The Next Big One

I think we were all kind of expecting someone else to go. I’ve found myself internally semi-squinting, waiting for ‘the next big one’ – the next person to go who would prompt national outpourings of distress. As my eyes trawl across some digi-obit or other I’ve muttered little mortality mantras – “Not Tom Hanks, Not David Attenborough, Not Judi Dench, Not Dolly Parton.” – ticking off names of people I love like prayer beads. This year feels steeped in the energy of portent, we might as well see the rest of it out without expecting some sort of cosmic kindness to kick in now.

I’ve had numerous conversations with friends about who we’d hate to hear had died. We compiled depressing little lists of awesome people whom it would be a great shame to lose. But of course the worst losses are those people who die ‘too young’. The people who don’t make it past an age of general acceptability, which gets a little older every year such is our insistence for living longer.

We were wrapping up our Christmas night, drowsy from our day of food and booze, when I saw that George Michael had died. 53. No age at all. I was staying at my mum’s so I ran up to her bedroom and shared the horrible news with her and my step-dad. That’s a nice way to thank them for a lovely day isn’t it; being the bedtime bearer of bad news. We chatted for a couple of minutes and then I went back downstairs and sat for a bit. It felt sort of apt hearing the news while I was with mum. We listened to George’s beautiful album Listen Without Prejudice over and over again together when it came out.

As I got ready for bed I tried to block out the horrible inevitable thought that one of the great Christmas songs, Last Christmas, was forever going to be tinged with a horribly apt sadness. George had just had his last Christmas. I’m sure we all were thinking similar. I’m sure a lot of people made the bad jokes too soon as well. Some people can’t resist thinking they’re some sort of great wit when actually they’re just a great twit and should stay quiet and resist the dreary puns gushing around their brains like sloppy shit.

It’s sad to lose people at Christmas.

But of course it’s just an ordinary day for the human body. A weak heart or a tumour or a blood clot won’t wait for the new year out of obligation to festive family feasts and our urge for sloth-like contentedness. Death waits for no one. It doesn’t just stand in the corner looking for the nod. There is no respectful time for our bodies to sever themselves from us, and that is what it is, a sort of parting of ways – our mind and our body. One day the body says “No, this is not how it’s going to work anymore, and for all your wonderful strength, dear Mind, you are powerless. I’m in charge now.”

Perhaps some of us feel these Christmas losses deeper because there is usually a strange sense of all normal business coming to a standstill for a day. When someone dies on or around Christmas, we feel betrayed, like security has been breeched, like fair play has been abandoned. The child inside us still believes in a great overarching fairness, despite everything we learn to the contrary in adult life. We unconsciously demand immunity from being mortal for the day, fool ourselves we are in closer contact with some sort of great magic, whatever our religious beliefs, there’s still surely some sort of magic, please. It is a day we trick ourselves we are somehow untouchable, swaddled in a sort of sanctity we are desperate for, like babies. “Just give us this one day in our impenetrable bubble.” We all want that, as the year draws to a close and the new year stretches out before us like the not-so-distant present with a bow on top.

But our bodies are still just our bodies, wonderful beautiful miraculous, intricate frail and finite, a gift we never quite make the most of before they bow out.

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Netflix Induced Murder Immunity

I know it’s not very Christmassy but I can’t stop thinking about murder. It’s not because I’ve just been in an M&S tussle, passive-aggressively battling with a lady in a goose-down gilet for the last filo pastry parcel selection and hoping she burns the turkey and/or dies. Horribly. And gets decapitated. And her head gets stuffed inside the turkey and they don’t find it until they finish pulling the meat from the bones five days after Christmas because it’s a really fucking big turkey and then, boom, oh Christ – Judith’s skull. No. It’s because I have been watching Dexter. That series about an American serial killer that everyone was banging on about years ago.

I don’t usually watch much stuff, but every now and then I get pulled down the rabbit-hole of a major series and everything else stops existing. Usually about a decade after everyone else has watched it. I like to think it’s because I’m an individual who doesn’t get swept along with the tide but it’s actually because I’m in a bit of a daze most of the time and it takes ten years to get me to go “Huh? Sorry, what were you saying in 2006?” So I finally succumbed to watching an episode of Dexter after lots of mates told me they liked it – grand recommendations like “Dexter saved me from a life of bunny-hugging benevolent optimism and opened my eyes to the innate evil in the world”, “We actually thought about naming LouLouBelle Dexter. But then her little winky dropped off and we realised it was just a bit of ham”, and “Dexter shits all over everything”, which as a plot descriptor is alarming but as an idiom of general enthusiasm can’t be bettered.

Anyway, one short sesh in bed down and I was hooked on this dirty Miami cop epic.

Last Christmas it was Breaking Bad. There I was, propping my eyes open until the wee small hours of the morning because I had to watch Just One More. Waking in the morning with a jump because I had had feverish dreams about shit going down at the meth factory and I simply had to watch the next episode to make sure everything was ok. I needed to know that the meth was ok and that Walter White was ok; that he hadn’t got arrested while I had been irresponsibly sleeping on the job in my real life. I annihilated the entire lot in about two weeks. It became a bit of a problem. I was a bit blinky and distracted and real life felt fake and Breaking Bad world felt real. I haven’t really watched much since then. I would’ve felt cheap, cheating on Walter so soon after our emotional goodbye. Plus I had stuff to do. You can’t put your life on hold for crystal meth, things get out of hand.

But now I’m hooked on Dexter and everything’s turned to murder. I cannot look at a bin-bag without assuming my neighbours are wronguns. “Bet there’s some dude’s fingers in that Dolmio jar”, I size up as I pass. I pass an alleyway and assume that in the shadows are some muscly Cubans with a grudge. I hear the theme music in my head, all the time, and can feel my spine prickle like a psychic hedgehog; I know that something killy is about to go down nearby. But it’s not the same as Dexter. Murder fantasies in Southend are a bit more like Danny Dyer Goes to the Seaside. More likely to get suffocated with a sausage roll than splayed on a beach in a ritualistic Santa Muerte glory kill with hispanic candles neatly arranged around your decapitated noggin. Murders are dead exotic in Miami. Sigh.

I’ve found the most worrying thing about being addicted to Dexter is not that you are prepared to forego urinating for eight hours until you’ve finished a season, but that you start caring for Dexter himself. You go on a journey with the characters that far exceeds anything that can be achieved by a two hour film and you start to absorb parts of it. Moral quandary ahoy. Because you want him to get away with it all. The murders. You can’t bear the thought of him getting caught and spending the rest of his life on Death Row. I mean, that’s not right is it? That’s pretty clever telly. Making a psychopath the hero; inciting you to care about someone who ends people’s lives. Making you think “Well, it’s only a bit of stabbing, hacking, chopping, and dumping the body in the sea. People do way worse in goosedown gilets in shopping queues at Christmas.” We are very murky creatures, us humans. No wonder we get ourselves in such pickles.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when it’s over. I probably won’t kill anyone. I don’t think. I might just rest my eyes for a year until the next big series drags me down the rabbit hole. Maybe think about watching something less stabby. But it’ll take me a while to stop thinking about killing in the meantime so, er, make a list and I’ll see what I can do. I’m sure there’s such a thing as Netflix Induced Murder Immunity, there must be.

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Terminators with Dreams

There’s nothing like being around youngsters to make you feel your age at Christmas. Every year, around the end of November, my bookshop takes on Christmas temps to help us tackle the public in the run-up to the biggest consumer event of the calendar. We use them as shields when the public gets too much, so they must be light enough to hold aloft but resistant to the relentless jabbing of savage hoards. They create the frontline while us old’uns hide in corners weeping. “When did Christmas stop being so magical?” we wail into our company hipflasks. The temps motor on robotically with the oblivion of youth and the forcefield of hope. Like Terminators with dreams.

I find myself tutting at their youth as much as wanting to ruffle their heads. (In truth, it depends how many Beroccas I’ve had.) This week I found myself shaking my head as they got excited about Christmas. They told me what they were most looking forward to. The things they’ll do, the presents they’ll receive (otherwise they’ll take to the airing cupboard to felt-tip the shit out of an Emo colouring book or something). I’d never heard of most of the stuff they mentioned. 

I was aware of myself, in my head, saying “it wasn’t like that when I was young” and I nearly slammed my head on the desk. I’ve become ‘that person’. Old.

I remember when all we got was books and basic toys and cool stationery. I am the new wave of “All we got was a Beano album, an HB pencil (unsharpened), and a jumper knitted by Gran”, which was the new wave of “All we got was a couple of monkey nuts and a tangerine in an old sock” which was the new wave of “All we got was the gizzards of a goose to suck, pigeon feather pants, a collage of Jesus made with desiccated mouse droppings, and an inappropriate marriage proposal from a first cousin with no teeth.”

Times have changed. They keep changing. It’s alarming. 

And it’s alarming not only because young people are very different creatures, not only because Christmas yanks the world into a whirlpool of increased spending, but because Christmases never are what they…were. Christmases change, and they also reflect how we’ve changed. They are giant notches in our lives. They are pillars of our calendar. They are the last big bang before the new year barges in.

Everyone has at least one sacred Christmas. Lucky people have a general collective of sacred Christmases, plural, one big yuletide wash of wonderfulness. Some can take it or leave it, but they’ll still have a few that make them smile to remember.

I remember mine as a kid.

Chocolate tins and closed curtains, twinkling lights and the vague promise of snow. Matchmakers and Quality street and Victoriana, flaking painted tree decorations. Mum’s mid morning sherry in a tiny glass, heaped presents in named batches doled out with ceremonious open palms in a stretched hour of delicious ripping. Tags and bows and tinsel and floppy metallic lanterns and coils which concertinaed down from the ceiling or were draped by golden string around the corners of things. Piles of scrunched bright crispy paper and the smells which only come out of the oven once a year, sausage meat stuffing and scorched brandy, clementine juice bursting in neat cheeky droplets. The intoxicating timelessness of all the same songs and the warmth of familiar films like fireside burrows. People who don’t normally sit on the floor, sitting on the floor. All eyes kind and soft, going from face to face. The distance to people you suddenly feel in being near to people. Privately marking: here we are, together. Happiness caught in the arch of an eyelid lowered to something beautiful in the lap, lashes hiding the strange sadness that comes from being given something you know you will love forever. 

Maybe that’s why we secretly tut at kids a bit at Christmas. At coddled youth, at terminators with dreams. Because they still think forever is the future.

  

Gin & The First Pantomime

I think a part of me was broken as a child. The part of me that should laugh at fart jokes or whoopee cushions or someone burping Happy Birthday. WHERE DID THAT BIT GO? Maybe I lost it on the beach while I was singing dead crabs to their eternal rest, aged 7. I was quite a serious child, I suppose – not that I felt it. I still don’t laugh at any of those things. Someone could burst in right now and effulgently perform an ABBA medley at me in armpit squelches and I would raise a cold eyebrow and quietly leave.

What a dreary cow.

Maybe it was when my father took me, aged 8, to see an obscure opera called Un Re In Ascolto that my sense of fun was essentially squashed. As the 20p red plastic binoculars fused to my eyeball sockets, something sparked in my cranium and I became forevermore unable to appreciate things that weren’t old men operatically lamenting the end of their days. I became blank to the funny boo-boos of the bum-bum. The playground belchings, the joke-shop dog turds left on teacher’s chair. They were dead to me. I tutted and yearned for a bit of higher-end sarcasm or at least a bit of predictable well-staged farce. When someone wrapped up an Oscar Wilde book of quotations for me at Christmas, aged 12, I was like “Boom – FINALLY”.

What a stinky little child. If I had not been resolutely obsessed with grubbing around with bugs in alleyways risking rabid deaths dancing with the corpses of lost cats I would worry that I was a snob.

Other things I still don’t get: Carry On films, popcorn, and panto.

Ah. Panto.

I went to my first ever last week. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I knew I wanted to love it because some lovely and very funny friends were in it. But I don’t mind admitting here, in public, that I didn’t really ‘get it’. What is it?

I watched the vaguely recognisable narrative of Aladdin unfold – a princess, a poor boy, a genie, a flying carpet, other motley devices – and sat there with a happy tumbler of gin, waiting to be deluged by my own laughter. It was nearly Christmas and I wanted to hoot til festive glitter spurted from my throat. I waited for a whole new thing to open its arms to me and make me feel good, like that time I discovered that Advent calendars had chocolate inside and you weren’t supposed to just admire the perforations in the unbroken cardboard.

But I didn’t get it. Stock characters in big costumes and cartoon make-up make me a bit tense. And I don’t like calling out things like “Oh look, there he is” and “yes, I promise you it most definitely is – the incontrovertible proof is right behind you” over and over again or whatever it is you are required to do at panto. I don’t even like clapping if I’m honest. It makes my palms itch.

Fun is subjective I suppose.

But then so is everything. Humour, charity donations, sandwiches. And Christmas.
All our ideal Christmasses will all differ slightly. All of us trying to create or recreate a Christmas we once or never had but hope for. I will hate the paper hat on my head, I will love the carols and wish I was in a choir. I will find time to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the thousandth time. I will probably cry, definitely eat too much, and it’s as sure as eggs are eggs that I will squeeze in about five naps before pudding. And that will make me jolly for my own reasons while everyone in the land ejaculates over Del-boy falling through the bar after the queen’s speech (something else I’ve never seen).

I suppose the art of Christmas – the art of every day I suppose – is finding, stuffed and sleepy as you climb into bed, that you did at least some of the things you wanted to do and would choose no differently if you had the day again.

Choose well, and Happy Christmas, lovely folk! X

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The Shrieking Christmas Carol Man

High Street. A week and a bit before Christmas. Busy. Noisy. Cold.
A man is shouting “Leave me alone”. I assume he’s having an argument with his wife whose Christmas list is very long, specific, and unattainable. But he’s shouting to no one in particular and follows up the odd shriek with a hoarse ‘fa la la la la’, scraps of an old yuletide song bursting from the frayed end of his roll-up. He is quite mad, but nobody seems to mind. There’s nothing like unfortunate souls wandering about in public to make us feel better about our own lives, especially at Christmas.

Further up the street is a nice Irish lady singing operatic versions of Buble/Barlow/Groban shopping precinct classics. She’s offering to sign things so she may have been in Bewitched or The Corrs once or something. Some kids are trying to mimic her vibrato and aren’t doing a bad job. I feel bad for her. But not when she starts You Raise Me Up for the seventh time. I feel bad for myself then.

People are rushing about with bursting bags, bemoaning all the stuff they have to do and for whom. Lots are rude, impatient, sulky. Lots don’t acknowledge the humans around them as they bash bags, rub sleeves, and obstruct paths.

I watch the man ambling slowly off, bagless. Part of me feels more kindred to him than to the frantic money-spenders pinballing around. Which is a bit worrying really. He’s probably got voles living inside his army coat.

“Leave me alone”. I think it might be the refrain of his whole life rather than just his mood for the day.

“I hear you, mad dude.”, I thought, wilfully mistaking myself for a cantankerous misanthropist.

It’s easy to start feeling a bit grumbly when you’re tired and busy.
It’s easy to wish the nice Irish lady would suddenly develop chronic laryngitis as she begins to crucify Hallelujah, a song constantly wrongly commandeered by the twee, faint-hearted, and nice and unbroken by life.
It’s easy to wish the bustling shoppers will all fall over and roll around on their backs like beetles until all the bags melt away and they forget what they were even charging around for in the first place.
It’s easy to wish you were somewhere away, alone and quiet, with no encroachment of Christmas or other people or general life to stop you from doing what you really want to be doing; writing, reading, thinking, kissing, being.

But then you bump into 3 old friends in quick succession – people you haven’t seen for ages – people who make you instinctively throw your arms open wide then around them and hold onto them a bit while you chat in their ear. And you natter happily over each other as you take in each others’s faces and observe how they’ve changed, and know they’re thinking the same of you, and you think how cute they look with their nose all red from the cold. None of you want to stop for long and that’s ok too, and you enjoy the thick woollen thud-patting as you clap each other’s arms and wish each other a happy Christmas and move on in different directions, a little warmer for that minute of hugging a person you used to see all the time and now don’t.

The shrieking man has moved on, scattered with the pigeons and the leaves and the rubbish, and the Irish lady is still murdering songs not in her register that she doesn’t understand and you forgive her even though you won’t give her fifty pee.

And realise you wouldn’t be without all the bustle and noise after all. Not yet.

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Kissing Jesus

I’ve always sort of fancied Jesus. I don’t think it’s so much the fact he could probably get his Dad to pull some strings for you and get that fine waived for picking flowers from the roundabout shrubbery, or even the water to wine trick, but the fact he’s just a bit…elusive. Like Doctor Who, or Patrick Swayze in Ghost. He’s not really there, mainly coz he’s dead. That’s fit. I don’t think he’d be offended by that.

Jesus started flirting with me when I was about 13, I guess. I went to an American-style Christian jamboree in the park with some friends, lured mainly by the size of the big top style tent. I thought there might be lions and clowns and acrobats, but it was actually Kriss Akabusi bouncing around with a microphone. Despite this, I had fun. I heard a lot about Jesus. It was pretty Jesus-themed on the whole. Christians dig him.

When I got home I hid in the potting shed for a bit because I hadn’t told my mum I was going to an evangelical circus and I thought it might be safer if she thought I’d run away or been abducted or murdered. When I finally ventured in, she was more unsettled by the truth: I had been singing along to Christian soft-rock. I think she thought Kriss Akabusi had spiked my lemonade and done a Lycra voodoo conversion dance in my face. I fell in line and scoffed at religion to reassure her, but inside something had shifted. It was the first time I had been moved to tears by the story of Jesus. I had felt the emotion of a tent of hundreds of people who believed he was the son of the dude who made bird’s wings and bee’s knees, and rather than laughing I was moved. It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t believed the core tenets, merely that I had listened, contemplated, and felt something, for and with people.

I felt closer to Jesus after that. I noticed him around more. Churchyards, postcards given out by precociously polite young men in suits on my doorstep, framed iridescent pictures of him doing a two-fingered healing salute to some lambs in Oxfam. He was sort of everywhere, and I liked him.

Around the same sort of age as the brief introduction to happy-clapping, I read To Kill A Mockingbird and thought Atticus Finch was the best man ever created in the whole of literature. It didn’t matter that he was a character of fiction, it mattered that the story struck important notes deep within me, notes of love, tolerance, kindness, justice, and morality. I cried for Jesus, I cried for Atticus. I have cried for lots of men, real and unreal. Woody from Toy Story probably wins the award for Most Mascara Sadie Has Wasted Over An Imaginary Being. I’ve sploshed my eyeball essence around quite liberally if I’m honest. But if crying over stories about made-up men was a foolish thing to do, if emotional reactions to them weren’t good for humans somehow, fiction would have ceased to exist a long time ago. We have enough true stories to keep us moved, inspired and entertained. But we choose to invest ourselves just as devotedly in fiction as we do in truth. We need it. We wouldn’t know what to do without it. And the blurred lines between the two is enough to keep us fired up for millennia, in all sorts of ways.

I fell out of the thrall of Christmas for about a decade. In my disenchantment with it I even wondered if it was a more honest state for an atheist: borderline Scroogedom; the grumpiness of non-belief. It was dull. Not believing anything can be quite dull. But now I’m back, and ready to get back on the happy wagon.

I realise now, in coming back to Christmas after a few years of just going through the motions of it, that I am also returning to something else. In my not feeling festive, I was shutting out things, and thus wallowing in myself with my own concerns, which is essentially selfish. Coming back to Christmas means coming back to people, and that’s always a good thing.

Jesus looks pretty hot for 2013 years old. I will think of him tomorrow on his birthday in between mince pies, I will hum my favourite carol Oh Holy Night, and I will think of what he means to others, before I eat another mince pie. It doesn’t matter if I don’t believe, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a story – if a story makes you feel things, it’s a pretty good story, right?

No matter how much I don’t believe in him, I’ll always sort of want him to drop by one day, give me a wink and confound my dull science. Plus, I bet he’s a really good kisser.

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Love & Christmas: The Cath Kidston Trap

I’ve spent weeks laughing at people churning themselves into a frenzy over Christmas shopping. “Calm down dears, it’s only November”, I scoffed internally at the harried mums jabbing me in the bum with rolls of wrapping paper that have been cynically bolstering the tills like coiled harbingers of January’s pennilessness. There I’ve been – smugly tutting for weeks like I’d somehow escaped The System – until I realised with a gulp that it’s now…actually…well, pretty close. Like, a week away. And I’ve done next to nothing.

I should have learned by now to plan ahead and do it in manageable chunks, but to be honest this last minute panic is as much a Christmas tradition for me as doubling my podge and weeping in the street at the Salvation Army band. “You’re old and wearing a really big coat and playing the tuba – HAVE SOME SNOT!”

It’s an amazing pressure that swirls around us as this time of enforced happiness. Aside from the emotional obligation you feel to the nostalgia of Christmasses past, to being the same festive person you’ve always been when actually you’re mostly stressed and distracted, you also have to think about other people; family, humanity, maybe even – dare I venture – Jesus. Christmas is demanding – you have to buy stuff, wrap stuff, plan stuff, eat stuff, juggle stuff, do stuff, eat stuff, think of stuff, be stuff, eat stuff, sing stuff, wear stuff, stuff stuff, eat more stuff, and stuff. It’s like work, (if work encouraged you to always have a fortifying mulled wine in hand).

One of the hardest bits is buying stuff for people that doesn’t leave their faces looking like you just handed them a kipper on a frisbee. No one wants to see that face. You want to see the face like you just gave them a winning lottery ticket wrapped in Michael Buble’s best pants. You want the good face. You want to make those tinkers feel loved. (And, secretly, a silly little part of you wants to make them love you the most.)

But the pressure’s on, and you’re squeezing through a throng of people who are seemingly buying the best presents ever, and they’re smiling smugly at you as you dither with a battery-operated meerkat, and your brain, panicking, turns to anything else but the logic that tells you: “Your family love you, they want you to save your money so you can fix your car and not be stressing in the new year – they want to just spend time with you.”
No. The spending of Time isn’t pretty enough. You can’t put Time in a box and make people cry with it.

So naturally, I fell into the Cath Kidston trap. I wanted to spoil my sister rotten and so I found myself in a squished boutique, stylish women cooing in my ear that Cath Kidston is the best thing to happen to Britain since Hitler killed himself, and frantically thrusting my debit card into a cashier’s hand because…I want my sister to know I love her. I want her to know I am always here, that my heart is still charged by all the power in my blood which rushed me like a pre-pubescent warrior towards her doomed bullies in the playground, that I think she has the prettiest face I have ever seen on a real live woman, that I think her vegetable lasagne is the best.

So I bought her a floral bag.

And even though I know she will love it because it’s bloody gorgeous (she’d better not fucking read this or the surprise is ruined), a small part of me was disappointed in myself. Because Cath Kidston bothers me a bit. Not because she’s now astoundingly rich or is turning pretty designs and nice craft ideas into generic badges of proscribed femininity, not because she’s cynically seized upon that quiet, comfy, increasingly shameful part of most women that wants to be baking and feathering and making everything ‘nice’, not because she would probably not be seen dead out in something as common as her own designs (the ones that make it into the shops anyway), but because she is going against the whole ethos behind her floral/birdy/polka-dotty loveliness. She’s the queen of twee; the figurehead for the renaissance of vintage thrift, and the Cath Kidston empire which lures us with its shabby-chic ‘I’ve just macraméd the hair I pulled out of the plughole into a charming brooch’ is a facade. It’s not hand-woven in an English country cottage by Cath herself – no, it’s made in China. It’s about as English as Chairman Mao slurping noodles with a panda. It’s made in massive quantities to be shipped out to shops which make people feel like they’re buying into an authentic experience, or expressing some aspirational or creative part of themselves not being otherwise satisfied. Cath Kidston, and all her pricey ilk, is the opposite of tepid tea and stale jam tarts at jumble sales in honour of post-war ‘make do and mend’. Cath Kidston is sort of the new Burberry; ethos turncoat and brand flake. The symbols of qualities we admire and covet – domestic contentedness, resourceful canniness, attractive living – are made available to everyone not out of good spirit, but out of the voracity of business. Cath Kidston is not likely (nor would ever have been advised by anyone with a brain) to have limited her wares to the country stores of farmers’ wives in moneyed rural England because they were more honest showrooms for her designs. You’d have to be a fool to wilfully limit your own success.

There is a certain democratisation, I suppose, present in the dispersal of such products in the way a brand can go from exclusive to inclusive, elitist to commonplace (like when the poor could suddenly get their hands on bottom-rung qualities of coffee, spices, chocolate, and the BMW after the rich had grown ambivalent about it all) – but democratisation and class unification is not the mission nor the driving force; boundless cold hard cash is.

Perhaps Cath doesn’t like what it’s become. Perhaps Cath herself is sick of the whole look and is reclining in a minimalist Bauhaus pad somewhere sickeningly urban. Maybe she doesn’t poo in pastel colours after all. Maybe she’d surprise us all by being a messy eater and saying ‘cunt’ a lot. But her ego must be somewhat sated by the knowledge she is an image-maker of her generation, as were Coco Chanel, Mary Quant, and the dude who painted that black woman a bit greeny-blue in the 70s. Cath Kidston’s designs will one day evoke a whole era. Perhaps it will have earned it, perhaps the history of a brand is the history of a people, perhaps what is coursing through its lines and colours is the disparateness of Britain – the haves, the have-nots, the spirit, the laziness, the pride, the nonchalance, the reserve, the gaucheness, the snobbish aspiration, the humble salt of the earth; Britain in all its chequered (gingham) past.

A part of our culture all woven up in a bag for Christmas.

But.

When we were little, and one of us was sick, my sister and I used to take a plate of malt biscuits and a glass of milk to whoever was languishing in bed. I could have reminded her of the infinitesimally huge things I felt for her by spending 59p on a packet of biscuits and arranging them in a heart shape; I could have given her a bit of our time in a box – a tiny malt cow grazing on a golden brown biscuit – and she would have loved it. But I fell into the Christmas buying trap of needing to somehow quantify the immeasurable, and I bought something pretty that I know would make her walk down the street all jaunty. And that jaunt will have a lifetime of my love trailing clumsily behind it. My love is in her fibres.

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