Sunday, 28 December 2008

In Praise of the Strange

Here we are in the hiatus between Christmas and the New Year, work has either stopped or, if still going on, does so in a rather lacklustre manner as everybody waits for the next party to get underway.

This is, of course, a season with as many obligations as delights and it was to fulfil one of these that I and, so it seemed just about everyone else in town, headed for the local cemetery on Christmas day afternoon.

As usual the resulting scene was a somewhat hectic one as cars struggled to pass each other on paths built to be wide enough for a hearse and a horse and crowds of distracted relatives wandered here and there looking for the final resting place of Aunt Mabel with, more often than not, a pack of wailing children in tow. I have long imagined a cartoonist looking at the resulting scene and drawing a latter day Derby and Joan standing poised mid wander as the former says in exasperation ‘well they can’t have moved her.’

For the past decade of so the annual trip up to the cemetery has been cheered, for this visitor at least, by the site of a tree at the edge of the most popular plot decorated, by whom I have no idea, with tinsel and a fine selection of glass baubles, the latter, we have this year been helpfully informed by the industrious Education Minister Ed Balls, present a greater danger to the continuation of human life that the bomb and the cholera bacillus put together.

The survival of this instance of public eccentricity in a world bothered more with each passing year by the battalions of earnest types employed a the public expense to prevent almost any activity you can think of on the grounds of health, safety or its potential to cause offence provided a lift to the spirits and a reminder of just how often the strange intrudes upon the mundane business of everyday life.

Take, for example, the sight that confronted me when, whilst walking down an unremarkable suburban street one evening, I happened to glance into the front window of one of the houses only to see a man wearing a brightly coloured shirt, sombrero and Zapata moustache dancing enthusiastically to some unheard flamenco rhythm. If an Englishman’s home is his castle, that night the court jester was clearly working overtime.

Another instance of the strange intruding upon the ordinary occurred late last summer and this time made the front page of the local press.

One morning in August this year staff at a branch of Wilkinson’s in Newcastle under Lyme found to their surprise a deer, don’t ask where it came from since that is a mystery likely to remain unsolved, perusing the shelves of their store.

The response of the staff and manager, as relayed to a local journalist who must have been no less gobsmacked that I was reading it later, was so wonderfully British it deserves to win a prize. There was no panic, no wild shooing and shrieking as they tried to drive the beast out, they just watched calmly as it trotted up and down the aisled and then back out into the street as if having decided to take its custom elsewhere. Afterwards the only comment passed by the store manager was that the deer seemed to find the floor of the shop a little slippy.

Whatever shocks and scares the year to come has in store for us all I am sure that so long as the great British capacity to remain eternally unfazed by the strangeness of the world we should just about muddle through.

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