Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I am afraid I am going to admit something shockingly sappy. My favourite thing about this time of year is that you get to say Happy Christmas to people. It’s such a simple salutation, but it is oddly pleasing. How often, after all, may you say Happy anything to near strangers?
Last night, a rather amazing thing happened. I have a televisual device called BT vision. It has its limitations, but it suits me. One of the most important things is that you can record stuff on it. My device had broken, and I was getting in a panic that I would not be able to record Kauto Star attempting to win his fifth King George on Boxing Day, which is the highlight of my year.
Of course, I had left it absurdly late to ring. I was convinced that the poor person on the other end of the telephone would be defeated, and there would be muttering about an engineer being able to call some time towards the end of January. I was braced for disaster.
BT has a bad reputation for its telephone helpline. There are many horror stories on the internet. Also, they have their call centres in India, and often the line is rather bad, and I end up yelling at some poor Indian person, simply to be heard over the crackle, and worry that they will think I am one of those awful unreconstructed Britons who believe in shouting at Johnny Foreigner.
Anyway, at about six, I finally got around to ringing. I got a very determined young fellow. ‘I reassure you that I shall get my tools and do my utmost best to solve this problem,’ he said, sternly. I loved him at once.
I explained that I had gone to the help page on the website and followed the instructions to reset the system, to no avail. The gentleman was amazed. ‘No one does that,’ he said. ‘They normally just ring us up. I must say that I am very impressed, and thank you for going to the help page first.’
I blushed. ‘Well, you know,’ I mumbled. ‘One doesn’t like to bother people for nothing.’
We ran through a number of things. I kept having to put the telephone down and go into the next room, whilst the polite fellow waited patiently on the end of the telephone. I was still convinced that he would be able to do nothing. Then, suddenly, the thing worked. My Kauto dream could come true.
‘I don’t believe it,’ I said. ‘You are a genius. Thank you so much for your determination and patience.’ (It had taken forty minutes.)
‘I am delighted to be of assistance,’ said the gentleman.
I asked, because I am always interested, where exactly he was. New Delhi, it turned out.
‘And may I ask your name?’ I said.
‘Shiv,’ he said.
‘Well, thank you very much, Shiv,’ I said. I thought Shiv was a delightful name, very chic and elegant. It’s exactly the sort of name I would like to give to a character in a novel.
Then, and this is the point of this rather rambly story, I wanted to say Happy Christmas. I was filled with festive spirit. But I thought that Shiv might be a Hindu; possibly even named after Lord Shiva. Would it be a terrible cultural faux pas? Would I be like a woman in a Bateman cartoon?
Then the gentleman saved me. ‘Happy Christmas,’ he said.
‘Oh,’ I said in relief. ‘And Happy Christmas to you too.’
The irony, I think now, is that quite possibly that was an exchange between a Hindu and an atheist (although I should not make too many assumptions; in New Delhi you may find Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jains and Jews). But that is the thing I love about Christmas. It is such a welcoming festival. It does not matter if you do not believe in the literal truth of the virgin birth. You may celebrate the spirit of the season, a spirit of joy and new life and family and love and kindness. You can embrace the lovely, ecumenical ideal of peace on earth, and goodwill to all men, and women too.
It’s the thing I like about the Church of England too, as they welcome people into church who only come once a year, and may not follow strict religious practices, and the vicars smile to themselves as everyone loudly sings We Three Kings of Orient Are.
This morning, I went to the village to do more errands. The sun was shining, and the air was balmy and cool. Everyone was smiling. I took the special fridge cake to the lovely newsagent, who was wearing her excellent festive cowboy hat, trimmed with fur. ‘Happy Christmas,’ I said.
‘Happy Christmas,’ I said to the people in my favourite shop in Deeside, The Black-faced Sheep, where you may find the finest coffee in Scotland.
‘Happy Christmas,’ I said to the kind lady in the chemist.
‘Happy Christmas,’ I said to the gentleman from the Rotary Club who was packing bags in the Co-op in return for a small donation to good causes.
‘Happy Christmas,’ I said to Lewis at the checkout, who looks as if he should be playing bass in Coldplay.
Friends came round to drop off presents, including one from my small nine-year-old friend B. ‘Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas,’ I said.
I have not been feeling awfully Christmassy this week. I have had moments of great missing: for my dear departed dad, for my beloved dead Duchess. I have been rather cross and disorganised. But today, suddenly I got the spirit of the season, and that felt like a bit of a present, in itself.
I listened to a funny programme on the wireless, Jon Holmes and Miranda Hart being very jolly and comical and Christmassy as all get out. Then The Younger Niece arrived, and we walked up to see Virginia the Pig. ‘Oh,’ said The Niece, as we fed her nuts, ‘what a very lovely pig she is.’
Now someone is singing Silent Night. It is giving me chills. I feel happy, and lucky.
I know that Christmas is not always easy, for a myriad of reasons. But I hope that wherever you are, and whatever you are facing, you may find joy.
And now, the pictures of the day.
Up the avenue The Niece and I went:
To see Virginia the Pig:
And back down the avenue we went:
To see the sheep:
Oh, said The Niece, look at the light:
Then I made The Pigeon pose in the afternoon sun:
Look at her shining amber eyes:
And the hill, gracious and slightly misty:
Oh, and I meant to say: today is the funeral of Vaclav Havel, so I am thinking of that Velvet Revolution again. I am rather pleased and impressed that the Prime Minister made the effort to go himself, rather than sending a representative. Politics is so complicated now, and conditions so fraught and often unknowable; it is very rare that a political operative may do something to which one can give unequivocal approval. So it is rather nice, in the spirit of Christmas, to be able to say: Yes, Prime Minister.