My Traditional Christmas Reading
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.