On the first day of Christmas my subconscious said to me: “It’s time to write an extremely silly parodeee!”
On the second day of Christmas my subconscious said to me, “Two turtle doves are OK, so long as they are free range and quite happeee!”
On the third day of Christmas my subconscious said to me, “Go ahead… you do this song,” “Well”, I said, “Three French Hens… but what’s wrong with three English Hens?” And my subconscious said to me, “Because it doesn’t scan, stupid – three English Hens, I ask you?”
On the fourth day of Christmas my subconscious said to me,“Give me four reasons why you became an interfaith minister I prithee… And then you will be free of this irritating little rhyme, OK?”
“OK,” I said, “The first was that I was amazed that so many wonderful and wise people loved religion, so I wanted to have a go. And it worked. The second was that I went to an awful funeral and I realised that conventional passage-of-life services were not delivering, so I decided to learn about alternative ceremonies at the Interfaith Seminareeee. And the third…” I stopped, and tried to think of two other reasons, but my mind went blank.
“Yes… and… so?” My subconscious said to me. “That’s two. Think I can’t count or something? You’ll have to go on with the rhyme, now…”
On the fifth day of Christmas my subconscious sang to me, “Five gold rings, four calling birds, three English Hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree… where do you intend to store them?”
There was a silence. “Well, what’s the answer? Garage, store-room or inside your tiny bonce?” To which I replied… “In my head?” “Finally” said my subconscious, “you’ve got it right, but then I don’t reckon there is such a thing as right, so you’ve probably got it wrong.”
On the sixth day of Christmas… my subconscious said to me “No, no!” I yelled, “this is too much, you’re driving me nuts!” To which my subconscious replied
“Driving you nuts… people sing this completely nutty song every Christmas, including 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping…what are they piping? Cakes? Clothes? Music? Water? Anyway they’re piping something, maybe their piping up, or down, come to think of it… they should pipe down, ten lords a-leaping, nine laddies dancing,” “It’s not laddies,” I said, “It’s ladies,” That’s what I said,” said my subconscious, going on “ Eight maids a milking, probably milking it for all they can, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five bleedin’ gold rings… are you with me? Four calling birds… calling for what? Tea? Breakfast? A bit of peace? Three English pedigree hens, two turtles…” “Doves!” I said, “That’s what I said” said my subconscious, “and a fartridge in a palm tree! I thank you.”
I have been living in this house for 13 years, and during that time all sorts of things have changed… some for the better, some for the worse. One thing that has definitely gone off is the bird population.
When we first came here we used to put out lots of feeders, and a host of wonderful birds of all kinds appeared and stuffed their birdy faces – finches, tits, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes – a veritable diversity of avian life. Then gradually, very gradually, the cat population went up … and the bird population went down. Now we have no birds in our garden. We don’t feed them because the cats used the bird table as bait when they were on the prowl, and the ground feeders were fair game. After two blackbirds snuffed it, the bird table was chopped up for firewood.
I love cats. I always had cats in my life until recently. I also love birds. But cats and birds don’t tend to be compatible. Don’t tell me your cat doesn’t catch and kill birds. All cats either do or want to, unless the cat is thick, or a reincarnation of a bird, equipped with matching birdbrain.
Where we live in the suburby bit of Brighton, cats, as pets, should be restricted. No household should have two cats, and no two households living next door to each other should have cats. In areas like this, where there are terraced houses, the enclosed gardens have been completely emptied of birds and bird life. It’s really sad, apart from the lack of bird song it has screwed up the ecological balance. The god of cats is in the ascendancy right now, and personally, I’m not sure if this is an entirely good thing, even though I’m a cat lover, and allow the neighbour’s beastie to drop by at the slightest squawk.
Holy beings, please take note of my blog. Nobody else does. You divine godly ones create zillions of animal species that prey merrily on each other, as BBC wildlife programmes point out so graphically – grabbing, killing and consuming each other with gruesome gusto. Doesn’t it get you down? I suppose that’s part of the programme. The problem is, here in the leafy suburbs cats no longer kill to eat, they kill for sport, like their counterpart, the birdbrained human being.
The Egyptians and others tended to find gods that were animal specific. Bastet was the cat goddess, and it is difficult not to favour her lovely attributes. On the other hand the Egyptians were sensible to revere cats, because they were so nippy and skippy at removing vermin – mice, rats and even snakes, something clearly useful at the time. But do we need this kind of useful skill today? I reckon Dick Whittington should keep his pet under control for the Christmas season or even longer if we are to see a sparrow or thrush ever again.
My memo to Bastet goes like this…Dear Bastet, you were popular a couple of thousand years back, and you’re popular now. We love you for your mysterious superiority, beauty and intelligence, but when it comes to your infants’ murderous activities in my garden can you please reduce their carnivorous proclivities, not to mention other things they do, that are equally unlovable and unspeakable, particularly for the gardeners amongst us.
If you want to give a thought to how much our reality is shaped by our perception, give a thought to light and dark.
One of the beautiful things about Christmas and the celebrations surrounding it, are those long, dark nights that allow us the joy of twinkly Xmas lights, and burning logs by the fire, not to mention scurrying along cold dark streets and looking in at people’s windows, getting a view and feeling of the warmth of human life. Dickens was into that sort of thing, and so am I. It’s a friendly, loving way to see everyday December in all its cosiness.
Dark and cold can’t exist without light and heat, and visa versa – that’s one of the principles of The Tao Te Ching, the Chinese Philosophy. So that when we sit by a living fire on a winter night, we get an echo and taste of the heat of summer, glowing in the embers. Both are there.
It’s the very spirit of cold and darkness that lets us revere warmth and light, whilst in the glaring heat and searing light of a hot Southern summer we long for the shade; the houses of the Mediterranean respect this principle, from the tiles on the floor, to the shutters on the windows.
As for us, we are beings incorporating both glorious light, and delicious darkness.
Whilst on the subject of perception… there’s a different side to this journey into seasonal light and darkness, a side that’s been taken over by those members of the establishment who step blithely from the warmth of a large car into an official building, and back again, oblivious to the temperature and the time of day. These are the ones who represent the worst facet of our government, the power companies and their shareholders who rub their hands in glee at the cold winter, insensible to the poor and the vulnerable sitting by a single bar of an electric fire, simply trying to survive. Those that privatised the power sources have no idea about the golden rule – that one should treat others as one would like to be treated oneself. As it stands privatisation of gas and electricity is officially and commercially sanctioned greed, and right now it’s making Scrooge look as fluffy and harmless as Tinkerbell.
In this hour of uncertainty, when we are aware of so much going on around us, good and bad, it’s a good idea to step back and do something completely silly that takes us somewhere else… that step back will transport you to the wondrous and mysterious world of the Christmas tree.
Decorating a Christmas tree is a truly rewarding Zen pursuit, while for some of us (people I don’t want to know right now) it’s a great waste of time.
It all begins with the tree. You choose a tree you love, and if you’re very lucky it has a history, like it was planted in a pot last year and has made it to this season, looking beautiful and fresh and full of life. Ours was covered in oak leaves, gunge, and provided a home for a family of small flies as well as a community of spiders, who are still gainfully employed, despite the decorations. It was bought in the garden centre in 2011 with Bear Candy, the great jewellery maker and plasterer, and carried in her van to our house. After the seasonal celebrations it flourished in the garden, and a goodly person put it in a larger pot. It is now 5ft or so tall, and a thing of beauty.
Once you have got to know your tree, you must consider the downsides. Is it plastic? No comment. Is it wayward? Tie it down. There is a downside to my tree, it has grown branches that are not entirely symmetrical. How dare it? I shout at it. It doesn’t respond. It has attitude. Hey ho, I can live with this. The worst thing about my tree is that it doesn’t smell of pine, but worse still – it’s soft. Maybe it’s a Norwegian blue like Monty Python’s dead parrot… Who knows? Despite all that, it’s magnificent.
And now to the moment of decoration: things to prepare. Get your favourite bits to hang-on it close to hand, and put the others to one side for later use. Place stuff in order of priority. Mix them about a bit. The decorations you hate should be conveniently lost, or hidden. Put on some fabulous sounds. Christmassy music is good, but if you have an iPod with shuffle, you may notice that it knows that Christmas is near, because it churns out loads of Yuletide music. Synchronicity? Magic? Ancient Wisdom? Belief? Oh, just get on with it. Here are the scrupulous rules of Xmas tree décor, from a real expert.
Love your tree, and have a chat with it
Have a tasty cup of tea or drink to hand
Drape the lights over first. This year I have only put on two sets, and it isn’t enough. Too bad. Its lower branches may languish in gloom. I have apologised, then had to add more, which now look a mess.
Do not use tinsel. Tinsel is a thing of the devil, unless used in an appropriate place. Wrapped around a car aerial of a Ford Cortina maybe.
Respect the shape, so do things that accentuate its treelike form. Use garland or chain-like stuff that winds around it in loops, showing its outline in a lovely way. Hang decorations at the end of branches, and put shiny stuff deep inside to glint merrily. Not tinsel.
Paradox lies at the heart of Christmas tree decoration. Less is more – more is less. Minimalist trees, unless designed by some kind of genius, look like a bad case of malnutrition. Over decorated trees look like somebody has thrown a dustbin at it. I go for the second option.
Meditate: go into an altered state as you decorate your tree… turn into a spider and hang around at the deepest inner bits of the tree and peek out. Is the view any good?
Have a theme and stick to certain colours. My theme is birds. Favourite colour is red.
If you stick to these simple and lovely rules, you may be confident that your tree will look great.