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Tuesday, 5 November 2013


In our house the ‘C’ word is usually banned until December. But concentrated Chri£tma$ craziness didn’t used to begin until after bonfire night. Sometime around 2000 the whole thing got shunted forward to the first week of the autumn term. This year,  Chri£tma$ card displays in my local charity shop went up before the summer holidays.

For some folk it’s a 12 month slog. The spending hangover is no sooner over than ‘saving’ for the next bout of psychotic shop splurging kicks in.

Some folk will, this year, be paying for their winter binge with Pay Day Loans. What PDLs tell us is that people are already struggling and possibly out of control of their finances. It is unclear just how families can sit and eat a turkey or mince pie knowing that by the time they have finished chewing, their debt may have quadrupled. Such is the modern madness and it will. Many of these unsecured loans can be got in less time than it takes to make a sandwich.

It used to be said to dieters,

‘A moment on the lips a lifetime on the hips’

Where PDLs are concerned maybe a better saying could be,

A click of the mouse, you lose your house’

Should they even be called loans? Isn’t it actually a kind of inverted mugging? These lenders make The Merchant of Venice’s Shylock look like a benign and kindly uncle. The clients (victims?) would probably feel they had got off lightly if all that was required of them at the end of the loan period was a pound of flesh. In many cases it is everything that holds life together, home, relationships, family, dignity.

And yet this is all being done in the name of celebration / having a good time. Whose good time? The good time as advertised by the myriad department stores that would have us think that our children will love us more if we get that toy / game / designer outfit. And that’s before you start on that sofa/ carpet / kitchen you must have 'fitted in time for Chri£tma$'

Not wishing to sound like the world’s granny, but as a very little child what I can recall about Christmas is feeling so excited that I could not sleep and when I was a wake I felt sick. Partly this was because Christmas was defined and separate from the rest of the year by its time limited excess. The celebrations were punctuated by (tipsy) visiting – (see blog 22 Drink Driving with y Dad) - and Christmas parties where we were allowed to eat all sorts of things that were not allowed the rest of the year. But in a country where Chri£tma$ begins in earnest in July and commercial excess is a 12 month orgy – how can we delineate and take pleasure in a special time – even for those not religiously minded who just wish to enjoy the winter holiday? I suggest it’s becoming impossible.

The truth is that the festival has taken on a dark aspect – not just because it has been layered onto the Winter Solstice but increasingly it is a time of relationship stress, money worries, mental and physical ill health.

One small antidote may lie in another literary character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Not just as his redemption is now forever associated with the 25th December but because of an episode that I offer up for the benefit of anyone who may wish to take advantage. I call it my Scrooge letter.

At the turn of the century I found that not only had the shops dragged Chri£tma$ back from December to October but I had to start chipping away at an ever increasing  to-buy-for list ever earlier. Often scouring stores for gifts for the multiple children of friends I hardly saw. I was also aware that other people were doing that for my brood. In a fit of end-of-century inspiration I drafted a letter that I hoped would be received in the spirit in which it was written. Though I do not have a copy, the basic idea was that anyone who bought for me and mine was to consider themselves off the hook and I would be wriggling of any similar hooks that I found myself painfully speared by. All bets were off. All shopping, other than for immediate family, was off and even then significant presents only for the children. I waited with baited breath for the responses and reactions. With all but two exceptions the effect was upbeat. In some cases it was rapturous, relieved, back-slappingly positive. Only two seemed to take affront. One I no longer see and the other was, this year, still manfully sticking to her determination to get Chri£tma$ gifts out - in February!

Each year, at about this time, I still cannot believe my luck. I note it especially if I am unfortunate enough to have to venture into the city where I am pummelled by hurrying hordes of the stressed and the miserable struggling with bags full of STUFF that they may never fully pay for (at least not with money). Like glum gladiators outnumbered by ravenous commercial lions they stoically seem to say,

We who are about to buy salute you’

 I shudder and heave a hug inner sigh of relief. I can’t say I ever mustered enough dishonesty to feel guilty; the sense of release was too great.

For an increasing number of desperate consumers, the First Footers of 2014 may well be bailiffs.


BGOTR ‘cross’ Chri£tma$ cartoon cards & political post cards will be on sale at the ncle Love Libraries event (see What I am Up To in right hand column)

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