Tis the season of goodwill. Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas. May there be peace in the world. It’s time to capture the spirit of Christmas and spread it far and wide. We do it every year but it’s no less important every time we do it. It’s a great big manifestation of hope. A way to end the year in a mood of good humour, joy, and optimism. 

In this case talking about double entendre is way short of the mark. The word “sprit” has a whole host of contemporary meanings. It’s an extensive list. Here, I’m trying to capture some essence of what has been passed down for generations. It’s how we cheer ourselves up knowing that the hardships of winter are a passing phase. Christmas may have its origins in seasonal habits that run through the whole of human history.

Like it or not, the Christmas we know has come down from Roman times. Although, it might be better to say that a recognisable celebration is traceable back to the ninth century in England. That reason for festivities unites all Europeans. It’s part of our common heritage and social fabric.

However, as I drive west, down the A303 and pass Stonehenge it’s not Christian Christmas I might think of as much as the Winter Solstice[1]. That is as we move from seeing less of the Sun day-by-day to a gradual lengthening of the days. Ironically, this is known as the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere.

The coming 31 days of January maybe the least loved of the months of the year, but the prospect is that winter will be finite. We can honour its passing before it has passed. Lengthening hours of sunlight will change our mood and slowly raise our spirits.

Isn’t hope wonderful? What shame human affairs don’t have such a seasonal clockwork mechanism at their core. Or maybe they do, in the way that Christmas and the calendar synchronises us with the rhythm and routine of the heavens.

For me the next celestial marker is the Vernal Equinox as it ushers in Spring. I don’t know if having a birthday just before the onset of Spring symbolises any mystical significance, but I like it. So, celebrate and enjoy the seasonal spirit. Christmas comes but once a year. Let’s hope this one brings some good cheer.

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/winter-solstice-2022-celebration-shortest-day-facts-b2249667.html

Christmas past

My interest in machinery goes back to an age of 9 or thereabouts. It’s not easy to be accurate about times past. Memories are moments in time that can get mixed up in a chain of events.

Christmas presents for me, and my brothers were a mix of new and second-hand. Someone the second-hand ones were more valued than the new ones. If I close my eyes, I can still see the auction sale room[1] in Gillingham, Dorset where a mysterious collection of toys and bric-a-brac where exhibited every December. A white painted outhouse building that was never warmer than a fridge. Full to the brim with cast-off items and curiosities.

In the afternoon, surveying the goods before the sale was an exciting moment for me. It was a time to say, “can we have that?” The answer would depend on how much my dad was prepared to bid. That was a good life lesson. Knowing that wants were not always going to be met.

That’s where my Meccano[2] came from. Not just the metal variety but there was a larger plastic type too. It was a junior range. More cherished was the classic metal version. Green strips of metal and boxes of nuts and bolts arranged in neat plastic compartments. Unlike current versions, these kits gave only the merest hint as to what to build and how to do it. So much was left to the imagination.

Cranes and bridges were one of the more basic designs, I liked to build. The cranes had strings and pulleys to lift and lower things for the fun of it. Bridge builds could be tested to see if they were strong enough to carry weight.

Inevitably, the more I played the more the small Meccano nuts and bolts went missing. The noise an upright Hover vacuum cleaner makes picking up those nuts and bolts was so distinct. It was like many large hail stones hitting a tin roof. Rummaging through the vacuum cleaner bag with a magnet ensured all the neat plastic compartments remained full.

Those long gone dusty sale rooms in Gillingham were also the source of more than one chemistry set. That’s when a boy’s chemistry set paid only scant attention to personal safety. As much as to say I had an experimental childhood with a degree of freedom that was wonderful. The more I reflect, the more I can see that was the case. Luckly, I learnt a lot and got through it relatively unscathed.

[1] Chapman Moore & Mugford

[2] https://www.meccano.com/en_gb