I was one inch away from my first kiss with Pauline Sidebottom when the police raided the party. If we hadn’t sat on the darkened stairway holding hands for nearly an hour we would have been alright. As it was our lips were so close and Pauline’s breath was misting my glasses when the constable kicked the door in. This was turning out to be some first date.
Now 2016 is nearly over and, as I guess many people do, I’ve been looking back over the past twelve months and looking forward to 2017. I always get nostalgic as new year’s eve approaches and this week’s short story looks back to the 1970’s, when I was a teenager.
I’ve tried to pay an affectionate homage to my teenage years in The Boy Who Nearly Kissed Her. It’s a sort of love story, set at a new year’s eve party: not entirely autobiographical, but not entirely made up either. I remember that heady mix of hormones, excitement, angst and yearning to be feee from parental control that I felt then, and I hope I’ve been able to recreate that in the story.
Next week I’ll start the new year with another photo-essay called Pond Life. The essay is based on photographs of a local pond that I walk our dog around most days. It’s full of bird-life and I’ve become quite attached to some of the pond’s residents, so I’ll introduce them to you next week.
In the meantime I hope you all enjoy seeing the new year in, and I hope you join me in 2017.
Last Tuesday night I began reading my battered copy of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, as I have done every December 20th for the past forty eight years. The date’s carefully chosen so that I can read a chapter of the story every night and finish with the final scenes on Christmas Eve. I try to make finishing A Christmas Carol the last thing I do before I go to sleep.
Now this might seem – no, actually is – obsessive, but Christmas doesn’t start for me until I’ve read Dickens’s magical story.
A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. It was an immediate success, has never been out of print, and has been recreated on TV, stage, screen and radio dozens of times. Ebeneezer Scrooge is a hard-hearted miser: unloved and unloving. He’s wasn’t always like that, but the passing years have gradually hardened his heart. One Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley warns Scrooge that time is running out for his redemption. He tells Scrooge that, to help him see the error of his ways, he will be visited by three other ghosts: those of Christmases past, present and future. During the ghosts’ visits Scrooge is gradually brought to see the consequences of his actions and warned of the sad and lonely fate that awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways. As a result Scrooge becomes a reformed and benevolent character.
I love the story because it’s great fun to read, despite its underlying seriousness. I think Dickens’s greatest talent in all his books was the way he blended comedy with the serious social issues of his day. The theme and tone of the book is optimistic and perfectly judged, even when dealing with issues like poverty and death. For a short story, Dickens introduces a large cast of memorable characters, which add comedy and pathos to the story.
I think it’s easy to identify with the story for two reasons. First, the message at its heart is simple: that anyone can be redeemed. Dickens didn’t make his message an overtly Christian one, which has helped make its popularity universal. Second, despite Scrooge’s awfulness at the start of the story, Dickens still manages to make him a sympathetic character and I really want him to win through at the end.
After forty eight years my pleasure in reading A Christmas Carol goes far beyond the story. I don’t think I just read it any more: I live it. Not only can I quote passages by heart, I have a powerful image of each scene and almost feel that I am there in person. I get totally carried away with events and into the heads of the characters.
What’s most important to me now is the way A Christmas Carol has become the thread that unites all my Christmas memories. I’ve read it in good years and bad, and each reading connects me to all the people and places from my past, and provides a link the present, and to what may come in the future. It’s almost as if the ghosts that visit Scrooge visit me too. For me it’s important to have some things in life that are stable, continuous and reliable. A Christmas Carol is all those things to me, and it’s also a fun, powerful and inspiring story.
Reading A Christmas Carol this year will make me feel happy and contented, as it always has done and always will.
If you’re interested in reading A Christmas Carol it’s easily and cheaply available on the internet. My personal copy is the same one I’ve always used. It’s from a complete works of Dickens that belonged to my maternal grandparents. The spine cover’s fallen off it now and it’s stitching is loose, but it’s a very loved book: probably the most precious one I own.
If you liked this review, why not share it with a friend? I’d also like to know whether you have a special Christmas book, and what it means to you.
In writing this review I’ve referred to The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens, edited by Paul Schlicke (Oxford University Press, 2011).
All the presents are bought, (and some of them are even wrapped!), the tree’s ready for decorating and the dinner’s all planned. It’s starting to feel festive in the Fernley household.
I’ve had some good comments from people about last week’s photo-essay on Malta, including some from a friend who spent much of his childhood holidaying on the island. It’s early days for this blog, and I’m learning something every week, including the best way to present photographs. For future essays I’ll post larger resolution photographs. I’m also going to experiment with a gallery app that shows them in a different way.
During winter-time I mostly just want to hibernate in front of the fire with a book and a pile of toast. So it’s fitting that this week’s post, published on Friday December 23rd, is a book review. In keeping with the season I’ll be writing a review of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Like Alan Garner’s Elidor, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, A Christmas Carol is a personal favourite of mine and brings back happy memories of my past. It’s also the perfect start to Christmas.
I won’t be taking a break from blogging during the holiday’s. Next week’s editorial will be published on Wednesday 28th December and on the 30th I’m publishing a story of the New Year The Boy Who Nearly Kissed Her.
Whatever you believe in, and however you mark this time of year, I hope you enjoy the festivities in your own special way.
I have a fascination with doorways and love to photograph them when I’m on holiday. I’m fascinated because I think they say a lot about the places I visit: I like to speculate about what’s behind the door and what kind of place the building was in the past. I’m attracted to old, quirky and picturesque doorways because they have more character than modern one’s.
In October this year my wife and I went on holiday to Malta. It’s an interesting island. Malta has stunning coastlines, some beautiful old towns and villages, and the awe-inspiring Grand Harbour in Valletta. The people are polite and friendly too. Although Malta is a very crowded island and some of the modern building development dominates too much, it’s still a good place to visit.
When we were on on holiday I took hundreds of photographs of the island, and I’ll publish some of them in a future essay. In this essay though, I want to focus on eight doorways. They range from the commonplace to the grand, but I think they all have a story to tell.
I really enjoyed putting together this week’s photo-essay, which is called Maltese Doorways. I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated by doors and doorways, both real and imagined. Whether it’s in a story, like the doorway to Moria in Lord of the Rings, or a real old-fashioned house door in the street, they catch my imagination. It’s not necessarily the door itself that I’m fascinated by, it’s the potential for what lies behind them.
So this week’s essay is inspired by photographs I took on a holiday to Malta this autumn. It’s not an entirely conventional take on the island, but I hope you like it. The strange thing is that I’m not the only photographer who is inspired by doorways. There are thousands of pictures of them on the internet.
I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has the same fascination with doorways that I have.
Other than putting together this week’s photo-essay, I’ve been busy with the usual Christmas preparations, including making sure all my posts for the next three weeks are ready. Next week I’ll be publishing a book review of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: very traditional I know, but it’s a book that always gives me immense pleasure. Then, on December 30th I’ll be posting another short story: this time it’s a seasonal romance (and I mean that term very loosely indeed).
Anyway happy reading and I hope you enjoy Maltese Doorways. Let me know what you think.
Peter Booth sat and watched the classroom clock tick round reluctantly from three forty four to three forty five, the second hand dragging itself across the roman numerals as if each tick would be its last. Peter made the clock move slowly, of course, by staring at it instead of focusing on his work, but whenever he tried to concentrate on the pages of the old atlas he was dragged back to the second hand. Every afternoon was the same when Miss Fenton announced it was project time. ‘Projects’ consisted mainly of copying pages out of old text books onto thin paper, on which the ink from the pupils pens blotted chronically. Peter’s project this half-term was ‘Deserts of the World’ and he tried unsuccessfully to trace the shape of the Sahara from a map of Africa, which showed the British Empire edged in red. For Peter the last thirty minutes of each school day were the longest of his life. Today the minutes seemed even longer because he wanted it to be home time more than ever.