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.