I’ve been meaning to write this since the beginning of the month and look, here we are at the end of it already and I still haven’t got round to it. I’ve been writing a book, that’s my excuse: it’s amazing what a period of enforced rest due to imperfect health can produce. My dear friend Marilyn is always telling me my trouble is (what she means is, one of my troubles is…) that I don’t write my stories over a concentrated enough space of time and that allows my complicated mind to creep in and start screwing everything up. My stock rejoinder of course leans on the fast food v. slow food metaphor, but I don’t know: I’m the last one to trust in the veracity of my own arguments. Anyway I got an idea I’d like to give “The Kings of Drumdollo” to Goody as a Christmas present (“Grandad, it really is a load of crap” not being one of the reactions I’d expect, even if it is, so dedicating a story as a Christmas-present is a reasonably sure way of not letting your confidence be given a severe knock); and so this I duly did, which meant that even after it was more or less finished at the beginning of December I had to add the frills and flounces straight away instead if being able to wait till after Christmas, and the frills and flounces are always a time-consuming job. (Oh – her reaction? Wow, cool. What did you expect?)
I like Christmas. I like the excess, the overindulgence, the anxieties and the unnecessary extra work, not to mention the games, the quarrels, the weird sugar-trance the kids get into. I like the idea that you can put all that into a box for a few days and then climb out of it afterwards feeling refreshed. I like the idea of the kids getting a whole dose of things which they can make use of in the coming year. Maddy’s got an incubator, to make up for the dismal performance of the hens last season (not to mention her own doomed efforts to hatch eggs in bed / in the oven / up her jumper). That I call a cool present. I also have got quite fond of Ellie’s Monster High dolls – but I’m clearly a sucker for any old junk – after all, I got to quite like the Lord of the Rings films after being exposed to them at least three times a week for an entire year (habit’s an extraordinary thing).
I also like the meditation on the mysteries of Incarnation which lie behind Christmas, though I’m generally barred nowadays from sermonising about them. So I thought I’d jump the gun a bit over the audio stories series that started with The Ape and the Apple, and which have not been going well due to technical problems, and temporarily skip The Island of the Imp, The Old Man and the Ostrich, The Unicorn and the Ugly, The Word that turns a Nerd into a Bird, and Willy and the Whale in order to submit “Hobble, Yobble and God” as my little contribution to Christmas. I don’t think it’s quite ready to post, but it should be soon, thanks to help from Ben and Iban. Ben has been quite the Grand Old Man on the Couch these last few weeks, due to his Broken Leg, sitting looking wise and imparting from his large store of information and technical know-how; so probably best not to mention publicly how he came by his injury. He’s going to be very circumspect hereafter.
On the subject of Children, some observations.
1. I suppose we tend to “take children seriously” to an extent that my parental generation didn’t. I mean, we feel a lot iffier about things like lying to our children for example, whereas when I was a kid our elders would lie to us with gay abandon, all for our own good of course, while always giving us a right slapping (verbal, I mean, naturally, or mainly) if we ever uttered the least little ghost of a fib designed to spare them any agonies over our lamentable moral condition. I do sometimes wonder, however, if this taking children more seriously is linked to their not inconsiderable importance as Consumers. This I would abhor, if it is the case. Childrens publishers seem very anxious to bend over backwards to produce stuff that’s “relevant” for kids nowadays. What they mean is, relevant to the importance of kids as Consumers (a “powerful sector of the market”, I’ve heard it said).. This simply means that children’s literature gets dumbed down – everything does if it gets exposed to commercial considerations; and one can, if so minded, chart the catastrophic decline in quality in kids’ literature between the ‘seventies / ‘eighties and the present day to see how it corresponds with the catastrophic rise in children’s spending-power or at least influence over their elders’ spending-power.. I’m reading an ‘eighties classic with Maddy (and Ellie, though it’s hardly seven-year-old stuff), Isobel Carmody’s Chronicles of Obernewtyn, which has been re-released by Bloomsbury, and most nights I have a good chuckle over the thought of her trying to get such material published, first-time, nowadays. Where was I leading? Oh yes: stop trying to please children, that’s what I think about children’s literature; give them something to chew on – even feel they’re “bored” by – not the kind of pap they expect and are expected to “enjoy”. If the reading material that emerges from such a decision proves too hard for the little dears (who have, after all, so little time due to all the technology-based activities which form such an essential part of the contemporary child’s life) why then burn down all the children’s publishing houses and stop taking up valuable real-estate space with them, and leave the youngsters to their fate. We’d like to think they’ll sink but they’ll probably swim. I don’t agree with teachers that “anything that gets them reading is a good thing”, quite the contrary: if they’re reading the literary equivalent of junk food, better to jack reading altogether, I’m not even convinced it’s very good for a child’s brain.
2. My last (I promise) hospital observation. When doctor or nurse says, “Open your eye a little bit for me?” (the question mark is because it’s phrased like a question); or “we’ll just pop you up on the bed…?” or, “now let’s see what we’ve got here – just pull your top up for me…?” the odd thing is we (or most of us – I can think of a couple of exceptions) don’t growl, go take a hike, as another part of us reckons we probably should. We take it on the chin, not consciously to please them, but because we’re actually perfectly happy to fall into an infantile place when hospitalised, or merely under the weather. Maybe it’s even an essential part of healing. If one clings to the great man one loses the little boy, the I Ching says. I suspect most of us don’t really cling to the great man too wholeheartedly. Hence our enjoyment of Christmas?