Sunday, 9 December 2007


Christmas, the ultimate spinning time, approaches. It is time to remind ourselves that in the early days of the Church the nativity was not celebrated. For the very good reason that the date of Christ’s birth is unknown.
St Clement of Alexandria claimed the Egyptians of his time celebrated the Lord's birth on 20 May; at the end of the 3rd century, the Western Churches celebrated it in the winter; churches all over the world united in the 4th century to celebrate the nativity on 25 December. Like other Christian festivals, it was grafted onto a pagan feast, this one celebrating the god Mithras.
People say Christmas is not what it was; that nowadays it is just an excuse for gluttony and drunkenness. Traditionally that is exactly what it was. Only then it was called Saturnalia.
Pope Gregory XIII muddied the waters in A.D. 1582 when he messed about with the calendar. If there had been no realignment, Christmas would not only be coming, it would have been coming twice that year.
My own view is that it was a tremendous error to spin and pin Christian festivals on the old Pagan holy days. When you look at an aerial photograph of a field, the Neolithic ring houses show through the grass. More and more, the old Saturnalia, the binge drinkers’ annual outing on which Christmas was draped like a crepe paper garland, shows through.

Frankly, it has become a celebration for the under tens who still live in that happy world where Father Christmas rules, there are angels round their beds and we celebrate the unlikeliest paternity suit in history.
Benjamin Franklin said it for me when he prophesied a time would come when the Immaculate Conception would have as few believers as the older story of Minerva being born from the head of Jupiter. The Romans believed, you will recall, that Jupiter had a horrible headache and out of his scalp came Minerva, fully grown and dressed in armour, a long trailing robe, a helmet, a shield and a spear.

Bet his missus Juno gave him some old fashioned looks when he tried that one on her.

I have far too much respect for God to believe he does conjuring tricks.
Besides, wherever you look, the wicked eye of Pan is peeping at you through the Festive greenery.

Any day now a giant Christmas tree will be erected in Ely Cathedral and our local church will be thronged. Not for the services but for the admittedly magical Christmas tree festival. Ignoring the awkward truth that the Christmas tree is a very powerful pagan survival, like the effigies of the Green man and the fecund woman carved into stone gargoyles on churches. That old pagan W. C. Fields read the bible avidly as he lay dying. His friends said it was hypocritical. “Not so”, he told them, “I am looking for loopholes.” So, I believe, were those medieval stone carvers. They placed an each way stone betting slip on the drain spouts of their churches. Just in case.

Look in the journals of the distant past. Even Parson Woodruffe, whose diaries read like a menu, didn’t make a great deal of what was then a holy day. Nor Kilvert either. I seem to remember Pepys made much of the feast, but that was in Restoration England which was the mirror of today in all its noisy vulgarity.

Dickens brought the new all purpose Christmas to Britain, a sales gimmick he eagerly took up as a story telling device during his visits to America.
Do not misunderstand me, there is a benevolent Spirit of Christmas which brings gifts to children and is something much more mysterious and lovely than that vulgar old man in the colours of Coca Cola who was invented in America in the 1930s as a sales gimmick for that alarming drink.

I do not understand this new Father Christmas tradition. 364 days of the year you warn your children not to accept gifts from strangers, then on the 365th day you persuade them that it is a good thing that an old man they have never met is going to creep into their bedrooms and load them down with costly gifts. A DRUNKEN old man, I remind you.

You leave him beakers of sherry, pints of beer, bumpers of port. Are you mad? He is not only driving; he is driving six reindeer. In a sky overpopulated with satellites and, according to Norse myth, a wild horde of ravening beasts harnessed by Odin, who is not famous for sobriety.
I wouldn’t travel by air on Christmas Eve, not if Hell had me.

And what about Christmas cards? How many forests do you reckon we will lose supplying wood pulp for the millions of Christmas cards that give postmen yuletide hernias?

From Skidmore Prava we are sending our cards by email, glowing with self righteousness, however mean our friends think we are.

* * * * * *
Freddy Brabin was a wealthy chemist with a shop on a prime site at The Cross in Chester. It was his misfortune to look like Freddy Frinton, the comedian who pretended to be a drunk. Freddy wasn’t pretending. When it came to being a drunk, Freddy was very serious indeed.

He was tiny but drove an enormous Cadillac. When it ran out of petrol he left it where it was and went home by taxi. But not always. Once he was so far gone in the little club we used that I had to drive him home, where he plied me with so much drink he had to get out his Cadillac and drive me back to Chester. But for timely intervention by a third party we might still have been going to and fro.

He was a kindly man. He told me one day how worried he was about the starving children in Africa. He said he had been reading about something called War on Want where people gave public dinners and wondered if I could fill him in with the specifics.

I explained you invited all your friends to dinner, gave them dry bread and water and sent the money a good dinner would have cost to the starving children.

He said, “You must have got it wrong.” He said he wouldn’t dream of asking his friends, or for that matter any enemies he might have, to drink water when it was his round. “Besides,” he said, “I thought I would have it at the Country Club and I have never seen bread and water on the menu there.”

So I suggested a compromise. “Give them a decent meal,” I said, “and, whatever it costs, give the equivalent to War on Want.”

Accordingly, about 40 of us sat down to a four course dinner, which followed a champagne reception and ended with vintage port. After the meal, Freddie spent a few hours and about a thousand quid downstairs in the Casino.

He didn’t fancy driving home, because he kept falling over, so he stayed the night.

The next morning he woke up around six a.m. with a mouth like the floor of a budgie’s cage. In his nightshirt, he wandered down to the kitchens where the early morning chef was still scratching himself and said, “Make us a cup o tea.”

The chef said he didn’t start work, not till seven, so Freddy could …… off.
At seven o’clock Dennis Ewan, the manager, came in and the chef complained to him about drunken guests invading his kitchen. “Just a minute,” said Dennis, “can you smell burning?”

They rushed to the dining room where they saw a crescent made of blazing dining chairs. In the centre stood Freddy, haloed in flames. “Now will you make us a bloody cup of tea?“ he said.

He was quite proud of the fact that he was the only member barred from the Chester Country Club the night after he had spent around two grand there. But, good as gold, he sent the starving kids a cheque for the same amount.


From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: “In 1867 Rossetti decided to put Swinburne (the shy flagellating poet) in the hands of “some sensible young woman who would make a man of him”. He solicited the aid of Adah Isaacs Menken, a stage performer, to seduce him. Needless to say, the attempt failed, and Miss Menken returned the £10 fee to Rossetti as unearned. “I can’t make him understand,” she explained, “that biting’s no use!”


On May 25 1975 the Irish Press reported that a Mr Brian Dicer, a member of the Welsh International Football team, had been arrested and charged with indecent exposure in the middle of Lenin Square in Kiev.
In his defence, Mr Dicer said: ”Walking round the square was a real eye opener. People rushed up and offered to buy things I was wearing for fantastic sums. My tie went for a fiver, I got £45 for my jacket and £30 for my trousers. Before I knew where I was I was down to my pants and socks.”

Mr Dicer told the police that the man to whom he sold his trousers assured him that he could buy another pair round the corner for a quarter of the price. “But when I got there the shop was closed,” he said.

No comments: