Friday, December 25, 2015

A Merry Christmas to you all, but there’s still a dash of vinegar here (I hope)

As I write, it is mid-afternoon on Christmas Day and I am sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in Bodmin Hospital where she has been transferred for stroke rehab now that she is not medically in any danger. In fact, she was not medically in any danger pretty soon after suffering her stroke two weeks ago tomorrow, but had to stay in Truro (an 80-mile round trip) because no beds were free at Bodmin (an 16-mile round trip - guess which I prefer).

For the past few years, my daughter has had a job at the Red Lion, St Kew Highway, to top up her college funds (or, from where I sit, to get even more money to waste on clothes she doesn’t need). The restaurant there is doing a Christmas lunch for I don’t know how many and she was asked to work, and she agreed.

My son has also had a holiday job there for about a year now and although he wasn’t that bothered about working on Christmas Day, he decided to as my daughter’ decision to work has meant our Christmas lunch has been postponed until tomorrow, Boxing Day.

So, being at a loose end this afternoon - and not much being one for watching the Queen’s Christmas message, one of innumerable James Bond reruns or any of the other shite they decided to screen on Christmas Day, I’ve come to Bodmin Hospital to spend a few hours at my stepmother’s bedside and keep her company.

A bottle of champagne - on of her’s so it wasn’t any of the cheap shite I tend to buy - of which I am swilling by far the lion’s share, and a Christmas stollen, with Hymns from Kings College,
 Cambridge, playing on Radio 3 means it is all rather pleasant. My stepmother has yet again fallen into a happy slumber, which give me the chance to compose this bulletin from her bedside.

So a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, even those who haven’t suffered a stroke. Oh, and for about the umpteenth time I have reflected on just how bloody lucky we are here in Britain to have healthcare for each and any complaint utterly free of charge. Totally free. Not ifs, no buts. The sad thing is too many of us take it for granted.

. . .

Christmas has been an odd time for me for quite some years now. I am - perhaps ‘was’ is more truthful - what is called by some a ‘cradle Catholic’. That means that we were born, baptised and raised as RCs. There’s none of this ‘going over to Rome’ nonsense, whether it is because a deep-seated faith has finally come to the realisation that the Romans have got it right whereas the rest Christianity has got it wrong, however sincere they are; or whether, as is all-too-often the case, they are attracted to Rome because, unlike the bloody, sodding bastards Anglicans, the RCs will have no truck with what are called this ‘women priests’ nonsense and still thinks - thoroughly hypocritically, it has to be said, as a large part of the Vatican play for their own side - that homosexuality is ‘a sin’ and an abomination, and woofters of any stripe, however good and sincere they are, are banned from the kingdom of heaven. (This is usually announced in a tone of heartbreaking regret, that repeating what Rome’s doctrine is hurts them more than it hurts the woofters, but . . . well, but.)

As I say, that ‘doctrine’ - religion’s misleadingly posh word for ‘policy’ - is hypocritical to the nth degree if we are to believe the reports of a gay mafia running the Vatican. (Actually, on reflection the phrase ‘gay mafia’ is thoroughly offensive and I ask any gays reading this to please try to understand the sense in which I use it: members of the criminal mafia are Italian and Italian/American, but that most certainly doesn’t mean Italians and Italian/Americans are all mafioso.)

But it is not that hypocrisy, or better just that hypsocrisy, which I dislike intensely. As a lad I was brought up to repeat pieces of what were called ‘the catechism’. The only piece I can now remember is ‘a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace’. I didn’t at all understand what that or any of the other pieces of catechism I was taught to parrot meant, but I was expected to learn it, and crucially, believe it anyway. I attended mass (Mass with a capital M if you are still a believing RC), went to confession and took communion. Because I had to.

If, at first, I was lax in my attendance as I grew into my teens and twenties, it was most certainly not because I was having intellectual doubts. It was because I could think of better things to do on a Sunday morning, staying asleep in bed being one of them. But those intellectual doubts did slowly grow and then lead on to sheer disbelief that what is taught by the RC church, and other churches, is taken in the slightest big seriously.

I cannot these days hear any religious service or any religious proclamation, as I have been while listening to the carols from Kings, without thinking of Doctor Who or various threadbare bargain-basement sci-fi novels I read when I was in my salad days. When I hear of the mystery of the Trinity or the mystery of transubstantiation - that the host given as communion doesn’t merely ‘represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ’ but is that body and blood of Jesus Christ, I really have to wonder.

A strict Catholic will, as primed, respond that ‘yes, of course, it is odd, but that is why faith is important - faith that although is sounds like just so much stupid bollocks, it is nothing of the kind - it is the truth as revealed by Our Saviour Jesus Christ’. Well, sorry, I not longer buy it. And nor do I buy the suggestion that ordinary rules of comprehension and logic simply have to be suspended because this is different, this is God’s revealed truth. Ever met a really good carnie, or cardsharp or conman. He will tell you the same: ‘Yes, a 15pc return on investment is, I agree, unbelievable, but we have achieved it. Just hand over you hard-won savings and we will show you - and what could be more convincing evidence than that?’

But at this point I really must insert a caveat: I might think that the various religious ceremonies, services, invocations and the rest are as close to goobledegook as one can get, but many don’t. For many their faith is important to them and gives them great comfort when they need comfort. Please remember that.

So that is why Christmas is always rather a strange time for me. On the one hand, the older I get, the more I abhor the commercialism and rampant sentimentality of Christmas - ‘peace on Earth to all men of goodwill’? Why, of course, but pray tell me, why only now, at Christmas? - and for many years have reminded my children, especially when they were younger, exactly why we celebrate Christmas.

On the other I regard the whole nativity story, the ‘three wise men’, the shepherds coming to adore and all the rest of it as akin to Hansel and Gretel and The Sleeping Beauty. But, as the man says, there you go. As always, it’s horses for courses, you pays your money and you makes your choice, chacun a son gout, whatever floats your boat, an apt cliche is worth hours of thought, that kind of drift. You gets my meaning (and do I really have to add ‘squire’)?

Now where’s my glass of Comte de Senneval?

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