Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Banned in England

In 1644 an Act of Parliament was passed banning Christmas in England. All aspects of the celebration were made illegal, including the display of holly, ivy and Christmas decorations, and the consumption of typical Christmas fare, including mince pies and Christmas pudding. The ban came about because Cromwell's Puritan regime took a dim view of the Christmas mass, which they saw as a relic of Roman Catholicism, as well as the secular excesses of the Christmas feast, which included dancing, singing, eating huge meals of roast beef, plum porridge and minced pies, and drinking gin and special Christmas ale, all of which were often accompanied by gambling, drunkenness and promiscuous behaviour. To enforce the ban, soldiers were ordered to patrol the streets of London to make sure that no shops or businesses closed for a holiday, to arrest anybody caught celebrating Christmas and to seize any special Christmas fare.

You'll be pleased to know, the ban was lifted in 1660 but, eating mince pies and Christmas pudding is still illegal, as the laws remain unrevoked, so, technically, the police could seize your mince pies or even your Yule log if they wanted to.

England is not alone. I was once an outlaw Santa Claus in Saudi Arabia, where the public celebration of Christmas is still not allowed. Bizarrely, the Santa Claus outfit had to be collected from a Saudi princess's palace, where it was less likely to be seized by the authorities. When the Live Aid record 'Do They Know It's Christmas' was released to raise money for famine victims in Africa, the headline in the Arab News, ironically, read, "Do They Know It's .................?' Best-selling Record of All Time." This was because even publishing the word 'Christmas' could result in a newspaper being closed down and its editor being arrested by the Saudi religious police.

Merry Christmas everyone, and take care nobody finds out about your illegal stash of mince pies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Corner View - Traditions

Most traditions, including Christmas, are related to the scapegoat mechanism, which is at the root of all human behaviour. Although it was Kenneth Burke who discovered what had been lying in wait for us for so many centuries, it was René Girard who first really understood its significance. In order for humans to bond and operate effectively, we need to isolate a scapegoat and kill or punish him/her/it ruthlessly, be it a goat, a sheep, a turkey or a fellow human being.

The top photo is of the Temple of Baal at Baalbeck in Lebanon, possibly the most monumental building ever constructed by man, and the greatest temple ever to the cult of scapegoatism. Human sacrifice took place there on a massive scale.

When I was there in the summer of 2006, two Israeli soldiers, who'd just been captured, were being held in an adjacent building, and were about to be sacrificed. One thousand other people were killed in the war to rescue them. There is no blame, only human tradition. There have always been scapegoats. Sometimes we nail them to crosses, sometimes we burn them on bonfires, sometimes we make effigies of them and beat them to death, sometimes we bully them at school, sometimes we have commissions to weed them out, sometimes we gas them in concentration camps. We usually laugh about it at the time: it is our way and our tradition. In the part of the world I live in, the greatest tradition is to kill a goat: the scapegoat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Night & Day in the City



Grey morning. Scurrying, heads down, isolated together
A moment's eye contact with a stranger
Walls that move in and out
A moan, a whisper, a fearful cry, an angry shout

It's not all bad, it's not all bad
A madman muttering underground
Heads bury deeper into papers
Night descends, dark suits replaced by neon ravers.

Emotion-drained faces framed by windows
Shuddering pipes and throbbing floors
3am, the time for new love and old death
Is when I wake up and decide that tomorrow I will try to leave

The city

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Corner View - Improvising

You will find this picture inside almost every home, shop and temple in Bhutan. It illustrates the story of Thuenpa puen shi, or the Four Cooperative Friends. The story tells how four very different creatures, an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a peacock, combined to find food. The peacock found the seed, the rabbit watered it, the monkey fertilised it, and the elephant guarded it. The problem was that the tree grew too high for any one of them to pick the fruit. So, they stood on each other's backs in order to reach it (obviously, the elephant was not on top). The Bhutanese are officially the happiest people in the world. Maybe this story helps to explain why.

Whilst you will find the Four Cooperative Friends inside, on the outside walls of their shops and houses the Bhutanese have painted a very different picture: it is of a giant penis with a ribbon tied round it. Whether this also has something to do with them being so happy, I really don't know.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Some Useful Tips To Improve Your Quality of Life

1) Save a fortune on laundry bills by giving your dirty shirts to a charity shop. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for only fifty pence each.

2) Always say yes when you want to say no, and no when you want to say yes, and you will turn your life around. For those of you who've been saying yes to drugs, this will improve your life immensely; as for the others, at least it will be a change.

3) If you take off the back of your television set and remove everything inside it, which, if you have a good set of screwdrivers, should only take one or two hours, you can get your husband or wife to kneel down behind it and look out at you through the screen, and pretend that you are married to a movie star.

4) Frustrate car thieves by siphoning off all your petrol whenever you park your car, and carrying it round with you in a big plastic bucket. If you drive a 4WD, a truck or a bus, use two buckets and a shoulder harness.

5) Catch your neighbours’ cat or dog, tie a rope around it, then climb up onto the roof of their house and lower the pet so that it dangles in front of their bedroom window first thing in the morning: they will think their cat or dog is flying and it will be one of the most exciting moments of their life.