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December 24, 2008

Back! Briefly! (24/12/2008)
I'm in the new house, but the removalists applied some kind of randomisation heuristic to the distribution of boxes and containers, so every day I have a new surprise as I find some item essential to life. I transported the computers so at least they were easy to find, but such fripperies as network cables, keyboards and mouses required some exploration. At least the Internet is now working and other essentials such as the electric jug, the tea and coffee and my deadly aspartame tablets have been located so life is looking up. My new town has some excellent take-away food shops so we aren't starving but it will be nice to be able to open a kitchen cupboard with confidence that something useful will be found within. Not to mention being able to find where the clothes are.

While real life is being rebuilt I have to give getting settled in and back to work some sort of priority, so this week's (month's?) update will be short. I will be back in early January, but in the meantime I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a great new year. If you don't celebrate Christmas or your new year starts at some other time then accept this one as a freebie and rejoice in the fact that you get twice as many celebrations as I do. As usual, militant atheists who want to criticise my mention of Christmas should send their complaints to where they will be treated with all the respect they deserve. Christmas is a secular festival around my place; it's a time for getting together with the family and has no religious significance whatsoever.

Christmas musings (24/12/2008)
Here are some thoughts and observations I have had recently about Christmas.

Australians commonly laugh at the tradition which is supposed to have us all thinking of snow at Christmas time, and the most common cause around my place for white flakes falling from the sky at this time of year is the wind blowing ash from bushfires. Looking out my window today I can hardly see across the road because of a heavy fog. I am wearing a fleecy sweater and considering a foraging expedition to see where the removalist put the room heaters. I suppose I could join the ranks of climate change deniers and say "See – it's not getting warmer" but I am prepared to believe that this is some sort of aberration. It could very well be 40°C tomorrow for Christmas Day with a total fire ban in place. If it is I will have a beer. If it isn't I will still have a beer. That's what Christmas is for.

One of the nice things about living in Australia is the relative tolerance that people have towards each other. I came across an excellent example of multiculturalism working as it should when I saw a lady in a hijab and floor-length dress selecting Christmas cards and wrapping paper in the supermarket. There are very many places in the world where this would not only be unthinkable but could result in the woman facing imprisonment or even a death penalty. I don't suppose that there is a nativity scene outside the local mosque, but I don't think there would be rioting in the streets if there was.

There is a school of thought that says that all songs can be uniquely identified by starting at the first note of the melody and then saying "up", "down" or "same" depending on where the next note falls on the scale. Most songs have a unique pattern within a very few notes. I like a lot of the songs which get sung around Christmas time and one of everybody's favourites is Silent Night, which has the pattern same-up-down-down-up-up-down-down-up-same-down-up-same-down for the soprano's first four bars. I heard a rendition of this by someone who seemed to believe that "up" meant any higher note, "down" meant any lower note and the actual lengths of the notes didn't matter. Did I mention vibrato, tremolo and warbling? Unfortunately the announcer didn't back-announce the name of the criminal but if Ned Flanders is correct then baby Jesus would have been very tearful indeed. Apart from that travesty, the worst renditions of Christmas songs I heard were Stevie Nicks doing the aforementioned Silent Night (perhaps her nose transplant hasn't been as successful as she would have liked) where again the notes on the page bore little relationship to the aural experience, and the very talented Christian group Casting Crowns doing Away in a Manger, but perhaps they share my dislike of this boring drivel and were just going through the motions to keep their manager happy. Using the notation mentioned above, they started on the wrong note and the pattern then went same-same-same-same-same-same-same-... Neither "up" nor "down" received much exercise.

Public carol-singing concerts are a regular feature of Christmas, but I have to worry about the way that professional opera singers like to invite the audience to sing along with such songs as Hark, The Herald Angels Sing or Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Not all of us have three-and-a-bit-octave ranges, perfect pitch and very well controlled breathing so perhaps audience participation could be restricted to Jingle Bells. Ten thousand karaoke singers scrupulously avoiding both unison and harmony can jar even the least sensitive ears.

Did I mention Jingle Bells? When I was in high school I had a weekend job at the local supermarket and I worked full-time for two or three weeks before Christmas after school broke up for the year. When you are subjected to the same eight songs repeatedly for forty hours a week for several weeks it is possible to develop an aversion to those songs. I do not dream of a white Christmas, I never want to hear sleigh bells jingling, chestnuts should be thrown into the open fire and the best use of a red-nosed reindeer is venison. I guess I go on Santa's "naughty" list.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Drink moderately, drive safely, and do them on different days. See you all again in January.


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