Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Patrick Hamilton, Alcoholism and Christmas

Alright, alright, so I thought I should do some bookish posing just to round things out, rather than scanning bits of books and lazily pasting them onto my blog.

Patrick Hamilton is my favourite English author. For people who threw Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying at the wall because it was just too rosy a look at 1930s London, Hangover Square is the perfect antidote.

Hamilton is the king of urban melancholia and loneliness - his understanding of people's private worlds and self-deceits is in the English tradition of George Eliot, but unlike George Eliot, there's no way of their ever reaching out to one another - his characters fall in love, but it's not so much love and more an insane projective frenzy, borne out of the loneliness of their own lives. In fact there is no love, only these hopeless fantasies, and anyway the people his characters fall for are so unworthy of any putative emotion that the whole thingis just a cruel, cruel joke.

As you may have gathered he's also extremely funny - in the way that falling in love with a prostitute who then refuses to sleep with you is funny.

Christmas has a special significance for Hamilton, lots of his books either begin or end at Christmas, and he describes the build up to it as a kind of a mania. Of course the only thing worse than being lonely, is being lonely at Christmas. Also, he was a hopeless alcoholic and I think Christmas has special significance for alcoholics, because it's the one time of the year when your drinking looks more or less like everyone else's. Christmas sums up the alcoholic worldview better than anything - this being a kind of madness where one believes in a perfect set of circumstances that can only come about under a special set of conditions, in which you will be truly happy - like the idea of the White Christmas. The more chronically alcoholic you become the more your actual circumstances are offensive to your conception of how the world should be and this intolerable condition can only be relieved through more drinking. And so on, until your liver explodes.

At Christmas time everyone tries desperately to conform to an ideal of festive cheer, it's tied to our sense of ourselves as functional human beings, but it's incredibly stressful - the only way that nationally we can block out reality and pretend that we're living in some kind of cosy, ember-lit Dickensian dreamworld is by drinking Super Tenants through a straw.

Watching children at Christmas is particularly interesting, because it's quite clear that they believe that this is how things should be, all the time. Desire continually awakened and instantly gratified. I can remember this feeling vividly.

It's no accident that the best Christmas song is by an incorrigible bedwetter.

Ho, ho, horribly sentimental. About ten seconds from the end you get to watch McGowan "waltzing" with Kirsty MacColl as snow falls - this is a scene that McGowan revisits in several videos as well as every time he plays the song live, staggering round drooling into the ear of whatever folksy wench he happens to be singing with, nor does he stint to use a snow machine.

Anyway, I don't think I'll be posting again till next week with normal service resuming on the 5th or so. See you on the other side.


Scamp said...

Merry Christmas, Gordon. Have a good break and try not to think about death too much!

PH said...

Blimey. I feel a bit depressed now. I prefer Dickens' version of 'urban melancholia.' Whilst a devout sentimentalist and, arguably, the bloke who invented Christmas, there's still a rich vein of melancholia for the less jocund to enjoy. The difference is, you always get a light at the end of the tunnel rather than a snuffed out candle. Merry Christmas.

Ainara said...

see you on the other side. I hope the grass is greener there.

and those pics were cool.