness, I offer a quote from the preamble to my daughter's quarter-term report, which states: 'The early part of the Lent term can be characterised by cold weather and a certain feeling of post Christmas deflation.' Quite.

She-Terry, meanwhile, decided to bring me a pasty for my supper in case I had nothing in after my tough journey through post Christmas snow, which hasn't so much deflated the UK today as brought it to a state of near prostration. The pasty was cold, but it warmed the cockles of my heart no less for that. And I escaped the worst of the weather. And my daughter is safe, and the hamster is still alive, at the ripe old age (for a hamster) of two years two months. And, as the train came through Lostwithiel, I saw one solitary golden daffodil cheering up the punters from a station planter. Yes, indeed: I should - and I do - count my blessings.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

BURNS NIGHT

25 January is the traditional date to commemorate Scottish poet, Robbie Burns(a poet I have always struggled to understand, even when 'translated' into English; because Scotland, I'm afraid to say, is not a place that holds many happy memories for me...).

BUT....

The BBC have roped in no less a personage than HRH The Prince of Wales to read a couple of Burns's poems online. Here's a sample:

'My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.'

Doesn't this ring a bit false? Doesn't it, doesn't it...? For starters, Charles Windsor (or Charles Mountbatten (corruption of the German 'Battenburg' -Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) isn't even Scottish! His grandma, the late 'Queen Mum' was a Scot of sorts, though seems to have spent most of her life in England, supping G and Ts with English Upper Class society. But he is a crypto German with a bit of Danish mixed in...I can understand why his heart's in the Highlands, though - like many of his poor benighted subjects right now, I guess: any dreamland will do to escape the Recession. But I always thought that the great Robbie -(Rabbie?) B himself was a lowlander. Did he not come from Dumfrieshire???

There's nothing new under the sun. We're still 'led' by in this country (or expected to defer to) whimsical fools caught up their own entrails of nostalgia. ('My heart's in the Highlands' indeed - well, f... off there, Sir, give up your Succession, and start paying a few more taxes...!). And the BBC, playing true to its toadying form, commissions a non-Scot Royal to lead the honours...Where's the logic in that? What a load of old Cobblers, as HRH the Duke of Edinburgh (Charles' German-Danish dad) might say...Plus ca change...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

PRINCE ALBERT (OUCH!)

Extraordinary search (research, in fact) for Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, threw up 2 links - before the one to the Prince himself - to 'Prince Albert (PA)' which turns out to be a 'popular' type of penis piercing. Clicking on the Wikipedia link - quite by accident, I promise, because I made this search in all innocence (I could have been a child researching a history project, for God's sake!) produced some horribly graphic pictures, showing where the ring was to be positioned in both circumcised and fully capped male members. Have we gone completely mad? Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, for all his probable faults (especially as a parent to his eldest son) deserves far better than a third place listing on Google below some sick popular fetish. When I wrote PINCUSHION, the third in a series of psychological chillers (available in BeWrite Books via Amazon et al), I wanted to question the stupid fashion for body piercing, rationalised, very solemnly, for me by a bestudded and pierced anthropologist with whom I taught 'contextual/cultural' studies some years ago at a second-rate art school recently turned into a 'university college'. (This same college, in Cornwall, was funding the final year of her PhD research into fetish clubs in London, and even paid, through the same round of research funding, for the massive tattoo she had done on her sternum; in fact, she took immense gratification from flashing her cleavage at the Principal, remarking that 'he'd paid for it...) I knew, from her research (and photos from The Torture Garden) that genital piercing was quite a fad (so much for originality and personal autonomy..); but calling these penis rings after 'Prince Albert' is new to me - and quite beyond the pale.

Cripes!

Meanwhile, rockets fall on Gaza, children are murdered by their parents, and 500 plus jobs per day, it seems, are being axed in Britain's economic downturn.

We don't live in a perfect world, I know, but these 'Prince Alberts' make no sense at all, and the fact that they are 'mainstream', it seems, evidenced by top billing on Google, only makes fools of us all.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

MAKE DO AND MEND

Watched a 'Style' programme on BBC4, covering the fashions and habits of wartime Britain. Clothes were, necessarily, less ornate, but elegant, nonetheless, and certainly smarter than they are now in our infantile age of tracksuits and trainers. Food was scarcer and frugally used, but healthier and more democratic since even the 'best' restaurants were obliged to offer meals at a government-fixed price, equating the cost of a meal at The Ritz, for instance, with one at a Greasy Spoon in the old East End. There was a sense of danger, the Blitz making every hour an uncertain proposition. So people made an effort to look their best and get on with it. Ostentation and excess were out. You had to make do and mend.

I still have many of my grandma's things from the 1940s, including photo-magazines dramatically capturing The Blitz, and a whole trunk full of clothes patterns. (Such was grandma's skill at making do, I even have a few of her old wartime Clothing Coupons.) When I downsized here from her old house to my tiny one, my biggest regret was leaving her old treadle-operated Singer sewing machine, although I still wear the magnificent sheepskin coat she made on it (after the War) and one or two other pieces untroubled by the moth. Grandma always looked stylish, although her 'look' was probably fixed in the 1930s (and I still have her Twenties silk wedding gown and tennis dresses). She carried on making do and mending long after the War was over, guided by the less-is-more principle and the kind of 'investment' dressing that valued quality above all else. Her clothes were always made of the finest wool or silk or cotton, with the exception of her nylon stockings (after rationing had stopped, of course).

On Monday, on a two-hour break between trains in Reading, I wandered aimlessly around the Sales; but, in spite of the 70 percent reductions (which mean little, really, since most of these things were over-priced in the first place), I saw little of enduring value and certainly nothing to tempt me to do my patriotic bit and spend (how absurd that diktat is!). It was the same in Truro yesterday, which is now making me wonder why I am bothering to 'save myself' for London when I go up again next week. There are more interesting things to be had in many of the charity shops, my current favourite being The Salvation Army one off Regent St, W1. It seems as though we have become so used to an excess of disposable tat (a throwaway consumer society, sacrificing to to the gods of shopping every Sunday), we just can't cope when 'deprived' of unlimited opportunities to spend. God help this country if we were under fire like the people of Gaza. It has now become politically unwise for a Labour Goverment to start issuing austerity measures (though the Tories had no choice during the War), so instead, we get the likes of Peter Mandelson promising to shore up businesses (what businesses., I wonder - not bloody INDUSTRIES, I bet) with taxpayers' money 'to get the economy going'. I object to this. Sure, the Thatcher government did nothing to help the miners and everything to help Britain run down into the stupid, financial services-led economy that has got us into this current mess; but non-intervention can, sometimes, make people more resourceful - happier, even, in their own resourcefulness. As someone living on a fixed income, and recently a semi-invalid, I hated the excess of recent years. I longed for a time of more frugality, reflection, quality, genuine creativity, rather than the celebrity flim-flam kind (a la Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand - you know what I mean). Maybe the hour is coming. So let's make do and mend..

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

STAYCATIONING

It seems that The Collins English Dictionary people have been having a huge lot of fun with new entries for the coming year, examples of which are:

1. Staycation: a holiday at home (or at least not one taken abroad);
2. Recessionista: someone who can't afford a holiday at home OR abroad;
3. Manscaping: grooming a man's body hair (the mind boggles...);
4. Bad-bank: i.e. Northern Rock or other state-supported financial institution (all Icelandic banks perhaps);
5. Credit-crunch: No explanation needed;
6. Brickor mortis: the product of items 4 and 5; and
7. Downturn: we should all know that by now.

Most sobering of all perhaps are:

8. Antisocial networking: posting a negative message about someone on Facebook et al; and
9. Defriending.

I had to defriend someone recently. A woman who I went to school with (in the last century, of course), who I can't really remember as ever being a close friend of mine but who suddenly got in touch with me about ten years ago to announce that she was going to visit me in Cornwall with her new (much younger) husband and baby son. They arrived about 3 hours late with her remarking sniffily: 'Oh, it's small and noisy here, isn't it?'. After listless conversation and the dried up lunch I offered, we all went out into the garden where they proceded to take snaps of each other, but none of me (the long-lost 'friend') or my very photogenic daughter. Nevertheless, the Christmas cards kept coming after this dismal reunion, every year, without remission, and latterly including those dreadful, smug bulletins about what the three of them had been doing. It was like being assaulted by unwanted information; and, as with any unwanted information I might tune into quite involuntarily on the radio or TV (or web), I decided it was time to turn it off, especially since my own, weakly expressed exchange of information (I actually apologised for not sending them a Christmas card this year) met with a pompous and outrageously patronising rebuff about someone as obviously poor as me letting myself into a load of trouble for sending my talented daughter to a top independent school (the point about her scholarship had obviously not been well made), not to mention considering a boarding education for her - particularly insensitive this, since I would never have considered it at all had I not been a lone parent with cancer. Then I got a load of patronising but clearly unsympathetic comments about my cancer treatment. So I defriended. 'Thank you for getting in touch at Christmas, I wrote, 'but I haven't seen you for many years and I think it's fair to say that, at nearly fifty, we have both moved on.' There was a reply, but, true to my defriending principles, I declined to read it. The D word in Collins thus rang a bell with me yesterday, but not a pleasant one. Not a D major!


The prospect of staycationing at home here in Cornwall doesn't fill me with the joys of spring either. But spring is coming, and I think I might manage a short staycation in south east England, looking for a medium to long term move when the curse of the bad banks has been lifted and brickor mortis relieved.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

WISE WORDS

These words of wisdom were sent to me today by my friend, Rosie Howes:

"The Budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest [we] become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance'

Cicero, 55 BC"


QED. So is there really nothing new under the sun?

Saturday, 3 January 2009

CELEBRATING HITLER

Seems that Liverpool's successor as Euro City of Culture is not some Baltic town, as I had thought (where did that come from??) but the Austrian city of Linz, so beloved of Adolf Hitler (known in my family as Asshole Shitler) that he planned to build a 5-star luxury ADOLF HITLER HOTEL in the place and plant statuary representing German 'heroes' (some contradiction in terms there, what?) along the city's 'Niebelungen Bridge'. Far from distancing themselves from this dubious (to put it politely) legacy, the good burghers of Linz (too many old Nazis and their descendants on these teutonic Councils, I fear ) are refusing to 'sweep Adolf Hitler (Shitler) under the carpet', but are determined to celebrate his association with their city with a series of reference points along the so-called culture tour.

OK, so Linz is one place I won't be visiting, ever. I have already cancelled my trip to Vienna in March, and feel quite glad about that now, whereas before I was wavering.

Adolf Hitler and Culture. It beggars belief. Can't the Austrians find someone else - surely - to celebrate? Mozart (done him to death, I guess), Schubert, even Johann Strauss..(but he was Jewish, I think - hmmmmmmmmm).

Thursday, 1 January 2009

NEW BEGINNINGS

2008 ended for me where it began, in the metaphorically and meteologically cool city of Liverpool, which has just handed over to some uncool place in the Baltic states (I think) as European City of Culture. After a miserable Christmas, which saw me in a very dark place indeed, post 'flu and a dose of the family break-ups which always come back to haunt me at the end of the old year, Liverpool has raised my spirits. It was my salvation long ago, when I was at school there and discovered such treasures as The Walker Art Gallery, The Playhouse, and The Neptune Theatre. Not to mention, of course, the irrepressible heart of the people. All the cliches about the place are true - Scallies and all, but it remains a cool cool place, up there with the coolest places on earth.

Apart from that, the so-called festive season consisted largely, as far as I could see, of dodging viruses (no easy feat on stuffy UK trains) and the feeding-frenzy that is the Yuletide shopping fest. It's not really festive at all any more, because there is so much of it. Christmas may be there, ostensibly, to celebrate the birth of the divine Infant, Jesus Christ, but in the second Millenium it's become well and truly infantilised. It used to be the case that only (lucky) children received a large number of Christmas presents; but now everyone is expected to 'buy' for the slightest adult acquaintance, and not just tokens of appreciation and regard, but sackfuls of unwanted tat. I read somewhere that eBay saw a surge on Boxing Day in sales of unwanted Christmas presents. Something like a billion pounds worth of tat. (Credit crunch - wot credit crunch?!) It's probably fair to say that Christians, whose feast this is, buy less than anyone else, because it's only practising Christians who see Dec 25th as something more than a day of gross self-indulgence - not that there aren't plenty of self-indulgent Christians, too, I am sure. Because the New Year has come, with its universal message of hope and renewal that everyone can understand and believe in, I feel able to crawl out from under my stone to say these Scrooge-like, curmudgeonly things. But I can't be the only one who feels like this about Tinsel-Tide.

Animals set store by winter and hibernate. Come autumn, we humans too used to garner and gather in, but now we expect to have an abundant harvest, all the time, 365 shopping days of the year. So while I feel deeply for those who are losing their jobs in retail following the demise of giant chains like Woolworth, MFI, et al, I won't be venturing out to the sales to spend money I can't afford. This is not, in any case, the way to shore up a failing economy; but perhaps the old way of simple economy is. It's salutary to have to save for treats, instead of indulging the infantile drive to have it all on demand. It's creative to scour one's cupboards to cobble up frugal but nutritious meals, instead of spending a fortune on packaged 'cuisine' at Marks and Spencer's food-porn theatre. (OK, home made pea soup might not be as sexy as some M and S pudding oozing chocolate and cream, but it is better for body and soul.) It is character-building to learn to live within one's means. At least, I hope it is - it's been a long time since I had to to do it. But I have done it in the past, when some weeks, in Maggie Thatcher's '80s hell, I had only about a fiver to live on (and sometimes had to borrow that fiver from my neighbour). We are still one of the world's richest economies. Most of us have food to eat, water to drink, and a bed to sleep in. Most of us, note - but by no means all. And it is the by-no-means-all that should be exercising us, not the closing of another tacky furniture store or the failure to get the banks to credit us with some tacky package holiday or planet-polluting car. We may not have the sense to know it, but we have it pretty good.