GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

Steptoe and SonIt goes without saying that this time of year is notable for a gradual withdrawal from the usual duties, and whilst I haven’t consciously taken time out from here, inspiration has dwindled somewhat. I can’t necessarily lay the blame at the festive door, however; when one subject dominates every bleedin’ headline, it’s not so much fear of repeating one’s self – more a certain jaded fatigue with writing about the whole bloody business. Even comparing some of the increasingly bonkers rules and regulations to dystopian fiction can feel like a rather tiresome comparison now; and as for satire, a noticeable absence of compulsion on my part to even try via my sideline video platform reflects the fact that this situation has already satirised itself. When Mark ‘Diwali’ Drakeford, the elected dictator of the People’s Republic of Wales, can make going to work a crime and fine employees £60 for attempting to earn a living in the workplace (and even fine employers £1000 for enticing their workforce back), how can one satirise something so f***ing stupid or declare ‘Bloody hell, talk about Kafkaesque’?!

The fact that the television sitcom is perhaps the most redundant of all the dying TV genres means the traditional Xmas episode viewers looked forward to is now a purely nostalgic treat. ‘Steptoe and Son’, ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’, ‘Porridge’, ‘Rising Damp’, ‘The Good Life’ et al – all produced memorable seasonal specials that remain worthy of wheeling out every December because their collective narrative remains relevant, or at least did do up until last Christmas. In 2020 – and, no doubt, 2021 – there’s an additional nostalgia factor on top of the usual long-dead actors and vintage cultural tropes; the fact that these characters are indulging in a pre-pandemic world of family gatherings, parties and all the other hallmarks of what Christmas meant until this time last year coats them in an extra sentimental sheen that places them even further from the here and now than the mere fact they were produced over 40 years ago.

Even if there were such a thing as an unmissable sitcom today, how could any of the plotlines involving Yuletide scenarios that everyone watching would be familiar with actually be written now? With filming done months in advance of transmission, the first lockdown was characterised on television by characters going about their daily business without social distancing or donning masks or being confined to quarters; it seemed to expose the medium as more artificial than it had ever seemed to the casual viewer before, particularly in the heightened reality of the soap opera, when life in Weatherfield, Walford or Emmerdale suddenly seemed less realistic than it normally does when enacting its gruesome litany of murders, rapes, sieges and spectacular explosions. Any lingering pretence of reflecting real life – or a real life derived from the most sensational of tabloid headlines – was obliterated by the failure of such dramas to mirror the actual drama viewers were experiencing beyond the parallel universe confines of the small screen.

And whilst it could easily have been argued before the world had even heard the word Covid that there hadn’t been a decent Christmas song for over 30 years anyway, to compose such a ditty today would require the ejection of all the clichés that constitute the classic Christmas dirge. ‘Are you waiting for the family to arrive?’ asked Noddy Holder on Slade’s evergreen seasonal smash. Most outside of ivory Tory towers in 2020 would have replied, ‘No; they’re not allowed to visit’. When your granny always tells you that the old songs are the best, she can’t be up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest when she’s locked in her care-home and can’t receive any members of her family to dance with. And denied the luxury of driving home for Christmas, Chris Rea would probably have to settle for pulling a cracker on his own whilst he waved to the rest of the Rea clan on Zoom. If he were he still around, George Michael would have to sing about the Christmas before last. Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? Well, it isn’t Christmas time ‘cause it’s been cancelled. Not only can it not be Christmas every day, Roy; it isn’t even Christmas on 25 December anymore.

Nostalgia has always been a crucial element of the Christmas experience as the TV shows, songs and movies that take us back to our formative festive memories are recycled annually for a reason. When exposed to the Christmas hit mix on the supermarket loop, one can almost play a game in one’s head as to who’ll pop up next once one over-familiar standard finishes. Will it be Greg Lake or Mud or Mariah Carey or The Wombles or Wizzard or Boney M or Band Aid or Bing Crosby? Place your bets now. Either way, it’s doubtful any song penned on the subject issued this century will figure on the unavoidable Xmas mix-tape because, as Noddy’s granny reminded us, the old songs are the best – as are the TV shows and the movies when it comes to Christmas. Whether the sitcom seasonal specials or ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, schedulers know what their audiences want and it sure as hell ain’t anything that bears even a passing resemblance to today.

In many respects, with Christmas now reduced to a shadow of its former self, the power of nostalgia is more poignant than ever as the old spirit of the season once intended to be jolly becomes almost wholly past tense. Watching or listening to any pop culture artefact highlighting the peculiar customs traditionally associated with the last couple of weeks of December – as was – is now the same as viewing or hearing any art produced before 2020 which attempts to mirror real life. It no longer mirrors anything resembling the new normal and is therefore instantly as archaic and charming as steam trains or a Jane Austen adaptation or any other reflection of a world that has been transformed into otherworldly not by the passing of time but by the passing of legislation. Look at that grainy old footage all the way back from 2019 – a restaurant or a pub or a concert; punters are packed in like sardines, and some are shaking hands, some are hugging, and none are wearing surgical masks. Like I said, otherworldly.

The 21st century was already a pretty joyless place before Covid came along, but I guess the pandemic is the icing on an especially unappetising cake, albeit one that Mary Berry and all the rest are no doubt currently baking on their numerous festive-themed cookery specials. Boris has had to put his rebooted lockdown plans on ice in order to stave off further backbench rebellions and cling to the remaining vestiges of his lifelong mission to be loved as opposed to loathed by graciously giving the electorate the opportunity to pretend this Christmas can be just like Christmas used to be. And then he’ll probably complement the moves of his devolved despots across the Caledonian and Cymru borders by attempting to impose the same tried, trusted and ultimately failed formulas for combating the coronavirus variants that he’s been imposing for what feels like forever with no discernible success.

I remember the last post on here last year was called ‘Slippery Slopes and Silver Linings’, in which I closed the piece by referencing some of the positive voices of sanity and reason that had gradually emerged as obedience and exhaustion were superseded by exasperation and anger. Neil Oliver, one of those mentioned, has continued to deliver eloquent and incisive observations on where we are throughout 2021, and I ended on a hopeful note by writing ‘And, as long as those voices can continue to be heard in 2021, there is hope that twelve months from now we won’t find ourselves living in an offshore suburb of Riyadh or Beijing, bereft of any proof of who we used to be or who we really are.’ Well, we’re not quite there yet, though it’s not through want of trying on the part of our beloved leaders. Merry Xmas, everybody.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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13 thoughts on “GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

  1. Never the greatest Christmas fan, even as a child after the thrall of trivial presents had paled, I always tend towards the bah-humbug persona, avoiding as much false merriment as possible. I’ll admit, in middle years, to taking some advantage of the liberties made available from office parties, but that was just a fortuitous by-product of others’ state of ill-judged festivity, seasonal serendipity some would say.

    Whether Boris gets away with his personal gamble, against the advice of the ‘scientists’ in SAGE, should become clear in the next week or so: if he does, then it could chop the legs from under all those other lockdown-fascists elsewhere who are continuing to glory in their moment of absolute power with zero responsibility, the whore’s prerogative.

    Politics aside, I hope he does win through because, as a result, the ‘freedom’ channel will start to regain sway against all the restrictors. However, I fear that the data-suppliers will now see that writing on the wall and miraculously discover different ways of presenting their case for their own self-perpetuation and the whole futile yet damaging lockdown circus may start again here.

    So rather than watching the current abysmal TV festive offerings, I expect to be paying closer attention to the manipulators to spot their latest creative wheezes, it’s much more fun. Enjoy yours.

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    1. Each move at resurrecting tactics that people previously endured due to their novelty and the whole Project Fear operation is now looking more and more like a desperate attempt to maintain the powers acquired as emergency legislation. Yes, there are those who can never have enough jabs or wear enough masks, but society can no longer pacify their neuroses by closing everything down at regular intervals. If there’s any hope at all it’s that more and more have been stirred into resistance by almost two years of this crap and they have had about all they can take. The leaking of the Downing St ‘business lunches’ and Xmas parties may well prove to be the proverbial straw breaking the old camel’s back.

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      1. Dear Mr. Monroe,
        Just a note to let you know I’m a fan of your Buggernation Street and other videos on You Tube and elsewhere and have indeed posted links on my website in the past to some of my favourites of these; have just finished reading and enjoying your Christmas post above regarding the ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ which I wholeheartedly agree with.
        Thank you for all your efforts in these depressing dark times we go through!
        With best wishes for 2022.
        Jonathan King, Bayswater, W2.

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  2. Christmas TOTP was never my favourite, though as overplayed as Slade’s song is, it hasn’t lost its shine. I heard that it was written to cheer people up (especially working-class people), what with the 1974 ‘state of emergency’ in mind – the strikes, power cuts and what have you. No-one’s done an equivalent for the past two years and if there does happen to be clever satirical songs out there, the radio stations would probably give them a miss.

    I have heard a bit of better news regarding the state of affairs. At the showing of Spiderman at a cinema in Birmingham this week, during the ads Chris Whitty came on with a booster reminder. The ad was met by loud boos and cursing, popcorn thrown, btw in a packed cinema where everyone joined in! So that’s nice to know, and let’s hope it bodes well for a better 2022.

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    1. I saw a video clip on Twitter the other day of a Scottish football match (can’t remember the club) where a large banner was displayed in the stand, one basically telling the SNP what they could do with their boosters and lockdown plans. The ‘pro’ camp might dominate the MSM, but I think the actual opposition is far greater than we’re led to believe by those with a vested interest in the continuation of Project Fear.

      And you’re right about any new Xmas song that genuinely reflects where we are now – it’d never get a look in.

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  3. Speaking of ‘Christmas songs’, I was just looking at the official UK chart website to get the current listings – not something I make a habit of doing, of course. I was amazed to find that most of the top 40 bar 5 or 6 songs are seasonal ditties. And I don’t just mean new songs, I mean all the usual suspects that have been doing the rounds for decades. Time was when there’d be perhaps four songs at the most, and they’d be new releases. Right now it just looks like the track listing of a ‘NOW’ album. What does it say about the state of the music industry, or society as we know it, Jim, I mean Johnny!?

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  4. I thought nothing would shock me but I feel physically ill reading this:

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/almost-everyone-in-afghanistan-is-heading-for-true-poverty-xv2sh8h9z

    I’d consider myself relatively hardheaded and also somewhat vacillating (pun not intended, lol), but one of the few things I’m consistent on is that I’ve always despised and loathed moral hypocrites. Particularly and especially when they leverage their hypocrisy for for career advantage.

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  5. Neil Oliver. I used to judge him to be similar to Brian Cox, not the actor but the pop prof of something, a preening, hair tossing BBC go-to whenever the correct message was to be got across.
    Now to my pleasant surprise he has cast aside the obvious hair product, gone full hirsute and found an independent voice.
    Good for him.
    Now that there are decent alternatives to the Beeb he will not suffer the fate of the wonderful Bellamy.

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    1. Unlike the BBC’s ‘god’ Attenborough – a decade or so ago he was banging the drum about how all the environmental issues were simply caused by over-population and that we had to stop the world breeding as fast. Now he is deafeningly silent on that tricky topic.
      Since those times when he was right, he’s evidently had the official eco-lobotomy and now slavishly clambers aboard the climate-change, anti-carbon, anti-fossil fuel, anti-car bandwagon.
      It seems that even the gods have feet of clay, which can apparently be purchased if the price is right.

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    2. True indeed. One of the liberating elements of the online rise coinciding with television’s decline and fall is not being at the mercy of the cowards controlling our old broadcast mediums.

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