Let’s be honest – it’s been a helluva year and difficult to shake free of the images of misery: Ukraine; food banks; the cost of heating; Suella; the state of education in Scotland; strikes; Robbie Coltrane died. I could go on. Now, of course as an oldie of some means I am fairly shielded from all this but still, in essence, all of us are involved. It salves me to know that Mr Swinney is raising taxes to pay for the NHS in Scotland, it honestly does.
I like Christmas and I like it more now that I am retired and have time; when in the USA Mr F and I purchased a number of new ornaments for the tree – a pineapple (symbol of hospitality); a splendid felt chicken; a birds nest with eggs in it; a pair of dolphins. The tree itself survived a year in the garden which gives me great pride, though I fear it will be dead by New Year. There is a light show in our front garden which I intend to develop annually till death. While I am increasingly far from being a Christian (along with Scottish society in general) I am always moved by the Christmas story and indeed have been trying to master Steve Earle’s ‘Nothing But A Child’ on the ukulele, which may result in a public performance at some point in the next few years. This event will be free.
Plus I am basically an optimist. I am the least self-critical person I know, which has, I think, done me no harm. Too much blame and self-flagellation is bad for your stomach. So, as Christmas comes, here are things that have cheered me during the year, some sublime and some, if not ridiculous, well, fairly particular.
Lula won and vanquished another of the bossy populist nasties.
In July, Joni Mitchell appeared with Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival, an event which I have always wanted to attend but probably never will. Joni is old and not wholly well, but she did fine, sitting, appropriately on a kind of throne. This genius. They started ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, then had to stop. Brandi turned to her band – all male – and said ‘C’mon guys, stop crying and play the tune…’
On a bleak cold morning in February, on a deserted Portobello Promenade, I am approached by two girls, maybe 8 or 9. They are selling Rice Krispie cakes for the Cat and Dog Home. I have no cash, and they accept my apology gracefully and skip back to their shop on the sea wall. It is no longer so bleak or so cold.
Then there were all the things to do with my book, which put me back in touch with hosts of people – ah Michael Wells, who knew you would look much the same 42 years after you were 12 and in my class! And having a table, (a table!) laden with copies in Waterstone’s. I imagined my dad looking at them.
The result from Nevada. Warnock in Georgia. The fact that that insane woman lost in Arizona. Biden increasingly looking like everyone’s grandad, and the young responding by saving democracy in the USA. As we travelled through the rural South, people were charming and kind. Perhaps the lunacy, if not over, is fading.
It is the summer and I am going to Musselburgh to have lunch with Janey, so I am happy. I get off the bus behind some young lad and he walks away fast across the bridge over the river. On that bridge is waiting another boy and they run into each other’s arms and kiss hard. It is 2022 in Musselburgh; ‘Heartstopper’ is on the telly and it has become all right for boys to kiss on a bridge at noon.
The Ukrainian woman FaceTiming a Russian mother to tell her that her boy was ok and missing her. The feeling that Putin will go in 2023, and I don’t care how.
I am in John Lewis. I am entitled, by dint of my My John Lewis card (oooooh I have soooo many loyalty cards, being a tremendously loyal individual) to a free panettone (only a little one, but it made a nice pudding). I approach the desk, where an anxious old lady with a TV that’s not working is being dealt with by a grim and ancient customer assistant. The Saturday boy is watching his boss and clearly afraid. He attends to me, but alas, the necessary app isn’t working on my phone because of the signal in the store. I try and try; I go for a walk and try again but to no avail. I return, exasperated. The boy is caught between fear of the old manager and common sense. ‘I will not come back for another one,’ I say, ‘I am 65 and I have an honest face.’ The boy hands me the cake ‘And it’s Christmas,’ he says.
Actually it was November 3rd.
And just today I hear that Mabel has died. Mabel was my late mother’s best friend at school and she died aged 91. Mabel was widowed very early with three kids. She went to college, got her Highers, and trained as a primary school teacher, then taught till she retired. I liked Mabel, and thinking of her, in a classroom I have never seen, made me warm on a winter’s day. A good life.
Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring tingle tingling too….