Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future, (Distracted by Baubles)

Land of Lost Content [1] , Craven Arms, July 2022

Following several strongly resisted close encounters with Christmas CDs while window-
shopping with my 13-year-old daughter yesterday, trailing the charity shops of central
Morecambe, I eventually felt obliged to satisfy her desire for a 4-disc compilation of
seasonal drivel.

4 CDs! For £2 . . . Would this prove bargain or bane?

Not being a fan of Pop schmaltz – or Pop anything, for that matter – this was how, entirely
by chance, I came across George Michael’s, December Song(I Dreamed of Christmas). [2]

Charity shop land, Zone B, Regent Road, Morecambe, looking seaward, Christmas Eve 2022

Discounting hymns and anything pre-1960s, how could there possibly be sufficient material
to fill 4 CDs? The fortitude required to discover enough worthwhile Christmas songs to
equal the number of fingers on one hand, would be immense. 4 CDs of the stuff is clearly
going to be a weary exercise in barrel-scraping.

Sure enough, half of one CD thankfully reverts to the antediluvian, while much to my
daughter’s contempt (“there’s no beat”), 40s and 50s ‘classics’ offer brief windows of
respite. Even Bing Crosby’s White Christmas [3] seems like an oasis of quality.

Oasis in the night – Heysham Road decorations, January 2023

Yet, hidden away on CD 2, with smoochy-bland choral intro and coda (seasonal smarm of
the most discouraging kind) [4], I was slightly distracted by one track . . . and then intrigued.

I have to explain here that my designated workspace shares a thin wall with my daughter’s
bedroom and since her CD player bore the brunt of her fury and gave up the ghost (I did
warn her – hourly – about the effect of listening to popular music radio), I’ve wired one of
my speakers into her room. The other I can unplug while her extensive list of trash plays.
After four months, I can usually exclude this souped-up, generic earwash from my
consciousness, despite the fact that my daughter likes to sit and – so she claims – “revise” in
the doorway between our rooms, smiling now and then as I encounter yet another
contemporary horror or unearned expletive mouthed by some middle-class exploiter of
working-class street culture.

Christmas Quatermass! Hare & Hounds, Bowland Bridge, 8th December 2022

Anyway, back to the musical Christmas invasion and that track hiding on CD 2: Mildly
suggesting that “the middle bit of this song sounds interesting”, my daughter immediately
fired back with: “You’re only saying that cos its George Michael.”
“Is it?” I replied with surprise, genuinely not having twigged this . . . nor had I perused the
song title listings over and over and over and over as she had. Another inevitable track
lurking on her 4CD charity-shop selection is Wham’s Last Christmas [5] – a long-running family
joke which recently gained a grudging nostalgic respect:

“synthetic keyboards, synthetic everything: sleigh bells, drum machine, deliberately
flat glockenspiel (?) [Wham’s Last Christmas] crystallises the absurdities (and yet also
the intensities??) of what may have been the last distinctive UK era. Now, it appears
to have affectionately become an unspeakable kitsch classic, its imperfections
drowned by a wave of memories – on whose confused sea it is washed and buoyed
up . . .” [6]

Acquiring both esteem and melancholy for George while investigating Last Christmas, hasn’t
blinded me to the fact that the now-classic song is clearly a seasonal cash-in. Christmas is
not fundamental to it. It could just as easily have been titled Last Easter, or Last Birthday, or
even Last Supper! Simply cut the sleigh bells and so on . . . but who turns their back on a
potential Christmas hit – especially those catchy enough to stand a chance of recurring with
nagging annual persistence? A New Year’s resolution against seasonal cash-ins? Not likely!
No successful, opportunistic band, performer or artiste, is ever going to risk such a vow.
Naturally, I am grateful for all the rubbish over the years which bafflingly climbed to Number
1 and didn’t recur . . . yet there is no end in sight for the pain caused by bad or pointless

Twemlow Parade universe, Jan 2023

While the subtlety may lie between the lines [7] and much of the poignancy is in the music
itself (as should be expected) December Song is very different. Being only a year older than
poor George, and also a Londoner exiled to the Home Counties, my childhood experiences
of eras must, to some extent, overlap with his. Unless the weather was frosty, the idea of
escaping school and watching TV all day was idyllic then – in a shared-culture way almost
impossible now.

I could believe in peace on Earth
And I could watch TV all day
So I dreamed of Christmas [8]

I’m assuming that George (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou) had a considerably more
religious upbringing than I, since despite a methodist headmaster and all the usual enforced
hymns, nativities and other muddled myths, Christmas religiosity merely affected me as an
atmosphere. [9] Only retrospectively and as a psychological observer do such characters as the
Virgin Mary, spark any interest. I feel the essence but not the doctrine, dogma or particulars.

Holmrook, West Cumbria, December 2021 – Snowman proffering small nuclear device?

At first, lines such as snow (or crack cocaine [10] ?!) being described as “White sugar from
Jesus” seemed utterly absurd. Out of the semi-schmaltzy context do they illuminate more?

But maybe I should draw back into space and reverse from my enthusiasm [11] here – which, as
all too often, has probably carried me away. To give the mainstream a meaning it does not
possess and cannot in any case transmit, is perhaps an indulgence or a whim. Or am I being
too pessimistic? Despite all evidence to the contrary, do lyrics and melodies positively affect
listeners at some subconscious level? If George were still around, I wonder what he would
make of Distracted by Baubles (the mangled ‘poem’ which follows below), and whether, put
to music and sung by him, it could penetrate the veneer of popular culture, wherein even
the simplest meanings often fail to escape their rigid, unlistening frames.

Advent, December 2nd 2023


Distracted by Baubles

Distant rush of traffic or tidal flow . . . all we can never define . . .
life’s general insufficiency – our desires outreaching –
time and chronology bypassed.
Advent is all: a promise through lives that can never open
distracted by baubles
just about sums us up
humanity dumbed as Earth systems collapse.

How many have been fighting – partisans in obscurity –
against the techno-consumerist void
as it tracks a stupid tinsel road to destruction
Intelligence without wisdom is not intelligence at all!
The breakdown which follows Boxing Day was normal
friends languishing in family hibernation for the New Year non-event.
An outdoor bench in winter sun ameliorates our abyss.

Retrospect, red, the bay flashes through the gaps between houses,
living outside the inadvertence (he’s being charitable) of general society
at best, everything can become lighter, unconfined
– skip the chiming clang of tubular bells, the porch of sorrow reflects,
doorbell best ignored, cranking up for Christmas,
white sugar from Jesus – snow and twinkling stars in the Holy Land
bottled essence of melancholy tortured into a frost-shriven landscape . . .

Sun on whiteness blazes away all myths, giving escape
yet does the damage to most, obscure all ascending seclusion?
The perfected love can never be here.
But taking your winter-wrapped head in my hands
the warmth in your eyes revives my youth
frost green with trees, ancient stones . . .
Your hope eclipses even this beautiful place



© Lawrence Freiesleben,
Heysham/Morecambe, December 2023
[email protected]


NOTES All notes accessed between in early December 2023

1 When I last visited in July 2023, the museum
had closed down and up to date information is hard to verify.


3 See

4 Presumably the sampling from Frank Sinatra’s recording The Christmas Waltz referenced in note viii/8 below.




8 From:
“December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas) is a Christmas single released by George Michael on December 14, 2009. The track was originally announced during one of the last dates on Michael’s 25 Live tour. It was available for free on George Michael’s official website on December 25–26, 2008.
The track was written by George Michael and longtime writing partner David Austin.
During the Gerry Ryan show, David Austin confirmed that the song had originally been written with the Spice Girls in mind. After a few failed deadlines, the song was going to be given to Michael Bublé but George Michael decided to keep it for himself.
The song features a sample from the Frank Sinatra recording The Christmas Waltz..George Michael performed the song live on December 13 for the final of the 2009 series of The X Factor. The day after the performance, physical copies of the song were sold out in one day, forcing George Michael’s record label to print new copies. Many fans have commented on forums of their annoyance at not being able to buy a physical copy of the single, possibly also giving the song a lower chart position than its true potential. The song debuted at number fourteen on the UK Singles Chart.”

9 Contrastingly, the ideas and attitudes behind all religions have always deeply interested me.

10 From Crack cocaine is a highly addictive drug, and numerous crack street names, including “nuggets” and “white sugar”, may be used to reference the drug.

11 An impulsive burst of madness or sentimentality?






By Lawrence Freiesleben

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