#ChristmasSongADay – Part 1

With Christmas approaching I’ve decided to keep things lighthearted here for the festive season, so you won’t be seeing any rants until January! As has become my custom – I’m now in my third year of doing it – I have been treating (I think that’s the right word!) my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to a Christmas Song each day for Advent. I have in the past shared an edited highlights package of these but have never shared the full set on my blog, so it’s about time I put that right. It isn’t really my style to post every day, so the current plan is to split this into four parts: three sets of six and the final seven on Christmas Day. But plans can change, so if you’d prefer that I posted here each day in parallel with Twitter and Facebook please let me know.

I try to make this selection a little different from those you usually find on the compilation albums. Only about a quarter of my choices will have featured on a chart listing at any time – so if you’re looking for Slade or Wizzard I’m afraid you’ll be out of luck! But the one thing they have in common is that I like them, which I suppose should really go without saying! So, let’s get this show on the road…..

Having said that I generally avoid the pop charts, Day 1 immediately broke that rule. This has been a favourite of mine and although it was a huge Christmas hit it was actually written as a protest against commercialism. It is also a great song:

For Day 2 I chose a song by the best live band I’ve ever seen. Sadly, they disbanded a couple of years ago but their brand of folk music, blended with all sorts of other influences, brilliantly played with a large dose of lunacy lives on in their videos. This was released as a Christmas single but it made very little impact on the charts, sadly, peaking at no.188:

As Day 3 was a Sunday, I chose something more restful. This is a cover of an Enya song: I could have gone for the original but preferred this version. The fact that Viktoria is a Facebook friend had absolutely nothing to do with that – just listen to this and you’ll be seduced into the song even though, like me, you probably won’t know what the words mean. I understand it to have a seasonal meaning, though. This is one of the most beautiful voices you’ll ever hear:

I went back into protest mode for Day 4. If you haven’t come across him before, Tom Lehrer is a writer and performer of satirical songs. His heyday was during the 1950s and 1960s but he’s still with us, at the grand age of 89. If I tell you that one of his best known songs is called Poisoning Pigeons In The Park you’ll probably get an inkling of what is to come – this is his take on Christmas:

There are some songs which have become adopted as ‘pop standards’ for Christmas. As I said, I tend to avoid these, unless I find a version that gives them a new and, to my taste, a more enjoyable treatment. This is where Day 5 comes in. You will find so many versions of this song, and it’s probably on every pop Christmas compilation album ever, but not done like this. John Mellencamp has long been one of my favourite artists, with his brand of rootsy rock, and I think this is great. Stick with it to the end and there’s an adorable cameo from his daughter Teddi who was probably about 4 or 5 years old at the time. This was thirty years ago, and I hope she still enjoys her performance!

Today’s choice is another of the few that ruffled the pop charts. Again, it’s a long time favourite of mine from one of my favourite bands. Jethro Tull have made several Christmas songs and an album, but this is my preferred choice. This version was used by the BBC for their Top Of The Pops programme. There is also a clip on YouTube of the band performing the song in the studio, but I think this animation enhances the song beautifully:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first selection, and I’ll see you again for more in a few days. Good luck with all your preparations for Christmas!

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I’m Fine

A couple of weeks ago the Mental Health Foundation launched a campaign called ‘I’m Fine.’ Posters are appearing in key sites in London, particularly on public transport. This was prompted by their research findings that on average we will say that little phrase 14 times a week, though only 19% of us actually mean it. To accompany their campaign they have produced this short video:

A stereotypical view of our reserved British nature would suggest that we say this to avoid opening up, and because we don’t really think that the person who has just asked how we are actually wants or expects an honest answer: 59% said that they expected the answer to be a lie. And if they got the truth, would they know how to deal with it anyway? 44% of the survey sample said they had received an answer they weren’t expecting to the question, and were surprised at being taken out of the comfort zone of ‘regular’ social intercourse.

We are famed for our reserve, but this isn’t just a British thing: if you listen closely there are a couple of distinctly American accents in the video. The point behind the MHF’s campaign isn’t that we lie to each other out of shyness, or a belief that we don’t really think that others want to know how we feel. In many cases, this unwillingness to open up is hiding a mental health problem about which we feel unable to talk. There is still a stigma around talking about mental health and the campaign is aiming to help remove that. There has been much research that has shown how we bottle up our thoughts and feelings rather than seek help, and this survey reinforces that – and also the usual perception that men are worse than women when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

To find out more about the campaign you can go here. Please do, as the site contains a wealth of useful information and tips on how to support someone in need of help – or on how to seek help for yourself if you need it. At this time of year it is very easy to get wrapped up in all the paraphernalia and excitement of Christmas without realising that there may be people we know and care about who aren’t feeling the joy. So, if you ask someone how they are, make sure that you mean it – and be prepared for an answer that may be more than a simple ‘I’m fine.’ I know from my own experience how easy it can be to kid others with that reply – and in doing so I was kidding myself. It doesn’t just have to be a casual greeting – and deserves to be much more than this. It’s worth doing that little bit extra to ensure that they – and you – really are ‘fine.’ As the survey showed, 4 times in 5 that answer isn’t really true.