I’ll let you into a little secret…
I DO NOT LIKE CHRISTMAS!
I’m not a fan of new year either.
There! I said it!
It’s a total pain in the bum, it’s cold but it never snows and it’s the flashpoint for so many awful things. The domestic violence and suicide rates spike massively, debt rises, awfulness abounds . It’s halfway through October and I’m writing this tucked up under my duvet in bed, it’s cosy, it’s comfortable but I can feel the cold in the room biting at my exposed bits, I know that there is a beautiful sunny day out there but I’m already wary of drawing the curtains as the heat will just fly off into space, I will though, it looks so pretty. Hang on! ….
Right! Back in bed, lovely view, comedy giant hood woolly cardigan on, knitted by me I might add, cup of tea, breakfast, lovely! So yes, it’s already cold and by Christmas it will be much colder still. The whole idea of Christmas makes sense in principle, something to give people to look forward to at the coldest and darkest time of the year, bringing the green of nature into your home, ya de ya de yah and I’m sure for many years in made perfect sense but, to nearly everyone I talk to, the whole Christmas/ New Year business is a total pain in the arse. I could give you a diatribe of all the miserable yules that I’ve experienced but I won’t, unless you are some deluded Pollyanna type you know exactly what I mean. It is for that very reason I try and remove myself from the whole proceedings, I must add though that I always get loads of offers but there is only one thing more tragic than being the sad singleton at the end of a Christmas table, and that is being round a table full of sad singletons, everyone all fake smile and bon viver trying to convince themselves they are having the bestest of times. Nope! Can’t be doing with that! My family is even worse to spend Christmas with and since Roald Dahl is dead, it’s not even worth witnessing and sending to him as notes for one of his awful literary families.
The latest fad in how to deal with Christmas is the ‘feed the homeless’ gig but if you haven’t already booked your chance to feel glorious about yourself by dishing out turkey and nut loaf to the unfortunate, forget it! The homeless shelter duty on Christmas Day is now harder to get into than most newly opened west end nightclubs. I pity the homeless, and having been one I should know, life is hard enough without a bunch of self righteous people puffing themselves up and assuaging their middle class guilt on your misfortune, well until they get bored and move onto to next worthy cause anyway, ooh look! There are some refugees to patronise over there!
Whatever way you look at it, unless you are one of those few people with a perfect family life and a circle of friend straight out of Notting Hill or Four Weddings and a Funeral, Christmas is at best something to be managed and there is a reason those films aren’t filed under documentaries on Netflix.
My three most appealing options for Christmas this year are as follows:-
1) leave the country. Somewhere hot and somewhere they don’t have Christmas. The lack of money scuppers this one sadly.
2) have myself put into a chemically induced coma. I would LOVE this one! It’s the nearest you could get to being tucked up in a box full of straw like a hibernating tortoise, plus….. Weight loss, superb! Will anyone do it nowadays though? No! Some annoying nonsense about medical ethics and other such rot. Bah!
3) drop dead. Tempting…. It has all the benefits of the about solution and I would miss Christmas and the new year but… Well, you die and that sucks. I’m so looking forward to it getting warm again, it would be such a shame to miss that.
Not being vastly rich or influential, I am stuck with a list of options on how to deal with Christmas and the new year that are no option at all.
New year is just as bad, more parties, random and regrettable snogs with someone you will have to avoid eye contact with from then on because the narrative of every Hollywood Holliday movie tells you that new year is where the magic happens, desperately trying to make a connection and start the year off on a positive note, kidding yourself and everyone else that you are having the bestest of times. Pubs much the same but with tickets and door bouncers on treble time. Then there is the worst of the worst, new year television, recorded, well now I guess, people out of season pretending to whoop it up on New Year’s Eve, kill me now!
So coma, still the best option.
The real problem with both Christmas and New Year is that they so flaunt the trades descriptions act, they definitely do not do what they say on the tin. What should be about friends, family and celebrating what’s best in life become a farce of Brian Rix proportions, serving to highlight that in an age of disfunctional families and friendship groups based on getting the best photo of having a marvellous time onto Facebook, all this garbage is a redundant part of the past.
And here is the greatest of ironies, I design Christmas cards!!! What a hideous bloated hypocrite I am, trotting off to the printers with my data stick full of Christmassy images, signing up for a Christmas show at the local gallery. Stuff made by Chris, eternal grinch, Hoggins, ideal presents for all your family. Pah
Hopefully, you may have gathered that a lot of what I am saying, what I always say, is tongue in cheek, gallows humour from someone who has to see the irony in a world that most people sleepwalk through but, even so, how do we deal with Christmas and the new year when we are grudgingly forced to deal with it?
My challenge, it seems, has been over the years to create the most sideways look at the whole silly nonsense I can. Even as far back as 1991 I was making shiny black Christmas cards with matte black images and quaint little statistics about how many turkeys were raised and slaughtered for the Christmas table. I’ve done countless non Christmassy Christmas cards, off colour ones, colour in yourself ones (years before the trend), it’s tricky finding a new angle for something that my heart isn’t in anyway.
For the international market I’ve done my third and forth take on Alice in Wonderland I guess the reason it seems to fit so well is that people are so used to the convention of victoriana being traditionally used on Christmas cards makes it able to sneak right in there with all the usual cliches. When I drew the versions of these images that these are adapted from they were already a comment on the correlation between madness and homelessness, the caterpillar sporting a sleeping bag, the dormouse a concentration camp uniform and the hatter a disability rights black triangle. Some of this imagery is missing from these reworking but, as those who know my work well will know that what is absent is often as important as what is there. It’s that homeless thing again, it’s so important to acknowledge but not to patronise. My other global card is the least Christmassy thing I could imagine, the bleak and savage future of Stanley Kubrick’s take on A Clockwork Orange. It’s amazing how a bit of snow and Christmas pud makes the most dystopian of images look festive.
The local themed cards are where thing start to get edgier and the one for my home town is the most contentious of the lot. St leonards is an odd place, it has by tradition been a magnet for people like myself. Poor arty types who can’t afford to live anywhere else who like the seaside and the slightly shabby Victorian architecture. The poverty is rife and obvious but it is bearable as there are so many others in the same boat… or there were. Due to a number of articles in the broadsheet papers and Sunday colour supplements over the years, a notion that st leonards and old town Hastings has been manufactured that they are hip and happening and, after a while, people started to believe the fantasy, profiteering boutique estate agents started jacking up the prices out of reach of the locals and more and more ridiculous shops started opening selling nothing of any use whatsoever. Artisanal burger bars appeared, clicky pubs, ironic post modern this and that, insular communities of down from londoners got more and more brazen trying to turn their new how or in some cases their holiday home into a third rate London or Brighton rather than a first rate st leonards on sea. But however hard people try, the poverty of st leonards doesn’t go away, it spills out on to the streets, the street drinkers, the drug dealers, the prostitution, the crime and the vandalism is all there living cheek by jowl with the faux vintage bikes, the ridiculous beards and the yummy mummies in their brightly coloured retro mackintoshs and rosy cheeked children. So when designing a card for st leonards what else could I put on it? Why, the street drinkers of course! I’m not taking the piss here, they are there, every day of the year, down by the sea front, booze in hand, faint smell of ganga, the occasional teenager turning up in the latest sportswear to disappear with one of them to sell them drugs. This is not a criticism, this is an observance, they are there, I have painted them, end of story.
Or is it though? It’s a strange irony that the people most likely to be offended by my Christmas card are those that are complicit in the systems that keep the poor trapped. It’s hypocritical to be concerned about street drinkers when you are off down the pub with your mates or knocking back the wine and a few spirits at a dinner party, when you unwittingly share the same drug dealers for your after dinner line of charlie or that occasional bag of weed and cheeky little e to remind you of being back at university again.
If you want to truly help those with substance abuse problems, stop bloody doing it yourself!! Stop drinking, stop taking drugs, avoid bars and pubs and remove your financial contributions from anything that props up exploitative systems that promote domestic violence, child neglect and lack of social mobility. Stop engaging! Maybe one person won’t help but it’s a start. Then, once you do, something amazing will start happening, without those chemical buffers you will start to realise just how tedious half the things you do are, how boring or awful half the people you socialise with are, you might even get the impetus to start making a few changes to your life. Stay away from the pubs and bars and go home and read a good book, make a model boat out of matchsticks, do an open university course, watch a Ted talk, do some knitting, anything but pour money into a corrupt and damaging system. Change is scary though, it much easier for you to stay stuck, but imagine how much harder it is for some poor sod with nothing better to do all day than sit in a shelter by the sea knocking back special brew. If you want to do some good, leading by example is a good place to start.
Ok, so now I’ve said my bit and totally failed to put the world to rights you can by my cards at the links below. Merry, erm, Christmas! Yay?