Friday, 15 December 2017

REVIEW - A VERY BRITISH CHRISTMAS - TWELVE DAYS OF DISCOMFORT AND JOY BY RHODRI MARSDEN

Title: A Very British Christmas
Byline: Twelve Days Of Discomfort And Joy 
Author: Rhodri Marsden
Genre: Entertainment, Non Fiction
Publisher: HQ (Story HQ)
Release Date: 2nd November 2017

BLURB from Goodreads
Imagine if all your Christmases did actually “come at once”.
That idiom is supposed to evoke an image of delight, happiness and nothing going wrong, but the British Christmas doesn’t always turn out that way. Yes, sometimes all the gifts are perfect, everyone’s on great form and no one chokes on a mince pie. But on other occasions you’ll fall through a glass cabinet or set your cardigan on fire.
A Very British Christmas pays tribute to all the peculiar ways we choose to celebrate; it tells stories of our propensity to behave badly, our uselessness under pressure and our unquenchable joie de vivre. Join us as we salute cultural icons, dissect national customs and hear from people who’ve eaten all the turkey and lived to tell the tale.
Tidings of discomfort, tidings of joy.


PURCHASE LINKS

REVIEW
I always try to read a few Christmas themed books in November/December in an attempt to get into the "Christmas-sey mood" so I was looking for an appropriate book to read and review when I found this one. As I am British I was interested to see what Christmas rituals and traditions are thought of as British in origin. I also thought it would be interesting to compare some of my families traditions to those featured in the book.

The cover is in a "festive" red colour and the book title is presented in way that makes it kind of represent a Christmas Tree. At the very top of the "A" there is an ornament, perhaps a homemade Fairy or Angel. There's the addition of a Santa's hat on top of the letter "S". Under the title and byline there's a rather disheveled looking family squashed onto a sofa in various states of "Christmas Cheer"! There's also the somewhat regulatory scattering of Christmas wrap we all end up with all over the floor! It's a fantastic visual of the typical British Christmas home at around 3pm or 4pm on Christmas Day! The byline reads "Twelve Days Of Discomfort And Joy" which I think if we are being totally honest about the festive season we all have a few times during Christmas that we have a tad more discomfort than the joy we were hoping for! I think the cover is a fun one which represents the book well and it is a rather "tongue in cheek" look at some families Christmas traditions! There are also quotes about the book from India Knight and Al Murray. Though these types of quotes are my pet hate on book covers, I guess the one from Al Murray made me a little more eager to read the book as I do find some of his comedy quite good. I would just rather have the celeb or author quotes on the back cover or the inside cover, but I totally understand why they are used and placed on the front covers.

The genre's I have seen listed for this book are Non-Fiction and Entertainment, hmm well the book is non-fiction although you could imagine some of the stories being written for comedy sketches! The entertainment label fits well as I did find reading the book entertaining. I would also add humour to the genre listings as in parts the book has you laughing.

My favourite parts of the book were the other peoples stories that they had shared with Rhodri. Rhodri links into the individual stories and quotes really well. I think the first thing I noticed that made me laugh was the contents listing.....and yes I did end up singing it out loud to the correct tune of The Twelve Days Of Christmas of course!
The contents listings included, 12 Twelve gifts unwrapping, 9 Nine journeys trekking, 5 Five broken limbs. In place of "A partridge in a pear tree" is "And a nice fibre optic tree"! The whole contents list really made me laugh out loud. 

Another statement I really identified with was "However hard we might wish it, Christmas doesn't automatically shower good times upon us" I think everyone will recognise this aspect of Christmas. We will all have had the oh so high expectations of how we wanted things to flow and planned for everything only to have it all go wrong on the actually day.

One of the most enjoyable bits of this book together was to talk about Christmas with people of other faiths, such as those people who might observe Hanukkah, Diwali or Mawlid yet they still "do Christmas" too! Perhaps not in reverence to Jesus and his birth but because they like the other aspects that celebrating Christmas brings, such as the family gathering, the food, and the present giving. It's like you don't need to be celebrating the birth of Jesus to enjoy watching the Christmas Top of The Pops Show. Christmas is also about gathering together, becoming more unified and enjoying somethings together.
In this modern age families perhaps no longer all come together on a Sunday for the whole eating together as a family, some people will probably be working or be unable to make it every week. Whereas at Christmas we seem to make that little bit more effort, or maybe we are guilt tripped that little more to give in and agree to the large family get together. 
This book also informs the reader that Christmas cards only started as a tradition in the mid nineteenth century, yet it is one the majority of people eagerly follow in the present day. Then there's newer things like the "Secret Santa" gift at work. Everyone agrees a price limit, say £5 or maybe £10 and all those participating have their names put into a hat and you draw someone and you buy the £5 or £10 gift for that one person rather than your whole workplace. I've taken part in a few of these and they can be quite funny, though it can be difficult if you draw someone you don't know very well to have to think of an appropriate gift for within the price range.

I'm sure I am not alone in dreading all the gift wrapping?! A lady called Julie Gubbay is quoted in the book as saying " A lot of the skill of present wrapping is down to patience". To be honest I have to do more than one session of wrapping as I get so irritated and stuck up with the cellotape if I try to persevere and do them all in one session! Some store offer gift wrapping, usually at an extra charge. Some even offer wrapping free! 

Another thing covered in the book is the "lets not offend anyone attitude". So as not to offend non Christians we should refer to Christmas as Winterval, Christmas Lights should be called Winter Night Lights, Mince Pies known as Winter delicacies and finally Christmas it self should just be called End of December. I guess this could be controversial but I believe in the old traditional names and references so Christmas, Christmas Lights, Christmas Carols, Mince Pies etc etc. If you don't want to celebrate then fine don't but you shouldn't be allowed to dictate about a Christian Christmas simply because you or your religion doesn't recognise it! I mean in these progressive days and multiple different religions we "Christians" can wish others Happy Diwali, or Happy Hannukah can't we? We all have to co-exist in this world. It just irritates me when people try to say someone else is wrong for celebrating Christmas. I think people seem to forget Christmas is a religious festival for Christians. 

I agree that over the years Christmas has become more and more commercialized and we seem to be encouraged to spend spend spend irregardless of whether we have the money, or can afford to do so. I have worked in a couple of retail organisations, one was both a rental and retail store called Choice Video. Initially it was a place where you could rent a video. . . yes video and then later a dvd or games such as playstation or nintendo games for anything from a couple of nights to a week. The people that would come in on the 22nd or 23rd of December and couldn't understand why you couldn't order a specific games console or even a certain dvd for them and have it by the 24th December.
I also experienced similar when I worked for WHSmiths, I could and would work on any department I was needed on. We did late nights to allow those who worked could call by after work, we would advertise that if it wasn't in stock we could order it. There was even a little Christmas brochure to hand out that could be ordered from and still on Christmas Eve you could guarantee being asked by an annoyed, indignant, customer why you didn't have X,Y, Z, in stock? Didn't we know it was Christmas? I would finish work with steam literally coming out of my ears from being shouted at by irate customers. Then there's the last minute shoppers who either want something they fleetingly saw on TV that would come in asking for Customer: That book they advertised on This Morning yesterday......Me: hmmm I was at work so have no idea can you give me more details? Customer: Yes it had a blue cover! Or the very last minute gift/bargain hunters, clueless about what to buy . . Customer: What can I get my father in law? Me: A Book? A CD? A DVD? Customer: I don't know what would you buy him? Me: (Inwardly screaming). Or they'd want the latest bestseller and want to know why you had no stock of it left at 5 minutes to closing time on Christmas Eve. And no it wasn't appropriate for me to point out we had had this best selling book in stock since the last week of November, and they'd had a month to purchase it!!

The thing is I think most people can find something they love about Christmas.....the music they used to listen to with their mum when they were kids, the baking round at grandmothers or putting the Christmas Tree up together as a family. 

I think one of the aims of this book was to make us all a little nostalgic and yep it worked. I went from laughing at Christmas mess ups, gritting my teeth remembering working in retail at Christmas to remembering watching Morecambe & Wise with my grandparents every year. As well as getting misty eyed and sighing at the memories of watching either The Wizard of Oz, The Sound Of Music, Mary Poppins or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my Grandparents at Boxing Day tea eating salmon sandwiches, pork pie and pickled onions! This book sure made me wish we could wind back time to revisit those happier times again.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book were that "This book can make you laugh, tear up and sigh whilst looking back at Christmas past with that nostalgic feeling you sure didn't feel at the time!"

So whether you are looking for something to get you into the Christmas mood, or are already irritated and feel like a little laugh at others disastrous Christmas efforts, or feel like reading about "British Christmas Traditions" then this is the book for you! 

Oh and if you are stuck for a gift for that one person who has everything (you know the one I mean) you could always buy them this book as a gift!

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