Christmas 1997 Extra
Merry Christmas from Ansible
Few British people, on 25 December at 3 p.m., make a point of tuning in to Dave Langford's traditional Christmas message. The following full and unexpurgated text was leaked to the national press from an anonymous source in London Road, Reading, and was universally ignored ...
When invited to add a bit of festive tinsel to my news column for Interzone's Xmas issue – in which unwary readers were waylaid by guest editor Paul Brazier, simpering winsomely under the mistletoe – I thought it only proper to quote some classic of Christmas cheer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Aunt Ada Doom of Cold Comfort Farm:
'Amos, carve the bird. Ay, would it were a vulture, 'twere more fitting! Reuben, fling these dogs the fare my bounty provides. Sausages ... pah! Mince-pies ... what a black-bitter mockery it all is! Every almond, every raisin, is wrung from the dry dying soil and paid for with sparse greasy notes grudged alike by bank and buyer. Come, Ezra, pass the ginger wine! Be gay, spawn! Laugh, stuff yourself, gorge and forget, you rat-heaps! Rot you all!'
(Stella Gibbons, 'Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm', 1940)
Since I'm feeling a bit gloomy this Christmas (illness in the family, back in South Wales), I also nodded with a certain morbid relish at the passage where aged Adam Lambsbreath stirs the traditional charms – 'the Year's Luck' – into the pudding:
'Ay, them's all there,' he muttered. 'Him as gets the sticking-plaster'll break a limb; the menthol cone means as you'll be blind wi' headache, the bad coins means as you'll lose all yer money, and him as gets the coffin-nail will die afore the New Year. The [cracked] mirror's seven years' bad luck for someone. Aie! In ye go, curse ye!' and he tossed the objects into the pudding, where they were not easily nor long distinguishable from the main mass.
And tears of nostalgia came to my eyes at the memories of high times at long-ago family Christmas gatherings, as evoked by the supreme moment in this story when the favoured grandchild, Seth, presents Aunt Ada with a leather-bound volume of the year's issues of The Milk Producers' Weekly Bulletin and Cowkeepers' Guide – causing old Adam to become excitable:
'Aie! ... aie! aie! [...] Tes calf! tes bound in calf! And tes our Pointless's calf, as she had last Lammastide, as was sold at Godmere to Farmer Lust!' cried Adam, falling to the floor. At the same instant, Luke hit Micah in the stomach, Harkaway pushed Ezra into the fire, Mrs Doom flung the bound volume of The Milk Producers' Weekly Bulletin and Cowkeepers' Guide at the struggling mass, and the Christmas dinner collapsed into indescribable confusion.
Let's hope for better luck all round in 1998. My best wishes to all Ansible readers, whose surprising numbers and encouraging feedback have cheered me up no end. Please consider all the usual New Year greetings bestowed on you, just in case I forget to put the appropriate sentiments in issue 126, which is due on 8 January.
Thanks, as always ...
Dave Langford, Christmas 1997