Archiv für Dezember 2010

Excess Baggage

It’s only a few days before Christmas. It’s the time of last minute shopping for extra food, special to Christmas. Then there are Christmas cards to send off to all those people, we may only contact once a year; parcels to wrap and send away.

That’s all fine for the senders. But then the senders normally also become receivers. Wonderful, we may think; and it can be wonderful.

My thoughts are going a little further, as I write this.

All our cards and parcels have arrived, Christmas is over and done, and now we are left with all the packaging. Cardboard boxes, bubble plastic, Xmas paper, string, coloured tape, etc, etc, etc.

Now comes the recycling. Paper in this container, cardboard in that one, tin cans in another, and so on. Have we got enough containers for the great volume of throw-away articles? Or do we cheat a little and hide things in the bin for real waste, which will then become buried under the earth, and remain there for decades, polluting the landscape?

This prompts the question as to whether society really needs all this. By which I’m really thinking of the excess packaging, manufacturers  use for ordinary, everyday things we buy in our local shops.

I recently bought a cartridge for my printer. When I took it from the shelf, it was the size of a tea plate. When I finally unwrapped it, it was only the size of a match box. Why? I think producers, retailers, advertisers, etc, all want me to think I am getting a very large object for my money; it’s bigger than the competitor’s; I the purchaser am the lucky one!

The same excess packing applies to all sorts of other products. Toothpaste, medicines and pills, you name it; they are all over-packaged.

And so our waste materials grow and grow.

Can we change it to a more practical level? If so, how? Many producers and advertisers would suffer. But if that were the price of a cleaner land, so be it. But don’t hold your breath!

Merry Christmas.

Parcel:  a package sent by post, often wrapped in brown paper.
Cardboard:  a thick, stiff material made from paper, used to make boxes, etc.
Cheat:  to break rules and regulations; to act in a dishonest way.
Manufacturer:  a business which makes products.
Retailer:  a business which sells direct to customers – e.g. shops, supermarkets.
Competitor:  if two or more companies try to sell similar products to the same customers they are competitors.
Purchaser:  a buyer.



Two Ways of Seeing Things


Last week I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, with little else to do but wait. There were several other people sitting around. Some of them had wisely brought their own books, with which to while away the waiting time. I thought I hadn’t been so wise; I hadn’t brought any reading material.
Sometime last year there had been a panic about an influenza epidemic, so all doctor’s and hospital’s waiting rooms had been emptied of newspapers, etc.
There I was, looking at the walls, the floor and the ceiling, just waiting.
Then I absentmindedly took my diary out of my pocket and started flipping through the pages, looking at future and past entries. It reminded me that this was a combination of an appointment book, or forward planner, and a diary of what I had already experienced in the current year. It was interesting and I became quite immersed – did I do that? Was that really what happened on that particular day? I found myself re-living various events.
A great deal of history has been passed on to us by the diaries of people, down through the ages. It sprang to my mind that if Samuel Pepys had not noted everything in his diary, we would know very little about the Great Fire of London – how it started in a baker’s shop, then how it progressed through the whole of central London.
Most of London’s then houses and buildings were constructed of wood, so the fire burnt fast and furiously, giving the average citizen little or no other thought than to escape. Pepys was the only person making a record of it, in his diary.
Now when I make entries in my diary, it is not only to assist my now not so good memory, for future events; but also to assist in looking back at some of my own personal history. It is at least interesting to me, if nobody else.
Suddenly, waiting time was up, and I slipped my diary back into my pocket. I was glad I hadn’t brought a book and that there were no newspapers in the waiting room. Fact is sometimes better than fiction. Don’t you think so?

absent minded:  forgetful; not thinking at the moment
current: the general present
immersed:  covered by; within; involved
a great deal:  much; many
through the ages:  over a long period of time; through previous centuries

Two for the Price of One

Two Christmases in one year? Impossible you say! I get two Christmases every year. Lucky old me! Of course, you want to know how that can be, so I’ll tell you.

My wife is German, so my children grew up bi-lingual. My grandchildren are also bi-lingual. Which helps to explain why we celebrate both German and English Christmas festivities.

As you know in Germany it is celebrated on 24th of December. Whereas in Britain it is celebrated on 25th of December. And there you have it; two Christmases each year. Not only are the dates different, but also the modes of celebrating are different. The basic differences are that whereas the German one is solemn and deep in its praise for the coming of the Saviour, the British one is jolly and festive. Neither mode should be criticised.

I’d like to tell you some of my personal early experiences of both.

Since I’ve already mentioned grandchildren, you would be right in thinking that I am referring to times long past. But before I do that, I would like to mention, how different modern times are. I am writing this in November and you could be excused for thinking that Christmas is already upon us, the way it’s already being advertised so heavily. In my younger days it wasn’t so.

My first introduction to the German Xmas (Xmas is often used as an abbreviation of Christmas) was at the same time as I met my future wife’s family. I was wide eyed and full of speculation as all these new experiences opened up and developed before me. The afternoon began by all  the family getting changed into their ‘Sunday best’ clothes. Then there was afternoon coffee, immediately after which my future mother-in-law disappeared into the living room, from which everyone else was barred. At five o’clock came the tinkling of a little hand bell, upon which, everybody trooped silently into the living room and stood in a half circle at the Christmas tree, under which were the Xmas presents for later distribution. The tree looked truly beautiful. In front of the presents was, of course the obligatory nativity arrangement of figures and animals.

During this time the air was full of the fragrance of a fir twig which had been placed over the open flame of the fire place, intermingled with the suggestion of spice aroma from the kitchen. There followed bible readings, prayers and of course the whole family singing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ to the accompaniment of the piano.  I was so deeply impressed by the solemnity of it all that I was left speechless. The evening meal was potato salad with Frankfurter sausages. All new to me. You have never tasted anything so wonderful as that potato salad. Then, of course, midnight mass (in a Catholic church, and I a protestant!) More new experiences. Throughout the service I didn’t know whether I should stand, sit or kneel. So I just tried to copy the others. Nice to know that my future-father-in-law was at the organ.

And now, to my childhood English Christmas time.

First to note, is that the 24th was a normal working day (then, not now). Christmas began on the morning of 25th. Although, there was a hint of coming Christmas,  when several weeks before, my mother would make Xmas puddings. Not the pudding you know in Germany. These were made of many dried fruits, suet, alcohol, and I know not what else. I do know that before it was steam-cooked for many hours everybody had to stir the mixture and make a wish. Later came the Xmas cake. A rich, fruity, big cake, which was then coated in marzipan, and topped with decorative icing. Before going to bed on 24th we would hang up a stocking on the foot of the bed. Some families hung their stockings from the mantelpiece of the open fire place. The story (in little children, the firm belief) was that Father Christmas would come down the chimney with his sack of presents, which he then put into our stockings. Our excitement reached its peak when we scrambled out of  bed in  the early hours of the 25th, to see what was in our stockings. Our presents were very modest when compared with those children expect and mostly receive in modern times. The mid-day meal was large usually with a goose as the meat part, followed by Xmas pudding all  aflame. Later in the day there was a party with 10 – 12 children sitting around a table full of all the sweet goodies, special to Xmas, including the Xmas cake. There followed various forms of party games (no TV then).

It must be remembered that Christmas was mostly devoted to children. There were parties for the rest of that week in different neighbours’ houses. Somewhere on Christmas Day, most families found time to go to church to sing happy Christmas carols. During the preceding week groups of kids would go carol singing around neighbouring houses, hope for a penny or two. Also, during this week we would be busy making coloured paper chains to hang around the room. There would be sprigs of holly put on pictures, etc. No house would be complete without a sprig of mistletoe hanging over a door or the like. The custom allowed ‘he’ to kiss ‘her’, as a surprise, under the mistletoe.

December 26th is Boxing Day, usually a day of sports and hunting. The name originates from the days when the lord of the manor house traditionally gave each of his servants a coin, in a small box. This may illustrate to you the difference in our typical celebrations of the birth of Christ. The one serious yet happy, The other merry, jolly, yet framed in the solemnity of the occasion. I still read the relevant passage from the bible on the 24th, at the Christmas tree, to remind the children that Christmas is more than a commercial stunt. (They like it.)

Am I not lucky? Two Christmases every year and always with my children and grandchildren sitting around the table with at least three different languages flowing across it.

Merry Christmas to You!

Solemn:  serious and earnest.
Saviour:  in this context a word used by Christians for Jesus Christ. From the verb to save, meaning to rescue.
Jolly:  happy and informal.
Christmas is already upon us:  Christmas is already here.
Mother-in-law:  your wife’s mother.
Tinkling:  ringing – ususlly by a bell.
Troop:  to walk in a line with other people
Nativity:  the birth of Jesus Christ.
Fragrance:  perfume.
Fir twig:  a piece of a branch of a Christmas tree.
Intermingled:  mixed.
Father-in-law:  your husband’s father.
Suet : animal fat fo cooking
Xmas pudding  please see here