Thursday, December 24, 2009
Tis The Season To Be Merry, So Pardon Me If I Respond To The Gaiety Of The Season By Hiding In The Wardrobe
And so, another year draws to a close, and with it, another decade. It is, I now realise, customary to greet the passing of the winter solstice by noting grimly that the past 12 months have been dire, and to hope for better in the coming Spring. But 2009, has been an unholy stinker, hasn't it? We have endured the worst recession since people began compiling worthless statistics about the terribleness of recessions, and if we have not yet had an economic depression - thanks to the largesse of that Robin Hood-in-reverse, the Chancellor, Mr Darling (he takes from the people to give to the banks, who then refuse to lend to the people, so that they may award themselves bonuses as a kind of compensation for being dull enough to become bankers) - it has been such a glum old year that I shudder to contemplate it.
As I write, the country is in the grip of winter. Planes are sliding from runways, sheep are shivering, and the Scottish news is full of interviews with motorists expressing shock and awe at the trickiness of steering a Citroen Picasso through slush. "It was like driving on a sheet of glass," one of them said on the radio this morning; curiously, as if the experience of driving on double-glazing would be more understandable than skidding on ice. Last night in Edinburgh, temperatures fell to minus 12 degrees Celsius, or Centigrade, whichever is the colder. In Peebles, it was warmer, though that was largely on account of the judicious application of hot water bottles, and my habit of sleeping in a railwayman's overcoat. (The railwayman is famously tolerant).
Personally, it has been a year of industry and indolence. You may have noticed that my blogging has become less regular. I would like to excuse this by explaining that I recently embarked on a career as a stunt double for Mr Michael Palin, allowing me the excuse of foreign travel, under cover of which I delivered medical supplies and designer sunglasses to the poor orphans of rural Romania. Or, I could tell you that I have been caught up in a clandestine romance with Ms Kirsty Wark (you may have noticed that she has been dressing like a 30 year-old and often presents Newsnight with what my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) would have called "hair like a startled strumpet").
But, sadly, neither of the above is true. I have spent the year eating beans, contemplating oblivion. I don't regret the beans, but I could have done without the oblivion. It happens, usually, after watching Cash In The Attic, and lingers until EastEnders, which reminds me that things could be worse. I could, for example, be living the life of Mr Max Branning, whose generosity of spirit has allowed him to attempt a reconciliation with his lovely wife, Tanya, the plump headmistress of Booty's beauty salon, despite the fact that she buried him alive in Epping Forest, on account of him having an affair with his daughter-in-law, who subsequently became mentally ill and stands, now, on the brink of inter-racial lesbianism. Poor Max survived a second murder attempt by his teenage daughter, Lauren, but his generosity of spirit - and his unfortunate habit of selling insurance policies to the poor and needy and pocketing the cash - has taken him to the brink of ruin.
But, like Mr Ronnie Corbett, strapped to a rabid camel and left without water in the windblown wastes of the Kalahari, I digress. This year has not been entirely fruitless. I have spent the last three months working on the Peebles Showboaters' Annual Festive Extravaganza, a Christmas production of Mr Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, in which Godot arrives on the Melrose to Edinburgh (via Peebles) bus, dressed as a woman, and dispenses topical bon mots and Hawick Balls to the audience. The production process has not been easy. The estate of Mr Beckett is very particular, and usually insists that his plays are presented in a form that is true to the author's wishes: in other words, with a complete disregard, bordering on contempt, for the audience. Initially, they were sceptical about my plans - the Hawick Balls were a particular bone of contention - but after enduring the touring production of Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen and Mr Patrick Stewart, I argued successfully that the play had already been turned into a witless pantomime, and could only be improved by the addition of buttery peppermints. I also produced letters written to me in the early 1970s, by Mr Beckett, who was then exiled in Paris, which showed that he spent most of his waking hours adjusting the television aerial so that he might be able to better enjoy broadcasts of his favourite programme, Steptoe and Son.
In the end, the show went on. I was allowed to proceed on the condition that no explicit mention of Mr Beckett or his play was made. I can now report that Waiting For The 62b ran for three nights this week, to near-capacity audiences, at the Peebles Aquarium. It was well-received (a three-star review, written in advance, in the Peebles Times-Picayune). There is talk of taking the show to next year's Edinburgh Fringe, though that will be dictated by the availability of a church hall large enough to accommodate a Leyland Leopard. (I think we may also have to lose the lion).
There is more that I could say, but I fear it would not add to the gaiety of the season. These are, without doubt, difficult times. As a child raised in the spirit of Calvin, I have always been suspicious of pleasure, but even I am finding the joylessness of the age hard to stomach. The decades pass so quickly, too. I remember 1999, and our fear of the millennium bug. Now we have global terrorism, River City, and the imminent end of the world through pestilence, greed, and patio heaters. I may have to retire to the wardrobe for a while, to hibernate until better days appear. But happy Christmas to you - and may all your fires light with a Zip!