200 years ago children, now at the centre of festivities were excluded from participating, the have-nots existed to serve the wealthy, and need elsewhere in the world was ignored. So did the birth of Jesus change things? Not really. The word Christmas may start with “Christ” but the important message for most in the west is shop till you drop! World poverty is still ignored.
Some things don’t change!
Much of how we English celebrate can be found by studying London’s recent history, embroidered in many streets in central and east London. A contract on the Strand last April allowed me to view them at close quarters.
Last April I caught a London bus to work each morning from my hotel in the East End and pass two landmarks of the second half of the 19th century, the London hospital, home to Elephant Man Joseph Merrick and Whitechapel, scene of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. Then on to the Tower of London and into the Square Mile, past the Bank of England and Monument, where the fire of London started, and to St Paul’s, spared by the Luftwaffe as its dome told pilots flying up the Thames that it was time to turn right and drop bombs. Awful events, shown daily to me in living technicolor!
The bus, always a 243 double-decker, was often driven by a petite West Indian girl with a warm smile and broad Cockney accent. She drove up Fleet Street, first home of the UK press, and into the Aldwych, home of Australia House and the exquisite Waldorf, reminding me of years gone by when I ate salmon sandwiches followed by an assortment of petits fours and pot of tea, as the harpist played wallpaper music.
From there to the Strand is yards, and I got off the bus just before Trafalgar Square (so named to mark the Battle of Trafalgar where on October 21 1805 the British navy defeated the combined French and Spanish navies). On Trafalgar Day 110 years later Mammy was born.
But returning to my hotel on April 8th I walked into Charing Cross station to hear a newspaper vendor sing “Iron Lady dead, read all about it…“. This location is evocative. In 1824 at a nearby rat ridden boot blacking factory 12 year old Charles Dickens earned 30p a week labeling pots of blacking after his father was imprisoned for debt. In past newsletters I’ve written about Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol , when heartless Scrooge was transformed into a benefactor of the underprivileged, changing his ways after three spirits showed him visions of his past, present and possible future:
1. Ghost of Christmas past…
Scrooge’s father had neglected him as a child. This neglect was was reflected in Scrooge’s neglect of his own nephew.
2. Ghost of Christmas present…
The family of Scrooge’s badly paid assistant Bob Cratchet lived in a desperate state.
3. Ghost of Christmas future…
In particular the prognosis that without help Tiny Tim would die. Moreover, when Scrooge died interest was limited to how much of his wealth they could steal!
In Christmas Carol’s ending Scrooge befriended Tiny Tim, and all born without a silver spoon in their mouth.
Back to 8th April 2013. A mile from Charing Cross station Alzeimar’s sufferer Mrs Thatcher died in a suite in the Ritz, near Buckingham Palace.
Sadly she never learned of compassion like Scrooge, and closed down coal mines, destroying families, She also ordered the sinking of the Belgrano as it retreated from British warships near the Falklands, sending 321 Argentinian sailors to their death.
I don’t go along with those who sang Ding Dong the Witch is Dead and partied when they heard of Maggie’s demise, but I very much understand their anger. In memory of the mining communities and dead Argentinian sailors I sang back to the newspaper vendor “she died 50 years too late!”
I expressed no bitterness. Maggie is currently answering God for unlawfully killing 321 Argentine sailors, and for her recklessness in closing down pits.
2013 was the last year on earth for many others, including lovely Mammy, dear friend Sue Sturges, rock star Lou Reed (I helped him climb the stage steps to perform at Leeds Poly), Bernie Nolan (who I saw in the epic show “Blood Brothers”), Woodstock performer and Greenwich Village resident Richie Havens, “Wild Thing” singer Reg Presley, David Coleman, and .actor Peter O’Toole. A few days ago Nelson Mandella died – a giant of a man, the greatest since Christ, called Tata (father) by millions of South Africans.
Excuse me if I focus on my Mammy.
It’s easy to recall the brainiest, richest, or the fastest runners at school.
Mammy was none of these, but when it came to loving and kindness to others she was a superstar.
As a boy I had an autograph book. Grandad, a tough itinerant coal miner wrote the following in it.
“I’ve never been so happy in my life as when I was in the arms of another man’s wife…my mother”
Most experience the bond that exists between children and mothers. It’s special. They love you unconditionally, and you therefore you learn to walk that extra mile for them.
When I was a youg boy my bed was in my parent’s bedroom, a 2 up 2 down owned by the coal board.
Dad’s pit, Frickley Colliery operated a shift system, 3×8 hour shifts a day – Days, Afters, and Nights. When Dad was on Days he was up before 5 to get to work, and I‘d go next to Mammy to nestle into her warm body.
Mammy was the daughter of a blind school teacher, blinded on a trans-Atlantic voyage on her father’s ship. Years later she moved to Doncaster to teach the blind.
So Mammy, a Londoner came to the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, and married Joe Armstrong, me Dad.
In no time she lost her Cockney accent and spoke like an extra in Emmerdale. In the 1950’s she worked in a textiles factory and became a born again Christian after a factory meeting.
Her mission in life was then to bring about the same life changing experience in her family that she’d experienced. The children at home were a soft target. But Dad, like his father before him was a tough uncompromising miner. He often said “tha m’tek thee bed up to t’chapel.”
Mammy’s always met adversity with love. In 2013 there were state funerals for Maggie Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, I reflect now on these inspirational figures, born 1918, 1925, and 1915 respectively.
Mandela was born of royal stock but no-one in his family ever attended school.
Maggie was born above a shop in Grantham and died in a suite in the Ritz.
Mammy never owned her own house.
Mandela went to University but left without a degree.
Maggie went to Oxford University.
Mammy left school at 15 although she was very good at Scrabble.
Mandela was loved accross the spectrum and touched so many lives
Maggie was divisive and destroyed many mining communities.
Mammy was loving and kind.
Mandela and Maggiehad state funerals.
Sometimes we wrongly choose who we give a state funerals to.
In summary our family fortunes:
Voyageurs du monde Carolyn et Robbie sont vendent leur maison comme une première étape dans leur migration à la belle France et écrire des poèmes anglais excellents.
Jonathan is in his second year in New York with fiancée Alice, lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, and plan to marry in England July 2014.
Claire (withCaptain Den) continues her headship in picturesque Sabden.
Edward has left corporate life with Deloittes, and begins a restaurant project in London in 2014.
Rachel, mother of superstar grand children Verity and Harri recently become the proud mother of a shitzu poodle, Flossie. Consort Brian continues to climb trees even when his working day is done.
George and Minnie sleep most of the day, but whereas in his waking hours George can terrorise the local four legged population, Minnie runs from anything bigger than a baby rabbit.
Lovely George, castrated late, has Mammy’s affection combined with the weaponry of a machete.
On December 29 dear brother Malcolm has been married to Alex for 12 months.
Years ago I remember talking to a South African lady in Singapore, enroute to WA to witness Mammy‘smarriage. In her sweet Africaan drawl she advised me that “Mammy feels the need for companionship” in old age. This need clearly runs in the family. As James Taylor eloquently sings, “You need a friend”.
Lovely Lynne has returned to oils as a medium on canvas. Her first three were commissioned by me, at a cost of £10,000 and will be given as Christmas presents.
Lynne will of course die penniless, as did Mammy, and as do most artists, but my skill as a gigalo means that in the future her works of art will change hands for millions, and I will be able to live on a diet of caviar and truffles for my remaining life, as do successful gold-diggers everywhere.
Happy Christmas 2013