David Bouchier

Back in the olden days when I was a schoolboy there were many things about adults that I found mystifying. High on the list was their habit of dividing up people, ideas, activities, and just about everything else into good or bad, right or wrong, friend or enemy. Ours was a small school with only about three hundred boys, but even so we were randomly divided into four artificial groups called “Houses,” indicated by a colored border around our caps. I was in Charter House, I remember, with a green cap.

Two collections of poetry came my way during the holidays. This was unusual because I am not a very poetical person, but I browsed through both collections to remind myself what poetry is all about. One book came from my friend David Axelrod – no relation to the presidential advisor – who was poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island, a few years ago, and the other collected the work of members a university literary society. In other words one professional poet and a group of amateurs.

New Year: it’s a strange liminal time, full of anxiety and hope and empty resolutions. The artificial changing of the calendar makes us feel that something momentous should happen, but it almost never does. Like every generation we prefer to think that we are living in a time of history-making events, but we may be living in a footnote to a book already written. The ancient Greeks believed that history was cyclical: the same events repeated over and over, like the programming on some cable television stations. This is a comforting philosophy.

On the twenty-sixth of December an air of exhaustion lies over the land, which is not surprising. The Holidays are a big commitment, both emotionally and financially. The day after is a kind of shock, not so much like hitting a brick wall as like falling off a cliff. Now what do we do?

One Christmas tradition that was not invented by Charles Dickens is also one of the strangest. Like so many traditions it has now crossed the Atlantic, and next weekend millions of Americans will enjoy, or be puzzled or infuriated by those gaudy little cylinders of paper called Christmas crackers.