Ashes Poetry - cricket

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David Fine, Ashes poet in residence in Australia 2006-7

England vs Australia.
Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney 2006-2007

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Australia

21nd December 2006, Fremantle

Don't think I'm the right bloke to talk about spending Christmas anywhere. Someone who's a lapsed atheist of jewish descent isn't go to go overboard on the holy trinity son of god born in Bethlehem thing.

By and large I'm a pretty jovial chap most of the year, but Christmas with its enforced bonhomie and rampant commercialism bring out the best or worst in me. 362/365 I'm Mr Friendly-Face. Christmas is my time to be a thoroughly miserable git.

The weather's lousy. People you don't know at all come up as though you're life-long friends to wish you all the best, or worse they're people you do vaguely know and spend most of the time avoiding, or worst of all people you know don't give a monkey's about you send 'tra-la-la let's be merry' Christmas cards. 'Up yours' you feel like replying, only you can't be humbugged.

It's fair to say Christmas in Australia is upside down. The pagan side doesn't relate. In a pre-deepfreeze industrialised economy Yuletide was when you killed off the livestock you don't need for breeding purposes. So you might as well celebrate eating that big old cow or pig that's been manuring your front yard for the last two years. Likewise all those mince pies, fruit cakes and plum duffs you've been storing up for God knows how long. This went by the board with global refrigeration (which help precipitate global warming, all you irony-watchers) but in Australia you don't even have the weather for it, since it is height of their summer. Therefore you can forget all that traditional fair stodge rhubarb, which Australians do.

No point since the weather is fantastic. I'm missing the chestnuts roasting by an open fire, but not the crap weather it's an escape from.

As Ian Wood, another novelist who lives about five minutes down the road put it:- "Today in Bakewell the atmosphere is suffused with moisture and it is quite hard to see from one side of the road to the other. There is no sign of snow, but every chance of rain. And it is very cold."

Or as my archaeological mate, Ken wrote of the Freemantle sea-scape "What kind of parents are you that could so easily swap the fog, cold overcast and frost of a Sheffield day for that? With the added penalty that Laurel won't have access to my latest batch of onion bhajias. Well, I hope the sand doesn't get into the turkey too much."

The Australian shops and civic bods do try to do things English style. Here's Brisbane's Christmas tree, which is sixty foot high totally artificial and looks completely naff in sub-tropical weather apart from ten minutes of twilight. Whether it increases sales or lengths of people's grins or faces is anyone's guess. Santa gets a rough deal of it. He still has to wear the full monty, red fur coat, boots, gloves and ho-ho-beard. His red cheeks are due to too much sun, not sherry at the fireplace, because Queensland houses don't have fireplaces. You can buy blow-up Santas and Christmas Trees which probably sell as fast as they can get the puff to puff because Aussies love anything blow-up, and the bigger they blow-up the better, especially egos, so they can deflate them again.

Adelaide, being smart and cultured, doesn't do blow-up. Instead 'eight world famous sand artists with specially compressed and graded sand' spent at least three days producing this little lulu. Two of those days were dismantling it in search of one of the artists' car keys, which were discovered in his back pocket all along. A plea of justifiable homicide is likely to be accepted.

Car-keys aside, Aussies themselves don't seem to take Christmas too seriously. There is no mad shopping, shops running out of food at the one time of the year when everyone's larder and bellies are groaning at each other. And the bizarre ecologically bonkers habit of everyone giving everyone else a Christmas card (Did you see my ad in The Times 'David Fine is probably not sending cards this year.')

Instead Australia is travelling continent distances to be with their nearest and dearest they spend the rest of the year avoiding. You could almost taste the anticipated fear and loathing on the Quantas flight from Perth to Sydney. Flight delayed - two people didn't get on the plane for 'personal reasons.' You could feel two hundred others wishing they had the nerve to do the same.

But there is the magic, the real magic of an antipodean Christmas. The start of the summer holidays. Why manic overdulgence for six days when you can stretch out slobbing out over six weeks? Pace yourself. Seems far more civilised.

The churches don't really bother either, thank God. That false religious thing which intervenes in the Happy Adverse Stress Event Shop-till-You-Drop Season which the English know and love. Maybe Quantas could do 'Macho-Plastic Melt-down Freeze Your Nuts Off' Christmas Specials to the 'Old Country' Start now by joining the queue for queues. As Tom Wait put it 'If you want to go mad, you better get in line.'

If you don't, for all you Australians who wonder what rural England is really like at Christmas, read on, dear reader, read on.

It’s Cold Enough To Snow

the earth is close to silence.
dark, cold, ready to crack open,
frost the stubble upon a shepherd’s jaw.

one step and the earth is broken,
and once broken, ready to break once more.
watchful for signs, feet tread warily, willing
to concur or demur where others step before

but less clear the gifted senses: taste, touch or
ear. Give them compass to ensure
safe journey outside a windowed, tinselled whirled
as heaven goes about its business –

hard harked the dark to till the well-flocked stars
seeded by eternity’s calloused hand. In its sleep
unceremonied magic spells a land
where we rise, renewed, reborn upon this day:

a past is borne upon its back,
the world’s an ass to carry
a troubled sack of adventures
without these troubles annulled.

walk soft, slack reins, bite not the bit.

beneath our well-hidden soles
obedient earth shall still disobey:
across moor, copse, fields and hollows
it is cold enough to snow.