Thursday, 25 December 2008


WE WENT TO BED EARLY last night, and then woke at midnight. A quick walk outside (cold, a bit foggy), then we settled in the front room, the little fibre-optic tree switched on, and the electric fire that looks like burning coals (those were the days!) taking the chill off.

I gave Cailean his very first-ever Christmas present. A fuzzy, green slipper of his very own (hopefully mine will no longer go missing and turn up under the bathroom mat or nudged behind something) which he ran around with, at top speed, for about 15 minutes. I made a mug of Horlicks, for I am old.

Then Cailean napped on the sofa, keeping the slipper close by, and I watched the movie The Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe which is a favourite (remember reading the stories 45 years ago?) and is certainly relevant to the Christmas season.

The people upstairs were awake. They had some rather glorious Christmas carols playing on their stereo, but not too loud for comfort down here.

A couple of hours later, we went back to bed with the soft buzz of Horlicks, slippers and Aslan to send us straight off to sleep.

I'm going out to Christmas dinner with friends just after noon. We will, no doubt, watch HM The Queen's Annual Christmas Message on the telly at three o'clock. We got our first television in about 1959. I'm not sure whether the Queen's Message aired in Bermuda that year, but I've watched it in Bermuda and in England for about 50 years. Before that, we listened on the radio. It's a very nice tradition.

Growing up in Bermuda, Christmas dinner was on Christmas Eve: my grandparents, my Uncle Harry and his family, and our dear friends Margaret & Joe came every year. Turkey, ham and vegetables, roast potatoes, then sherry trifle. I recall the year I moved up from the small table to the main event. After dinner we walked through the citrus orchard to my Uncle Jack's house for eggnog and a slice of cassava pie. My sisters and I opened our gifts on Christmas morning. Always a big tin of Quality Street Chocolates from Mr & Mrs Coddington. The choccie in the purple wrap was, and still is, my favourite. Our spaniel of that year usually had a red or green bow attached to her collar. Not something my little dachshund would tolerate in 2008.

Christmas Day was quiet, leftovers to pick at, books to read, telephone calls and the Queen's Message. Sometimes my father would come by and we'd visit with him for an hour or two ... a drive in his car and we'd find a little cafe open somewhere and have a milkshake (usually too expensive an option, but it was Christmas).

On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, we'd be ferried somehow to my Uncle Harry's home for the afternoon. More eggnog and cassava pie, and another sit-down meal in the evening.

It's a wonder my sisters and I were not fat children, you might think. However, be assured that this was probably the only time of year when we exceeded our RDAs of anything.

My parents have been dead well over a decade, my grandparents are gone, Harry's and Jack's wives, my Aunt Anne and Aunt Brenda, have passed away, Joe left this life in the 1990s, the Coddingtons as well. Our spaniels were brief candles.

Of course, I returned to the UK, as did my youngest sister and her family. My other sister is anticipating (most keenly) her first grandchild in a few weeks' time, her daughter lives in the south of England and I wonder if my sister and brother-in-law can stand to be 3,000 miles away for long. This baby, a girl according to the ultrasound, would be my parents' first great-grandchild had they lived, and my grandparents' first great-great grandchild.

For Cailean, this is a first Christmas. He's only nine months old. In just a moment, we are going to walk out in the village for an hour. We'll most likely bump into some of his friends, dogs and people, as they get their exercise before lunch.

My flat is next to a little Catholic church with a very long name (let's not leave out a single local saint!) and I can hear singing there, through the fog. Christmas morning mass.

Isn't it remarkable that in this crazy world, the only sounds at this moment are carols in the mist? Christian or not, you'd have to like that.

Merry Christmas, Cailean. Merry Christmas, one and all!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

"Marty, if you see anything suspicious, you know where I am."
"The trouble with this swamp is that everything is suspicious."
Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster

IT WAS AN OFFER I had to take up: My Internet, telephone and television service all through my broadband connection, for a combined price saving me some dosh.

Of course, I agreed and asked "When?" and was told that the new Hub for the broadband would be in the post that day. I could set it up myself and in doing that would activate it. The device for the telly, however, would not be delivered until Monday, 5 January, 2009. Wait! The good news: I'd be first on the delivery list and it would be at my door at seven o'clock in that morning on the 5th. Would I be home? Well, yes. In bed. And I could install that machine on my own as well. I'm not very technical. Oh! It's simple. Easy enough for some bloke called Rui in India to say.

The next morning the broadband Hub turned up. It weighs less than the instruction booklet that came with it, if you don't include all the wires, plugs and adaptors that came in a plastic bag labelled "You may not need these. See the set-up instructions."

I called Sky TV and asked them to collect their satellite dish and equipment when convenient. They'd be right round. Before I had figured out what Hub accessories I did and did not need, there came a knock at the kitchen door. The man from Sky. He had everything removed in under five minutes, and didn't charge me for doing it. And I had only my telly and DVD player, and no connection to the outside world as far as television is concerned. I'm now counting the days until 5 January.

One would miss certain things keenly, and, fortunately, a number of our TV channels feature their programming online a day after the regular broadcast, and available to view online for a week or more. I'm not going to miss Coronation Street much to my relief: Maria has realised that Tony had her husband, Liam, killed for having the affair with Tony's fiancée Carla, and Tony realises he has to despatch Maria as well.

Watching things on my computer monitor, in the kitchen, is not the way I prefer to spend an evening. I use my computer a fair bit at other times during the day, recently on my personal genealogy project (577 names as of yesterday), and for some correspondence, and I consider my desk area an office of sorts. I like to get away from it by teatime. The sofa calls.

We have, in Amble by the Sea, a little DVD rental store. Now and then I do rent a film, but the store tends to stock the goriest horror films involving power tools and Disney cartoons. That's what they can rent and make money at it, I guess.

21st Century Movies is Amble-sized: a walk-in cupboard sort of place. Because there is so little room, the rental copies are sold off a few months after first appearing in the shop. As an extra source of income, the owner brings in rental copies from other dealers, puts them in racks out on the pavement, and sells them. And here one can find a shiny seam among all that dark computer-generated gore. I buy used DVDs for a pound or two each.

I've picked up some classic old movies, better newer films, concert films, documentaries. One never knows what to expect. There are a great many westerns, a genre I'm not terribly fond of, though I've been to Kanab, Utah, a number of times, where many of the great westerns were filmed, and loved the place. I don't care for the face. Sorry, Duke. And there are horror films. The chainsaw features sell immediately, leaving the likes of The Lost Boys, Bride of the Monster, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and real horror like Gallipoli for me to pick through. Curiously, nobody had taken In Bruges and Phonebooth and Alexander, recent offerings. Do we not care for Colin Farrell in Northumbria? In Bruges and Phonebooth have an element of horror, Alexander is just horrible.

Last night, at two o'clock in the morning, I put Bride of the Monster into the DVD player. It was made before I was permitted to go to Saturday matinees, or just never made it to Bermuda's Island Theatre. In fact, those horror and sci-fi films were missing from my childhood, with the exception of serials like Flash Gordon that ran before features that tended to be gladiator flicks. I looked for Ed Wood films after seeing the Johnny Depp comedic bio-pic.

Bride of the Monster is hilarious, camp, and makes one wonder. Was Ed Wood serious, or just having a laugh? The film features a monster which appears to be file footage of an octopus, references to that creature in Loch Ness, super-men, mind transfer, devious hypnotism, a heroine with perky breasts strapped to a gurney, electric shocks, flashing lights, sliding fireplace backs, cabins in the woods, an alligator, bumbling coppers, big cars, thunderstorms, swamps, the famous giant rubber octopus without a motor that Bela Lugosi had to manipulate himself, lights in the sky, and it ends with an atomic blast and cloud and the cop saying: "He tampered in God's domain."

There was so much thunder added to the film's soundtrack that I didn't notice that we had a storm going on outside my flat. To be honest, I expect the storm was affecting the whole of Amble and inland for a few miles. When the film ended, I heard the real storm and a metallic clanging around in the courtyard. Cailean looked out from under his blanket. Fix that, papa.

I went outside, of course, and there were plant pots tipped over, and the lid of the barbecue had taken wing, looking not unlike the saucers in Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space. The wind was howling; I could hear the sea booming on the beaches.

I secured the barbecue's lid, and looked upstairs at the windows and saw lit, real candles burning, flickering. It was three-thirty in the morning. One doesn't feel too happy knowing someone upstairs in an old building has candles burning while they might be unconscious. That really is scary. There was no sleeping on the cards for me.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Miming on the Karaoke Machine

A black cat crossed my path today
Then another made his way
That I couldn't get around

And there were cracks in the pavement
Cracks in the pavement
And I couldn't get up to you
Some downs I can't get through

But there's rain coming
Heavy rain's coming
Going to wash away
My black and blues

Cracks in the pavement
There are cracks in the pavement
What if superstition's true?
Some downs I can't get through

But there's a storm coming
A high wind's coming
Going to blow away
My black and blues

There are secret signs and evil eyes
And devouring wolves as sheep disguised
Truths whispered
Might as well be lies

But there's love coming
And peace is coming
Going to kiss away
My black and blues

I RATHER LIKE that photograph. A friend, who would know, said it looks like Heathcliff walking his ferret.

I suppose that day, abbreviated as it was so far north as we are, was the last chance to go to the beach until next spring. Next spring might be two days in August 2009, this being Northumbria. We took a bus up the coast at mid-morning, had lunch in a pub called The Hope and Anchor, then walked the few yards onto the sands and wandered about for two hours.

A nice sniff-round for Cailean: he likes to get his nose into dead crabs, empty sea-shells, strings of seaweed, and the unnatural rubbish that people drop after their polystyrene-packaged picnics are eaten, after they've smoked their rollies, after their penises deflate. Really lucky dogs find a dead seal or a stinking, bloated sheep on its back.

At the pub, I had haddock, chips and mushy peas, and a pint of lemonade. The barmaid asked if Cailean might like a plate for some of my fish, and I thought he might. However, somewhat to my embarrassment, the little dog refused to eat from the plate, and not even from my hand. There was another very large dog watching him, and some other diners making a clatter with salads, and two frightfully gay men at the bar chattered away loudly about the antique auction on the plasma screen telly attached to the end wall, apparently more interested in presenter Alistair Appleton than the hideous detritus from some old lady's attic. All so very different from my kitchen where Cailean usually sups from his steel bowl. I paid my £10, which seemed a bit steep for what I'd had, especially as my lemonade had never been near a lemon, and we scarpered.

By half-past-two the cool sunshine was quickly vanishing as a storm rolled in. I set up my camera on a bench at the back of the beach and took the one photograph with the sunset, inland, behind me. We walked quickly back to the village as the temperature started to drop, and had to jog to the bus shelter to beat the rain. We shivered there for thirty minutes, and were ready for the warm, even stuffy, bus when it turned up.

However, we'd had a day out, and during the two weeks since then we've had light snow, ice, and a blizzard, word that this is the coldest winter in 33 years, odds 3-1 that we'll have a white Christmas, more ice, and yesterday and today we've had heavy rain. In fact, we've not been more than twenty feet from the kitchen door in two days. Cailean was okay with his first snow, though he refused to pee in it because it was touching his bits (I'm like that too) and we had to step into shelters to do it. But he dislikes this icy rain and running water. Try and keep him out of a hot shower in the flat though!

We have our very small fibre-optic Christmas tree up on a table, and Cailean has totally ignored it. He has dragged his bed up against the radiator in the front room, gathered his soft toys, blanket, spare cushion and three balls around the bed, and spends a good deal of home-time there. He can see the tree with its out-of-sight-light-show (if only I'd had the tree in the 1960s, I'd have found God) and doesn't seem to care. I have to wonder if the slow changes in colour that creep over the tree rather subtly just don't register on the boy's retinas. I'm nearly in a state of Nirvana, and Cailean hides his Snakey-Snake under a blanket and has a kip.

The Christmas cards are going up on string and on the mantelpiece each day, just as my mother's were displayed, and the room looks quite jolly. My Easter cactus is blooming at Christmas for the first time, some sort of religious conversion. As I recently put new covers on the furniture, recovered the pillows and bought some small mats to add colour to the room, which is now golden rather than maroon and white, it is most pleasing to sit and enjoy the warmth when we get home in late afternoon.

I am going to three Christmas dinners. One is in a posh restaurant (I've already ordered fresh raspberries and a sorbet for dessert) with about 20 others, and Cailean will miss that one. Yes, a doggy-bag is planned. I'm also attending an open house the next day, hoping there will be something other than turkey to nibble at. Cailean will be with me, I believe. Father Christmas is to turn up. I'm hoping Cailean will not be frightened. Christmas Day will be spent at the home of some friends in town. I shall be awfully full by Boxing Day.

Cailean is getting his own slipper for Christmas. He's eaten one pair of mine, and has started on their replacement, so I'm hoping the neon-purple-and-green slipper from the pet emporium is more appealing. Please.

Last New Year's Eve, at the stroke of midnight, I was wakened by knocking at the kitchen door. This was before I'd got Cailean; I'd been watching the telly and dozed off. I opened the door to find a Scotsman in a white t-shirt and jeans, in the bitter cold, holding a bottle of whisky. He wanted to know if I'd like to share a wee dram with him. I do not drink, and have never liked the taste of whisky, and who expects strange Scots on their doorsteps? Of course, I now know it was my (then) new neighbour who I'd never seen before, he's a nice bloke, brings Cailean treats, and it's good luck all round for Scots to have a wee dram at midnight at the New Year with someone. I declined a year ago, but hope he'll return as we move into the first minutes of 2009. I won't drink his Scotch, but he may let me sip my Horlicks and not think me totally naff.

I have a few resolutions, I suppose. Stay fit physically, read more, and travel a bit, and try to really make a good job of my now-large genealogy project. I have over 400 names in the family tree now, all direct lines back to about 1800, some back another 100 years. I need to attach references, certificates, photos, and stories if I have them.

My sister's daughter is expecting a daughter of her own in February, and she would be my parents' first great-grandchild if they were living. With another generation, it seemed to me that I might record what I could in case the little one, one day, wonders where she got her love of shoes. We have shoe-makers back in the early 1800s on both sides of the family, in Thirsk, Yorkshire and Lubenham, Leicestershire. My great-niece might like hats, and there were Moon relatives who made bonnets in Canterbury 150 years ago. She might like to grow things, and could blame the several farmers directly back in Colne, Lancashire during Queen Victoria's reign. Yes, I want to spend some of the near future in the past, as it is a pleasant way to spend the present.

Summing up 2008: It has been a terrific year since 28 April when I collected Cailean. I'd had severe bronchitis for a few months before that, and was on the underside of my mood line. I've now walked off 30 lbs, mastered my high blood pressure after 15 years, and started writing again (a dog is a perfect audience or focus for a writer). I'm cooking and baking. I'm rereading books I first tackled 40 years ago with a view to understanding why they appealed so much, how they might have affected me, and I'm pleased, so far, to find that I wasn't spending my time reading rubbish. I may look ten years older than I did in 1967, perhaps more than ten, but I still find some magic, some wonder, in the books it seems we were all reading back then. We were so cool. I think those books served us well. Odd that my Counter Culture of the 1960s was reading the books of the 1920s and 1930s. What do the young people read today? Where do the children play?

Happy Holidays!