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Just what I say; Brian Nicholls

Date: Tuesday 29th December 2015

IS it really Christmas already? It really is true that as you get older, and that does not necessarily mean ancient, things come around with a rapidity which increases with every year. It’s like a whirlpool where the closer you get to the centre the faster you go. It cannot be Christmas again. I’ve only just got over digesting last year’s turkey.

I now understand why my mother-in-law has been saying at 3-10pm precisely every Christmas Day since 1988, “Well, that’s it over for another year, then.” Her saying that is one of our Christmas traditions.

We will be having a family Yuletide which is the best kind if you are fortunate to have a family to share it with. Not everyone does, nor do the fates allow everyone to feel that there is anything to celebrate if they have lost someone whom their world revolved around.

My own mother died one evening in late August quietly and peacefully, but Alzheimer’s meant she had been in no mind to understand it was Christmas for the last couple of years. Yet I remember her and the lovely Christmases we had in 1950s West Cumberland with open fires, a tree my father dug up from the garden every Christmas Eve and a pillow case crammed full of presents including a Victor annual and torch to read it by under the bedclothes at 5am.

We always had roast chicken for lunch, although we called it dinner in those days and that was the only time in the entire year anyone we knew ever ate chicken. The bird came from the small farm which was about a hundred yards away down the hill. It was delivered, fully feathered, by farmer Mr. Long on Christmas Eve and my father had to pluck it over a tin bath of water in the back kitchen and then singe the small hairs off with matches. That smell of singeing hair always reminds me of Christmas.

Bob Long did keep some turkeys for the richer people in the village and the strange thing was that every year in the middle of December they all used to fly up on to the shed roof and refuse to come down for anything even the food offered by a frustrated Mrs. Long. How did they know it was Christmas and how did each new generation know what that meant?

Whenever anyone uses the expression “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” I always think of Mrs. Long in her wrap-over pinny trying to coax those birds down from that shed. It was an annual spectacle, a part of Christmas we boys always used to go down to the farm to witness and chuckle at behind Mrs. Long’s back.

When the Alzheimer’s got a firm grip on the present, my mother retreated back to those days in West Cumberland when my older brother and I were aged about eight and five. Although we had eventually moved a long way from there in distance and much, much further in terms of our family’s prosperity and material possessions, I believe she went back to that simpler time because she must have been happy then.

Perhaps because the 1950s were a much tougher time financially for most of us than it is today, that made it a simpler time as well. Christmas was shorter and confined to the month of December even for us kids, while adults got Christmas Day and Boxing Day off and then it was back to work until New Year’s Day. But they were as enjoyable as any Christmas since and, without television, unremitting commercialism and ignoring any connection with the birth of Jesus, they really were better Christmases.

ALAN Milburn, chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, is very unhappy about the widening gap between rich and poor, the lack of social mobility, the increase in child poverty since the 1960s and the slow pace of change and inactivity by government(s) in this area.

There has been social and economic mobility in this country in the last three or four decades, it’s just that most of it has been downwards while any upward movement has simply been the rich getting richer and being able to afford to send their kids to those private schools whose former pupils exert a stranglehold on politics, business, acting, media and the arts in the UK.

Milburn highlights the fact that the highest earners are paid, on average, 180 times more than their employees who do all the work which earns the profits and that the pensions of the best paid are about 70 times bigger than the rest of us have to live on.

Yet what the commission proposes to rectify the situation is, as usual, a bit of tinkering with education and university entrance for more deprived youngsters.

What a load of poppycock without the poppy in front. Whenever we discuss the social and economic divide in Britain and the lack of real opportunities for many people we do it as if inequality is an accident that just somehow happens.

Inequality is no accident. It is the result of very deliberate policies and action by governments since 1979, and that includes Labour administrations. It is also the inevitable product of a social system based on privilege, hereditary and rewarding the rich with medals, knighthoods and peerages just for being rich and indulging in exactly the behaviour which causes the divisions in the first place.

Neo-liberalism (Thatcherism to you and me) taught us that the rich getting richer was a good thing for everyone. We were all supposed to benefit from a thing called “trickle down”. That was also a load of poppycock without the poppy. Being piddled on by those who realised that the state was encouraging them to be greedy by allowing them to pay each other more and more while paying everyone else less might be a form of trickle down, but it didn’t do many people much good.

The economic crash of 2008, while being tough for most people was a godsend to some, including the government of 2010-15 which encouraged business, in the name of saving the economy, to go back to the 1840s and a Victorian-style low wage society complete with soup kitchens.

The Victorians also built their empire on low wages, minimum benefits for the poor and the worship of entrepreneurship but, to their credit, there were philanthropists and they did begin to help the poor working class to begin the climb from poverty to social mobility and greater equality, because the Victorian wealthy did have a social conscience while Britain’s modern wealthy don’t seem to.

So, at this festive season, I say to the proposals of the social mobility gurus to make Britain a more equal society — Bah, humbug!

TELEVISION will feature prominently in most of our Christmases just as it does for the rest of the year.

We will have the usual fare of programs which are shown every other week of the year except now with the words “Christmas special” in front of the title or, even worse, “Celebrity Christmas special”.

The celebrities are people of whom I have never heard in my entire life, having usually become “famous” for being in the “cast” of some sham reality show such as “Made in Workington”, or “Brainless and Behaving Badly”. (That title is now copyright to me before Chanel 4 snaffle it).

Even when the celebrity is some older, pre-reality famous person, I rarely recognise them as they have had so much plastic surgery that their stiff, unmovable puppet-like faces don’t even look human let alone look like who they used to be.

Soap operas have become a festive fixture when their already ridiculous story lines become even more bizarre with the usual rash of homicides, miscellaneous tragedies, abductions, hostage situations and chickens coming home to roost.

Have you noticed that in soaps every secret, the disclosure of which would cause mayhem to the maximum number of unsuspecting people, has to be told to the local gossip “in strict confidence” and with a solemn promise by the big gob that they will tell nobody except the next person they meet (whom they swear to promise not to tell anyone else) in the pub where they can be overheard by another 20 ear-wigging gossips and Norris.

Happy Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.


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