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Posts for December 27, 2019

Christmas Day by the Lea (or Lee)

It’s our family custom on Christmas Day to go for a walk down by the River Lea (usually shown on maps with the addition “or Lee”, as both spellings have been used historically). Often it’s been cold and dreich and we’ve seen almost no-one. Two days ago it was a gorgeous sunny day, and there were hundreds of people out.

And some boats were moving:

Boat on the Lea 1 Christmas 2019

While others were just parked:

Boat on the Lea 2 Christmas 2019

And this is us; Frances, me, and our two young adults, who don’t normally like to be photographed, and who have never appeared here before:

Family Christmas 2019

Transition by Iain Banks (Books 2019, 25)

This post was written in the new year, but the book was read in the old, and accordingly backdated.

This is a strong as it was ten years ago when I first read it, but still has the same narrative flaw. That’s not surprising, but the flaw in the universe-hopping detail is so jarring that I read it half-hoping to pick up on something that I had missed the last time.

It was not to be. Our heroes and villains still hop to uninhabited Earths, and yet find a body there to receive them.

And of course, the ethical question of possessing another human being remains barely addressed.

All that said, though, it’s still a great read.

Eyes Full of Tinsel and Fire

Christmas is the time of year when the devil doesn’t have all the best tunes. The other side gets some of them too.

I love Christmas songs. Not all of them. of course, but many. And that includes some of the Christmas carols. A full choir singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ or ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’? I’m there.

The best Christmas songs, though, do belong to the — let’s say — secular side of things. I have a hierarchy of my personal favourites. Things move around a bit, and very occasionally new ones arrive; and you won’t be surprised to learn that ‘Fairytale of New York’ remains unassailable in the top spot.

One of my other favourites is Greg Lake’s 1975 hit, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas.’ Now, if you haven’t listened to the words too closely — written, I’m surprised to discover, by Peter Sinfield, of whom I had barely heard before researching this — you might think it’s a simple celebration of Christmas, set to a jaunty tune, much like Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody,’ from a couple of years earlier (and every year since). It’s not, though. It’s much darker and more interesting than that:

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
They told me a fairy story
Till I believed in the Israelite

And that closing couplet:

Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

Lake and Sinfield have argued that it’s not anti-religious or atheistic. Well, you can have your interpretation, guys. I know what I think.

I mainly wrote this because I’ve wanted to use the line I’ve stolen as a title for years. And I’ll leave you with the wishes the song provides:

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year

I think we’re all going to need some hope and some bravery in 2020.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (Books 2019, 24)

The final volume of Moore’s League stories, and, he says, his final work in the comics medium. If so, it’s not a bad closer.

It occurs to me that a significant portion of his comics output has been built on the work of others. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it could be said to be true of all literature, maybe all art. Moore’s use is more frequent than most, though: The Watchmen characters based on those from old Charlton Comics; Marvelman/Miracleman a revival of Mick Anglo’s creation; Promothea digging into mythology and fiction, as I wrote very positively about last year; and so on.

In the League it’s at its most explicit. The main characters are Mina Murray from Dracula, Virginia Woolfe’s Orlando, and Alan Quatermain from H Rider Haggard’s novels (although he isn’t in this volume). Even the subtitle of this one is from Shakespeare.

There is, as I say, nothing wrong with any of that. It’s like sampling in music: it doesn’t matter that you’re using part of an earlier creation; what matters is what you do with it.

And what Moore and O’Neil do with everything here is pretty spectacular. I won’t go into any detail, but suffice it to say that pretty much all the threads from the earlier volumes are tied up, and everything is over at the end. Everything. Well, not everything everything. Not quite.

I wouldn’t start here, though: go back to the beginning if you want to read any of these. Read them all.