THREE years ago I spent Christmas in New York. On Christmas Day we went to see the premiere of Godfather III at 11am and to Shogun: The Musical in the evening. The following morning 'the holidays' were over. By contrast, this year in Britain, there have been only three working days between 24 December and 4 January and there wasn't much going on from the end of 17 December. Phone calls made on the morning of the 23rd were greeted with, 'They're all out at the office Christmas lunch. No, they aren't expected back. There might be someone in tomorrow.' By early afternoon on Christmas Eve the banks had shut. Christmas Day itself is like the end of the world.
Early in the autumn my mother expressed an urge to spend Christmas in Bath 'because there's so much to do and the shops are lovely'. No one else wanted to go and so I was volunteered for special duty - transporting her there for an overnighter on Boxing Day. Nothing was open. Disconsolate couples roamed the streets, peering into darkened tea shoppes and gazing at sales goods shrouded under sheets. The Abbey was having choral evensong, some religious event I understand, and was therefore closed to visitors. My mother and I spent eight hours sitting on hotel beds watching television. On the 27th she tried to go home but no National Express coaches were running to her destination.
THERE were some people maintaining the economy. When my mother finally got back, she'd been burgled. Meanwhile animal rights activists had been busy in Cornwall, hiding an explosive device in a Boots hair-dye kit in Liskeard and a firebomb in a perm kit in Bodmin. I have mixed feelings about animal liberation, which comes significantly lower down on my personal agenda of political causes than say, Amnesty International or Medical Relief for the Victims of Torture.
As late as 10 years ago I still knew people who thought they could change the world: bring about global equality and justice, equal food distribution and equal opportunities irrespective of race or gender; finish off the arms race and achieve peace on earth. If all that now seems as inflated as the egos of the post-war generation, at least we believed in the transformation of human nature. The growth of animal rights movements seems to spell a disgust with the human race.
Then again, as I slice into the buttery heart of a Marks & Spencer Chicken Kiev, I wonder whether people like me will one day seem as reactionary as those who thought anti-slavery campaigners were cranks.
TWO EXAMPLES of sibling affection have been presented to us this Christmas. On the one hand, we have Susan Carter, Miss Aspirational Living of Ambridge, sent down for six months in The Archers for helping her brother Clive dye his hair while on the run from the law after his armed raid on the village shop. 'But he's my brother,' she kept bleating. 'What could I do?' The Sunday omnibus edition, coming as it did after 24 hours of close confinement with relatives, must have provoked some interesting revelations about family values. I told my sister that I would have no pangs of conscience about passing on my Boots hair-dye kit to disguise her appearance after, say, lobbing bombs at the National Front, but for greed crimes - she could forget it.
Then we have the shadowy millionairess, a living example of the 'I want it all' feminism of the Eighties, who is rich enough to pay an Italian doctor to impregnate her with twins at the age of 59, born (with nice timing for tabloid editors) on Christmas Day. She must have thought: is this anyone else's business? Not Virginia Bottomley's. Not vulgar hackettes like myself. But she'd reckoned without her brother who shopped her to the Sun last Tuesday.
'Children aren't like a car or a washing machine,' he raged. 'You can't just pass them on. What's going to happen to them when she dies or is too old to look after them? I had never heard her express a great desire for children. She has always been a career woman.' It might have been the brother's wife who put him up to it in a peerless example of how revenge is a dish best served cold: 'She looks much younger than her age. That may be because she has never had to bring up children.'
APART from burglars, arsonists and elderly primagravidas, the other person working on Christmas Day was my Serbian friend Alex who was doing a bit of decorating for me while I was away. Having written a book about the sexual revolution, I find that people like coming to my flat and spend happy hours browsing through the many books I accumulated during the research. Alex had found The New Joy of Sex very interesting: 'Do you know, Linda,' he said, 'that there is a Serbian position?' We turned to page 158 where a man stood over a woman, folded uncomfortably in half ('it is vigorous and no-nonsense but it does not lack warmth' the caption read). South Slav Style came after Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Turkish styles, reminding Alex and I of the set of takeaway menus pinned over my fridge. Here are the seeds of the current conflict in the former Yugoslavia: 'There are several reputedly 'national' positions or approaches,' Alex Comfort writes. 'Serbian intercourse (srpski jeb) is mock rape - you throw her down, seize one ankle in each hand and raise them over her head, then enter her with your full weight (do this on something soft - the traditional bare earth is beyond a game). Croatian intercourse (hrvatski jeb) is a woman's ploy . . . with the man free or staked out . . . The style is passionate and affectionate as befits a race of bride- stealing warriors whose women were and still are, natural partisans, tough plus tender.' I asked Alex if he was a practitioner of srpski jeb. He said not. But then he would say that, wouldn't he?
Linda Grant is author of 'Sexing the Millennium'. Her first novel, 'The Cast Iron Shore', will be published by Picador later this year.
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