Will the real Santa stand up?

Advent season is upon us. The jolly fat man in the red suit rode into town a couple of weeks ago (Christmas pageant), so the kiddies know the Big Day is coming soon. Of course the shops have been trying to tell us that since late September. The way they’re going it won’t be long before Christmas stuff will be in the shops all year round! I’m speaking at a Christmas luncheon soon and thought I’d give a quick history of the legend of Santa Claus/Father Christmas. Interesting stuff. The original St Nick (St Nicholas of Myra) was born in 280AD and died in 343AD. He was a lovely fella who was particularly generous to the poor. He had a delightful habit of throwing money, or gifts, through the window; or in through an open door; or down the chimney, and he was particularly kind to children. After his death he was proclaimed a saint. If you like to travel, you can still visit the ruins of the church in Turkey where he was a bishop, and see his desecrated tomb. Italian sailors “liberated” his bones in 1087 and you can visit his new tomb in the church of di San Nicola in Bari. In many European countries St Nicholas day is still celebrated on Dec 6, the date of his death. They have someone dress up in red bishop’s robes, wearing a mitre, carrying a staff, and handing out presents to children. Nice idea: perpetuates the memory of a lovely fella, the kiddies get their pressies, and it doesn’t detract from Christmas Day, which is Christ’s birthday. How did we get to the Santa we now know and love? Well, it’s the power of the written word; in particular the Moore poem, “Twas the night before Christmas”. It’s the power of art; in particular that of American artists Thomas Nash (1800s) and Norman Rockwell (early 1900s). And it’s the power of advertising, begun by Coca-Cola in the early 1930s. They wanted to sell more soft drink in their “off” season (winter) and some bright spark thought it’d be a great idea to get Santa to help. Now the old boy’s used to sell all sorts of stuff. St Nicholas would be appalled. He’d never want the Christmas season to be all about him. For him, Christmas was a celebration of the most amazing miracle ever in the history of the world: God became like one of us, so that we could be restored to a loving, eternal relationship with him. That deserves a lot more than a ho-ho-ho. That’s a five star yippee, ten woo-hoos and several hundred (thousand)...

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News and books

Apologies for not posting last week. My cold turned feral. Some good news: Wet Ink has accepted a short story and it will be published in the December 2010 issue. (Doin’ the happy dance. Point the toes, wave the arms, shuffle the feet…) It will be one of the ‘sneak read’ stories on the Wet Ink website, so if you can’t buy a copy of the journal you’ll be able to read it online. I’d like to recommend three books I’ve read in the past few months. 1. Markus Zusak, The Book Thief, Picador, 2008. (Adult fiction) I’m ashamed it’s taken me this long to read it. What an amazing book. There aren’t enough adjectives to do it justice. The man is a genius. The main narrator is Death, but he’s not a comic character like Pratchett’s Death (one of my favourite fictional characters). However, that doesn’t mean the story is all grim. There’s joy, there’s whimsy, there’s tension, there’s courage, there’s love… It’s no wonder this was a best-seller world-wide. 2. Rosanne Hawke, Marrying Ameera, HarperCollins, 2010. (Young Adult) The story of an Australian/Pakistan girl, who thinks she’s going on a holiday to visit relatives in Pakistan, only to discover she’s being married off. Hawke writes with respect and sensitivity, and by the end of the book we are all much wiser about the nuances of Pakistan culture. It’s a beautiful, engaging book. 3. David Almond, My Name is Mina, Hachette, 2010. (Children’s) Ok, I said ‘Children’s’ but discerning adults will love this extraordinarily clever book, too. Almond is blessed with wit, creativity, insight and wordcraft. His work sings. Perhaps it helps that I see a lot of myself in Mina, but I just love her. You will too. Thank the Lord for talented people like the three I’ve listed here. The world’s a better place for them being in it. Happy reading,...

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It’s not a big deal, but…

I’ve caught a cold. It’s not a big deal. I’m not dying; I haven’t gone blind; I’ve still got all four limbs… But, my throat feels as if I’ve swallowed a packet of razor blades, my chest is sore, the gunk machine in my sinuses is on overload, my head’s thumping and every time I sneeze I…no, that’s too much information. I feel lousy. When I feel lousy, I feel just a tad crabby. So, here’s my whinge for the week: Why do manufacturers always assume we, the general public, are stupid? There’s a particular example that always gets my knickers in a knot. Egg companies. When I see the same mob’s brand on both cage eggs and free-range eggs, I think, “Ooh, I bet the lucky chooks that get chosen for free-range, stand with beaks poking through the wire fence, and sing nah-nah-sucked-in to all their caged comrades.” Is it decided by lottery? Do you toss a coin? Is there racism in the chook world? All white chooks to the free range barn and all brown chooks to the cages, or vice versa? Or could it be (call me crazy) that the only difference is the wording on the egg carton and they’re all cage eggs? Well your sly marketting ways don’t fool this little black duck. I buy my eggs from the mob who only sells free range eggs, and I hope and pray they’re not lying to me. (Yes, we could have our own chooks, but you’ll have to take that up with the Old Boy.) On a happier note, this week I ‘solved the secret of Shanghai and have joined the guild of gamesmasters’. I’d like to thank my parents without whom I wouldn’t be here today. I’d like to thank my husband who taught me how to use a computer. I’d like to thank my agent but I don’t have one. What does it mean? I’ve passed level one in Shanghai Mahjong. Now try not to be jealous, it’s such a destructive emotion. I’m going to take some panadol, suck on a throat lozenge and have a little nap. Have a good week, and watch out for those crafty marketting people. Show them you’re not as stupid as they think you...

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Twitchy at the pump.

(Please note: if you want to leave a comment you need to register or it’ll get sucked up by the spam filter.) There are a number of life’s little necessities that make me nervous: going to the dentist; remembering where I’ve parked the car at a shopping centre; plucking my eyebrows… All of them are based on a real experience that has taught me to beware. I had a most unpleasant experience at the petrol station a while ago, which has left an emotional scar. (Actually, I’ve had several but I’m only going to tell you one of them today.) I hadn’t filled the car up for quite some time, as my darlin’ usually looked after it. This particular petrol station hadn’t bothered to change the labels on the pumps for years, which was good for me as it had taken me ten years to remember which flavour of petrol my car preferred. I pulled up next to the pump and before I climbed out I blew my nose and gave it a good wipe. I was suffering from one of my annual colds and I didn’t want to have to see to the problem while I was paying for the petrol. There was a rotten cheese factory working overtime in my nasal passages. I didn’t want to inflict the poor station attendant with the gory sight of me blowing, snorting, wiping and filling up tissues by the bucketload. It’d be enough to put him off his dinner and possibly ruin him for custard for the rest of his life. Having cleaned up my face (which still felt a little strange; my left cheek felt a little puckered up) I prepared to fill up the car. Oh no, the labels had finally been changed! I thought I should still use the one on the left like I always did before, but what if the Manager had decided to mix things around? My heart and stomach were saying: PANIC. PANIC. But, my brain rose to the occasion, with a sensible idea: ask someone. (I brushed my still-puckered cheek with my hand and couldn’t feel anything, so I figured I was just twitchy.) I walked over to the gentleman in the next bay. He wore a suit and looked kind. I asked my question and he told me which pump to use, but he had a most peculiar expression on his face. I thought, “He must think I’m a real ditz! Ok, I’m not good with anything mechanical. I’m a bit of an idiot and I should know what I’m doing, but there’s no need to look like that. Lighten up, man!” I went into the office to pay what I owed, and the fellow behind the counter had a similar expression. I figured, since it was a quiet day at the pump, he must have seen me ask the other customer for advice. Men! They get all superior about these sorts of things. He’s probably thinking, “Stupid woman. Fancy not knowing something so basic.” I walked back to the car feeling a tad stupid and extremely annoyed at the men’s judgmental attitude. Before I started the car I adjusted the rear-view mirror. I took a quick peek to see if I needed to apply more lipstick and there it was. Clinging to my left cheek and staring back at me with an evil grin, was a long smear of pea-green snot. Lessons learned: 1. Always check the rearview mirror before you get out of the car. 2. Never presume you know what someone else is thinking. You could be oh so...

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