A Month of Sundays

Christopher Fowler
At this time of the year it feels as if every day is like Sunday - gelid, grey, silent. We could be in the depths of the Kent countryside rather than at one of the world's most trafficked spots, partly because we are beset by national postal, air and rail strikes. A friend has no regrets; after she had been forced to cancel a Christmas holiday in Trieste she felt a sense of relief that she could sit back and enjoy London. The cars around here are all silent, of course, and so - all except for a special weekly steam excursion that can be seen puffing between the houses - are the trains. The barges burn coal and wood, so the air itself smells wintry. There's nobody outside. Even at the North Pole I saw children in playgrounds (although they were dressed in hazmat suits). Bizarre Sunday opening hours apply. You can window-shop and fill a basket but not pay for your purchases until twelve noon, thus pleasing around 250 wheezing old Tories who insist that Sunday must 'be kept sacred'. It's -3 degrees today, so nothing is to be gained by lingering outside. The desire - the need - to go out is reduced but Pete has plans to get me to St Clement Danes, the oranges and lemons church, for their annual winter concert.  As an atheist I'm in the city's majority, but I respect many other religions for the community that helps protect the lonely at this time of the year. The oranges & lemons concert featured newly composed choral songs, but when you're unfamiliar with the pieces they can blur together. Just before we emerged into heavy falling snow there was one familiar tune, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', which reminded everyone of the power of cheap music. Pete said it made him think of the film. 'Ah yes, I love Meet Me in St Louis too,' I said. 'No,' he pointed out. 'It's from Die Hard.' Our family Christmases became a chore a long time ago. Nobody drank, little food was consumed and everyone went to bed early, so we breathed a collective sigh of relief when they finally drifted to an end. We were a small family to begin with and never handled yuletide festivities with much sentiment. I had seen the kind of upper-middle class feasts served by Jacob Rees-Mogg's servants and the thought of these post-boarding school blow-outs was revolting. I always preferred working Christmases, when the skeleton staff went for a glass of champagne and a panto.  It's only the twelfth of December but it's a later date than any I thought I would reach, and I'm here with my spouse and old friends. That's all the celebration I need.    


Roger (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 11:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A pre-emptive Merry Christmas, Patron!
We owe many "traditional" Christmas carols to an atheist. Ralph Vaughan Williams collected many traditional ones and wrote or arranged and got his friends to write more. I'm inclined to think a friend who believes in the Church of England but not in god - anglostic or angleist, depending on the strength of disbelief - has the right idea.

Silly Sully (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 12:22

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I've always maintained that whether or not I believe in a god, I KNOW I don't believe in any church!

Laura (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 12:23

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Wishing you whatever kind of Xmas makes you happy and a new year full of laughter and comfort. I spotted a Terry's chocolate orange doughnut the other day and remembered that, long ago, you tweeted about eating one, which sent me on a long and unsuccessful quest to find one of my own. (I admired it but Covid has robbed me of my sense of taste so it would have been a pointless purchase.) Many thanks for the joy of Bryant & May who have cheered me through some sad times.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 12:29

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Fowler. Thank you for the continued gift of your words and thoughts. All the best to you and Pete.

Jo W (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 12:58

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“ Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” always reminds us of the execution scene in the film The Victors. Neither of us can hold back from saying “bang!” as the last notes fade away.
May I say Chris, loving the christmas decoration of your balcony, did you get someone in?
Another festive season coming next week, already! Wishing you both as much enjoyment as you can manage. Hugs and hugs, from us to you both xxxx

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 12:59

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Happy Celebration to all of you.

Ace (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 13:01

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Speaking of ambivalence --- we're in that period when greetings and wishes can become angst provoking, especially for the more sensitive among us. Is it a “Merry Christmas,” a "Happy Christmas (Hanukkah or Kwanzaa)," a neutral “Happy Holidays” or perhaps --- the one-size-fits all,“Have a Happy Merry.” Then, of course, there's always the completely nondescript and quite possibly unintelligible “Have a wonderful time of year.” Or will a smile and a silent thumbs up before hurrying away do ? And quite frankly, I have begun to feel that there simply is not enough forced jollity this time of year. Sure we have Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but with us all primed and ready, I think we need more festivities. Perhaps a formal “Regifting Day.” It's time this custom was moved out of the shadows and given its due and --- with the economy and continuing supply chain problems, even more critical.

Ace (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 13:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Tis the season, so if you haven't already read any or put them on your 'to read' stack --- here are four self-gift book recommendations, based on my recent reading.

'Shadow Voices: 300 Years of Irish Genre Fiction: A History in Stories' by John Connelly 

A thousand page anthology showcasing the achievements of Irish genre fiction through a widely varied selection of very good to superb short stories. Something to savour over an extended period. But like trying to eat only a couple of crisps/chips before setting the bag aside.

'Death and the Conjurer' by Tom Mead

Set in 1930s London this is a grand 'locked-room' mystery featuring a retired stage magician-turned-part-time sleuth, Joseph Spector, Dedicated to John Dickson Carr and, IMHO, one-ups him. At least this time around.

'Deliberate Cruelty: Truman Capote, the Millionaire's Wife, and the Murder of the Century' by Roseanne Montillo

The spectacular (could it be otherwise) downfall of Truman Capote in pursuit of what he thought would be his magnum opus after 'In Cold Blood.' A combination of true crime and literary history. Well researched and written, with enough salacious detail for the most avid voyeur.

'The Women Could Fly,’ by Megan Giddings

Not something I would have ordinarily picked up myself, but I was told to read it. Okay, ordered to read it. And lo and behold, it turned out to be one of the best books of the year for yours truly. A dystopian tale about the bond between a young woman and her absent mother, set in a world in which magic is real and single women are closely monitored in case they are shown to be witches. Really well done.

John Griffin (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 13:23

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Merry Christmas, and thanks for all your work, so far......

Joan (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 13:51

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Put my tree up last evening with Family and celebrated with Spicy Chicken Wings! Lots of snow and twinkling Christmas lights, It’s hard not to be cheerful at this time of year, when people seem to be nicer and kinder, even if it doesn’t last into the post Xmas sales.
Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas Chris. Your Balcony looks amazing, the only thing missing is those Egyptian Geese!

Paul C (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 14:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wonderful post. A Xmas wish would be for the best of your blogs to be collected in book form.

Very best wishes to all here - this blog always cheers and fascinates. Thank you all.

Corina (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 14:36

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Fowler!
Thank you for your beautiful and interesting novels which I re read now many times whenever I feel stressed. May you write many more!

Corina (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 14:55

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Merry Christmas, Mr. Fowler!
May you write even more novels! Your Bryant$ May series help me when I am stressed or sad, I re read them and feel better immediately: they remind me of wonderful London !

Cliff Burns (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 16:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm that rare creature: a curmudgeonly bastard who LOVES Christmas. Go figure.

I'm certainly not a Christian, but my favorite Christmas music is choral music performed by the King's College Choir. Christmas morning I'll call out to my wife: "I'm putting on the castrated choirboy music, hon!" and she knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Merry Christmas/Season's Greetings to you, Monsieur Fowler, and may your holiday season be filled with laughter and fellowship. All the best to you.

Mish (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 17:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I am glad you are festivating with Pete and friends!
I hope your days go as well as possible.
With good thoughts to you! :)

Porl (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 17:34

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12 days til Christmas - time to start the sprouts!!
Big festive hugs til I see you! X

Gary Locke (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 17:49

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I directed a production of "Meet Me in St. Louis" almost 30 years ago and had a perfect actress playing Esther. Unfortunately, the young girl playing little sister Tootie was an accomplished scene-stealer.
During "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Esther is supposed to be hugging Tootie as she sings. The young girl, however, tried to draw focus in late rehearsals. So, I brought them together and told them that if Tootie moved so much as a finger then Esther had my permission to squeeze her until she passed out.

Granny (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 18:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Gary, that made me laugh!
Merry Christmas, your balcony looks very relaxing and pretty.
Need a bit more mess tho, books all over the floor, graphic novels in the seats. My Grandma said the Brocklesby's were intellectuals, had to move books before you could sit down.
Have a snuggly time.

Ian Mason (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 19:22

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In enumerating the possible festivals to offer seasonal greetings for we've left out my personal favourites, the pagan northern european Yule and the roman Saturnalia. Saturnalia, for those who don't already know, is where we get various festival's "King for a day" tradition from. Make way for the lord of misrule!

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 19:28

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So glad you made it to that concert and I hope the next three weeks are full of relaxing and pleasant events with small visits from close friends that don't leave you worn out. Enjoy the lovely balcony and I hope those Egyptian geese at least drop by briefly. All of our best wishes to you both.

Christopher Fowler Mon, 12/12/2022 - 21:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Nothing's been done to Christmassify the terrace, Jo!

Ace, a THOUSAND pages Irish fiction? I literally won't last that long!

Glasgow1975 (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 22:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Merry Xmas all. I'll spend mine trying not to kill my mother for another year...

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 23:12

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Still have to put up lights in the garden (it's too cold), still have to pack presents, still have to find some more for LOML's mother. Oh for 50 years ago, when I had no Christmas duties and not much of a Christmas in terms of cards, decorations, trees, and presents, and most other things. Life was simpler. I remember: "This a message from the computer operators, it's Christmas Eve, there are only two of you using the machine. Would you please logoff. We'd like to go home."

Ace (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 00:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

admin --- 1088 pp to the Irish genre fiction behemoth to be precise. But the greatest danger is not to your eyesight --- at 1.5kg, it's accidentally dropping it on your foot.

Jo W (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 07:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Chris, good word that, Christmassify. Can I borrow it please? Promise I’ll give it back in the new year. ;-)

Roger (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 08:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

1088 pp of which genre, Ace?
You could fit quite a few genres in there of course, or does "Irish fiction" count as a genre in itself?

Andrea Yang (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 10:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Ace.

I read Deliberate Cruelty and it was well done but I preferred Melanie Benjamin’s factionalized version the Swans of Fifth Avenue.

Bob Low (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 12:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"It’s only the twelfth of December but it’s a later date than any I thought I would reach, and I’m here with my spouse and old friends. That’s all the celebration I need."
Beautiful. All the best to you and Pete for Yuletide.

Ace (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 14:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger --- Take your pick. Connelly pretty much covers them all, including women's popular fiction. A good many of the authors included in the anthology (Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker and C.S. Lewis, et al) were certainly pioneers in or, at the vanguard of, their genres but, I'll leave it to author/curator John Connelly (and others) whether being born in Ireland, for example, allows your work to be labeled 'Irish genre fiction' per se. Then again, 'What's in a name ?..."

Ace (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 16:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

admin --- I'll leave it to you to break it to the husband that 'Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas' is not in 'Die Hard.' There are a couple of classic Christmas songs in the film ('Let it Snow!' and 'Winter Wonderland') but not that one. He can take consolation in the fact there are still more than a few who consider it a 'Christmas' film --- including its studio, 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) which called it '...the greatest Christmas story ever told' in a trailer. Not quite the generally accepted view among Christians, but then again, Hollywood hype does tend to overlook such niceties. And,btw, there are plenty who feel 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' for which 'Have Yourself...' was written, is also a 'Christmas' film, although the seasonal vignette featuring the song is only some 20 minutes out of a nearly two hour running time. Which leads me to wonder --- what exactly qualifies as a "Christmas' film ? And whilst I certainly wish you and the husband well --- I refuse, on principle, to wish you anything to do with the coming festivities. That 'principle' being --- Christmas should not begin sometime in September, as it appears to do these days.

Joan (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 18:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My favourite Christmas film Ace, is A Christmas Story with little Ralphie and his schemes to get a Red Ryder Rifle so he can use to protect his Family against Black Bart and his gang.
After reading Paper Boy and seeing Chris’s picture on the cover, he definitely reminds me of Ralphie! Am I the only person who has noticed a resemblance?

Helen Turnage (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 19:01

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Merry Christmas Christopher

Ace (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 19:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Joan --- Well spotted. Little Christopher (on the cover of 'Paperboy') does bear a strong resemblance to little Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) or vice versa.

Chris Adams (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 23:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How right you are that spending time with family and friends is a reason to celebrate.Friends can help you through bad times just by being there.I wish you and Pete a lovely and safe Christmas.Put yourselves first.Love your terrace!x

roxanne g reynolds (not verified) Wed, 14/12/2022 - 02:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

from this devout Pastafarian - may His Noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, bring you and Pete a shiny new pasta strainer filled with all good wishes!

Roger (not verified) Wed, 14/12/2022 - 14:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My own favourite Christmas films are French: Le père Noël est une ordure which is wonderfully malevolent and a French cult - when they showed it at the Ciné Lumiere a few years ago there was an enormus queue - and L'Assassinat du père Noël, based on a book by Pierre Véry. I don't know whatt Véry's books are like, but I love films based on them.

J (not verified) Thu, 15/12/2022 - 01:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You've given us two very special gifts - Bryant & May and this blog. Both a joy. Thank you. In return we send you warmth from sunny California. All our best wishes to you and Pete.

Frances (not verified) Thu, 22/12/2022 - 12:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Even later to the party! I thought I might not make it but survived November. My Christmases have always been Southern Hemisphere ones - summer heat. We celebrate on the 24th at night. I gave up trying to roast a turkey in the 30C plus heat years ago. Every year we decide what we want to eat. This year it is Mexican. Presents are stocking stuffers only. No one is stressed and I don't die of heat stroke in the kitchen. The point is that everyone should spend it in a way that makes them happy.

Favourite Christmas song? A strange choice for an atheist but "Oh, Holy Night". Film: yes, A Christmas Story with little Ralphie.

I wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas!