Blogging about books – Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies by Romilla Ready and Kate Burton

Warning – if you’re not interested in NLP you might want to skip this post.

Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies appeared on the reading list for my Hypnotherapy Diploma Course, which was handy as i’d been given a copy for Christmas and was halfway through it when I started the course.

I’ve been interested in NLP for several years without any clear understanding of what it is.  Unfortunately, this book really hasn’t helped in that respect.  The formal definition of NLP, given at the beginning of the book  is “the study of the structure of your subjective experience”.  While the authors can’t really be blamed for this, I really didn’t feel that definition helped me at all.  And by the end of the book I was none the wiser.

One of the problems with NLP is the huge amount of jargon involved – modalities, submodalities, meta models, logical levels, anchors.  All of these terms need to be clearly understood in order to make any sense of the subject, but this book seems very vague on what some of these mean and of what relevance they have.  An attempt is made to demonstrate the practical use of some of these concepts by way of anecdotes, but far too many of these relate to corporate business situations which are of limited interest to the general reader and turned me (as anti-corporate as it’s possible to be) right off.

The elements of NLP that have been introduced in my course so far have tended to be organically drawn out of examples of their use – the anecdote comes first, followed by an explanation of the point it demonstrates.  This makes them far more palatable and understandable.

It may well be that NLP is not a subject that can easily be learnt from a book and the authors have actually made a valiant but failed attempt at sharing their knowledge of the subject.  I’ll probably come back to this book when I know more about it – maybe my opinion will change.

But probably not – I forgot to mention that it’s really boringly written!

Hypnotherapy Diploma Module One – The training

On a Saturday morning in January, I gathered with the four of my classmates I’d met the previous day for breakfast.  As we looked out at the snow-covered Highland scenery I think we were all feeling a degree of apprehension.  As we drank our tea and ate our cereal, we were joined by the two non-resident students, Gillian, a Human Resources Manager from Inverness, and Marina, a colonic hydrotherapist (gulp!) from just around the corner but working in Inverness.  Our group was complete.

At 9.00am we drifted through to the training room and Matthew began his introduction to the course by explaining his own background, telling us how he met Jan and how the two of them came to be running a Hypnotherapy training school in the wilds of Scotland.  He also warned us about his two major idiosyncrasies – his tendency to rant about his pet subjects and his liberal use of expletives.  Matthew turned out to be one of those people who is practically unable to exhale without swearing but manages to do it with such charm and humour as to be completely inoffensive.

The day then got properly underway, setting a pattern for the rest of our stay – the morning devoted to theory, practical demonstrations and videos of Matthew at work, then lunch followed by the opportunity for us to practise the techniques we’d been shown.  We worked in pairs for this; as I was sitting next to Andy we agreed to work together and quickly developed a good rapport, finding ourselves comfortable in being honest about what worked well and what less well, and able to bounce ideas off each other.  At various points during the course Matthew suggested that we should change partners.  None of us did!

In the evenings, the five of us staying in the house sat up drinking wine, chatting and laughing until Jan came through to send us to bed.

As time went on we found ourselves becoming increasingly confident in our ability to induce hypnotic trance and to use this in order to bring about change in people’s lives.  it almost felt as if Matthew had been covertly hypnotising us and implanting confidence in our unconscious minds.  While we have a lot more to learn, this first module certainly gave us a good grounding in the basics of hypnotherapy.

On the last night of the course, the seven of us went for a meal at the Cairn Hotel in Carrbridge.  Along with the excellent food we allowed ourselves a small sweet sherry each.  A couple of the regulars thanked us on their way out for providing such great entertainment.  I don’t know what they were talking about!

The following morning, feeling much better than we deserved to (apart from Marta, who wanted to die), we were delighted to be presented with what Matthew referred to as “a quiz” and was quick to reassure us was not a test.  I think he was lying.  There was much scratching of heads and frantic reference to our course manuals as we tried to answer the taxing questions.  We all hurriedly scribbled down what we hoped bore some resemblance to the correct responses and handed our efforts in for marking.  The results will be waiting for us when we get back.

All that remained was for us to be given our assignment to complete, and for Matthew to talk us through the reading list.  The assignment was to conduct three hypnotherapy sessions with family members or friends and to write these up for discussion at the start of the next module.  We were also required to read one book from the reading list.

Excited at the prospect of trying out our new skills, we took our leave of Motivation Training in a frenzy of hugs and handshakes before starting our journeys back to reality.

Hypnotherapy Diploma Module One – Arrival

So it’s actually called Accredited Diploma in Hypnotherapy, Practitioner and Master Practitioner of NLP and NLP Life Coaching.  If you want me to blog about it don’t expect me to call it that.  Life’s too short.

Iain and the dogs were staying in Aviemore, a couple of miles from the course venue, for the duration so we’d driven up the previous day and I’d stayed overnight in the cottage that was to be their temporary home.  On the way up, the snow the weatherman had promised put in an appearance, and by the time we reached our lunch stop at House of Bruar, the overpriced shopping outlet luxury designer shopping experience in Perthshire, it had formed a thick white covering.  The dogs loved this, running, jumping and rolling like puppies

The following day, we had a walk around Aviemore while the snow continued to fall, after which I said my fond farewells to Iain and the dogs and set off, with some degree of anxiety,  for Avingormack, home of Motivation Training.

Motivation Training is run by Canadian-born Matthew Ferguson – public school educated, former follower of the hippy trail, reformed City Trader – who provides the Training, and his wife Jan who provides the Motivation in the form of food.  It was Jan who greeted me on arrival.  I have thought long and hard about how to describe her and the best I can come up with is like Mary Poppins but without the friendly chimney sweep with the bad Cockney accent.  Or the singing.  Or the animated dancing penguins.  (Younger readers may prefer to think of Nanny McPhee without the warty nose).

Seriously, Jan sometimes really did seem like a nanny trying to control a brood of unruly children.  Which sort of makes Matthew the equivalent of Mr Banks (or whatever Colin Firth’s character was called in Nanny McPhee) which only works if there’s a secret X-rated version in which Mr Banks swears a lot (and I mean a lot) and rants about Donald Trump at every possible opportunity.  I don’t think this version of Mary Poppins exists, but please feel free to correct me if you know otherwise.

Anyway, by the end of our stay I think we were all a little bit in love with Jan.  My fondest memory is of seeing her walk past the window with a snow shovel in one hand and a teapot in the other.  I have no idea what she intended to do with them but she clearly had a plan.

Of the eight people signed up for the course, five of us were staying in the house, two lived nearby and were therefore travelling from home each day, and one had been forced to cancel as a result of illness.  Over the next couple of hours, I met the other four residents – Marta, a Polish beautician from London, Lisamarie, a former psychiatric nurse from Glasgow, Andy, a business coach who spent a large part of his life in Australia and New Zealand but now lives in Kent, and John, also from Glasgow, also a trained psychiatric nurse, who had the misfortune of being my room-mate.  I don’t intend to say too much about the people I met on the course – we shared a lot of quite personal information which I don’t think it would be appropriate to publish in a blog.  If any of you are reading this and would like me to correct or remove anything, please let me know and I will be happy to oblige.  Apart from the bit about Matthew swearing a lot – I’m not removing that.

We had our evening meal together, chatted about what had brought us to the course, then drifted off to bed, either exhausted after our journeys or, as in my case, wanting to be fresh for the challenges of the next few days.

The cancer diaries – sort of the end

You’ve probably gathered that I got bored with this subject.

When I first started blogging about my experience of cancer it was because I needed to express some of the feelings I had about the whole thing.  At the time, that was true, but now I really just want to forget the whole thing and get on with my life.

But I can’t just leave you in suspense – the last time I wrote anything about my cancer I’d just woken up on the ward after surgery.  Obviously it’s not a massive spoiler if I tell you I recovered!

The immediate post-operative period was pretty grim.  I was disorientated, felt sick (really sick – the kind of sick you feel when you’re just about to projectile vomit only without the relief that brings), was hallucinating.   A couple of times I asked for medication to relieve the extreme nausea.  This had the effect of making me feel weird, as if the muscles in my legs had solidified into iron bars, but had no effect on my nausea.  So I now felt sick and weird – great.  I decided to settle for just feeling sick.

I went through a process of stoma education.  Learning to cope with a stoma goes through a number of stages :-

 

1)  It’s just there and every now and again a nurse checks your bag and empties it when it’s full.

2) You have to ask a nurse to empty it for you.

3) You can empty it yourself but you can’t get to a bathroom so you have to ask a nurse for a bowl to empty it into then hand said bowl with its malodorous contents back for disposal.

4) You can empty it yourself in the bathroom.

5) You learn to change your bag under supervision.

6) You can change your bag without assistance – you’re flying solo!

 

Stage 1 isn’t a problem – you’re not actually capable of caring at this stage.

Stages 4 and 6 aren’t a problem because no-one else has to be involved.

Stage 5 just has to be got through – it’s not too bad but you’d rather not do it.

Stage 3 is humiliating.

Stage 2 is beyond humiliating.

 

But all things must pass, and I worked my way through these stages.  Not without a hiccup – no-one thought to tell me that bags always leak when you first start changing them yourself.  For two agonising days I believed that, even standing in a hospital bathroom with all the time in the world, I lacked the manual dexterity to achieve something a Health Care Assistant could do in less than a minute in the middle of the night with me lying in bed.  Despite all my efforts, less than an hour after changing the bag I would feel the tell-tale moistness that indicated a leak.

This situation continued until the day of my discharge from hospital, when a Stoma Nurse (not the familiar Hazel) responded to my panicked cry for help by watching me change a bag and promptly telling me there was nothing wrong with my technique but the bags I’d been given clearly weren’t right for my body shape.  She provided me with various samples to try and after one false start I didn’t look back.  Within a week I could have changed my bag blindfold with one hand tied behind my back.  I never actually tried that.

I went home, still feeling extremely nauseous but convinced that I would feel better once I was behind my own front door.  Which, strangely enough, turned out to be true – the nausea vanished as soon as I crossed the threshold.  I was definitely on the road to recovery.

That particular road was exhausting.  I would go upstairs to have a “20 minute nap” each afternoon, generally waking up three hours later.  I had mood-swings, going from elated to morosely depressed in a matter of minutes.  The low point came when Iain’s cousin Lois stopped me mid-rant over some minor irritation and asked why this was bothering me so much.  I thought for a moment.

“Because it’s easier than talking about what’s really bothering me.”

“Which is?” accompanied by the telephone equivalent of an encouraging nod.

“That I’ve got cancer and I don’t want cancer and that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”

I burst into tears, threw the phone down and sobbed inconsolably for the next hour.  But it probably did me good.

The  high point came a few days later when the hospital phoned to tell me the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes.  I didn’t need chemotherapy and my chances of permanent cure were about as high as they could get.  Champagne was consumed that day.

Three months later I went back to hospital for my greatly-anticipated reversal operation.  This went well.  Unfortunately, the recovery process didn’t.  My newly-reconnected bowel went into stasis so it wouldn’t empty, resulting in projectile vomiting and a repeat of the constant nausea I had after my initial operation.  This went on for several days, during which time I refused to get out of bed and the staff, recognising that I clearly felt too ill, didn’t try to persuade me otherwise.

Eventually things started to move.  I will spare you the description but I can say that I immediately began to feel better.  Nine days after my admission, I was allowed to go home and begin my new life.  The usual length of a hospital stay for ileostomy reversal is three days.  I think I broke some kind of record.

So here I am, nearly two years post-diagnosis, fit and well.  Regular checks have shown no sign of recurrence and the likelihood is that I’ll remain cancer-free.  I consider myself very lucky, almost a cancer-fraud – no radiotherapy, no chemotherapy, never even saw an oncologist.  But it’s worth remembering that bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death in the UK.  I’ve just looked this up and seen that someone dies of it every half hour.

So do me a favour – have a look at the excellent Beating Bowel Cancer website and inform yourself about the symptoms.  And if you have any worries, see your GP sooner rather than later.

That’s the end of the story of my cancer but I have a couple of other posts in the pipeline that are related to it.  Look out for those in the next few days.

I don’t suppose Amber Rudd is reading this but …

So Theresa May’s Government has scrapped the so-called Dubs Amendment which was designed to allow 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees to enter the UK.  That number will now be capped at a miserly 350.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed that the scheme was “incentivising migration” and acting as a “magnet for people traffickers”.  This is nonsense and I suspect Ms Rudd knows it.

When you go to bed not knowing if your house is going to be bombed during the night, then make a perilous journey to Europe in the hope of a better, safer life, I really don’t think you give a whole lot of consideration to whether you’re going to be allowed into what you see as the Promised Land.  And if you’re a people trafficker, you just take the money – you don’t care that the hope you’re offering is false.

I wonder if this is the sort of Christian message Mrs May learnt from her vicar father?  She, along with Amber Rudd and all the MPs who voted to ditch the Dubs Amendment have shown a brazen disregard for the plight of child refugees which shames us all.

Blogging about books – The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

I bought The Various Haunts of Men for Iain, probably more than ten years ago.  He never read it but I just have, hence this review.

Described as the first of the Simon Serrailler novels, it is the story of a missing persons enquiry which ultimately becomes the search for a serial killer.  In a similar way to the Adam Dalgleish novels of P D James and the TV series Unforgotten a range of disparate characters and apparently unconnected storylines come together over the course of 550 pages.  Living in and around the small fictional city of Lafferton, the characters have a reality which makes the reader believe in their existence before the start of the book and, at least for those who aren’t murdered, after it ends.

Interspersed with the story of the murders and there investigation are excerpts from tape recordings left by the killer.  These provide a chilling insight into his mind until they reveal his identity about three quarters of the way through the book and the focus of the story turns to whether he can be caught before he kills again.

One or two plot threads seem to just disappear without having served any purpose either in furthering the action or casting light on character but perhaps these are taken up in further novels.  Similarly, the enigmatic Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler seems something of a bit-player in a novel which supposedly introduces him.  No doubt his character is fleshed out in the rest of the series (I think there are eight novels in total).  On the subject of DCI Serrailler, I did have problems with his name.  How should it be pronounced?  It It sounds silly if given a French pronunciation but the particular combination of vowels and consonants doesn’t look English.  Not something that spoiled my enjoyment of the book but it did cause me a bit of concern each time I came across it.

I’m not a great lover of crime fiction, other than a nice old-fashioned cosy Miss Marple, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its decent, likeable characters, believable setting and intriguing mystery.

When I’m allowed to buy books again I may well revisit the world of DCI Simon Serrailler.

Blogging about books – introduction

One of the things I plan to do with the blog this year is post reviews of every book I read.  I used to be a member of a book club here in Berwick.  We would meet every six weeks or so in one or other of our houses, ostensibly to talk about a book one of us had chosen, but really to have a bit of a gossip, eat crisps and drink wine.  After a time, members started to drift away and our attempts to recruit replacements weren’t terribly successful.  Eventually it just died – no-one made a conscious decision to call it a day, we just never got round to arranging the date of our next meeting.
From time to time next-door neighbour Shelagh and I talk about reviving it.  I hope that one day we will, but until there this can serve as my own one-man book club – a sort of Billy No Mates book club.  If, however, anyone out there wants to read the books I review (or has already done so), then please feel free to add your comments.
Given my current interest, quite a lot of the books I review will be about hypnotherapy and related subjects but I promise there’ll be lots of fiction too.  Oh, and there’s a sort of little rule I’ve set myself – my shelves are groaning with unread books so, with the exception of recommended texts for my hypnotherapy course, I won’t be buying any new ones until I’ve worked my way through all these or moved them on to new owners.  Obviously this doesn’t apply to huge reference tomes like the Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants (1078 pages) but you just have to trust me to play fair.
One more thing.  Our cleaner very kindly brings us her husband’s unwanted crime novels.  I am working on the basis that these are really for Iain as he is the one who expressed an interest in this genre of fiction.  So I don’t have to read them or give them away but I can if I want to.
And finally, I know I promised a post about the first module of my hypnotherapy course.  Trust me – it’s coming, and sooner than Christmas.

I thought it was about hypnotherapy?

For a blog called “The Would-Be Hypnotherapist” there has been pretty limited mention of hypnotherapy thus far.  For this I apologise.  What can I say?  I got distracted.

At some time over the past year I should have told you about my research into hypnotherapy courses and my decision-making process in choosing one.  I didn’t do that so let’s cut to the chase.

Like the majority of complementary therapies, hypnotherapy does not have the benefit of a single legally-recognised regulatory body.  As a result, it can be difficult to assess the quality of a training institution – some of them even set up their own registers of practitioners.  However, most trustworthy hypnotherapists are registered with either the General Hypnotherapy Register or the National Council for Hypnotherapy.

With this in mind, I set about looking at a number of courses and finally settled on the Advanced Diploma in Clinical Hypnotherapy and NLP Life Coaching from Motivation Training.  If you’re interested, you can read much more about the course here.

This takes place in a fairly isolated spot near Boat of Garten, Inverness-shire over three periods of five days.  Tomorrow morning, Iain, two Labradors and I will be setting off for Aviemore where I will stay overnight before proceeding to the course venue on Friday.  Iain and the Labradors will stay in Aviemore and have a lovely relaxing break while I am picking up basic skills in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming.

This, of course, depends on our ability to make the journey to Aviemore, given that it is snowing there, the Forth Road Bridge has been closed all day, and the state of the A9 is currently causing concern.  I have asked myself why anyone would think it was a good idea to run a training course in that area in the middle of January but I don’t have any answers.

Anyway, I will update you, God-willing, on my return.

Should Meryl Streep have said that?

I’ve been in love with Meryl Streep since I was 15 and saw her in the US television mini-series “Holocaust”.  She played the part of Inga Helms Weiss, an Aryan woman with a Jewish husband who stood by him and her Jewish in-laws at a time when many Aryan Germans betrayed their former friends and neighbours.  Maybe it was the character I really fell in love with, but there was an integrity in Meryl Streep’s performance which suggested to me that she would behave in the same way if she found herself in Inga’s situation.

Along with two other cast members, Streep won an Emmy for her role, but the series itself faced strong criticism, being accused of trivializing the Holocaust by some survivors.  However, as a 15 year-old with little knowledge of that terrible period of recent history, I was fascinated, horrified and educated.  “Holocaust” affected me in a way nothing on television had ever managed before and probably played some part in making me the person I am today.

Flash forward nearly 40 years, and Meryl Streep received the Cecil B De Mille award at the Golden Globes.  She used the opportunity to make a reasoned, eloquent attack on President Elect Donald Trump.  Her speech was received with rapturous applause, gained widespread media coverage and has been circulated on the internet.  I agree with every word she said.

But I wish she hadn’t said it.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that Donald Trump won the election by appealing to the racist, misogynist, homophobic element in US society.  After all, the ugly extremist views which seek to blame all the world’s ills on anyone different are becoming more prevalent in Europe just as they are in the US.  But how does this explain the existence of groups like “Women for Trump”, “Muslims for Trump”, “Hispanics for Trump” and “Gays for Trump”?

The unpalatable truth is that while Donald Trump did indeed exploit any prejudice he thought might bring people to his cause, what he did even more effectively was to tap into a resentment among many US citizens towards being told what to think by rich liberals.  So effective was this strategy that he actually succeeded in winning the votes of many members of groups he simultaneously marginalised in his campaign speeches.

When Meryl Streep made her heartfelt, eloquent, beautifully-delivered speech at the Golden Globes, she became one of the rich liberals telling people what to think.  Trump’s supporters took no time in pointing this out only for members or the so-called liberal elite to hit back.  The end result can only be a widening of the existing divisions in US society, the knock-on effects of which will no doubt affect all of us.

I don’t think that’s what Meryl Streep wanted.

So am I saying she should have just kept quiet?  Do I believe a Hollywood star should stick to acting and keep her political views to herself?  Not at all, but maybe a glittering, celebrity-loaded occasion is not the right time to criticise someone who is seen as a hero by many less-privileged people.  To truly stand any chance of influencing people, it is important to meet them where they are, to at least give the impression of understanding what matters to them.  This is why Donald Trump, even when caught out repeatedly in lies and misrepresentations, succeeded so spectacularly.

And why Meryl Streep, for all her honesty, sincerity and integrity, may have done more harm than good.

A Christmas playlist

The blog goes multi media!

When I was a child, the release of a Christmas single meant Santa was definitely on his way. Consequently quality was not an issue – if a record was about Christmas it was fine by me.

Nowadays, however, my critical faculties have developed, and filling a song with jingle bell sounds, references to Santa and general all-round merriment just doesn’t cut it. To be worthy of my attention, a Christmas song needs a decent melody, witty and/or meaningful lyrics and to be well sung. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a few of my favourites.

Just to be clear, a Christmas song has to have more than passing relevance to the season of goodwill and rampant commercialism. Being number one at Christmas is never, of itself, going to be enough – sorry X-Factor winners. There’s a lovely Dolly Parton song called “Hard Candy Christmas” which likens the aftermath of a painful relationship break-up to a miserable Christmas. I’d love to include it here but other than the line “Lord it’s like a hard candy Christmas” there is no relevance whatsoever. And however many bells East 17 may have thrown at “Stay Another Day”, it’s not making it onto my list.

Sadly, I also have to rule out “River” by Joni Mitchell.  For all its minor key “Jingle Bells” intro and references to “cutting down trees”, “putting up reindeer” and “songs of joy and peace” it’s never going to be a Christmas song and I’m only mentioning it now to pre-empt my brother’s enquiry.

So in no particular order, here are the songs that will always make it onto my Christmas playlist :-


1) “December Will Be Magic Again” by Kate Bush.   Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, Saint Nicholas up the chimney, kisses under misteltoe.  It’s about Christmas. It’s by Kate Bush. Do I really need to say anything else? For those who are not yet convinced I’ll just add the fact that it was originally released as a single in the middle of November, far too early for record-buyers to fall for its festive charm, thus demonstrating Kate’s lack of interest in the financial aspects of the music business and somehow acting as a metaphor for the commercialism of Christmas.

2) “That’ll Be Christmas” by Thea Gilmore. Beautifully sung with sharply observed commentary on the modern British Christmas and an underlying hint of sadness. Bonus points awarded for the lines “Hot wine and a Christmas tree/The Sound of Music and the family/Faith, hope and gluttony/That’ll be Christmas”.

3) “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. Bonkers rap song about two people who spend the entire year failing to get it together then finally bond over an emergency purchase of cranberries to go with their tragically tiny turkeys at an all-night grocery store which I assume is in Manhattan. What’s not to like? Fun fact – the Spice Girls covered this. Less fun fact – it was rubbish.

4) “Christmas Without You” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Kenny and Dolly are spending Christmas apart so they’re blue, even though the Christmas is white. A bit like “Lonely This Christmas” by Mud but with a good tune and decent lyrics. It’s not entirely clear why they are apart. Painful relationship break-up which Dolly can then sing about on “Hard Candy Christmas”? Work commitments? One of them died of winter flu? The last one isn’t very likely – I don’t think Kenny or Dolly would duet with a dead person. Come to think of it, how are they managing to sing a duet while they’re apart? Maybe they’re Facetiming.

5) “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.  Apparently there are people who don’t like this song.  These people probably like the records on my Grinch list.  But seriously, what is wrong with them?  How can anyone not relate to “I could’ve been someone/Well so could anyone”?  Is that not up there with the finest couplets of Shakespeare?  Obviously the people who don’t like it are in a minority – first released in 1987, the song has been in the UK Top 20 every year since 2005 and is a contender for this year’s Christmas number 1.

Things could have been very different.  The song  was originally meant to be recorded as a duet between Shane MacGowan and Cait O’Riordan, The Pogues’ lead singer and bassist respectively.  Somewhere between writing and recording however, O’Riordan left the band to marry Elvis Costello, leaving them without a female vocalist for the record.  Kirsty MacColl was eventually drafted in as a substitute and musical magic happened.

There have been objections over the years to the use of the supposedly offensive words “slut” and “faggot” in the lyrics.  Apparently “arse” is fine.  As a gay man, I would be offended if someone addressed me as “faggot” and I’m not sure it’s appropriate to call any woman “slut”.  However, the song is telling a story and the characters in that story have decades of hurt, anger and broken dreams between them.  They can call each other what they like.

6)”Gaudete” by Steeleye Span.  “Rejoice, rejoice/Christ is born/Of the Virgin Mary/Rejoice”.  What could say Christmas more clearly than that?  Except it’s in Latin which made it simultaneously exotic and magical to the ten year-old I was when I first heard it.

7)”Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon.  Here’s a little confession which will alienate half my readership.  I was never a fan of John Lennon.  Didn’t like the image, didn’t like the voice, didn’t like the music.  His murder, 36 years ago today, was a tragedy for his family and friends but didn’t impact upon me personally.  “Imagine” is one of the worst songs I have ever heard and, even now, is playing on repeat in my personal vision of hell (which I refuse to imagine there isn’t).    If it makes you feel any better, I was never a fan of the Beatles anyway, or of any of them individually, so I’m not singling him out.

But there’s just something about this song.  I’ve read through the lyrics just now, trying unsuccessfully to find some trace of sarcasm or cynicism.  It’s a genuinely sweet song with a message I can relate to – a hope that we can all be happy this Christmas and just try to get along.  Every time I hear it I find myself caught up in the hope that maybe things can be different – better – for all of us.

But I still refuse to imagine there’s no countries.

8) “The Saint Stephen’s Day Murders” by Thea Gilmore and Mark Radcliffe.  Show me someone who’s never wanted to kill at least one relative on Boxing Day and I’ll show you a liar.

So having got the goodies out of the way, what are the Christmas songs I really hate?  Actually, there’s only one – most Christmas songs are just dull or over-exposed because the really bad ones rarely get played.  But there is one exception :-

“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake.  If you don’t pay too much attention to it, this seems like a lovely song.  Jingling bells, Prokofiev’s Sleigh Ride, angel choirs – it’s got the lot.  But have you listened to the words?  Miserable drizzle instead of the  promised snow at Christmas, waking up just in time to figure out that Santa is actually your dad/your mum’s new boyfriend/some random from the pub, a fairy story about the Israelite (that’s Baby Jesus to the rest of us).  Basically his parents lied to him about everything and it’s not fair.  Then we get the last line, “The Christmas we get we deserve” with its implication that we’ll all spend the day crying into our Babycham.  Maybe it’s not what was intended but this always sounds to me like the most mean-spirited Christmas song ever.  If you want to hear it you’ll have to track it down yourselves because I’m not putting it on my blog.

STOP PRESS : RIP Greg Lake

Musings on life, labradors and hypnotherapy training from the North Northumberland coast