Mirror (7): Three Christmas Mornings.


7      [postcard]: portrait photograph of Walt Whitman (credited to Mathew Brady, 1860)

Double U


Three Christmas Mornings.


“It snowed. We drove home from my mum and dad’s in Bellingham, me and your dad, after dinner. Sliding all over the road.”

This is mum. She is showing me the world as it was when she and dad were newlyweds. She shares with words and pictures: a young man in khaki, the sparkle in his eyes. A pretty brunette with high hair and heels. She has one palm in his, the other on her slim belly. They are stood beneath a shiny sign that reads

Scotts Wine And Dine. Dancing And Cavorting.

Everything in the foreground of the photograph is white. They are happy. They are young. It is Christmas Day night. Nothing but dancing and cavorting.

“Beehive,” I say. I would be born in June.

The very first music I remember hearing was in the womb, winter 1963/spring ’64. The longer (album) version of Getz & Gilberto’s ‘Girl From Ipanema’, and Ronald Binge’s ‘Sailing By’: sultry bossa nova lovers’ lament and breezy woodwind waltz.

One is walking on a beach while the other is floating on the sea.

The Shipping Forecast has aired on Radio 4 since 1963. The hypnotic, never changing lists of locations, the ever changing conditions catalogued in a calm, strange language, entrances  –

‘…Lyme Regis to Lands’ End, rain later, good…’ – It reminds me of Walt Whitman.


I had been living in the attic flat on Bridge Street since June. First Christmas Day alone. I walked to Uplyme, to Pennington Viaduct in the quiet wet fields. The bridge was built 1899 and is the first of its kind to be worked, in part, in concrete. It once married Axminster to Lyme Regis…

now it is fenced at both ends, by command.

I climb the bank, gripping at undergrowth and, at the top, remove a bolt from the base of one of the bars and climb through the gap onto the bridge. The bar pendulums behind me and then stops dead, centred again.

The iron rails orange. The sleepers are wild, rutted with gorse and bramble.

Back at the attic flat I make phone calls to family and friends. I think about those who’ve already left. I raise a glass to the dead. Here’s to Raymond, to Joanna, to Billy, to Joan. Here’s to Ian, to Derek, to Oskar, to Stan.

I open cards. I cook a meal. I empty a bottle of red.

I watch The Great Escape and then I unwrap the present that I’d wrapped for myself. A 1943 Peter Pauper hardback, illustrated edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass I had coveted, bought from Sanctuary Books in Lyme Regis. It cost me £20 – which, that winter, was an extraordinary extravagance.

There is an inscription on the inside, penned in that style of hand rarely seen these days. It reads

To mine sweet & generous Hostess of Didworthy

with best regards & many thanks

for an unforgettable Springtime.

John S. 1943.

It is one of my favourite things.


A cosy flat on the north-east coast of Tyne & Wear. The second Christmas Day alone. I don’t mind; I’ve actually looked forward to it. It’s a rare and wonderful experience, a deliberate Christmas Day alone, and I recommend it, along with wild camping, to everyone. The idea of either will be abhorrent to some, but both can be good for the soul.

I live up here now. Everyone else lives in London, Lyme Regis or Seattle.

It is cold, but it doesn’t snow. I cycle to Saint Mary’s Lighthouse. The tide is low.

Across the causeway, a colony of seals appear on the rocks.

I take some pictures.

I cook dinner and drink alcohol-free lager. I watch The Great Escape and spend the rest of the day sat on the carpet, first writing on a piece of paper, then recording my guitar and my song. I write and sing. I send it over the ocean.


If Whitman had sang Alabam

and opened my eyes to see

the meadowed hare and the startled deer

in the headlights, in the lines that I read.

If Whitman had sang Alabam

and sang of her cities, her streets,

the midnight moth I’d be and she, the hummingbird,

the skyline, the shadow on her sheets.

If Whitman had sang Alabam

and sang of the fishes in her streams

he would sing her flame, her fire, her flint.

He’d sing the creatures at her feet, in her sea.

If Whitman had sang Alabam

well, i suppose there’d be no need

for me to sing these lines or even to be

at this desk with a pencil and a sheet…

2 thoughts on “Mirror (7): Three Christmas Mornings.

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