Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas is...

Things are officially getting festive. Forget the giant corporate-themed Christmas lights, switched on aeons before anyone's even thought about the holidays. Forget the Starbucks red cups (love their dark cherry mocha as I do), those bloody career-low extravaganza Iceland ads, the early bookings and menu decisions of the Christmas work do. There is a personal point in December where you quietly jump on the Christmas bandwagon and start to really look forward to it. Having spent yesterday singing in suitably frosty locations such as Somerset House, Trafalgar Square and the Royal Festival Hall with my wonderful choir, Accendo (download the Christmas single we feature on here) I was already feeling slightly sentimental in a rosy-cheeked, bobble-hatted sort of way. But this morning, somewhere between the visible breath and some festive Mariah Carey on my iPod, I really felt great about Christmas. So here is my little list of what makes this time of year sparkle for me...

The music
Nothing too 'novelty' or overplayed, but the classics: White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Song etc. There's always room for a bit of Wham and even some Shakin' Stevens in my household though. My abiding memory of Christmas music will always be my parents dancing around the living room to that oddest of Christmas songs, Jona Lewie's Stop the Cavalry. Also carols: while far from religious, I do love the sacred sound of beautifully sung traditional pieces.

The Food
Turkey feast, naturally, but all of the food surrounding the Christmas period delights my tastebuds... smoked salmon served simply on buttered brown bread with a little lemon and pepper, classic champagne, my mum's freshly baked cheese straws (heavenly) and freshly made, creamy chestnut soup (nirvana-ly). A cold meats, cheeses and salads banquet at my Grandparents on boxing day, party food of all descriptions paired with a glass of spicy, sweet mulled wine, and of course those late night cheese and wine moments. I couldn't even begin to go into my love of all things cheese, suffice to say a nice mature cheddar, Welsh Teifi cheese, dolcelatte and an indulgent goats cheese will be on my dairy wishlist this year.

The Traditions
Every Christmas Eve since I can remember, my family have cosied up to watch It's a Wonderful Life before going out for a celebratory, no-one-wants-to-cook-at-this-point curry. If you haven't seen the former, buy and watch NOW: it will give you a much needed laugh and weep and remind you what life is all about in an extraordinary way. Boxing Day, as I have mentioned, usually means a post-feast feast with the family, a quiz and maybe a board game. It also means a rousing chorus of the Twelve Days of Christmas, for which we are all given an individual line in the hope of singing them back in perfect order, but which inevitably collapses into Christmas carol mayhem with confusion over how many maids/geese/drummers and whose line it was in the first place.

The Nesting
Much as I love donning a chunky scarf, jaunty hat and layers and layers of cosy woolies, it's the staying in that really makes Christmas for me. It means drinking at any conceivable time of day, playing music loudly while preparing food, collapsing on the sofa just after a meal with no thought to other plans. Having the tree, the lights, and the cards strung up means you wouldn't wish to be anywhere else. I might break my lazing streak and actually go on this year's 'Christmas day walk' - perhaps this is a sign of maturity? I doubt it will be enough to warrant a promotion from the Kiddie Table on Boxing Day, where I suspect I will remain into my 30s. It's that put down the diary, turn off the BlackBerry, put on your slippers and pick up a gin and tonic feeling that I am looking forward to the most this year.

Feeling even more glowing with Christmas cheer after writing that. You may just feel slightly nauseous - I will probably feel the same reading this back in a few weeks time. But for now I am happy to bask in my Yueltide coma.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Too much information?

Two articles from the weekend caught my eye today; the first, a culture piece from the Observer (where I am currently working) started off as a piece about the possibility of books becoming extinct, something I'm very interested in, as a bit of a bookworm-romantic, but became something deeper and more culturally probing as it went on. Read it and you'll see what I mean, it's somewhat of an epic that touches on everything from the popularity of Nintendo DS and the Kindle to novelist Don DeLillo's typing preferences. But the main issue the writer seems to want to explore is the complex subject of internet identity. Why blog, why facebook, why tweet, why leave your mark on one of the innumerable comment sections on the web? Tim Adams looks at the history of this sort of DIY opinion writing, and attributes the attraction to a sort of 'risk-free interactivity' that becomes addictive. As he points out, 'Any writer who has never come up against an editor, or a reader, can always feel himself a genius.'

As a blogger this is a bit of a lightning bolt. It's true, I use this medium to keep writing and putting my ideas out there, but could it also be a sort of safe haven of vanity, mainly accessed by friends and family, hardly ever questioned or criticized? There's certainly at least a grain of truth in that. Adams describes the boredom with the constant internet oversharing of the noughties, citing Lily Allen as an example after her recent departure from blogging and Twitter. Are we getting over ourselves? Do comment if you're a blogger or have any thoughts on this.

The other piece I read with interest was Lynn Barber's Times interview with Lady Gaga. I am a Gaga fan (not hardcore) and I think she proves every time she is given a stage and a mic that she is much more than your average pop puppet. But a combination of lateness and that sort of Hilton-esque blonde insincerity she displays in interviews - it is infuriating when you can tell she does have a decent and creative brain in there - resulted in a rather scathing write-up. I can appreciate that journalists are busy and stars need the publicity, but she is a pop phenomenon in the eye of the cultural storm right now - surely we can give the Gaga slightly more leeway than, say, an X Factor contestant or Hollywood socialite?

I felt Barber was grasping for negative things to mention (the colour of the hairs on her arms and quality of her 'undernourished breasts' are hardly the personal revelations I was hoping for) in a petty reaction to her PR machine and diva image. She didn't mention the new single, was dismissive of her interesting background and was 'bored' by sneak preview images of the upcoming tour. Why become a celebrity journalist if their quirks and creative plans are tedious to you?

This interview links to the other article in that the comments it provoked were neither restrained nor mature. Some defended La Gaga, some dwelled on the layers of artifice she hides behind and some, as always, scrapped amongst themselves by pointing out comment mistakes and arguing with former posts. A couple bothered to make really lame song title jokes. It made me think about Adams's analysis of people's chronic need to comment online. We can't help ourselves; too many years of witty and bitchy thoughts have been repressed and now we have the perfect way to let them out, we can't stop. I thought the very last post on the Gaga page was a fair comment on journalism:

Quite why the author chose this poorly crafted, snide description of the interview process escapes me, as I'm sure it does most other readers; we don't care if you didn't like her or her arm hairs - ask the questions, observe her and her answers and write it down. If we want to know what YOU like and what YOU think we'll buy a newspaper in which YOU are interviewed.

Still, you don't get to where Barber is without putting your stamp on your interviews. I like to see what seems like people of all ages and backgrounds rising to the Gaga's defence though, it shows her cultural potency. I'm very interested in the idea of everyone becoming a writer and critic; while a bit scary for those actually considering it their job, great in the sense of more than a small section of upper-middle class writers having the monopoly on comment and opinion writing. I think in the big web world of comment boards and blogging, it's striking a balance between mean-spirited, letting-off-steam rants and thoughtful participation in the debate.
Feel free to join this debate with the comment facility below, but perhaps skip any musings on the nature of my arm hair.

Despite her undernourished bosom, Gaga managed to blast the X Factor finalists and even Janet Jackson off the stage with her bizarrely wonderful bath escapades. Although it did sort of look like she might eat Dermot at one point.