Sunday, 1 December 2013

Comfort and Joy

Oh Little Star Of Capitalismo : Makeshift Studios 2013

We travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh, safe in the knowledge that executive bankers earning over £1 million ( $1.6 million, €1.2 million ) have increased their salary by 30 per cent in the last 12 months.

As we arrive, we also notice that the Scottish capital is preparing for Christmas. Crowds of Christmas shoppers on the streets seem determined to hit me with their bags as we push our way through toward Leith Walk, the coffee shops are packed and a big red Santa Claus - complete with beard, red 'Coca-Cola' coloured suit and black boots - rings a big clanging bell to attract consumers to a department store.

We also notice the street lights in the shape of snowflakes and stars that dangle above our heads, a German market with carnival big wheel and fairground rides, a woman with a pop-up kiosk by the steps of Waverley rail station hands out Watchtower leaflets and other Christian literature ( I don't think Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate Christmas, do they?)

Somewhere in the distance we hear the gentle sounds of Christmas carols to brass, as we pass churches complete with nativity scenes in holy green, saintly blue and angelic gold.

We happen to be in Edinburgh for the hit show The Lion King, the tickets cost £63 ($103.7, €75.8) each, we queue, buy the souvineers, buy small tubs of ice cream at a jaw dropping £4 ($6.5, €4.8) a throw, the same price as the obligatory programme. The Playhouse theatre is filled with the echo of children calling to their parents for expensive merchandise and the tills, like tills alll over the Scottish capital are tinkling the festive season - Ker - ching.

By the time we leave the Playhouse theatre, it is dark and Edinburgh has a new look.

We walk back toward the city centre bathed in the beauty of the magnificent architecture around St James Centre, the wonderful pedestrian bridge across Leith Street (some might disagree) and all the beauty and colours of sparking Christmas lights and the winter city at night.

People, of course, are still shopping, maxing out credit cards and spending cash if that will hold back the demons who live in the shadows of all this glitter, consumer ritual and Christianity. The ATM's are in meltdown and have turned their back on the world as they teeter on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Mine comes ( my nervous breakdown) when I can't find my way back to the St James Centre mall from the huge John Lewis store.

Back on Princes Street I notice the silhouettes in the doorways. As I walk I count four spectres huddled against the creeping cold, blankets around them and of the four, three have dogs with them.

They all hold ironic, little, polystyrene Starbucks cups in their frozen hands. I hunker beside the first shadow, a 29 year-old man in a grey hoodie, and gently ask him about his plight. He looks at me with empty eyes and laughs ironically. He had, he told me, been living with his girlfriend in Dalkeith. He was made redundant from his job and try as he might could not face a replacement, though, he did say, he managed to find a temporary post at one point for a few weeks. Unable to find a regular income, the relationship became strained and because he had given up his flat to go and live in his new girlfriend's accommodation, he was forced to leave.

With hindsight, he agrees, it might have been foolish to give up his own flat, but he did add that for a year or so and certainly while he was working, things were going okay. Once they had split up, he had no family and no one to help him, so found himself on the street.

The second homeless man I spoke with, a few years younger than the first, told me a different, though similar story. He admitted to being a habitual heavy drinker and his relationship fell apart around his problems with alcohol. His wife left him and he was so devastated he gave up his work and then found himself unable to pay for his flat and was thrown onto the street.

'You know the ironic thing is' he started as I made to move off ' I don't even drink anymore, I can't afford it.'

As I walked back up Princes Street amid the colour and crowds of impending Christmas I could hear people singing ' Oh tidings of comfort and joy' carried from a department store to the right of me.

Edinburgh, beautiful and pregnant with Christmas which, in these modern times, is more about capital than Christianity. A commercial bonanza that increasingly dances around cash and an illusory and short-lived hedonism.

Later speaking with friends about the meaning of Christmas one remarked that if Jesus were alive today he would be too poor to take part in his own festival.

'Remember', he added 'He was born homeless, no room at the Inn.'

It struck a chord... 

No comments:

Post a Comment