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Archive for December 26th, 2019

 © 2019 by James Clark

Our return to an old Christmas blog, from 2013, must (due to corporate regulations)stand without  the YouTube referred to.  But the point of two great writers at this season can’t be denied.

    You might think that having the likes of Dylan Thomas (he of, “Do not go gentle into that good night”) drop by at Christmas would be tantamount to exclusively broaching Scrooge’s Christmas Eves prior to that special one. Just in case our unlikely courier of charm might, to some, fixedly and unwelcomely portend a variation of The Nightmare before Christmas, we also have in our sack the sure-fire James Herriot and his just-right reminiscence about The Christmas Day Kitten. I’ll keep my enthusing, about Thomas’ visit, to a minimum, whereupon there is the YouTube of the author’s 1952 reading; and, then, to some hints about Herriot’s doing so much more than damage control.

As good a place as any to reach the nub of Thomas’ going back to the ways of Christmas celebration when he was a boy in Wales is the moment—somehow still compelling to him as an adult—when he and his friend, Jim, “…patient, cold and callous… waited to snowball the cats.” This glimpse of cold-weather crudity striving for gratifying sizzle sets the tempo of every incident recalled. A fire breaks out from an errant bid for hospitality, and a maiden aunt asks the firemen, “Would you like anything to read?” Young Dylan brags to younger children there, about the unique wild side of winters past, postmen past, Christmas presents past and the uncles past (“There are always uncles at Christmas. The same.”), galvanizing a domestic, even ascetic celebration like that into a spectacle of slightly eerie departures from a long-standing sedateness. After the luncheon feast (where the uncles shone at over-indulgence), the boy-adventurer would go out for a walk with a few chums. A wiser Thomas describes such a moment as that in which the callow, irrepressible little show-off would tarnish beyond fruitful recognition the unembellished magic of life around him and within. “The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks around their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying, “Excelsior.” On the “poor streets,” the children “cat-called” after the stuffed revellers, their cries, “…fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay.” At tea, Auntie Hannah “laced hers with rum… and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave.” And after that, “tall tales… we told by the fire.” And it is at this point, instead of the perennial standbys, that there is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that can’t be forgotten (just as Herriot’s once-only and never-forgotten Christmas outsider). Carolling in the night, Dylan and his friends take into their head to go to the front door of a “large home” (a place bringing to mind the homestead of Edward Scissorhands). The kids decide against the ethereal “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” in favor of “Good King Wenceslas.” Soon after starting, they were accompanied by “a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door, a small dry voice through the keyhole.” They ran away until they arrived at Dylan’s house, where they hoped that some jelly was left. An even tipsier Auntie Hannah inadvertently reminded him of the recent shock that was too hot to handle, in singing about “Bleeding Hearts and Death” and singing that her heart was like a bird’s nest—causing the sated revellers to laugh. In bed and ready to sleep, Dylan looked out at lights in windows and the music rising up from them, but only seeing those “on our hill.” There was “moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow.” There was “close and holy darkness.” And there was a sweep of love that proved impossible to brave. (more…)

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