Aethelread’s traditional Christmas message. This year with added Pet Shop Boys!

Well, it’s December 25th, which means it must be time for my traditional actually-written-and-posted-on-Christmas-day post. (Can I get away with calling it traditional, do you think, given that I did it in each of the last two years?) I am on my own again this Christmas, again through choice. I didn’t actually have to fight off politely decline festive invitations this year – which suggests my family are beginning to get the message – but it was nonetheless unsubtly hinted that I had only to say the word and I would be made instantly welcome – which suggests my family are as lovely as they always were. If only I didn’t detest these “universal happiness is mandatory” occasions quite so much I would be less of a disappointment to them.

Anyway, in accordance with my emerging Christmas tradition, I have spent the day frittering and footling, and not doing very much. I had a glance over the BBC news website this morning – amazingly they’d taken a brief couple of hours off from publishing ‘Xmas misery’ stories. I was interested to note that Vincent Nichols, the catholic archbishop of Westminster, had taken advantage of this most holy of days to draw attention to the joyful Christian message of love, peace and goodwill to all mankind – except for the gays, obviously, because we’re verminous, subhuman scum whose relationships aren’t worth jack shit.

It’s really not my place to say, but I am astonished that the catholic priesthood can so reliably take what they insist is a ‘gospel of love’ and draw from it a message of such insistent hate. (In reality, of course, Archbishop Nichols is angling for a scarlet biretta and, under the present pope’s leadership, jaw-droppingly blunt homophobia is the pre-eminent means of achieving preferment – hence Nichols’ decision to stop describing same-sex relationships as ‘profound friendships’ and start describing them as existing wholly outside ‘the creative love of God’.)

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI enjoys a shirtless performance by Fratelli Pellegrini, an all-male troupe of acrobats who found fame performing athletic striptease routines on Italy's Got Talent. This, presumably, is within the 'creative love of God'.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI enjoys a shirtless performance by Fratelli Pellegrini, an all-male troupe of acrobats who found fame performing athletic striptease routines on Italy’s Got Talent. This, presumably, is within the ‘creative love of God’.

Once I’d brushed off today’s installment of religiously-motivated hatred with malice aforethought, I put a load of washing on, and did some washing up, and went for a walk. In what remains of the day I shall be doing other things, some of them not necessarily involving the letter W (although one of them will be watching TV…).

When I was walking, the local park was very busy. I had to use the pelican crossing to get across the road, which was as busy as it usually is at rush hour, and all the way round I was chased by the roar of traffic from the motorway – and all this at 2pm, a time I had chosen because, traditionally, everyone should have been sitting down to dinner. I don’t know if people are having their meals later, or if there are more people like me treating the day as nothing special, but on some very primitive level busyness in the middle of Christmas day does strike me as fundamentally wrong.

I have such clear kid memories of being taken out for a walk at Christmas lunchtime by my dad – in order to get me out from under my mum’s feet – and of everywhere being absolutely deserted. We used to drive to our walk (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean), and if we saw another car on the road it was a major event, even though our route took us along the main road to London. As a result, daytime stillness and quietness are still things that seem Christmas-y to me, and it’s strange to see that change. That said, I’d sooner chew my leg off than become one of those people who react to a changing world with sentimental nostalgia, so I’ll point out that as a kid I lived in a quiet rural area, and now I live in a major conurbation. It’s always busy round here.

Anyway, it’s supposed to be a happy day, and I don’t want to leave you with my sad maunderings on Christmases past ringing in your ears, or with the sour taste of religious bigotry embittering your tongues, so instead I’ll wrap things up with an enlivening jaunt through the wonderful world of the Pet Shop Boys, who have been keeping busy of late.

A few weeks ago, the band gave a joint performance with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Manchester. They brought Johnny Marr in to reprise some of his guitar parts, and played (unsurprisingly) orchestral versions of, for the most part, lesser-known songs.

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that a band known as champions of synthpop and electronica have a back catalogue so capacious that they can find enough songs originally recorded with an orchestra to fill a 90-minute concert? Not to mention having so many excellent songs that they can put together a compelling and coherent concert without just recycling their greatest hits.

One of the highlights of that concert was the première of an excerpt called ‘He Dreamed of Machines’ from a work-in-progress which will, when completed, celebrate the life and work of Alan Turing. It’s hard to judge an excerpt of a larger piece, of course, especially one that may still be further refined, but it seems interesting to me. If nothing else, the description of a Universal Machine seems reasonably accurate, and there are elements in the excerpt that suggest the complete work will be very moving: a musical biography of the man who not only imagined the modern world, but wrote a mathematical description of the machines that would bring it into being.

Finally, Pet Shop Boys are releasing the third single from the Elysium album on the 31st December, in the form of ‘Memory Of The Future’. It seems like an odd day to release a single – immediately before a public holiday when most shops will be shut, and at a time of year when few people are paying attention to new releases – but I guess the hope is that those factors will dissuade people who might buy other records more than it will PSB’s famously loyal fan-base, and the song will do comparatively better in the charts as a result. I’m not convinced, myself – in the current era (when singles are pre-released for free on the internet weeks before they can be bought for money, and the ‘singles chart’ consists for the most part of individual songs downloaded with little reference to whether or not they’ve been given an official standalone release), I’m not sure a band like Pet Shop Boys can still achieve a big single hit. Luckily, the albums still seem to sell ok.

The version of ‘Memory Of The Future’ is new – a remix that pushes the chorus harder, and makes the song grander and more bombastic as a whole. I don’t love the remix (it muddies the loping rhythm that I love on the album version, although I guess it is more radio friendly), but this is still one of the best – if not the best – song on the album, and it sounds great in any version.

See – that was a better way of ending a post than reported bigotry and silly nostalgia, wasn’t it? Happy Christmas!

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