Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Marigold Says... Happy Christmas

G said, “whatever next, ginger is in short supply, so that will affect ginger biscuits. Put six packets down on the order, we must stockpile”. We have been rating them from our various sources, now sit down whilst you read this, M and S cheapo ones were the worst, sugary, little and not cheap.We actually now like Asda own brand. They passed the dunk test.

Asda are still the only supermarket who will deliver to us, interspersed with Waitrose when they can be bothered. It is like having a delivery from Harrods. I must say I have detected looks of “more money than sense” when the Waitrose van sedately drives up. Asda screech round the corner and are very rushed and gone within seconds of throwing the food on the mat but have been brilliant.

G is squirrelling the ginger biscuits away in his socks drawer along with mixed nuts and raisins. He thinks I don’t know but the drawer is starting to sag, and there are crumbs on the carpet.

We bought our Xmas turkey crown ages ago as it would be one less thing to worry about. It is a frozen lump with a sell by date well into 2021. When I read about all of these glorious fancy breeds of this and that for sale, I was left wondering where my boxed one has come from. I covered it in herbs and bacon and gave it a nice send off in the oven as it might have had a chequered and unhappy life.

Had a huge Xmas card. Opened it and it had a Round Robin thing inside Never heard of Frank and Ann. Had a look at the envelope and it wasn’t for us, but was sent to our address. It had come from America. Anyway, read the Round Robin. Frank has had two teeth implants, a knee operation and some new glasses. He then went on and on in great detail about his new car, then the children and grandchildren, 6 of them, we were up to page 3 by now and I was losing the will to live. Finally on the last page he mentioned Ann who has got a lump on her nose and is having it removed. The lump, not her nose. I think. I have saved the real recipients a lot of boring reading matter. Gave it back to the postie who has never heard of them. They will never know what they have missed.

We haven’t sent any cards, mainly as I couldn’t be bothered. We knew somebody years ago who used to get over 200. How stressful is that, as they will always get late ones and not be able to send them one back. The worry of it all.

Positives and negatives from this year. Mostly positives. Savings on clothes. I have probably worn a change of three clothes, because of not going anywhere choice went out the window. Same with G. I could tell him at a great distance because of colour combinations.

Every time we had messages they were always interspersed with “we were socially distanced of course”. As they are not in my vicinity why do they need to tell me? I feel like writing, “we met, hugged and snogged, then sat on each other’s knees whilst blowing in each other’s ears.”

We have become very good at avoiding corners on roads in case people are coming at us, and walking in the gutter avoiding traffic when head on collision with people is ensuing. We have been tooted by cars a few times but ignore the miserable gits. We will keep clear of the virus but end up being run over by a bus.

Have not taken up jigsaws, chess, Mar Jong, or anything at all fitness related. Was going to study a language but the library is closed and online learning just looks too complicated. Another blessing.
Oh and my cooking remains a choice of 5 recipes, using the excuse of not being able to get ingredients for anything more industrious. G has bought me a new cook book.

Funny when you can’t get something, you crave it. Like chestnuts. Never bought them before but am sure our Xmas failed because of lack of them. We didn’t get any wrapping paper so G used kitchen roll for my presents. Some of it looked second hand. I said I didn’t want anything for Christmas and my lip started to quiver when nothing was produced, but G knows me very well and produced some great presents.

G Says...

 C’est Noël. Laissez les bon temps rouler – It’s Christmas. Let the good times roll.

We aren’t going out much, apart from a swift scamper around the block avoiding all human life forms when the sun comes out. Not that it’s a problem, we manage very well on our own. Occasional supermarket deliveries produce unbridled excitement and even checking to see if there’s been any post can be a highlight. I got a card through the door from a courier service saying they were sorry they had missed me – I had been indoors and available, non stop, for at least a week at that time – but assuring me my parcel had been left in my ‘safe place.’ What a good system. Apart from my not expecting a parcel and, crucially, having not the faintest idea where my ‘safe place’ could be found.

I never did discover it, or the parcel. One day there will be a televised documentary on ‘great mysteries of the Covid – 19 era’ and I can expect to be asked to add my contribution.

Christmas. We have no tree, no decorations and made minimal preparations this year. Not unlike last year, actually, but for many people the restrictions on Christmas festivities have been hard. Those turkeys bought to feed a multitude on one day. will now last until Easter. I’d be okay with that, I like turkey, hot or cold, in any form.

As a complete contrast to the traditional gluttony of Christmas Day, I recently read a published rebuttal by a Soviet Labour camp doctor in the Stalin era to claims the wretched miscreants in his charge were undergoing unnecessary suffering. Here’s what the doctor printed out as a flyer to be handed to each new arrival.

‘You are not brought here to live but to suffer and die... If you live, it means that you are guilty of one of two things: either you worked less than was assigned you or you ate more than was your proper due.’

That’s a pretty robust response.

Christmas is for kids; people keep saying this. In every other year it’s also about eating too much, drinking (far) too much and spending all the money you can lay your hands on in an orgy of present buying and bonhomie. Well, there was a sea change this year. My parents would have approved.

In my childhood Christmas was first and foremost a religious festival. Exchanging presents was conducted at a (very) minor level, church attendance and listening to the Queen dominated Christmas Day, but even in such a joyless setting as my Grandmother’s house in Liverpool my sister and I still managed to scour a modicum of enjoyment out of Christmas.

In the earliest years I can remember food rationing was still in force, which put enormous limitations on any (non-existent) plans for feasting and jollification. As the situation eased, I recall actually looking forward to the day itself. Not only would there be food of a nature and content available on no other day, but there would be guests for dinner. Not friends as I can’t ever recall anyone my parents regarded as friends, but relatives. Two sets of uncles, aunts and cousins. All crammed into a two up, two down terraced house.

There were drawbacks of course. Nothing in life comes without cost and Christmas Day was no exception. On our return from church my sister and myself were often dragooned into performing the more menial chores such a gathering required. I had to chop wood for the fire, bring in coal for the kitchen range and see to the removal of spiders’ webs, dust and anything else that had attached itself to the spare seating, a motley assortment of creaking chairs, stools and anything else I could find in the Anderson Shelter suitable for use as seating. One year myself and two cousins sat on upturned tea chests thrown out by a neighbour.

The round dining table was too small so it was augmented by the (oblong) table dragged in from the kitchen to be set alongside its more refined companion. The notable difference in height between the two was less of an inconvenience than the far more obvious threat of the ancient, wobbly, uneven dining table being at permanent risk of collapse.

Things got worse as the years passed. From the age of eleven and for at least the next three years I was required to sing two Christmas carols, standing on a chair in front of my ill assorted relatives to demonstrate the value of the superior education offered by the ‘posh’ school which I had the audacity to attend. Intelligence was regarded by my grandmother as an excuse for avoiding hard work and mixing with my ‘betters’ would only bring shame on the family.

Surprisingly, Silent Night always went down well. Sung in the original German version, Stille Nacht. I looked up the actual words, in the interests of accuracy. They were considerably easier to sing than if I had been asked to read them out loud.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,

Alles schläft; einsam wacht

Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.

Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Being the only person present who knew the words of the German version was a huge advantage. Phonetic recitals are not always entirely accurate, but nobody ever raised this issue.

The only other Christmas carol in my repertoire was O Come all ye Faithful, this time rendered in Latin.

Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes,

Venite, venite in Bethlehem.

Natum videte Regem angelorum.

Venite adoremus Dominum.

And so on…

I should stress there was absolutely no intention on my part to ‘show off.’ The urge to impress others had yet to join the rest of my lamentably bad qualities. These performances weren’t voluntary, they were as much a requirement as part of the Christmas entertainment as the annual squabbles over board games.

These games made an appearance every Christmas, without fail, but I never recall seeing them at any other time. The Beetle game, Ludo and Mister Potato Head appeared from the depths of a drawer and caused friction almost immediately. One year Uncle Joe brought along a rickety net and we took it in turns to play Blow Football on the sloping and uneven table. It was a fiasco, but that made it all the more enjoyable in my opinion.

Christmas Day was very different from any other, but some aspects never changed. Alcohol, of course, was banned, the horror of my Aunty Sally once inadvertently consuming a trifle laced with sherry at a Womens’ Institute meeting was recounted every year. Uncle Joe liked ‘the odd pint of ale’ as he often remarked, but the house rules on temperance were set in stone.

Was the vast effort involved in preparing and serving a Christmas meal ever praised? Never. Did ‘my’ multilingual contribution to the post lunch ‘festivities’ ever receive a single handclap or nod of appreciation? Absolutely not. My resolutely dyspeptic grandmother usually said something along the lines of, ‘that boy can’t sing no matter what fancy language he uses’ and the adults returned to discussing the unsuitability of hats worn by various women in the church congregation, the long obligatory walk to church, usually in the rain, having been the first and most irreplaceable part of Christmas Day.

If anyone knows where my Safe Place is, could they let me know?

Don't fancy turkey? Why not try Spam. Just add a little imagination

Sorry, there's more...

Uncle Fred somehow managed to cope with the scorn and occasional abuse hurled at him on every other day of the year for the crime of marrying an unsuitable woman, a social climber and, even worse a Catholic, regarded as several steps below a mere ‘heathen’ and a religious belief never referred to in any other form than ‘Roman Catholic.’ It was water off a duck’s back, he said, proving the point by invariably turning up at my gran’s terraced house in a taxi. Oh, the shame of it, what would the neighbours think?

No buses on Christmas Day and Uncle Fred lived in the rather posh suburb of Wavertree, but there was never much likelihood of Aunty Lily trudging five miles through wind, rain or snow in her high heels – another black mark – so a taxi would be summoned. None of my adult relatives spoke to them for at least an hour after arrival.

Aunty Lily had tried repeatedly to persuade the rest of the family to call her ‘Lilian,’ reasonable as it was her actual name, but as ‘Lilian’ apparently set her apart as someone who thought too much of herself it became the norm to refer to her as ‘Lily’ – ‘Lil’ would have been even better, but that would have completely overwhelmed the poor woman’s sense of grievance.

Names were often a bone of contention. My more distant female relatives had names befitting their place in society: Bertha, Martha, Maud and the like, but two others, on my father’s side, were Aunty Pearl and Aunty Ruby. They hadn’t chosen their names, but were only ever referred to in scornful terms, especially after both of them met and married ‘Yanks’ during the War and moved to America. ‘Yanks’ were just as bad as Roman Catholics and equally derided.

Aunty Pearl, who I never met, had been ‘walking out’ with a ‘respectable’ young man who worked at the salt mines in Cheshire and was always referred to as the young man who made Bisto and hadn’t been called up during the war as his work was regarded as being of national importance. Maybe gravy was essential for keeping up morale. Unfortunately for him, when large numbers of American troops arrived in Liverpool Pearl rapidly switched allegiances, obviously preferring to canoodle with a man who had access to silk stockings rather than the alternative who could only supply gravy browning with which faux seams could be drawn on bare calves.

The Cerebos salt company invented 'Bisto' gravy powder, granules came much later, from a mixture of salt, flavourings and colourings, at its salt factory in Middlewich. It was named "Bisto" because it ‘browns, seasons and thickens in one.’ Hmm!

The Bisto Kids. I was fascinated by them and tried in vain to persuade my sister to join me in offering our services as models for the next advertising campaign. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noted the absence of the Bisto Kids from current labels. What else though? How about the extension of ‘ah’ to ‘aah’ Bisto. A subtle change slipped in at some stage. Did it increase sales or was it an attempt to draw attention away to the heartless culling of that ragged pair of urchins and their quivering noses?

Cerebos didn’t just manufacture Bisto of course; they were the most widely known makers of table salt, using an advertisement that even at a very young age I found incongruous - a picture of boy chasing a chicken and pouring salt over it - but the image and the words beneath it became synonymous with the brand.

The well known advertising slogan certainly brought about a notable disaster one Christmas Day. ‘See how it runs’, called out Uncle Fred, upturning the ‘reserved for Christmas Day’ salt cellar only for the screw top to drop off and the whole contents land on his plate. Not his finest moment. Obviously, I found it hilarious and was sent out to ‘calm down and remember your place.’ The house rules, my grandmother’s rules, clearly stipulated children on Christmas Day - and every other day - were to be tolerated at best, seen but not heard and, crucially, must know their place.

One of my father’s (many) obsessions that came to the fore at Christmas was Coprastasophobia*, also called Coprostasophobia ,the absolute dread of getting constipation - ‘you don’t want to get bunged up’.

*The word’s origins date back to the Classics - Boris Johnson would undoubtedly know this - copra from the Greek, (meaning, er, faeces), sta is Latin (meaning fixed) and phobia is Greek again (meaning fear). The entire problem, in a single word. Yes, we prefer to say ‘constipation’ now, understandably so.

A heavy meal was, apparently, predestined to cause one’s digestive tract to freeze up and becoming ‘bunged up’ or its variant, ‘stopped up.’ My father’s evangelical call to arms urging one and all to seek remedies for this inevitable disaster began during the meal and continued throughout the day. Quite often the diatribe began as soon as the guests arrived. I suspect it was a Pavlovian style response to his being obliged to eat one meal a year at an actual dining table with members of our extended family.

My favourite relative was Uncle Joe. He had spent many years in the Merchant Navy, had been torpedoed and rescued twice during the war and travelled all over the world. I loved his stories, even if with hindsight they were heavily slanted towards the evils of bosses keeping the working man in servitude.

Bessie Braddock, the Labour MP for over 25 years was supposedly a close friend of Uncle Joe and he had a photo of the two of them celebrating yet another General Election victory. It’s true he was on the photo, but only just, tucked away behind a fair few others.

Bessie Braddock was the greatest influence on the city of Liverpool until the Beatles came along and Uncle Joe was her biggest fan. Outside Liverpool she’s probably best known for the reply made to her by Winston Churchill when Bessie observed, ‘Mister Churchill, you are drunk and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.’ The Conservative Prime Minister responded: 'My dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.'

Bessie Braddock spearheaded the demolition of the infamous Liverpool slum housing, including the house my grandmother had lived in all her life, and thousands of families were rehoused, packed off to new developments in Skelmersdale, Kirkby and Huyton.

My grandmother had to be dragged away from her house in Scotland Road, always called Scottie Road where everyone knew everyone else and nobody ever locked the doors It was all she’d ever known and she loved it there. I loved it too whenever we went to visit. The streets were filthy, the children I played out with were even worse, but I can only remember the sheer joy of ‘playing out in the backs’ with an unruly mob of rowdy urchins

The ‘new house’ wasn’t even new, it was just a remodelled but still very basic terraced house, but with indoor plumbing and a scrap of back garden where I could play. The ‘Rec’ was at the top of the road. The recreation ground as the Council rather grandly called a patch of weed strewn grass with three garden swings on it, the whole area festooned with signs saying ‘no spitting.’

The Rec was much safer than playing on the railway lines, although I did that too and survived somehow, but the new place wasn’t a patch on Scottie Road. The new kids came from more affluent homes, but were far less adventurous and interesting.

I only remember joining one gang on our many visits and their activities were very tame indeed. The lawless mayhem I’d enjoyed so much in Scottie Road was in very short supply in this new environment.

My best mates at that time were Dan who had scabies and one we all just called Monkey, because he looked like one, whose ability to fart at will ensured his popularity. I wasn’t supposed to play with Dan or another boy whose name I forget as there was a case of TB in the houses they lived in, but of course I did.

My cousins, who I rarely saw other than at Christmas were as much under the eye of the adults as I was on these occasions and ‘larking about’ was forbidden. We sat quietly, wearing our best clothes and tried to make the best of it.

Christmas 2020 was very similar, except the food was (much) better and the chef received well earned compliments. Christmas with just Marigold and I makes for a great Christmas and this lockdown era Christmas has been brilliant.

Here's the modern one, different child, same bizarre theme.

Ah! Bisto. In the modern version the Bisto Kids are long gone, but 'ah!, Bisto' is now 'aah, Bisto.' Progress? I think not.

Bessie Braddock outside my Grandmother's recently demolished house. That’s not me in the prom.

It's just about possible to find my Uncle Joe on this much prized photo