Saturday, 20 December 2008


I can never set a foot on the calendular escalator that leads to Christmas without remembering my friend Curly Beard and the free Xmas tree.

Curly was a former champion show jumper for whom I used to ride work in the days when I could be carried by a single horse.  He spent much of his retirement drinking in the Sportsman, up on the Welsh border at Tattenhall.

I was in the bar there one day with Curly and my old man.

I said: "I will have to go after this. Going to buy a Christmas tree from the Delamere forest."

Curly said: "You don't have to buy one.  I'll get you one free.  But we will have to wait until dark."

So I said: "What will you have while we are waiting?"

Curly said he would have a large gin and my old man said, while I was ordering, would I call him up a large scotch?  By the time I had added mine, the free Christmas tree had cost me £4 (it was a long time ago).  By the time it was dark it had cost me another ten quid and we were in no state to go digging up Christmas trees.

We arranged to meet at opening time the next day.  We were just going to have one and then collect a free tree from a friend of Curly's.  We would have done, too, if the Wynnstay Hounds hadn't been meeting at the Cock at Barton.

In those days hunt followers of standing - or in our case barely standing - shared the stirrup cup, a potent mixture of port and brandy which reconciled people to falling off horses.  It tasted so good we stayed on after the hounds had moved off. Let's be honest, we were still on it, at my considerable expense, when the huntsman blew kennels somewhere over by Overton.

We kept meeting like that for about a week and I had lost count of how much the free tree had cost me in drinks.  But it was well over fifty quid, 70s’ prices.

To be fair, though, the next night we borrowed the landlord's spade and went off to dig up the tree.  I do not know how we managed to break the spade, which I later replaced at the cost of £11.50.

I know how I broke the tree.  I remember falling on it.  And even if I hadn't remembered, my wife of the time kept reminding me of it for years.

If you can avoid the Christmas disasters, have a very merry time.  Do not forget the wise words of The Tao by Lao Tsu:


“The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies, by wakening ambitions and strengthening bones.  If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere.  If nothing is done, then all will be well.”


Opening presents is the only part of Christmas that is as good as it was when you were a child.  But it is seldom that a Christmas gift changes one’s whole life.

 My chums Dr Philip and Patricia Brown (nee O’Callaghan and a formidable Express reporter) have given me such a gift.  I feel like Moliere’s Misanthrope who discovered to his delight that he had been talking prose all his life.


Would you believe, I am an epistemologist and always have been?

 The book in which I made this discovery is “The History of Britain Revealed” by M. J .Harper.  The discovery is Applied Epistemology, which posits, briefly, that everybody gets everything wrong.  That the cherished national myths of the Island of Britain are just that; that most of the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary are wrong; British place name history is misconceived; Latin is not what it seems; the Anglo-Saxons played no major part in our history or language; and Middle English is a wholly imaginary language created by academics.  Oh, and the epic “Beowulf” is a medieval forgery.

 I cannot remember a book I read with more pleasure and little whoops of agreement…………………………………..

The quieter the Christmas, the better I like it.  No one better expressed the warm companionship I feel at times like these than Victoria Sackville West:


         “Sometimes when night has thickened on the woods
          And we in the house's square security
          Read, speak a little, read again,
          Read life at second-hand, speak of small things
          Being content and withdrawn for a little hour
          From the dangers and fears that are either wholly absent
           Or wholly invading - sometimes a shot rings out.
         Sudden and sharp.  Complete, it has no sequel.
 .         No sequel for us, only the sudden crack
           Breaking a silence, followed by a silence.
           Too slight a thing for comment, slight and unusual.
           A shot in the dark, fired by a hand unseen
           At a life unknown, finding or missing the target.
           Bringing death? bringing hurt? teaching perhaps escape?
           Escape from a present threat, a threat recurrent,
           Or ending once and for all?  But we read on.
           Since the shot was not at our hearts, since the mark was not 
            Your heart or mine, not this time, companion.”