It’s almost the end of 2020. As a special gift for getting through a hard year, in this bonus episode we share one of our all time favourite pieces of radio, and a holiday classic: ‘Xmas in Merimbula’ by Kayla (then aged 8).
Some 30 years ago, aged 17, I first heard The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ and fell in love with the city, the band and the song — and all the complexities and contradictions within.
Unlike so many other Xmas songs, there’s nothing sentimental here: “It was Christmas eve, babe; in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, ‘Won’t see another one’. And then he sang a song: ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’. I turned my face away and dreamed about you.” It’s not a song of solace, but a cautionary tale. There but for the grace…
As the years have passed, ‘Fairytale…’ has migrated in from the margins. Nowadays it’s played in supermarkets, and since 2005 it returns annually to the top 20 charts — MacColl’s beautiful voice (she grew up in Croydon, South London, not far from here) perfectly counters McGowan’s character’s dirty murky syntax. And when listeners turn from McGowan’s scowl to MacColl’s songfulness for comfort, they fall victim to a beautifully rendered ambush: “They’ve got cars big as bars, they’ve got rivers of gold, but the wind goes right through you it’s no place for the old.” Who are these people?
I get preoccupied with a song’s words. In retrospect, I always have. I listen to songs as a writer, zeroing in on utterances, while Shona draws meaning from the music, listening as a musician. She plays guitar, ukulele, piano, and sings. I get tangled in a song’s prose, piecing together characters’ inner lives until they forge a path beyond the song, until I don’t know who any of us will be when we reach the other side. For me, music serves as punctuation.
I don’t really care about Xmas itself, but I’ll take any excuse to see friends and family Listening to ‘Fairytale…’ is my only Xmas ritual, one I’ve not missed in three decades, so taking those five minutes out will be the only usual thing about this year. A small piece of normal in the dumpster fire of 2020. Being so far from home and with so few options to return, it’s the video calls and photos bringing us ‘everyday’ updates that keeps us going. I began the year locked down in bushfires and ended up locked down in a plague. We hope you and your family can in some small way salvage a little cheer from 2020.
Information about non-Xmas festivals during this time
All Saints Day (1 Nov)
World AIDS Day (1 Dec)
International Day of Disabled Persons (3 Dec)
Bodhi Day (8 Dec) — BuddhistDay of Enlightenment
Human Rights Day (10 Dec)
Kwanzaa (26 Dec–1 Jan): Facebook @Kwanzaanetworkuk
Ōmisoka (31 Dec) — traditional Japanese celebration
Soyal (21 Dec) – ceremony of the Zuni & Hopi peoples
Pancha Ganapati (21–25 Dec) — Hindu festival honoring Ganesha
Hogmanay (31 Dec) — Scottish New Year’s Eve.
Tu BiShvat (late-Jan or early-Feb)
Twitter & Instagram: @LDNbylockdown
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