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 3

Continuing my series of the songs I have been posting each day for Advent on Twitter and Facebook, here are those I featured from Days 13 to today, Day 18.

One of my favourite singer/songwriters is Mary Chapin Carpenter. I have every album she has released in her 30 year career and have been lucky enough to see her play live: a magical experience. In 2008 she released an album of Christmas songs, called Come Darkness, Come Light. Six of the twelve songs were written by her, including this one, the title track, which was my choice for the 13th. I think it’s lovely, and hope you like it too:

That turned out to be the start of a three day run of songs from female singer/songwriters. I’ve always had a soft spot for this style of music, going back to when I first became interested in music in the 60s. One of the first to get my attention was the peerless Joni Mitchell. Even after all these years, my favourite of all of her albums is Blue, which was released in 1971. My vinyl copy of that album wore very thin during my university days, and it is still my ‘go to’ Joni album. It is a very introspective album – classic bedsit music! One of the best of a set of fine tracks is this one, which I chose on the 14th. I believe it is complemented perfectly by the Snoopy video:

The third song in this run of three, which I posted on the 15th, is by another artist whose albums all feature in my collection. Shawn Colvin released her debut album a couple of years after Mary Chapin Carpenter’s first record. The two are friends and have played live together many times, although I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Shawn live – there are plenty of videos on YouTube though! She beat Mary to a Christmas album by ten years, releasing Holiday Songs And Lullabies in 1998. This is another fine album, and the track I chose is this one:

Isn’t that lovely, so beautiful in its simplicity? How could I follow that up? I didn’t try! Instead, I took a completely different approach, and went loud:

That dark little song about a department store Father Christmas being duffed up by a bunch of kids was released as a single in 1977. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t trouble the charts. As far as I know it has only appeared since then on a couple of Kinks compilation albums: they went through a period of making their studio releases ‘concept albums’ and it’s hard to see where this song would have fitted in! Still, it raises a smile of nostalgia for me, and I’d be surprised if you’d heard it before – which is, after all, one of the reasons why I make this selection each year! As a complete aside, you might like to take a look at a much more heart-warming view of a child’s Christmas, written by Enda, a fellow blogger. I think this is a wonderful piece of writing, and I hope you can read it too.

As yesterday, Day 17, was a Sunday I thought it fitting to share a Christmas carol as my song for the day. But, rather than go for a version from a religious setting, I chose this:

You may well recognise Maddy Prior as being a longstanding member of Steeleye Span, who – along with Fairport Convention – were one of the forerunners of the electric folk scene which developed in England in the late 1960s. You may also recall them having a novelty Christmas hit in 1972 with Gaudete, to the best of my knowledge still one of only two chart hits sung entirely in Latin (the other is Pie Jesu). I could have chosen that, but went for this one instead as it is a little further off the beaten track. Whilst remaining a Steeleye Span member, Maddy has regularly undertaken Christmas tours with the Carnival Band, and that is taken from a DVD made of their 2004 tour.

For today’s choice I stayed in the folk music area. I featured Bellowhead earlier in the series, and here they are again, leading a massed folk band ensemble that featured in a one-off special programme shown on BBC4 in 2009. It really doesn’t seem that long ago since I first saw this! This song, although not this version, was the b-side of Bellowhead’s Christmas Bells single (which is in Part 1 of this series – link is on the right). I bet you haven’t seen it done like this before, though:

So, that’s it for Part 3 of my #ChristmasSongADay series. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with the final seven songs, and hope to see you again then. After all, you’re going to need something to take your mind off the eggnog, yet still more gifts of socks, and arguments with the family, aren’t you! Have a great week, and I hope all of your Christmas preparations go well. See you on the 25th 😊

#ChristmasSongADay – Part 2

Keeping to my plan, for once, here is the second part of my Advent Calendar of Christmas songs that I have been sharing with Twitter followers and Facebook friends. Should you feel an uncontrollable urge to join either of those select groupings, the necessary buttons can be found to the right – and that way, you could enjoy the songs as I publish them, rather than having to await the retrospectives. Just a thought!

This collection covers days 7 to 12 and is, as usual, a fairly mixed bunch. I’m hoping that many – if not all – will be new to you, and am keeping my fingers crossed that there is at least one that you like.

On the 7th, I posted a song by the American/Irish band, Dropkick Murphys. This is, to say the least, a piece of irreverent fun. They’re a bit of an acquired taste, and the singer’s voice probably wouldn’t count as ‘dulcet,’ but they do make some great songs and videos. This one is a hoot right the way through:

I slowed the pace a little for the next choice. Brynn Andre is one of those singers who has made some lovely music without ever getting the support and following that she deserves. Sadly, it is a number of years since she released an album. I looked at her website and it seems she is restricting her musical appearances nowadays to performing at weddings. Her voice and songs deserve a wider audience. She previously made just the two albums – this is her version of a very well known Christmas standard, which doesn’t actually appear on either of her records. I absolutely love her version and the accompanying video is very sweet:

You may recall that when I brought back my #SaturdaySongs series a couple of months ago the second new post was my tribute to the sad passing of Tom Petty. You can find it here if you missed it, or would like another look. So far, all of the Christmas songs I had featured had appeared at least once before in the two previous years that I’ve done this, but when I found this one it was an easy choice to make it my first new one for this year. Filmed at the White House as part of a tv special, back in the days when they had a proper President, it is a nice little piece of nostalgia:

For Sunday 10th I posted a suitably mellow song. This is another making its first appearance in my selection this year. Most people will probably only know of the band from the original line up and their two classic songs Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama. This incarnation of the band broke up after Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines were killed in a plane crash in October 1977, but the band reformed ten years later and this is actually the title track from their eleventh studio album, released in 2000. It is quintessentially Lynyrd Skynyrd, both in terms of pace and vocals, and if I do this again next year, I think this one is a keeper:

Yesterday’s choice was also a new one, for the simple reason that it has only just been released. You may not be aware of the English folk singer Kate Rusby, but I hope this enchants you enough to explore her music further. She comes from Yorkshire, as you can probably tell from her accent, and grew up with the strong local tradition of carol singing. Her latest album is the fourth she has released of seasonal songs – quite appropriate that she does this, as she has the voice of an angel. She created the character of Big Brave Bill, a kind of Yorkshire superhero, for a song on her most recent non-seasonal album, released in 2016, and here he is with his very own Christmas song. The animated video is charming, right the way through to Kate herself at the end:

I got a ‘like’ on Twitter from the lady herself for posting that, so I guess I’m doing something right! Kate will be making another appearance before Christmas – I’ll be bestowing on her the honour accorded to a select few of having two songs in my choices. With any luck, she’ll be reet chuffed!

For today’s song I’ve chosen the most serious of my selection. I’ve loved Jackson Browne’s music since his career started 45 years ago, I have all of his albums and have been lucky enough to see him play live. To my knowledge, this only appears on The Next Voice You Hear as a new, bonus track on that compilation album. That someone can add something like this as a one-off is, to me, astounding. This is a powerful song, haunting and beautiful, with a message we would all do well to heed:

So, that’s the second batch of six all done and dusted. As I said at the beginning, I’m hoping that there will be at least one among them that you enjoy, even if all six aren’t to your taste. Enjoy your Christmas preparations, and I’ll see you again for Part 3.