Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas tradition

Yes, I ‘do’ Christmas, and it seems there is a recent resurgence of people admitting they like it too. What’s not to like: friends; family; presents; food; drink; James Bond and a celebration of all the good things in life? And there’s the healthy dollop of tradition – I love a good bit of tradition.

Among the best traditions are those you incorporate into your own family, such as hunting down the perfect Christmas tree. We get ours on the 23rd December – it’s summer here and pine trees don’t last that long. When we lived in Queenstown, they grew like weeds and, because they aren’t native, you were considered to be doing society a favour if you went and chopped one down.

Him Outdoors also has his birthday that day, so I would send him out of the house with the boys to get them out of the way while I finished off whatever Christmas jobs were necessary for the big day. They would return triumphant like worthy little hunter gatherers and reward themselves with beer after potting the tree. It became a ritual.

Everyone who came into the house between then and Christmas morning had to hang an ornament on the tree, and we placed a fairy on top. Previous incarnations of said fairy have included Eric Cantona and Roy Keane – not Robbie of course, as he would be more like an angel. I would have had Ronaldo for obvious reasons, but I couldn’t bear to have that winker in my house in any shape or form. (
Now we just have a tiny tree because we live in a little appartment and it sits on the table looking festive.)

After that, we sit and talk, play games, eat, drink, read, do jigsaw puzzles and have an open-door policy for anyone else who is far from home without family, or looking for some peace and quiet away from theirs. Sometimes we get a ham from His Outdoors’ employers with which we make everything from salads and sandwiches to curry and stir-fry. We have chicken butties on Christmas Day and plenty of bubbles, and some special food for the cat which he doesn’t eat because he’s fussy – he’s a pedigree, don’t you know.

That’s our tradition – keep it simple. I suppose it’s what Christmas means to you and all that, but I don’t want unnecessary pressure at this time of year – or any time come to that. I try to avoid the shops and frantic commercialism and the rabid Christmas music. I love carols, but I hate those ‘jingle bell rock’ and ‘rocking around the Christmas tree’ tunes with their enforced sense of jollity which feels more like desperation.

I try and do the Christmas cards early, but I’m on my own here as Him Outdoors doesn’t help. He grumbles that he hates Christmas and if his parents get a card they should count themselves lucky. Apparently the ‘circular is so tacky’. I have no problem with this, as it’s a good way to keep in touch, but why do we only do it once a year? I am writing cards to people so if you haven’t got yours yet, don’t worry, you will, but it might not be in time for Christmas. In fact, as I haven’t put them in the post yet, it certainly won’t be in time for Christmas.

We are told it’s the thought that counts, but so many people still expect gifts tied up with ribbons, and dinner with all the trimmings. So to stem the rising tide of consumerism we are encouraged to make little tins of biscuits and other homemade gifts to prove our nurturing domestic goddess skills. You’ll notice men aren’t expected to do this. Why are we meant to have more time and inclination just because we’re female? Steamed puddings bring a whole new meaning to pressure cooking and if we haven’t got cranberry sauce, who cares? Does it really matter?

I went to church at the weekend. I sang the carols and said the prayers. I was generally filled with peace and goodwill to all mankind. The pageant was cute even with Joseph gurning throughout and Mary looking like she was about to burst into tears. The Indian girl with the wings who stood in the pulpit with arms outstretched to represent the Angel Gabriel was my favourite (that was the part I always got in the school nativity play).

But then the children started racing up and down the aisle and clambering all over the pews; shrieking and wailing. One kid even had one of those electronic computer things that bleeped and blipped all through the service so you could hardly hear a word. I tried to drown it out with ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. ‘Why don’t the parents teach them respect?’ I wondered, and then I put it in a bubble and let it go. It’s Christmas after all.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Happy Birthday Him Outdoors

By a quirk of serendipity (does serendipity have quirks? Or is that just fate?) today is my last day of work before the Christmas break and Him Outdoors officially gets another year older. This means there will be much rejoycing - hurrah!

And by another quirk of coincidence... I found a fabulous post on the Legends of Beer blog exploding 10 common beer myths. My favourite is myth no. 6: beer should be served ice-cold for best flavour (except it's an American site so it actually says 'flavor' but I'm prepared to overlook that in the spirit of all things festive).

"This is an unfortunate myth perpetuated by the major commercial breweries - especially for their lite beers. The fact is, flavor typically diminishes when beer is served ice-cold. It may make for a thirst-quenching, refreshing beverage, but often bears little resemblance to traditional beer. Several beers are, in fact, best served much closer to room temperature or slightly cool and are considered undrinkable when icy cold - such as Guinness and many of the traditional English ales."

Thank you Legends of Beer; In future, I shall direct all the Kiwis who refer scathingly to English beer (or any boutique New Zealand brew with taste) as 'flat and warm' to your website. In the meantime I shall go and drink some close-to-room-temperature-and-totally-delectable ales in celebration of/with Him Outdoors at The Malthouse - where they know how to serve a good drop. Cheers!

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest
Wellington Repertory Theatre,
Gryphon Theatre, November 26 – December 6

Oscar Wilde is in the highest echelon of playwrights – to my mind, only half a step behind William Shakespeare – and his plays are legendary with oft-quoted lines. Sometimes directors can ruin the sparkling wit by trying to stamp their own interpretation on them, but Julia Harris largely resists this temptation.

Stephen Walter as Algernon Moncrieff has some of the best lines of the play and he delivers them superbly. His mix of cynicism and bafflement is both comic and endearing, pitched at just the right level of understated savoir faire. If only men were like this in real life, women would stop complaining about the man drought. His understanding butler Lane (Chris Barker who doubles as Merriman) copes stoically with his indiscretions รก la Jeeves and Wooster.

Hayden Rogers as John Worthing is the foil to Algie’s rapier. Often these two are played as a comedy duo, and here Jack is the straight-man. Rather than criticism of his lies and deceit (pretending to have an ailing brother and then ‘killing him off’ when he gets inconvenient), his even temper elicits sympathy as it is plain he will never succeed if left to his own bumbling devices.

The girls the boys are in love with are poles apart but both exquisite. As Gwendolen Fairfax, Danielle Duberguet is the ultimate in refinement – woe betides any man who attempts to resist her girlish determination. Rosemary Williams is sprightly and verging on feral as Cecily Cardew; no less resolved to snag her man despite flights of infantile fancy. The scene in which Gwendolen and Cecily become friends, adversaries and then friends again is the highlight of the play.

Lady Bracknell is one of the most fun creations for an actor and Margaret Hill doesn’t disappoint. Her icy demeanour gives an indication as to how Gwendolen (her daughter) will develop. After all, as Algie quips, ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his’. She remains tight-lipped and ferocious throughout without a hint of warmth. How refreshing it would be to see her played with the merest suggestion of humour and flirtation. She is slightly one-dimensional but to her credit, delivers the famous ‘handbag’ speech with distinction.

Mary Coffey is an utter delight as Miss Prism with a unique blend of blushing girlishness and spinsterish insecurity. It is charming to see her paired with the Reverend Chasuble (Leslie Craven). His calm generosity of spirit ensures that this will be one relationship that is likely to last and brings a genuine smile to the audience. If this is a battle of the sexes, it is one in which all is equal – the women get their men, and the men are happy to be got.

I would question why it is set in the present. The use of cell phones, blackberries and laptops is incongruous in a play which hinges on the difference of town and country mores – the global village effect negates all the intricacies and farcical constructs that Wilde works so hard to establish. The dialogue is practically poetry, and when did you last hear a texting teenager speak in sentences of more than rudimentary grammar and vocabulary?

Also, Algie and Jack’s discussion about smoking jackets or going to a club so that they can sit and talk makes no sense in a modern context. This setting allows for some delicious wardrobe (once again the undisputed domain of the excellent Annabelle Hensley and team) but if the intention was for us not to get distracted by the period frocks, it has backfired by making us question the contemporary relevance. Whoever designed the poster has stuck with vintage Victoriana and designed one of the best posters seen all year.

The Importance of Being Earnest is like a sumptuous game of cricket – all dramatic tradition and tortuous tactics. Despite some devastating spin and dazzling confidence, five days of manoeuvres can end in a very satisfying draw. It is, after all, just a game.