Guernsey Press

Horace Camp: The ghost of Christmas Past

In the wake of Christmas Present, Horace Camp hankers for the days of Christmas Past and dreads Christmas Future...

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I’m QUITE an authority on Christmas, having an enormous number of them under my belt. Christmas means different things at different times of life and mostly revolves around children. At first you are the child, then it is your children, and then your grandchildren. But one constant with Christmas is about the past. Christmas is tradition, joy and sadness all wrapped up in one parcel and sprinkled with love. Every year, as we approach its final days, this is our opportunity to get together and draw a line under, in this case, 2023. With our family around us, including many ghosts, as we grow older the number of ghosts and empty places increase, which is both sad and joyful, truly bittersweet. We eat, we exchange presents, we eat, we play games, we eat and we chat. The youngsters make new memories and the oldsters pass on their memories in the hope something will stick in the minds of the young. How I regret not taking more notice of my elders’ boring tales or asking them more questions about their childhoods and their parents’ and parents’ lives. But we all wait too long and they are gone when we want to know more about where we came from. My parents lived through exceptional times, the First World War, the Great Depression of the '30s and the Second World War. Interesting times, eh? But not interesting enough for me to want to know much about it. But some of the reminiscences stuck and I’m grateful for those opportunities of Christmas Past when my elders were reminiscing while I was more interested in the gifts from my cracker than listening. In true boring grandad style I tried to interest my grandson in tales of the past. I told him of people long gone and living in times he could hardly imagine. Knowledge that seemed as natural to me as breathing was a complete mystery to him. He thought I had made up the word mangold, and found my explanation that it was similar in some ways to fodder beet, something else he had never heard of. Working horses, houses with electricity in only a few rooms or even no electricity at all. Wirelesses with valves that had to warm up. People taking their wireless batteries to a radio shop to be charged. Few people with phones, the TV or cars. No central heating, no fitted carpets, and of course the ubiquitous outside toilet. Children wandered freely and of course walked to and from school by themselves. Even came home for lunch. And of course searched bunkers for anything militaria, often finding stuff much too dangerous for little hands. The doctor would visit you at home if you were sick, but you had to be really sick for that. All other sickness was cured by bed and Lucozade. Don’t think that children could get away with much. The Guernsey network was as fast as the internet. Get up to no good and your mum would know before you got home and the naughty step was still years in the future. Children entered the workforce in their early teens and most work was of the manual variety. These children lived at home paying ‘board’ and contributing to household income. They left home in their late teens, early twenties when they got married and started their own families. This was Guernsey. In my lifetime. A very different place and a very different community to today. It wasn’t perfect, but it was my home.

I have been accused on social media of living in a bubble inside a bubble and if that is correct then my bubble is that old Guernsey. The Guernsey of Christmas Past. The past is said to be a foreign country but to me the present is that foreign country and the past my homeland. Christmas is about the past but here we are now approaching the new year. The future beckons and is a plain piece of paper waiting to be created. We are in the limbo period of the present. And the present is frankly poo emoji. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse are out and the rider of the red horse is laughing at us all. We, the human race, with our free destiny, can make anything happen in 2024. Here on our little island home we can’t solve the big problems of the world, but we can change our island home for the better by working together to return us to a position we once held as the Happiest Place on Earth. This shouldn’t be confused with the failed political policy introduced in 2016 to make us the happiest and healthiest place in the world. Such aims are not within the powers of politicians. Only we, the people, can make such a thing happen. Politics divides people and our modern politics are the most divisive I have seen in my lifetime. We are Sarnians, a single people living on a small rock in a small channel. We have simple wants and needs. We would very much like to live the lives of my generation but with the internet. Instead we find ourselves after years of growth with lots more ‘rights’, worse off and more divided as a community since an invading force was half of it. Let’s make a collective New Year’s resolution to sort this place out. First we must stop asking for things that are nice to have just because every other Western democracy has it. Ombudsmen, active travel units, and all bureaucratic Uncle Tom Cobleys and all that not only don’t butter our parsnips but expect us to provide their parsnips as well. We are not a rich economy. Our GDP is as phooey as Ireland’s which is distorted by their corporate tax regime just as is ours. We have a high GDP per capita yet we are generally poor. Families can’t live on a single income anymore. In fact families are no longer affordable on two salaries. Seventy years of growth has made us poorer than our parents when it comes to quality of life. Dear politicians, our community doesn’t have enough money to live comfortably on. That means you can’t take more, in fact it would be a great help if you took less. Here’s what you need to do. Make a decision to only spend money when it makes Sarnians better off financially. If there’s a choice between Mrs Le Page having £1 a week more in her purse, or planting a green-washing tree in Fife, then please favour Mrs Le Page. I’m hopeful that 2024 could be the year we start looking after ourselves and achieve it by all working together for our own common good. If we don’t look after ourselves no one else will. Happy New Year, everyone.