Merry Christmas!

Here is a sort of minimalist design on mine, based on the popular carol 12 Days of Christmas, and a reason to say Merry Christmas. 

Not knowing the words by heart, I looked them up to discover just how many different versions there are. New items are introduced, wording altered and for no apparent reason the amounts of certain gifts are switched about a bit. This happens more towards the end of the song, as the mind wanders or the memory fails. It is a pretty boring song to sit through in it's entirety.

Being a traditional sort of chap, I went with the earliest recorded version as my guide.
I can see how pipers and drummers are interchangeable, and why an ancient term for Blackbirds 'Colly' morphed into 'calling', but not the inclusion of badgers baiting. Apart from being an unsuitable gift, badgers are usually baited not baiting, I think. 

Hopefully this is a useful (and pleasant to look at) cue sheet if you find yourself starting a rendition. Merry Christmas!


Recently, I was in Tropea, Italy. On the tip of the toe, opposite Sicily.
The place in which I stayed overlooked a monastery that sits above the sea. It feels odd to me to see robed monks going about everyday activities, probably because monks are an endangered species in England. And the sight of them was made stranger as my book of choice happened to be In The Name of the Rose, essentially a murder mystery set in a 14th century monastery. 
Anyway, I didn't draw the monastery. This view is looking the other way, showing the houses built right up to the cliff edge, or the cliff erosion makes it appear this way. Some seem like they've been sculpted from the rock. Of course, it could be anywhere by the time I finished with it, but having read this you can say 'ah, that's Tropea, right there'.


The painting shown above was done over a year ago. I didn't like it as I finished it and I don't like it now, so I left it to fend for itself, never collecting it from the exhibition it was part of. This morning I took the long route to work, taking me past the exhibition building, inevitably leading me to wonder at the picture's fate. 

As I walked across the front, I imagined finding it discarded out the back, perhaps a corner poking out from the bins. 
As I walked past the side, I actually saw the painting leant up against the bins. I wasn't really upset, more surprised - mildly freaked out - that my premonition had happened. Was this odd timing, or had it just been there for months?

I went to look and see what state it was in. Brixton is similar to India in that you can't pause for long before a stranger approaches, and as I was considering weather to leave or reclaim it, a sprightly elderly woman joined me. There was a second abandoned canvas, but she pointed at mine and declared it to be the better. My fragile ego will take any praise, so I admitted responsibility and after a brief chat - she was French, which explained her style and her laughter at my adopted name, and she'd lived in Brixton for 25 years, in a large house close enough for her to point to. 

I offered her the painting. A relief to get rid of it. Her walls were full of art but she'd find some room, she promised. She seemed pleased and it solved the problem of what I would do with it. I'm happy I'll never have to look at it or see it again, yet I do like the idea that it lives on. Even if it becomes a joke, the painting that no-one likes, at least it lives. That's pretty much all the vast majority of us aspire to, isn't it; just keep alive, for as long as possible.
I'll probably walk past her house in a year or two and rescue it from the bins again.


I recently visited the Martin Parr exhibition in the Guildhall. It was his usual wry, deadpan look at British life, in this case the pageantry of the City rituals.

The photos were taken over a period in 2014 but, like everything else this summer, it was hard not to look at them through post-Brexit spectacles.

Is one of the (side) effects of our collective decision to be parochial and to 'keep the foreigners out', a protection of these odd, archaic rituals? If so, is this something we actually want, or is it time we gave them the boot as part of our, to put it positively, fresh new start?

These rituals do contain a nostalgia, the one so loved by all who miss the mythical Albion, and they are mostly as harmless as they are ridiculous. The laughter they provoke doesn't, as Parr himself often shows, have to be scathing. But these are images imbued and ridden with class. Rituals designed to keep everyone (from above and below) in their correct place and order.

So are we now at a time where we can simply celebrate them - the rituals, processions, banquets - as pomp and ceremony? As ridiculous, as meaningless, as fun, ceremony, tradition? Or should we question even the act, shown here, of toasting the Queen's good health?

As I looked at the photos I certainly didn't feel proud of England, but there was a fondness. Perhaps no different or stronger than when I encounter other cultures' rituals abroad. Maybe it's just interest.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed as a tourist, that feeling of not wanting to embrace the inauthentic performance that is created, or re-enacted, specifically for the tourist. Similarly, I often find it hard to enjoy being English, or British, or any collective identity. I find tribalism and certainly patriotism awkward and embarrassing and, frankly, a bit old-fashioned. It has always seemed to me that a celebration and pride in your own country amounts to no more than declaring that place to be the best purely because it happens to be your birthplace.

Perhaps if I had ever been part of these, or similar, age-old traditions, I could embrace my role as an insignificant but happy part of the greater good, or even just old fashioned 'society'. And perhaps this is the role of rituals, providing a part to play; of a community, even a large, falsely designated one (i.e a nation) that can never really exist as a group of even vaguely like-minded people without the false notion of patriotism. How British [or insert any nation here] do you feel? How 'British' is it even possible to feel? Am I allowed to not really feel any connection to any particular location on the globe? And if I am, is that even good for me and my well-being?

You'll have to seek out the books on these subjects for any answers, but these are some of the thoughts I had as I looked at the photos. How ridiculous we all are, how silly are the things we do and the games we invent for ourselves, but perhaps there is a purpose that we should be careful not to dismiss so easily, even us (like myself) who are often aloof and dismissive towards these rituals.