Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas with the Savages

This is a peppermint candy-cane of a book.
You expect it to be sickly sweet
but it turns out to be minty fresh
and full of flavours of Christmas past.

The sprawling nursery of the Savage famiy
is observed from the inside by a cousin
who arrives unexpectedly for Christmas
from the privileged and silent world
of the only child.

Mary Clive writes an unsentimental record
of the capricious nature of children.
The chapters are full of hectic energy, noise,
small cruelties and fragmentary memories
and the descriptions are so truthful that it is clear
that she retained a vivid memory of her childhood
even at the end of her long and fascinating life.

I have decided to read this every Christmas
because it is joyous and funny
and seasonal sentimentality is banished
from the moment you read the first paragraph.


Post Script
The chapter describing the play reminded me
of my own early directing career...

we had three bath towels...

blue towel...
my sister B who was Mary

yellow towel...
my sister D who was the Angel

brown towel...
that would be me, Joseph,
because I was the tallest.

Truly, the painful memories
of being the oldest child
never go away.


  1. Oh dear. I have (for the first time ever in anger) played the 'oldest sibling has responsibilities' card today. I shall now retire to bed feeling guilt at the damage I have done to my daughter's psyche.

  2. How have I missed that book? Looks like a great sharpener.
    Oldest of three here too! My sister got the monkey - if I had a scanner I'd show you. Great posts. Could it start a series 'Getting the Monkey'?

  3. Oldest of seven here ! So I sympathise..

    and love the look of that book which I shall now order!

  4. Thank you, dear Alice! I shall order this immediately. As for apples - you do not need to feel old until your grandchildren cut up fruit for you and present it in a small dish. At least they haven't put my bib on - yet!!
    Bobby x

  5. My embryonic acting career crashed at age 5. I lost my Nativity role as "An Angel" because during a rehearsal I waved at the mailman who was walking by the classroom window.
    My mother, who had already cut up my dad's white shirt for the angel costume, was furious with me.
    Memory is an amazing glimpse down the rabbit-hole...all these decades later I can see that mailman as clear as day!

  6. My raven haired daughter (aged 6):
    "Harumph! They NEVER choose dark haired girls to be angels.....'spect I'll be a tree again..........)
    Like the look of that book.

  7. I've been reading a blog recently by the writer Paul Magrs which has introduced the idea of rereading things each Christmas to me. What a lovely idea! I never go back - too much to read, too little time... maybe it's a sign that both of you are recommending it.

    Mind you, since I am so fickle that I am bored of my own advent calendar, maybe I just don't have what it takes.

  8. Sounds like a wonderful book. Must track it down. I was an only child but acted out the same play with bath towels with the girls down the street! K x

  9. This sounds like a delightful book. You know I sympathise with being the oldest sibling!

  10. Oh Alice, this did make me laugh, I am the eldest too and have similar memories. Yesterday my children spent the day rehearsing and putting on their own play. Dylan (the eldest) was a cowboy and did a great deal of shooting and bear chasing, his little sister did cooked wooden bananas and aubergines over a paper fire and the baby Jesus went to sleep in a teepee. I was given a small walk on part as.....the bear of course.

  11. I'm in an odd position - I'm chronologically the 3rd of 4, but since my elder sister and brother are 8 and 9 years older than me, I sometimes felt like the eldest. It's left me terminally confused as to my proper place!


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