My 15 Nanoseconds

I’m famous! Well, I’ve been featured in public, which must count for something, I think. Andy Warhol once said that ‘in the future everyone will be famous for 15 seconds.’ I wouldn’t dignify my time in the spotlight as being that long but hey, we can all dream, right?

Some background is needed, to help fill in the gaps. A couple of years ago, a guy named Rhodri Marsden asked on Twitter for people to give him stories of family Christmases. Rhodri is an author, journalist and musician – a member of Scritti Politti, no less – and was compiling a book about what made for a traditional British Christmas. My elder daughter, Katy, shared a couple of stories with him and, following his acknowledgement, we heard no more. Until last May, that was, when Katy WhatsApped me to say that Rhodri had been in touch and wanted to chat about using one of her stories in his book, as it was a perfect fit. Fame at last!

I thought no more about it until Christmas, when the girls gave me a copy of Rhodri’s book (other gifts were available!). Here it is, in all its glory:

The book is a lovely mixture of funny and sad stories from contributors such as Katy, bound together by Rhodri’s witty writing. As you can probably guess from his subtitle, he based his themes loosely around the 12 Days of Christmas song. Very loosely, actually, with chapters entitled Eleven Sherries Swigging, Ten Carols Screeching and Five Broken Limbs! which is where I come in.

Nothing broken, in my case, unlike some of the other sad cases in the chapter, but this is me:

I would like to point out that the excitement of winning a whole pound on a lottery scratchcard wasn’t entirely the cause of my sedentary gymnastics. I was ill at the time. It was Christmas, and I was always ill at Christmas, according to our family legend. But no one really wants to know that, do they? Apparently my roll from chair to floor in a semi-comatose state was quite spectacular to behold. And it is now recorded for posterity on the printed page. Am I a star, or what!

We talked about the book for a while, and it brought back many happy memories of Christmases when the girls were little, not all of which were due to my various seasonal illnesses. Katy expressed a little disappointment that Rhodri hadn’t used her other story, though to be fair, now that I’ve read the book, I can’t see where it would have fitted in. I somehow doubt that he will be stretching the material he collected to a second book, and it is a pretty good story, so I’m going to share it with you, dear reader.

This one probably dates to when Katy would have been around 10 and Ruth 5. My ex-wife always prepared the table well for Christmas lunch, and as far as we could tell it was childproof. Yeah, right! A plastic tablecloth was laid on the table, above which went the usual linen job, all topped off with a paper tablecloth with a Christmas theme. For the kids, naturally. Despite the fact that there were three adults present (my ex-wife, mother-in-law and me) we made the elementary error of leaving the two member junior destruction squad unattended for no more than a minute or two between courses, while we were getting various puddings ready in the kitchen. Suddenly, there was a huge commotion from the dining room, and a shout that none of us was expecting: ‘FIRE!!’

As part of the table display, my wife had set out a large display bowl, filled with water and adorned with a decorative display of tea lights. As far as we could tell from the subsequent discussion, Ruth had been attempting to move a paper napkin to her Nan’s place opposite her own, and had somehow contrived to catch it on one of the candles. Not content with her nascent attempt at pyromania, she then managed to drop the aforementioned napkin onto the table, but missed the bowl of water and tealights. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen flames leaping a foot or so above your dining room table, but it is at once both spectacular and terrifying.

What do you do to put out a fire? You use water, of course, don’t you? Being the nearest to a water source, I grabbed it and launched it at the fire, accompanied by four hysterical female voices screeching advice. The fire was successfully doused, but what I hadn’t heard in my leap into Fireman Sam mode was the warning from my wife that the saucepan of water I was about to use wasn’t exactly as I expected it to be. My brain went something along the lines of ‘fire-water-saucepan containing water- that’ll do.’ Unfortunately my eyes didn’t take in the full picture: the saucepan did indeed contain water but, also, quite a sizeable portion of leftover peas which had been intended for use in the Boxing Day bubble and squeak. Oops!

I’ll admit to feeling very self-satisfied at the effectiveness of my fireman act, followed a millisecond later by a realisation that the water I’d used seemed to be very green! The ensuing panic then widened itself to checking that the table hadn’t suffered any lasting damage – it hadn’t – and to using copious amounts of kitchen towel to mop up all the water that Dad had just flung with wild abandon at the dining room table. Having done all that, we then embarked upon the Great Christmas Pea Hunt. Have you ever thrown a saucepan of peas and water at a table? The little green buggers can travel some remarkable distances, I can assure you! It took quite a while, and there was a careful balance to be struck between locating and rescuing the errant veg and not treading them into the carpet. Eventually we decided that we had rounded them all up, and could now enjoy our pudding, though the occasional outrider was still being spotted several days later. For some reason, my suggestion that we rinse all the peas off so that they could be used in the bubble and squeak didn’t meet with universal approval – in fact, it was the classic equivalent of the Eurovision song contest’s ‘Norvège nul points.’ Well, I thought it was helpful, anyway.

Christmas wasn’t always that eventful in our house. But at least, for once, they all forgot that I was coughing and sneezing all over them. If I’m honest, though, there have been better Boxing Day bubble and squeak meals 😉

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#ChristmasSongADay – Part 4

Merry Christmas!

If you’re actually reading this on Christmas Day I applaud your dedication to the world of blogging. Either that or I commiserate that you needed to escape the family arguments, sprout-fuelled farts and general horrors that are the staple of Christmas. (I’m joking, really I am – I love Christmas, especially the spirit it engenders in us).

For this final part of my selection of Christmas songs which I shared with Facebook friends and Twitter followers, I’m covering the seven days from the 19th up to today. So that means, of course, that there will be eight videos for you to enjoy. I’ll explain later!

For the 19th I chose a version of the well-known standard The Little Drummer Boy. This was actually written as far back as 1941, by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis, and the first recorded version was in 1951, by the Trapp Family Singers, once they had been coaxed down from the hills and had left the goatherd feeling lonely again. Probably the best known version is the one by the unlikely boy band of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, but I’m not giving you that one. My choice is by the Canadian band Walk Off The Earth, who have made a whole host of inventive videos both for their own music and a wide range of cover versions. I suggest that, if you haven’t heard of them, you visit YouTube and find their cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know – that will give you a good idea of what they get up to. And here’s another example:

On Day 20 I again went back to a traditional Christmas carol, in a modern version. This is a lovely carol and is one of my favourites, and I was spoilt for choice as to which version to share. I very nearly opted for the Civil Wars, in a live performance with just their two voices and John Paul’s guitar: it is sparse, simple and spine-tingling. But in the end I went for this one, which I think is slightly more mainstream. But, if you’re interested, I highly recommend that you seek out the Civil Wars’ version too. This is from Enya’s 2008 Christmas album And Winter Came, which also comes highly recommended by me:

For the 21st I shared a version of one of the best known carols, Silent Night. This is taken from Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. My parents bought this for me as a Christmas present in 1967, although the album was first released in 1966. We played the album on Christmas afternoon, and it was perfect for the post-lunch stupor. Until this, the final track on the album. I would imagine that many of you will know this version but, if not, try to imagine the impact this had on a first hearing, on Christmas Day, when none of us knew what was coming. Sadly, I believe the message in the juxtaposition of the news with the song is still relevant today, possibly even more so. See what you think:

My next choice, on the 22nd, was a song which, in the strictest sense, probably doesn’t really count as a Christmas song. But I included it because I think it is actually a modern day retelling of a similar story, and that’s good enough for me! I featured this one last year in my #SaturdaySongs series, so please click here if you want to find out more about what makes it special for me.

For the 23rd I also returned to a favourite, which has also been featured here before. This is the second of my choices to feature the English folk singer Kate Rusby. I mentioned before that she has now released four albums of Christmas music. This is the title track from the first of these, from 2008, and is accompanied by a lovely animation:

Keeping with the theme of ‘tried and trusted’ I chose another one on Christmas Eve which I’d chosen in previous years. But could I possibly have found anything more appropriate than this? I don’t think so…..

And so, we finally reach Christmas Day. There are still so many I could choose, but this is to me the perfect song for Christmas Day. It is the second time I’ve featured Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come Darkness, Come Light album, and I really do recommend that you listen to it if you can: it’s beautiful! My (almost) final choice of Christmas songs is this one:

That should be the end of this, right? But cast your mind back to the beginning of this piece and you may recall that I promised you eight songs today. I also said on several occasions throughout this series that I didn’t intend to feature many songs which had been pop chart hits. So far, I’ve kept that down to just the two. But there is one more I’m sharing today as a bonus. Yes, I know its only connection with Christmas is that it is set on Christmas Day. Yes, I know that the NYPD Choir has never existed. But this is a hit every year although, as I said in my Christmas Number Twos post, it has never been a chart topper. But that won’t stop me sharing it again. I leave you with my final #ChristmasSongADay

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and have found some music which is both new and pleasing to you. Whatever you are doing, however you are spending Christmas, I thank you for reading all of my posts this year, and wish you a very