Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Traditional Christmas Reading

Maxine's post on favourite Christmas books set me off on a nostalgic trip. The first book that came to mind was Raymond Brigg's excellent FATHER CHRISTMAS which Hodmandod Senior would read to the Hodmandods Major and Minor in years gone by in an attempt to settle them off to sleep on Christmas Eve. Now Raymond Briggs is a favourite author of mine - I think we share the same pessimistic view on life. In Raymond Brigg's picture book (or should I call it graphic novel) Father Christmas regards the big day as a chore (which it is). He goes to the toilet, feeds the reindeer, suffers various inconveniences delivering Christmas presents down chimneys but best of all calls it 'bloomin' Christmas' which is as close to swearing as he can get since this is a book for young children...and not so young children.

Actually, thinking about it, the gloomy Raymond has done rather well out of Christmas - not only writing the definitive version of Father Christmas's activities (as far as the Hodmandods are concerned at least) but also responsible for the poignant story of the SNOWMAN. The TV version of course now seems to be a compulsory feature of TV schedules. It made Hodmandod Senior cry the first time he saw it - big softy that he is - which impressed and fascinated me very much.

Raymond Briggs also wrote FUNGUS THE BOGEYMAN which was a cult classic when I was a student - another excellent book.

I also liked his book on the Falklands war, THE TIN POT GENERAL AND THE OLD IRON WOMAN, ETHEL AND EARNEST his book on his parents, and especially liked his book on the after effects of a nuclear strike WHEN THE WIND BLOWS. Ah yes, Raymond Briggs is my sort of author. I would love to meet him in a pub and exchange cheerless anecdotes.

However returning to Christmas... When I was a child my parents, my brothers and I used to go to the Leicester Welsh Society. This was, as you might guess, a society for displaced Welsh people who were being oppressed by the evil English (by being sniggered at behind their backs - a cruelty which I suspect persists to this day). Once a week, or month. or when they felt like it, the Welsh immigrants of Leicester would congregate in a hall to huddle together, speak Welsh (or English with a strong Welsh accent), sing Welsh hymns and eat Welsh cuisine (a frankly unimpressive combination of lamb, potato soup and fruit cake). There were the north Walians (who were sometimes even more evil than the English and spoke a Welsh that was similar to the Welsh that everyone else spoke but had strange words for innocuous things like grandmother), and the south Walians who were perfect in every respect and spoke the proper language of heaven. There was also, in January, the Christmas party. For this I was required to dress up in a party dress (which I enjoyed because I was that sort of sad little child that craved attention).

However, the highlight of the Leicester Welsh Society Christmas Party was the reading out of A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES by Dylan Thomas which would be listened to very critically because it was very important. The Welsh take reading, writing and singing very seriously. We had our own edition of Dylan Thomas's work at home and it was one of my mother's most cherished pieces of literature. I remember my parents reading it out to each other and nodding - yes, that's exactly how it was, we were just the same - though obviously my mother had greater credibility in this since she was born and raised in Swansea. I heard that narrative so often that I know parts of it by heart - and even though I suppose I might have expected it to have been spoilt by familiarity I find that it wasn't. When I hear it now I love it just as much. The words take me back to sitting stiffly upright amongst all those Welsh voices in that peculiar society and I feel oddly at home.


Anonymous marly said...

You don't have the only child to shed a tear at "The Snowman"! And I just put out our big stack of Christmas books, including the David R. Godine printing of Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales," with the Ardizzone illustrations.

(I'm descended, in part, from a Welsh 'Thomas' clan, so I like to think that I might have a wild and woolly poet on the cousin branches of my tree.)

Sat Dec 23, 02:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Maxine said...

What a lovely post, Clare. I see we share a liking for Dylan Thomas.
Have you ever been to the pencil museum in Keswick, Cumbria? The Lakeland crayons were used to make The Snowman film -- you can watch a film there about how they did it.

Sat Dec 23, 02:54:00 pm  
Blogger Martin Kirk said...

After your post there's really only one thing to say--

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.

Sat Dec 23, 04:30:00 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Lovely reading all this. Fascinating stuff, memories too.
A great Christmas present to Blogland! Thankyou Clare.

Sun Dec 24, 03:58:00 pm  
Blogger twitches said...

I haven't read any of these! Thanks for alerting me to them.

Sun Dec 24, 04:00:00 pm  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Have a great Christmas, Clare.
Love Jeremy, Bridget and the girls xxx

Sun Dec 24, 04:44:00 pm  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

I read that post before I left for the festive activities and I've just read it again, on my return and with more time. What a lovely post to conjure up the best of this time of year, both for the present and the memories!
All the best to you and your family, Clare, I hope you're still having a wonderful Christmas.

Tue Dec 26, 06:34:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Aha Marly - Welsh blood...that explains the affinity. I'm related to Thomases too, so in this great web of humanity perhaps our threads are more closely associated than we might think.

Maxine: we went to the Lake District a couple of years ago and when we saw 'Pencil Museum' on the map I'm afraid the Hodmandods just laughed at the idea. But that sounds good and I wish we'd gone now. It just shows how wrong you can be.

Martin: Diolch! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda to you too. I am very impressed.

Jan and Jeremy: Diolch again. Twice. You too.

Twitches: I have a suspicion you'd love these. I hope I'm right.

CFR: Now you could probably do much better than diolch. I hope you had a wonderful time too.

Wed Dec 27, 12:02:00 am  

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