Tag Archives: Christmas

The ‘T’ word

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Tourism: it’s a dirty word- especially in the travel industry.

The touch it implies is altogether too light.

Who wants to be seen with a camera, map, and backpack gawping up at the neon of Piccadilly Circus when you can be living in an igloo, learning an Inuit language- ‘like, living a culture from the inside‘?

The traveling appetite of the comfortably-heeled- along with their hunger in entertainment- is in the process of undergoing a marked shift from the passive to the active.

It’s no longer enough to go to the cinema: we want to participate in the screening, and to do so in secret locations.

Your story about that theatre outing is all very charming, but I was bossed around by the actors at mine- and guess which one of us is holding court?

Oh wait, neither, because Joe Schmo on my right, here, was the person around whom the entire play revolved…

The buzzword is EXPERIENCE.

And leading the charge is the authentic sampling of other countries not glancing up at the Pyramids en route to a plate of egg, ham and chips, but rubbing sand into your body swathed in meticulously-crafted replicas of Ancient Egyptian garments.

It’s about keeping it real in unreal environments, and all well and good; whatever floats your questing, seeking boat.

But how does this relate to the age-old practice of experiencing the peoples of other cultures?

How far do we get to taste them?

We went on a safari in Tanzania over the Christmas period.

As we drove between locations, we often saw the Masai going about their business of herding cattle, or perched by the sides of the roads.

Dressed only in bright Shuka cloths out in the middle of vast fields, in possession of nothing but a stick, the way of life of these semi-nomadic people is about as far from that of the average Londoner as you can get.

We asked our Guide a river of questions: Where do they live? Do the children go to school? What do they eat? Why, who, what? again and again, as each answer piqued further curiosity.

Then, on Day 9, the unfolding of our itinerary: a visit to a Masai Village- a sort of animals-in-the-morning-people-in-the-afternoon-type-affair.

Hmmm.

So, on the one hand, I’d LOVE to do that.

I’d pretty much go into anyone’s home for a nosy; I’m Pinocchio after a lying orgy.

On the other hand, isn’t that a bit intrusive?

This isn’t really about warmth and hospitality, is it?

It’s about a performance in exchange for cash.

It’s about us having money and them not having money, and them having to sell a bit of themselves to our nosiness in order to get it.

Like hawking a ticket to the Sultan of Brunei so he can witness my adorable, dirty children watching crap TV on a Saturday night: ‘My, but I AM feeling grateful for those gold taps now’…

Our Guide, Christopher- a strong-hearted, tell-it-like-it-is man of Masai blood, but not the traditional lifestyle- was reassuring.

Some of the villages, he explained, apply for government permits that allow them to show visitors around. (The permits are a source of revenue, of course, but they also seek to ensure responsible tourism, so that visitors are welcomed respectfully).

The Masai are not financially wealthy, but neither do they need to be, as by living off the land and the cattle they keep, they are almost entirely self-sufficient.

However, they need money if they want secondary education for their children of any sort (schooling is fee-paying throughout Tanzania) and for certain extraneous supplies, like fuel.

Therefore, visits from outsiders are a source of income.

A voluntary donation of $50 per tour is requested up-front, and the craftwork of the women is then offered persuasively for purchase at the end.

It is a transaction, yes, but one considered to be a fair exchange.

This is no Slum Tourism; the people are proud of their way of life and their work.

They are not in poverty; they are happy to share their customs.

Hmmm again, but this from a trusted source, and we weren’t in the market to take along a paparazzi-lens camera.

So we pitched up, sharing the slot with another family staying in our camp, though we remained in our separate groups.

And what a jimbly-jumbly experience of emotions it gave rise to.

We were greeted by a young Masai Warrior on arrival.

He was open, friendly, and on automatic pilot while delivering a script of sorts about the tour: I think he’d done this before.

We made our donation, did masses of humble smiling, and then popped up right in the middle of a traditional singing, dancing and jumping routine, split by gender.

The deep guttural humming and clicking noises of the men; the extraordinary faces of the women (extraordinary to us, that is); the clothing and jewellery and the thousand nuances of a life lived differently, were intoxicating.

I felt honoured, and thrilled, and ridiculous all at the same time: plonk a necklace on the stupid white woman, and watch her beam.

The general atmosphere was celebratory, though I would say more amongst the young men than the women, who came across as ambivalent and unperturbed in contrast to their engaged male counterparts.

The kids were the good-humoured focus of all (young boys are especially prized, as girls = dowries) – an exchange of genuinely joyous connection taking place between them and our hosts.

After this, we were invited inside one of the seasonal homes by our Guide, following a brief overview of the Masai habitations, diet and age-set system.

It was the most basic dwelling (as in, unadorned, non- mod-conned) I’ve encountered: barely 5 foot high inside, with 3 ‘bricks’ burning in the centre, for heat and light; 3 pint-sized compartments for the parents, young children and goats; a ladle and pot hanging on the interior wall.

The simplicity of these homes was remarkable.

An episode of listen and reflect, as opposed to stare and judge, it left me thinking of my duvet and face cream with a mixture of love and self-loathing, calling to mind the ‘perfumed ponce’ line from Withnail and I.

We were then taken to the tiny school hut where the children learn Swahili and English- a little girl springing up to lead the rest of the class in a song for our benefit.

This learned behaviour of pleasing (for money) from one so young was a jarring point, somehow serving to throw an off-colour light on our giving of the colouring pencil gifts we had brought with us from the UK (for the purpose of general present-offering, as we didn’t know about this official visit in advance): we had not been holding the gifts ransom to a display of winning ingratiation.

The final leg of our three quarter hour trot around the village was a vast display of beaded and wooden handicrafts, which our Guide was careful to point out we were NOT obliged to purchase.

We bought 3 small mementos, for which their chief negotiator- a man stationed by the bins working the character of a wheeler-dealer salesman- asked $65 of us- perhaps in a game of ‘who’s exploiting whom?’; we settled on $50.

And then we were off; fond waving and no blood spilt, as my Dad would say- the most unsettling comment coming, surprisingly, from Christopher, who invited the kids to consider how lucky they are.

Though well-meant, and infused with good humour, it imparted to us an uneasy superiority: is an iTouch the path to true richness?

Did we discuss their declining way of life? The poaching of wild animals? FGM? The insidious creep of Western ‘permissiveness’?

No. We passed through their world exuding an odd mixture of appreciation and apology, mindful to capture photos and footage in the open spaces only despite repeated assertions we were welcome to do so without limitation in the intimate ones.

Might the sensitivity of visitors vary?

Yes, as may the guileless nature of the village Guide’s welcome.

I found it fascinating to come into contact with an unfamiliar slice of existence.

I disliked the contrived circumstances under which it came about, but wonder if favouring the bespoke or spontaneous experience is primarily an affectation.

The Masai had found a conduit for their crafts which would spread an appreciation of their culture beyond the confines of their immediate environment, in (part) exchange for a curious family of four crouching in one of their temporary homes.

To the extent that they noticed us, they might have sensed that we are not crass colonials.

For our part, the prejudice of the ‘primitive native’ was a far cry.

The confluence of cultures may serve ultimately to dilute those identities, but where barriers are dropped understanding ensues.

In a world where perceived divisions can get you shot in the streets and at your desk, one could argue that (appropriately-mediated) old-style ‘tourism’ – the type that brings together people who might otherwise consider each other alien- is not necessarily such a dirty word after all.

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PLENTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Because Christmas isn’t Lent, for God’s sake. It’s a Stuff Festival. So tear off all your clothes and get amongst it. Rip it open, gorge it down, guzzle from a ginormous tinsel-wrapped funnel. Don’t be a pussy. Push it, push it. Deep-fill those lard-laced pies. Shovel them down with extra-brandied clotted-artery bull’s cream and if the cheese is passing on a platter arrest its arse and have that away too. Wheel in a wodge of varnish-soaked Christmas pud violated with pence pieces, from Fortnum and Harrod’s. Get in with the chocolate. Get IN. Not the boring sort (for later, guarded in multiple packs by snowy friends) I mean the very extremely dark foil-wrapped sort that’s so much idiotic fun it tells cracker jokes just by parking itself on a red and gold napkin. Inject its tiny cavity with alcohol- there’s plenty of room, go on RAM IT IN- you’re not a fucking monk. Eat it after the Baileys that came after the port that precedes the cooked grease breakfast. Do it! No I’m serious, do it. Celebrate. Line up spirits and mixers and get out the champagne glasses. All of them. The SPECIAL ONES. Your good humour depends on it. (Try overwhelming a tree with austerity, see how you get on.) I want to watch the entire drinks department of John Lewis Waitrose spill from cabinet to counter top NOW. Get utterly casseroled in many, MANY locations of good cheer. Do it with carols, annex a Nativity- I really don’t care. Have friends over, fall over on friends, find strangers in Churches and gargle mulled wine over them too. Do mania, do hysteria in local shops serving prosseco with peach juice, with cassis. It’s community. It’s charity. It’s Hahahahahahahahaha, Christmas!!!!! Do you understand now? Do you get the theme? Say too much. Splurge your desires on innocents at parties. Make your speech pregnant with roast teal and spiced chutney- no room at the inn, just one pissed pantomime donkey. Spew out words and thoughts of superabundant vulgarity because this is the time of giving. Here- take, eat. This is my body that I’ve intoxicated for you- a large, ravenous beast of unending appetites to which I’ve sacrificed chestnuts and glazed fruits that you may feast, with red-wine stains on your teeth and stilton on your tie. This is my blood that I’ve saturated for you with liquid Heaven. Shaken. Dirty. House-blended.

And now New Year and you come to me with that drippy look on your stupid, puffy, hopeful face. Stinking of strategies and regret, a head bursting with notions of greatness and survival, gut writhing in the gravy of More. Forging plans, scribbling lists, grabbing at your rested juicer with pious aggression. Buy, buy, sell, sell! Let go! Take it up! Have 4 days off. Take the weight back. Have a sex change.

You are SO funny. I LOVE it.

*

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The Boyfriend

Awwww, look at you in your knitted sweater. It is lovely to be dating, isn’t it?

You’re still out in the wild. At the same time, you’ve got someone with soft flesh to agree you’re great. You get sexy sex on tap while your sad married mates are dealing with dishwasher hate notes. You can stop checking out who winked at you on Match.com. Those cute little messages on Facebook about ‘my gorgeous girl’– they’re yours.

You even get to keep simultaneous contact with two of your own shirts while walking hand-in-hand down Guildford High Street, ’cause she’s wearing one of them.

You’re in love, not domestic bondage. And it’s adorable; I don’t want to upset you.

So run along now- she wants a foot rub/ milky drink/ reassurance.

Because the news is- bummer- you’re unpopular. With everyone. Even her. Especially her.

Your bachelor friends hate you, because you don’t want to throw up with them anymore. Ditto your married friends, for the reasons you think you’re happy. Other boyfriends feel uncomfortable around you, like maybe you met before in group therapy.

Your boss used to think you were a creep. Now he thinks you’re a smug creep.

To her older brother you’re a cad; to the younger a sicko, for liking girls. You’re a source of ridicule for her older sis; in the younger you stir adolescent pangs.

Half her friends don’t think you’re good enough. The other half do and and want to know why you’re not with them.

Her mother’s eaten up you don’t fancy her. Or maybe you do, in which case The Bible hates you too.

Her Dad knows you’re using his little girl as a notch in the bedpost (he was a boyfriend once.) Or you’re a bad smell and not making an honest woman of her. Or destined to become the husband and he’ll have to spend the rest of his life giving you man hugs at Christmas.

Your Dad resents you playing the field. And your mother, oh boy, your mother.

Cousins are ambivalent because you spread the coverage of grandparent interaction at family occasions. Grandparents too, because they’re senile.

Well they can all go to hell, says you, because your gal’s head over, lying on your bed in lace underwear, waiting to breathe your air.

Possibly.

Or could it be that you don’t do that thing her ex did with Skittles?

Do you laugh enough at tarty girls? Bitch collaboratively? Put the right number of kisses at the end of texts?

When you last had a cold, why could you hear her gay friend laughing so much at the end of the phone?

And you know when she said she doesn’t need a piece of paper for you to prove your love to one another? She was lying.

She was lying so hard the words tasted acrid in her post-pleasuring mouth when she said them. (And believe me, it WAS the words).

Is it because you’re too cheap to buy a ring? Are you looking for a cheap ring? OMG, do you think she’s cheap?

The saddest thing of all is that one day you’ll realise you hate yourself.

It won’t be snuggled up on the sofa watching a Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin movie. Or smiling at a panda in Clinton’s on Valentine’s Day.

It won’t even be when you’re watching porn and thinking about Vicky Pryce.

It’ll be when you’re in Zara or Top Shop or Whistles.

You’ll be standing waiting at the changing rooms entrance- waiting. Like you’ve forgotten how to kill a bear or barbeque spare ribs or watch the beginning of Up without crying.

You’ll be illuminated from the front by a glow of strip lighting- an overgrown, beleaguered version of Elliott in E.T, searching in vain for signs you haven’t been castrated or mistakenly cast in an ad for tampons.

And instead of your Beloved popping out in an LBD she’s popping out of, you’ll catch sight of your own mush in the mirror: stripped of sarcasm, boy band drippy, accessorized by a woman’s handbag and expectations.

And you’re gonna f.r.e.a.k o.u.t, drop everything and dump her.

But…

Six months later she’ll have a new boyfriend who cheats on her and races cars, while you’re moping around being a miserable bastard.

And one by one, all your friends and family and work colleagues will start to remember your boyfriend time as golden, while all her friends and family and the family dog will spend entire evenings hunched over chicken kievs saying, ‘God, we loved him, he was perfect‘..

Before you know where you are Meryl’s back on, in Mama Mia, and nailing it.

Promise just one thing?

Never, EVER revisit the shopping thing.

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Happy Christmas x

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My Corrections

I am finally reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.

I also went to my parents’ for some of half term.

The two met half-way over dinner one night.

Dad: So I suppose you realise I have Christmas on my mind now, Darling.

Me: Gosh, really, Dad? It’s the first of June.

Dad: Yes, well, I made the Christmas pudding in February.

I don’t know what your plans are but I want you to know that you shouldn’t host it.

Me: Why not?

Mum comes back from the kitchen.

Mum: Anyway, Aunty Jenny kept the bungalow dreadfully. It totally let down her side of the cul-de-sac.

Dad: Because you hosted it last year. And once you’ve done it two years in a row, you’re down to do the bugger every year, believe me.

Mum: For example, in the bathroom she had this old towel at the window in place of a curtain. Why you would want to do that I have no idea. Although I suppose it was a bathroom.

But it was just hanging in these threadbare, willowy strips. Can you imagine?

Me: No, it’s fine, Dad. It’s a Christmassy house.

Dad: Well, that’s true, to an extent. But we should have it here, even though Mole* said I’ve become an old fart and can’t cope with it- not exactly but in so many words.

Mum: So I said to her housekeeper, ‘Get her to take down that old towel. It looks terrible.’ And she said, ‘No. Jenny is very insistent that everything stays exactly as it is.’

Me:  Thanks, Dad, we’ll see.

Mum: And I said to her, ‘Oh, just take the bloody thing down. She’s blind anyway. She won’t even know.’

Me: Mum!

Mum: Well, she was. Almost deaf too.

By the way, the people who do the worst plastic bags are Sainsbury’s; the best: Morrisons. That’s why I save Morrisons’ for when you come down because of all the rubbish you create.

Dad: Well, I’ve said my piece. It’s up to you.

Bruno (very still): Can anyone guess which part of my body is moving? No? No? My toes.

Later, I sat on their top floor balcony in the hot evening. It is booby-trapped for pigeons, which keep swerving in to poo on it, driving the Folks doolally.

There were miniature, tinfoil windmills poking into my back and blobs of bleach dotted around the place and when it was very peaceful and I was meditating on the tops of the swaying trees, Dad lunged out of the door and shouted, ‘Dadadadadadadada’ in a very deep voice, to deter an approaching grey visitor.

Dad: Bastard birds. It’s either them or the shite-hawks.** We bought netting today. It’s the only option left.

If you haven’t read The Corrections, it’s so good.

If you haven’t met my family, they’re available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

If you are my family, I’m going to ask for 10% of any bookings which result from the above.

* one of my sisters

** seagulls

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Ten reasons Britain is quite funny

1. Our politicians think sarcasm is an acceptable way to woo the voting public.

There are some countries who are corrupt in private and schmaltzy in public. The Brits like it the other way around, asking their agencies to put ‘sneery’ under the tone of voice section of the advertising brief.

Whether they have factored in over half a million voters with autism spectrum disorders who will take them at their word and swathes of the Welsh coast who have not yet been visited by cynicism, is unclear.

2. Our women cannot walk in high heels.

This makes them less attractive than if they didn’t bother wearing them in the first place.

Luckily, the fact that they do not realise this is what makes them attractive.

3. Our men cannot work the smart casual look.

They think it is attractive to wear bermuda shorts out on the town during Springtime.

Unfortunately, the fact that they do not realise this make them even more unattractive.

However, when you mention this to the London cabbie and he says, ‘Yeah, I was just finking I’d like to round ’em all up and shoot ’em’, this makes you laugh and helps to restore their currency.

4. We hate children.

In public places, like restaurants and parks, and especially in our own homes.

Certain country pile bed and breakfasts have developed a code for this on their websites, which is a large C next to a 12. This indicates that children over 12 are welcome, which indicates that children under 12 are not. If you telephone them to check if they really mean it they will put the receiver down for a second, spit, then pick it up again and tell you politely that they mean it very much indeed.

5. We hate old people.

At the wheel of a car, in the workplace and draining pension schemes. Hogging NHS wards, on the television and talking to us at the Post Office. Actually, anywhere that is not Eastbourne.

Above all, weeing on the sofa at Christmas.

6. We are not interested in being taught cookery on television unless it is by a curvy woman or a punchable man.

Just because we hate food doesn’t mean we don’t want to shag Sophie and Nigella, while sticking needles into the eyes of Gordon and Jamie.

7. We are stubbornly contradictory.

We love Joanna Lumley ’cause she’s posh, Posh ’cause she’s common and Becks ’cause he’s thick. Ferne Britton ’cause she’s fat, Ferne Cotton ’cause she’s thin and Cheryl Cole ’cause she’s a victim. We hate Kate Winslet for being smug, which is the same reason we love Jonathan Ross, who we also hate for being rich. We believe in Judi Dench but not in God and want Cat Deeley to marry Ant and Dec and be a lesbian at the same time. And we can’t decide how much we hate Katie Price for being pissed in Ibiza but we know we love Kate Moss for hoovering cocaine in London ’cause she showed us how to team a waistcoat with pirate boots without looking like Katie Price.

8. We are dissatisfied with our homes.

We mortgage ourselves to buggery to own our Englishman Castles, whose D.I.Y we bodge and fill with furniture that is flat-packed and sold alongside meatballs so we can comfortably swear at programmes about escaping to France and moan with authority about house prices when so-called friends come over to pick through the charred remnants of our cocked-up souffles. (see 6.)

9. We are spraying our throats and sharpening our pencils in training for a Gold medal at Marathon Bitching during the 2012 Olympic Games.

We intend to guffaw at our embarrassing opening ceremony, our inhospitable weather, our insufficient infrastructure, our apathetic attendance and our crap athletes, inbetween gobfuls of M & S ready meals.

10. Our political activists aren’t overly scary.

They huddle in the dimly lit rooms of Edgeware Road flats awaiting the return of their leader with the weapons arsenal:

‘Did you get them?’

‘Yes.’

‘How many?’

‘Half a dozen.’

‘Are they free range?’

‘Of course.’

‘ With Omega oils?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘And the flour?’

‘Wholewheat and organic… Tomorrow, comrades, we raise our voices.’

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Turkeymania

Every Christmas my father goes in search of the ultimate turkey.

Not one doing the backstroke in gravy, being strong-armed by an army of chipolatas but a stand-alone bird of such uproarious quality that ‘Zadok the Priest’ starts up with the chewing.

It has been an escalation leading to ever more obsessive behaviour every yuletide. When Waitrose magazine runs a Turkey Addicts questionnaire he will say ‘yes’ to more than half the questions, including, ‘Do you often wake up in an unfamiliar place having been searching for the perfect bird?’

In 2008 he gained an £80 speeding fine hastening one back to optimum refrigeration temperatures- no mean feat when carving up a trail of 90 year old Sunday drivers on the Sussex Coast (pun intended).

This year he sourced a turkey that cost more than 100 good English pounds. She was called Caroline and came with a birth certificate and a brochure of her Christmas Lunch accompaniment preferences (‘Don’t serve me with cabbage; it’s malodorous.’)

My father received regular updates about her progress until she was slaughtered. It was like adopting a Siberian tiger, only in reverse.

As with all addictive behaviours it takes it tolls on the loved ones.  The tense atmosphere as the hot meaty smell starts to creep from the oven. The sneaky peak under the tin foil for signs of dry spells.

The fear of Overcooked Meat Disappointment.

Caroline fared well this year. She clung onto the moisture in her loins like a mature women determined to enjoy an active sex life, overcoming the unpromising handicaps of her considerable bulk and the length of time she spent waiting in the wings pending trimming negotiations between chef and family members.

Perversely, this did not work in favour of the Christmas guests. Impressed and relieved by her survival instincts my father began to plan fresh adventures for her in soup and curries.

So that despite the presence in the kitchen on Boxing Day of a cold poultry the size of Milton Keynes, left-over slices were jealously guarded; it’s not often that I feel like a child during the blitz dodging the adults to try to steal protein for a wounded German soldier.

The question now is whether Caroline’s kin will be ear-marked for next year or if the crazy quest for a Better Bird will begin anew.

Wise bets are on Her Majesty’s best swan.

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