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text 2018-12-31 22:59
24 Festive Tasks: Holiday Book Joker
Murder for Christmas: Tales of Seasonal Malice - David Birney,John Collier,Dorothy L. Sayers,John Standing,Margery Allingham,Stanley Ellin,Robert Culp,Marjorie Bowen,Paul Eddington,Agatha Christie,Ngaio Marsh, Arthur Conan Doyle
An English Christmas - John Julius Norwich,Various Authors

To round out the game, I'm going to use my two favorite anthologies among all the Christmas books I've listened to this month for the holiday book joker, and I'll use them for the Epiphany house blessing task (task 2), which feels appropriate for this day, and for Hogswatch task 2, as I (perhaps luckily) never had any encounters with department store Santas at all.

 

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text 2018-12-28 18:27
24 Festive Tasks: Door 23 - Hogswatch, Task 3 (Pumuckl's Footprints, or, "Do you believe in Santa Claus?")

No "still believe" about it for me even by age 5, and by age 7 I was well over them all; Santa, Saint Nick, the Easter Bunny and the rest of the lot.  I think the last year when I still genuinely believed, or very much wanted to believe, in Santa Claus and in presents being brought by him and by "the Christ-child" (as childhood lore has it in Germany) was at age 4.  At some point after that, I'm fairly even before Christmas at age 5, I had wised up to the fact that the giver of my Christmas presents was really my mom -- and ditto the Easter Bunny (whose existence had really never made sense to me to begin with ... a bunny laying eggs?!).  So when my mom sat me down one day after I'd started elementary school for a "you're a big girl now, so I'm going to have to tell you something because I think you'll now be able to understand this" talk she had obviously prepared very carefully, I just looked at her and blurted out, equally to her puzzlement and relief: "Oh, I haven't believed in that for a long time anyway .."

 

All of which doesn't mean in the least, however, that I wasn't easily fooled as a kid, especially if I really wanted to believe in something -- and particularly so, by my two elder cousins (the daughters of my mom's elder sister, with whom we spent a lot of vacation and other time when I was little). 

 

Some of the things they came up with, I just went along with and pretended, simply because I'd have found it much more annoying to have to discuss the whole thing: E.g., while I didn't like the stuff that Germans call Quark (any attempt at translation, e.g., as "curd" or "cottage cheese", is doomed to utter failure -- it's manifestly NOT the same thing), I very much liked cherry compote and preserve, so for a while they tried to get me to eat Quark and cherry compote, calling it "cherry ice cream" and telling me that unfortunately the freezer had failed to work properly ... all of which I wasn't fooled by for a second, but hey, anything for extra stuff with cherries in it (even Quark) -- and if pretending to go along with their story meant I didn't have to discuss that no, I still really didn't like Quark as such, but I did very much like it with compoted or preserved cherries in it, thank you very much, then that was just fine by me.

 

BUT the one thing they produced and which downright drove me to distraction were Pumuckl's footprints!  Pumuckl is the hero of a series of German children's books; a little kobold / gnome who one day takes residence in a master carpenter's shop, where he instantly proceeds to cause all sorts of havoc.  I used to love those books, as well as the TV series based on them (with Pumuckl's voice done by Hans Clarin), so imagine my surprise when, one day while we were vacationing on the North Sea coast, my cousins suddenly pointed out to me that Pumuckl had to have been around, because look, there were his footprints!  And they were all correct, too, with a big toe print and only three smaller toe prints (since Pumuckl only had four toes -- and he was always walking barefoot).  And of course, shortly thereafter small things started to happen -- my bath towel or my little scoop or something else would disappear and reappear somewhere else entirely; just the sort of tricks and practical jokes that Pumuckl was known to play.  Since as a rule he was invisible, and since I very much wanted him to exist (even though deep down I knew he didn't), for a while I was seriously thrown, all the more since I couldn't figure out how my cousins, or anybody in league with them for that matter, had produced the magical footprints.  So this went on for quite a while, with me skeptical but very much wanting to believe, and my cousins producing more and more evidence of Pumuckl's existence ... until I finally found out how they'd created his "footprints" (namely, by pressing the undersides of their fists into the sand for the main foot impression and then using their fingers for the toe imprints), at which time of course the game was up.  I still think of this whenever I'm on the beach, though -- and whenever I see one of the Pumuckl books somewhere, or come across a rerun of the TV series.

 


(On the beach in Spain, with my elder cousins (left and center),
a year or two before the appearance of "Pumuckl's footprints")

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text 2018-12-23 22:49
24 Festive Tasks: Door 23 - Hogswatch, Task 1 (Glingleglingleglingle)


The Cologne "Heinzelmännchen" fountain: detail

 

A Cologne legend dating all the way back to the Middle Ages has it that one upon a time, there was a race of busy little household gnomes called Heinzelmännchen who would come at night and secretly do all your work:  If there ever has been a supernatural being I've fervently wished into existence, it would be them ... or, well, a god or a fairy doing the same thing.  Nothing to do with laziness, as suggested in the below poem, but except for cooking (which I enjoy doing for others, and occasionally also just for myself), I loathe housework and always have -- in fact, when I encountered a variation of this particular "Festive Tasks" question as a topic for a school essay many decades ago ("What type of robot would you like to invent?"), even then my response was almost exactly the same.  I might even do my best to curb my curiosity and not spy on the li'l guys, which the Cologne legend has it was what ultimately drove them away ...

 

Here is, courtesy of Wilipedia, the first stanza of the Heinzelmännchen poem that every kindergartener in the Rhineland knows by heart -- or used to, anyway -- and its English translation:

 

Wie war zu Cölln es doch vordem
Mit Heinzelmännchen so bequem!
Denn war man faul, ... man legte sich
Hin auf die Bank und pflegte sich.
Da kamen bei Nacht, eh' man's gedacht,
Die Männlein und schwärmten
Und klappten und lärmten
Und rupften
Und zupften
Und hüpften und trabten
Und putzten und schabten -
Und eh' ein Faulpelz noch erwacht,
war all sein Tagwerk ... bereits gemacht!...
Once upon a time in Cologne,
how comfortable it was with the Heinzelmen!
For if you were lazy, ... you just lay down
on your bench and took care of yourself.
Then at night, before one knew it, came
the little men and swarmed
and clattered and rattled
and plucked
and picked
and jumped and trotted
and cleaned and scoured -
and even before a lazy bum awoke,
all his daily work was ... already done! ...

 

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review 2018-12-22 00:07
24 Festive Tasks Door 23 book - "Hogfather -Discworld #20" by Terry Pratchett - a visit to the place where the descending angel meets the rising ape.
Hogfather: Discworld, Book 20 - Random House Audiobooks,Terry Pratchett,Nigel Planer

I read "Hogfather" twenty years ago. This is the first time I've re-read it since. The experience has shown me once again that no man can step into the same river, or in this case, book, twice.  I'm not entirely the same person. These are not entirely the same times. So this is not the same book.

 

This is especially true of Terry Pratchett books, which are filled with so many spectacular verbal pyrotechnic displays that a first reading is spent going "Ooooh!" and "Aaaah!" and watching the pretty colours bouncing off your retinas.

 

Then there's the plot. It's always woven out of many threads and it makes a pattern that can only be seen from a metaphorical helicopter right at the end, which means it feels as though the plot is sneaking up on you so you end up giving it a lot of attention in case it does something while you're not looking.

 

This time around, I knew the plot and saw it for what it is, the shiny wrapping paper around the real heart of Pratchett's story.  I still paused to go "Ooooh!" and "Aaah!" at the pyrotechnics but this time I was also looking for the pattern that they made.

 

What I saw was a book driven by two strong emotions: rage and hope.

 

Rage at an unjust world where poverty and suffering are seen as inevitable rather than as the consequence of the rights and privileges appropriated by those will never suffer poverty.

 

Hope that the human spirit can attack this injustice simply by believing profoundly in concepts like justice, mercy and duty. 

 

I also saw a declaration of intent, almost a manifesto, about the role of fantasy, like Discworld, in making that change happen.

 

Let me give you some examples.

 

First a  few samples of the pyrotechnics.

 

The book announces itself has having a philosophical intent (disarmingly wrapped in a self-deprecating humour) by opening with:

"Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder how the snowplough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spellings of words. Yet there is the constant desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, ravelling nets of space-time on which a metaphorical finger may be put to indicate that here, here, is the point where it all began..."

Wonderful stuff, not least because it is at the beginning and because it uses the word ravelling in a sentence.

 

Then there is the dry wit of statements like:

"The only sticky bit had been the embarrassment when her employer had found out she was a duchess because, in Mrs Gaiter's book, which was a rather short book with big handwriting, the upper crust wasn't supposed to work."

Or Archchancellor Ridcully of the Unseen University declaring:

"Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time."

Or Susan reflecting that:

"Education had been easy.
Learning things had been harder.
Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on."

Or witty observations on the gap between story and reality like:

"It was a strange but demonstrable fact that the sacks of toys carried by the Hogfather, no matter what they really contained, always appeared to have sticking out of the top a teddy bear, a toy soldier in the kind of colourful uniform that would stand out in a disco, a drum and a red-and-white candy cane. The actual contents always turned out to be a bit garish and costing $5.99."

But, while these sparkle, they are not where the passion is. 

 

We get the first hints of rage, thinly disguised as sarcastic wit, when Pratchett describes, that bastion of privilege, the Assassins' Guild, which reminded me very much of Eton. It starts with Lord Downey expressing pride in the Guild he leads because it:

"practised the ultimate in democracy. You didn't need intelligence, social position, beauty or charm to hire it. You just needed money, which unlike the other stuff, was available to everyone. Except the poor, of course but there was no helping some people".

It moves on to display the reflexive, ingrained. self-serving entitlement of the rich and powerful when Downey reflects that:

"...the Guild took young boys and gave them a splendid education and incidentally taught them how to kill, cleanly and dispassionately, for money and for the good of society, or at least that part of society that had money, and what other kind of society was there?"

The two prime movers of this story are DEATH and his granddaughter, Susan.

 

DEATH is an anthropomorphic projection, created and sustained by human belief who nevertheless is hungry for change and in love with the possibilities that life offers. DEATH is an entity that is locked into a skeletal form and constantly awake who challenges his limitation by choosing to have two silver handled hairbrushes he can't use next to the bed he doesn't need to sleep in.

 

Susan is someone who longs to be normal but knows that she isn't. She experiences a constant pull to get involved and prevent chaos from rolling over everyone.

 

DEATH's rage against vast poverty, especially in the presence of wealth is shown in this discussion with Albert:

BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU'VE GOT. IS THAT THE IDEA?
"That's about the size of it, master. A good God line that. Don't give 'em too much and tell 'em to be happy with it. Jam tomorrow, see."
THIS IS WRONG. Death hesitated. I MEAN IT'S RIGHTTO BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU'VE GOT BUT YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT HAVING. THERE'S NO POINT IN BEING HAPPY ABOUT HAVING NOTHING

Then.

IT IS... UNFAIR
"That's life, master."
WELL, I'M NOT
"I meant, that's how things are meant to go, master," said Albert.
NO. YOU MEAN THIS IS HOW IT GOES.

Having roused DEATH's rage at injustice, Pratchett then gives us the key exchange between DEATH and Susan that explains the role of fantasy in helping humans reach that point where "the falling angel meets the rising ape".

 

I can't add anything to this but applause so I'll leave you with the text:

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4HE5riYMpY&w=560&h=315]

"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING HOW TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"

MY POINT EXACTLY.

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review 2018-12-20 00:04
24 Festive Tasks: Door 23 - Hogswatch, Book
Hogfather (Discworld, #20) - Terry Pratchett
Hogfather: Discworld, Book 20 - Nigel Planer,Terry Pratchett

... and another yearly Christmas tradition right here, the annual Hogfather reread.  Or relisten (thank Heaven for Nigel Planer's narration).

 

Much has already been shared (and the whole book is one huge piece of quotable writing, of course), but anyway, this is one of my favorite bits not mentioned by anybody else yet:

     "In the glittering, clattering, chattering atmosphere a head waiter was having a difficult time.  There were a lot of people in, and the staff should have been fully stretched, putting bicarbonate of soda in the white wine to make very expensive bubbles and cutting the vegetables very small to make them cost more.

     Instead they were standing in a dejected group in the kitchen.

     Where did it all go?' screamed the manager. Someone's been through the cellar, too!'

     'William said he felt a cold wind,' said the waiter.  He'd been backed up against a hot plate, and now knew why it was called a hot plate in a way he hadn't fully comprehended before.

     'I'll give him a cold wind!  Haven't we got anything?'

     'There's odds and ends ... '

     'You don't  mean odds and ends, you mean des curieux et des bouts', corrected the manager.

     'Yeah, right, yeah.  And, er, and, er ...'

     'There's nothing else?'

     'Er ... old boots.  Muddy old boots.'

     'Old -- ?'

     'Boots.  Lots of 'em,' said the waiter.  He felt he was beginning to singe.

     'How come we've got ... vintage footwear?'

     'Dunno.  They just turned up, sir.  The oven's full of old boots.  So's the pantry.'

     'There's a hundred poeple booked in!  All the shops'll be shut!  Where's Chef?'

     'William's trying to get him to come out of the privy, sir.  He's locked himself in and is having one of his Moments.'

     'Something's cooking.  What's that I can smell?'

     'Me, sir.'

     'Old boots ...' muttered the manager.  'Old boots ... old boots ... Leather, are they?  Not clogs or rubber or anything?'

     'Looks like ... just boots.  And lots of mud, sir.'

     The manager took off his jacket.  'All right.  Got any cream , have we?  Onions?  Garlic?  Butter?  Some old beef bones?  A bit of pastry?'

     ' Er, yes ...'

     The manager rubbed his hands together.  'Right,' he said, taking an apron off a hook.  'You there, get some water boiling!  Lots of water!  And find a really large hammer!  And you, chop some onions!  The rest of you, start sorting out the boots.  I want the tongues out and the soles off.  We'll do them ... let's see ... Mousse de la Boue dans un Panier de la Pâte de Chaussures ...'

     'Where're we going to get that from, sir?'

     'Mud mousse in a basket of shoe pastry.  Get the idea?  It's not our fault if even Quirmians don't understand restaurant Quirmian.  It's not like lying, after all.'

     'Well, it's a bit like --' the waiter began.  He'd been cursed with honesty at an early stage.

     'Then there's Brodequin rôti Façon Ombres ...'

     The manager sighed at the head waiter's panicky expression.  'Soldier's boot done in the Shades fashion,' he translated.

     'Er ... Shades fashion?'

     'In mud.  But if we cook the tongues separately we can put on Languette braisée, too.'

     'There's some ladies' shoes, sir,' said an under-chef.

     'Right.  Add to the menu ... Let's see now ... Sole d'une Bonne Femme ... and ... yes ... Servis dans un Coulis de Terre en l'Eau.  That's mud, to you.'

     'What about the laces, sir?' said another under-chef.

     'Good thinking.  Dig out the reicpe for Spaghetti Carbonara.'"

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