And down came all the festive decorations on the Eleventh Day of Christmas, a handful of soft tinsel and ribbons and polished glass tumblers trailing ivy, not that Christmassy but pretty tea lights set around the living room, a scented bowl of lavender pot pourri, winking fairy lights at the window. Not yet the 12th Day of Christmas with 12 drummers drumming, but there was the large black dog leaping like a lord in pursuit of swans a-swimming, geese a-laying, French hens, turtle doves — another festive season over, the partridge eaten and the pear tree picked bare.
We had a slightly crazy Welsh music teacher at school who would teach us to sing medieval counting songs like the Twelve Days of Christmas, Sing a Song of Sixpence, and the eerie enigmatic Green Grow the Rushes O, a favourite I still sing in my bath:
I’ll sing you nine, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your nine, O?
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the eight bold rangers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbols at your door,
Four for the Gospel makers,
Three, three, the rivals,
Two, two, the lily-white boys,
Clothed all in green, O
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.
Singing in the bath, talking to the dead. And last night I sat up and watched a bad remake of The End of the Affair based on a novel by Graham Greene. I don’t know why film-makers think the 1930s is all scarlet bow lipsticked mouths and wasp-waisted women mincing around smoky train stations or foggy London streets as in some costume drama, pouting and unable to open an umbrella without the help of clean-shaven men in trench coats. Uninterrupted orgasms while air raid sirens go off like an accompaniment. The film hasn’t a clue what to do with Greene’s peculiar gloomy Jansenist Catholicism. The London churches are empty which they certainly weren’t in 1939 and in the film nobody smokes, which they certainly did during World War II. Having to talk about God made the actors sound constipated. They mangled all my favourite lines.
The housemate, an unbelieving Protestant pagan type, wandered in munching a late-night snack of chocolate digestive biscuits and said:
‘This is fucking dire. Why do they look so po-faced? And how come you know all the dialogue off by heart?’
Mary: ‘It’s one of those masochistic Catholic nostalgia things. The bloody man can’t even get this bit right –
It was as though our love were a small creature caught in a trap and bleeding to death; I had to shut my eyes and wring its neck.
You fool, didn’t they teach you to enunciate your vowels or suffer at drama school?
Housemate: ‘I’m out of here.’
Mary: ‘No, no, listen to this, it is magnificent, heartbreaking but not the way the idiot is saying it –’
The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.
Brideshead Revisited in various appalling filmic incarnations (and which has long periods like paint drying very slowly on a damp chapel wall) affects me the same way. I blame it on the charming cloistered Dominican convent in Gweru I attended for a term at the age of five. Too much religious intensity at an early age and tall sweet-faced nuns telling us we could be saints if we just asked nicely. On the other hand, is a secular desert the answer or Hollywood stars incapable of depicting profound belief at all? The quirks and contradictions that spill over into this blog… Called the dogs into the kitchen and went off to bed on the third day of the new year.