Sep 9, 2009

The mirror

Taking a good look at oneself has always been encouraged by the wise, and that may include taking a good look at one's cultural template, the default inculcated since childhood that we often unconsciously revert to (Well, of course only white people are real people, you just can't say so out loud.) That won't work, buddy, for the reason provided by that trouble maker Yeshua bin Youssef (aka Jesus of Nazareth). No man can serve two masters, and no house divided against itself can stand. Integrate your personality into one consistent whole and "your whole body will be full of light," said the above Yeshua, but remain internally divided and conflicted and "your whole body will be full of darkness." Your secret whispering voices will always give themselves away in a thousand ways.

("Slitty eyed Chinese," said that oik the duke of Edinburgh, displaying his racist instincts in full play. No Chinese official has ever referred to "Round eyed westerners," and so in the politeness and general demeanour stakes we stand at UK zero, Chinese ten. That's quite apart from financial considerations (the Brits worship money as Hilaire Belloc pointed out) where the figures are literally too awesome to contemplate.)

To illustrate let me present the best description I have ever come across of part of that British template, the British Upper Class bit. (Without prejudice or ill will to any possible ex-members of the Brit Upper Classes.) It happens to be about Princess Diana, but works as a default template. (For the IT-challenged, or, like me suffering technical problems, I present it in full.)

Have yourself a lonely little Christmas

'The prospect of my first Christmas as a free agent - no one's daughter, mother or wife - is incredibly exciting, and not a little overdue'

Julie Burchill Guardian Unlimited Saturday December 23, 2000

A few weeks ago, I read a feature in the Daily Mail by Paul Burrell, the former butler to the late Princess of Wales - "My rock," she called him. Burrell has been as loyal and devoted a friend to the Princess since her death as he was during her life, and I'm sure what he wrote - "What would the Royals buy for Christmas?" - was intended to be a soft-focus, sepia-tinted glimpse of a much-missed fascinator at a nostalgic time of year.

I must say, though, that, in the picture it painted of the deluxe isolation of the Windsors, and especially of the vulnerable and fragile girl who became their brood mare par excellence, I found this romp through the royal wish-list easily as chilling as any treacherous Highgrove phone conversation transcript or bland Buck Pal message of sympathy. With the media currently wetting itself over Prince William, it wouldn't hurt for a minute to remember his mother, without whom he wouldn't have ended up looking like that. Not with Camilla Parker Bowles as a mum.

Each Christmas, Burrell would help the princess locate, wrap and despatch more than 200 presents. Featuring heavily among these would be aromatherapy kits - which, for me, have come to symbolise the fragrant solitude of the modern civil sex war, as bored housewives and career girls too good for the miserable men on offer wallow in candle-lit limbo in aromatherapy baths called such things as Sensuality and Afterglow while their putative suitors download barnyard porn in their locked studies. Then there would come the Smythson address books, in hand-bound goatskin, £195, in which the princess and her circle might carefully write the personal details of all those close friends whose husbands and wives they would one day sleep with, if they hadn't already.

I find it particularly poignant that she was apparently a collector of Halcyon Days enamel boxes; all that clutter, to soften that harsh, blaring life - £85 for a poxing empty tin box! You can see why the firm has got four royal warrants, for its products' extortionate hollowness echoes the Windsor way. To obscure her loneliness even further, here comes her army of Herond hand-painted china animals, from £55 for a tiny "frog prince" to £4,000 for a limited-edition giraffe. "Each year, I would ensure that the latest edition was carefully wrapped and placed inside the princess's stocking, which I had filled on Wills' and Harry's behalf," reports Burrell, and what a wealth of estrangement and loss there is in this good servant's innocent testimony.

Diana would, according to Burrell, turn to Turnbull & Asser for bespoke shirts, ties and dressing gowns for her faithless husband and stolen sons - I mention this only because the appropriateness of the name of this hawker of haberdashery to the ruling classes is so delightful. (Almost as gorgeous as my husband's divorce lawyers, Hart & Loveless!) From J Floris would come scented candles, fragrances and vaporising oils - the princess was particularly fond of Seasonal Spice at this time of year, doubtless to drown out the pong of paranoia, the stink of betrayal and the whiff of cordite coming off Balmoral.

Price's candles - a dozen for £6.90 - would provide the lighting at every royal dining table, ensuring that daylight was not let in upon the magic and, even more important, that the hated face of the spouse opposite could be mutated - after a few tots of The King's Ginger Liqueur, available only from Berry Bros & Rudd of St James - into the welcoming features of the beloved.

From the General Trading Company - "an Aladdin's Cave for those in Sloane Ranger territory" - Diana would buy those tragic cushions whose mottos became so horribly apt with the unfurling of her miserable life. I'M A LUXURY FEW CAN AFFORD - GOOD GIRLS GO TO HEAVEN; BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE - THOSE WHO SAY THAT MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU HAPPINESS DON'T KNOW WHERE TO SHOP. She would also pick up china sweet dishes, no doubt for her fellow bulimics to display their poison of choice. And she might grab a monogrammed washbag for her husband from Eximious, By Appointment To The Prince Of Wales, in which he might keep those all-important unguents for removing the stench of his adultery.

Silver monogrammed key chains (£40 upwards) make a perfect gift for men and women alike, apparently, and are so much more appropriate than the cufflinks saying "Gladys" and "Fred" which the ever-sensitive Prince Charles wore to dinner on the first night of his honeymoon, only to be amazed when his unreasonable, hysterical wife showed distress at his continuing devotion to his mistress. (In an interesting insight into the cesspit that is the Parker Bowles mind, isn't it attractive how the very idea of working-class names, attached to such obviously classy pieces of ass as herself and Chas, struck her as being such a hoot?)

Much is made of Diana's "lonely" Christmases in later years, but I bet they seemed like heaven after being locked up with the Addams Family all those years. She did have family, after all - sisters and a brother who would have been happy to have her. But what people who are trapped in the tradition of the family Christmas fail to realise is that, once you have made good your escape, voluntary or otherwise, the prospect of living through the whole dreary panto again, this time with another set of personality disorders and ancient grudges, is not an especially attractive one.

There is a lot of cant talked about The Family at Christmas, with those such as myself - preparing to face my first Christmas as an orphan - the focus of pity and concern from those who will be enmeshed in the bosom of theirs. But far from each family becoming a Holy Family at this time of year, it seems to my jaded outsider's eyes that, with a few lucky exceptions, most families become royal families, waving expensive geegaws at each other to divert attention from each other's dismay at having to play the same old tired roles - harassed housewife, bluff paterfamilias, exasperated adult children - that we spend the rest of the year struggling so valiantly to escape.

Though I loved my parents to bits, the prospect of my first Christmas spent as a free agent - no one's daughter, mother or wife - seems incredibly exciting and exotic, and not a little overdue. So don't all you family types feel too sorry for us solitaires. In return, we'll try not to feel too sorry for you, stuck with your families this Christmas, when you'd far rather be with those you love.

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