The Big Issue : Edition 447
PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND;HAIRANDMAKEUPBYREBECCAVAUGHAN THEBIGISSUE6–25DEC2013 13 » Helen Razer is a gardener and writer who asks anyone who has her name on their Christmas gift list to please delete it. Given what she has written, she could not accept anything in good conscience. “Tobea ‘Scrooge’ is not, as an author probably under the influence of eggnog suggested, to be opposed to joy. It is, rather, to be opposed to misery.” RAZER WHAT THE DICKENS? IN MY VIEW, Ebenezer Scrooge is guilty of little but bad press. For this, we can largely blame that literary sap, Charles (‘When in Doubt, Paint it Purple’) Dickens. Look, I know the man who wrought the complex foundations of Bleak House must be congratulated for some of his handiwork. But much of his piffling DIY work – The Old Curiosity Shop is a blight to the written word just as any noise that André Rieu makes is to all sound frequencies – has about as much value as flat-pack furniture one must assemble without an Allen key. In a pink gown made of terry cloth. Which is to say, Dickens’ bad work is ugly, unpleasantly camp and frustrating. Much like Christmas itself. And, look... Before you get all Dickens on me and suppose that this is a rant of the sort regularly dismissed as ‘bah humbug’, bah to you and your twinkling optimism. Disliking Christmas is not an act of cynicism. It is an act of self-preservation. And, really. Dickens did write some awful books. I won’t say much more on the matter of Dickens’ uneven talents except, perhaps, to compare them to Stevie Wonder’s. Wonder gave us ‘Superstition’ and ‘Higher Ground’. Then again, he also offered the world ‘Ebony and Ivory’ and his musical equivalent of A Christmas Carol, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’. I like to pretend this Stevie – the Stevie who ‘means it from the bottom of my heart’ – does not exist or that he was temporarily taken into the command of the Dianetics people who forced him to upchuck this evil into the world. Same goes for Charles when he pumped out the noisome air-freshener stink of A Christmas Carol. I just called to say you shit me, Charles. And I really do feel bad for that poor, misunderstood Scrooge. Clearly under the influence of some pastel devil, Dickens went about redeeming the character who would be the prototype and the eponym for those people who, quite sensibly, hate Christmas and take care to avoid it. Hating Christmas is not unreasonable. It is not an act of unjustified misanthropy. Scrooge is not pessimistic. He is just effing sensible because Christmas is demonstrably crap. To be a ‘Scrooge’ is not, as an author probably under the influence of eggnog suggested, to be opposed to joy. It is, rather, to be opposed to misery. It is not that Scrooge lacks the ability to connect with his fellow man but that he has an advanced faculty for recognising his fellow man’s inability to connect with him. Christmas is horrible. Everybody who has experienced it sober knows this. It is full of resentment, relatives and performance- martyrdom of a type unmatched throughout the year. At least one family member will make it their business to tell all other family members that they are the family’s (a) hardest worker (b) emotional glue and/or (c) most generous soul to a point well past reason. There is no reasonable response to these claims other than to agree with them convincingly and/or drink one’s way to a chemical state where words have ceased to attach themselves to meaning. Both tactics will likely result in internal injury. We should mention it is true that children can attenuate the horror of Christmas – the smaller the children, the more effective their presence. I’m sure a scholar of holidays could plot the average age of participants in a particular Christmas day and find that this functions to produce joy in inverse proportion to year...or something. But these toddler outliers are not relevant to our discussion about the value of Scrooge and, anyhow, they will all grow up to be awful people who will say horrible things at Christmas Because everybody does. It is a miserable time that exists chiefly to raise our expectations even as it crushes our hopes for family intimacy. A wrong approach to surviving this day is Tiny Tim-like optimism. A correct approach is expecting the worst. Then, you won’t be disappointed. Unless, of course, someone starts playing André or Stevie.