Bearded man with a sack (Picking up the pieces)
Christmas is soon upon us. From those last summer moments stolen on the beach at Hornsea when I came down with the 'flu, to the warm tinsel glitter that radiates from shop windows on dark December mornings, it seems but a flutter of leaves and a lash of rain. It all goes so quickly - autumn. (Or am I getting old?). I mean it only seems like last week my kids were demanding fireworks and at work I was up to my ankles in dead leaves. Now my wife is kneeling on the rug amid a string of christmas lights, messing around with coloured bulbs that won't work and using expletives which would embarrass a binman. My eldest daughter sings tunelessly (and endlessly) about christmas bells, little donkeys and the angel Gabriel. Are they (I ask myself), trying to tell me something???
Of course you can't help but notice. Large, green conifers have been gracing precincts and squares in Calderdale for some weeks now, and last week the electricians moved in with the coloured lights.(I wonder if they use that swear word?) Then this is where I come in. Every morning up to Christmas I get to sweep up the slivers of broken glass from the smashed bulbs! The council can't win of course. If they replace the bulbs every day they get accused of 'wasting taxpayers money'. If on the other hand they threaten to dispense with the lights altogether then the local paper is inundated with letters about 'mean, penny pinching "Scrooges" at the town hall'. This time I notice, there has been a compromise - the tree lights have been fixed as high up as possible. Looks like this Christmas is going to be a bumper one for airguns!
Bing Crosby lied. Christmas in West Yorkshire is a brown and decidedly feculent phenomenon. Santas' diesel powered articulated sleigh has just passed me by at speed, blotching my overalls with a gutterful of black sludgy water as he disappears into the monday morning mizzle, no doubt en route for some obscure loading bay at the back of ASDA's. Lots of toys for girls and boys, lots of mums and dads - using plastic to buy plastic. Every christmas is a white Christmas as far as the shops are concerned. Walking through the freezing fog on a dark morning the shop windows look warm and inviting, aglow with holly, tinsel and imitation snow. The window of a dress shop at King Cross in Halifax has suddenly been filled with large wooden doll's houses, each bearing a 'miniature estate agents' poster (and prices to match). Across the streets the greengrocer is putting out Christmas trees. It's a scene faintly Dickensian - a narrow alley runs between the shops- it's unevenly paved and smells of urine, but as you pass hrough the reverie is broken - the artful dodger didn't leave coke cans and polystyrene pizza trays!
This Dickensian thing is everywhere. It's as if we want to escape from the depressing 90's and retreat to some victorian utopia filled with figgy puddings, useless ornaments and raging log fires, a place where Britain still rules the waves and its always Christmas. Go to Walkley's clogs at Hebden Bridge and you find yourself in a Victorian fairyland, go anywhere in York in the run up to Christmas and 'outside' is like the inside of the Castle Museum. Everything is bright, beautiful, artistic, sentimental and pseudo antique. Yet but if one is honest with oneself, there is also a feeling that so much of it is also superfluous, useless and decidedly pricey. Its pretty but its unreal- a sham. Mr Kipling might bake exceedingly good cakes, but he bakes them by the billion. That roaring log fire in your lounge was installed by NEGAS. What about the other victorian goodies our ancestors enjoyed? Damp hovels, the workhouse, infant mortality and cholera?? Such things are conveniently ignored. Oliver Twist always has happy ending. Perhaps this hankering for the past is the manifestation of a desire to escape the rampant consumerism that besets us on all sides, but the reality is that in attempting to do so we only replace one kind of consumerism with another.
The run-up to Christmas is far more exciting than Christmas itself. Christmas for street sweepers is rather a damp squib. Thanks to privatisation we are obliged to provide all year round 'cover'. This means we get Christmas day off, but are usually expected to work Boxing Day or New Year's Day. Trying to get a week off by taking annual leave doesn't work either, unless you booked it in summer. When you have been used to always having a week off at Xmas it rankles somewhat. All the world seems to be on holiday, and here you are trudging through the dark, murky morning - emptying litter bins and trying to avoid being run over. It's the only time of the year you wish you could be ill!
I tend to listen to my walkman a lot as Christmas approaches. It's not because I am especially enamoured of 'wunnerful radio one' but because the headphones keep my ears warm. While the adverts proclaim the wonderful Christmas bargains to be had at local stores, DJs talk of Santa suits and sponge antlers for dogs which are currently the rage in Texas. We have no right to laugh - a little bird informs me that in Leeds multicoloured condom earrings are on sale!
Meanwhile, beneath the leaden skies of Elland the raw wind whistles through the bus shelter and my bones suggest to me that maybe it's going to snow tonight. Back home again the kids have subsided from singing carols for a while, and are nattering for their sledges to be brought up from the cellar. I've told them repeatedly that frost is not the same as snow, but they think I'm just being awkward. My 14 year old stepson browses optimistically through catalogues pointing at motor bikes and £400 computers. Kids have a logic entirely their own, and unrealistic hype-fuelled expectations to match!
It seems to me that somewhere down the line we lost the point of Christmas. We spend large amounts of money on items we can ill afford and do not really need - we eat too much, drink too much, and suffer accordingly, and then, anaesthetised by Bailey's Irish Cream and the Best of Morecambe and Wise, the pre-Christmas lemming mania subsides,