It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

The Christmas lights are on; and fat Santa is standing in the alcove. We have some holly; and the Christmas tree has arrived, a little larger than expected, the base of the trunk not quite fitting into the stand.

‘Just saw a bit off.’
‘With what?’
‘Ah – the saw.’
‘Which is where?’
‘I don’t know where it is but we must have one.’
‘Must we?’

After a reasonable amount of investigation, it seems that we have no saw. Or did and lost it, or gave it to someone needy. Or it rusted or pined away from neglect. We order a saw. Length: twenty-one – are these inches or centimetres? It arrives the next day.

I’m used to watching the Librarian’s dad wield a saw, which he does confidently, fluently and effectively. I, on the other hand, differ from that specification just a little and, as a spectacle, may already be a standing joke to extra-terrestrial scouts, even an element in their amusing PowerPoint presentations of life on planet Earth, once they’ve stopped laughing at Brexit. Still, the tree is now in situ, decorated and subject to the baleful stare of the cat.

So the year dwindles down. Today is a popular birthday among the literati or, more broadly, the culturati, including one of my favourite writers, Sylvia Townsend Warner, as well as Ira Gershwin, Osbert Sitwell, Alfred Eisenstadt, Dave Brubeck and Nick Park. One of the most poignant must be that of the painter Frédéric Bazille (born 6 December 1841), who enlisted in the Franco-Prussian War and, during the winter of 1870-1871, ‘the bitterest in living memory’, was killed during a minor attack on Beaune-la-Rolande, on 20 November 1870. For ten days – ten days! – Bazille’s father ‘dug in the snow-covered battleground, looking for his son. Eventually he found his body. He hauled it back to Montpellier himself, on a peasant’s cart.’[1]

(Bazille, View of the Village)

It’s still only a few months since it ceased to be the case that, when asked if I had a personal Twitter account, I would remember, and often quote, the lines in Auden’s Letter to Lord Byron:

Indeed our ways to waste time are so many,
Thanks to technology, a list of these
Would make a longer book than Ulysses.[2]

The Librarian would update me daily and more or less selectively on the latest absurdities from a deranged president, a lying Cabinet minister or an idiot actor. Taking over the Twitter account for a literary society has granted me direct and immediate access to such delights, or rather, less direct than through the commentary of individuals on my timeline. It is, of course, something of an echo chamber, since those the Society follows tend to be well-informed, well-read and clear-sighted when it comes to American politics, Brexit and the English government’s record on the Covid-19 pandemic. Specialists in the apocalypse, you might say.

Still, 2020 almost gone. A vaccine in sight. Are we downhearted, you ask – but do not, I notice, wait for an answer.


[1] Sue Roe, The Private Lives of the Impressionists (London: Chatto and Windus, 2006), 82, 83.

[2] W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland (London: Faber and Faber, 1937), 53.

Christmas listing


‘You better watch out
You better not cry’

I stir apples and quinces in the saucepan, speculate briefly on what that ferocious spirit at the bottom of the slim bottle actually is—grappa?—then tip it in anyway. It will evaporate, surely, leaving behind it the sense of something, a hint, a rumour. Perhaps you know that passage in Kipling’s—highly selective—autobiography, where he refers to the process of cutting away a story draft’s extraneous material: ‘a tale from which pieces have been raked out is like a fire that has been poked. One does not know that the operation has been performed, but everyone feels the effect.’[1] It was that same Mr Kipling who wrote the script for the first royal Christmas broadcast in 1932, which was listened to by some twenty million people Apparently, the idea had been mooted by John—not yet Lord—Reith as early as 1923, the year in which he became Director-General of the BBC.[2]

‘Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town’

‘Pout’? I get the sense that the word is used less often these days. ‘A protrusion of the lips, especially as an expression of petulance or sulkiness, or to make oneself sexually attractive; a pouting expression or mood’, the Oxford English Dictionary says, with quoted examples going back to the late sixteenth century. Could that be all that’s needed to make oneself sexually attractive? Who knew it was that easy?

The Librarian is doing complicated things with fairy lights, wrapping paper and other accessories. I conclude that Christmas is bearing down on us—fast.

‘He’s making a list
And checking it twice.’

Now that’s a properly checked checklist. People everywhere are surely compiling lists at the moment, though the roll of those whom history will damn as fools, dupes or villains is currently writing itself.

The Christmas present headings—both giving and receiving—have been sensibly whittled down to books, food and drink. Some people read, most people drink, everyone eats. Simple, a problem solved. As easy as pouting, you might say.


[1] Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, edited by Robert Hampson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), 156.

[2] Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), 571; Martin Pugh. ‘We Danced All Night’: A Social History of Britain Between the Wars (London: Bodley Head 2008), 371.