Geoffrey Mather


Merry Christmas and all that...

It is commonly believed that Christmas is a time of goodwill. It can be. But it is not necessarily so. The late-night pavements bear witness to its threats and, particularly, the balances of life. If you avoid such oblivion, Christmas can be socially tricky: it is not being invited this year to a party given by people who invited you last year, and you wonder why.

It is counting cards, knowing you sent out 108 (I speak here about my past), receiving only 94 in return, and you can not spot the criminals without checking the list, which is too much trouble, so you brood.

It is sending, by mistake, a card marked "Love from Number One" to a stranger you met only once, in July, and who, inexplicably, sent you a diary.

It is - or was in my case - ordering a load of beer in a take-away small barrel then finding that a three-year-old visiting child has not only found it, but has filled your slippers, the carpet and your bed with the contents.

It is avoiding works parties because, in an excess of goodwill, all those who have been friends, and in perfect harmony during the year, are going to assault each other before being sent home in taxis, bleeding, muttering, and still wearing paper hats.

It is seeing the family gather (again, my childhood past in this case), faces aglow, and Uncle Tom slowly reaches the conclusion, as he does every year, that Aunt Martha is getting at him because she considers he did not do enough for their Fred when he had his accident.

Various crude jokes of a surreptitious nature are practiced at Christmas and I have had my share. From my past, then: There are those who, knowing you have small children, hunt around for presents containing the largest number of pieces, then despatch them with love.

Jigsaws, interlocking building blocks, and small paints are all in this category of torture.

These little pieces multiply down the backs of chairs until you have a million, turning up in your boots, the tea, the beds and the baby's throat. If paint is involved in the pieces, you will find yourself walking through town with the word "Batman" prominently displayed over the back of your new sheepskin coat.

You can, of course, spread goodwill of a similar nature in return. I once sent Christmas cards to two people who hated each other - each card claiming to have been signed by the other. I can only imagine the result: each overcome by remorse; each sending yet another card; each, then, with two cards, suspecting a subtle form of mockery.

Into each life, a little rain must fall, you see. If Christmas overwhelms you too much, you can root out the cards people sent to you last year, cross out their greetings, and add your own, then return them. This will effect a nice economy and provide a strong lesson in Christian virtue. A lesson of real worth. Let them complain, if they must.

Surely, you can argue, it is not the card that counts but the thought behind it?

As any worthwhile archbishop will tell you, no-one, in Christian terms, can have any possible grounds for complaint.

How's your congeeing these days?

In my most pompous period (age 16-18) I naturally followed pompous people. Airy, fairy people with their noses high above the sickly aromas of ordinary people.

I wore a long, white macintosh, a trilby, and believed that I could write with the best. Of course, I couldn't. Writing is like painting: you start with pretensions and a few tears and with a bit of luck turn into a literary version of Hockney.

I had not accomplished more than hope and squiggles when I came across my mentor and destroyer, Charles Lamb, and a piece he named "Imperfect Sympathies" (London Magazine, August, 1821).

It was Lamb who fired in me the disease of pomposity. I became a reporter. It was Lamb who drew me towards poetry in my evening newspaper reviews of arts club members.

And it is because of Lamb that my news editor used to brief me on my drama missions, walk away, hesitate, turn his head back towards me and declare, with an expression of pain: "And Mr Mather. No poetry."

Lamb was my disease. I marvelled at his expressions, and this one in particular:

"I do not like to see the Church and Synagogue kissing and congeeing in awkward postures of an affected civility."

It is awfully pompous, yet awfully beautiful in a strange way. Those words have burned their way into the depths of my being so that I can, so many decades later, still quote them accurately. Congeeing?

Don't bother looking. To make a congee is to bow, curtsey, to make obeissance, to show respect, or defer to someone or something. I believe that Charles Lamb had that particular definition in mind.

If he had continued his studies he would have found another definition in Asian cooking - a type of thick rice pudding or soup, but we will let that pass.

Why am I burbling on about all this? It is because, according to pundits (who can never really be believed), Brexit is about to engulf us in tears and woes unheard of since the 1930's. Brexit is something that awakens passions for and against without anyone really understanding what it means. So we trust that those at the Very Top of our political heap know more than Us. That they really are aware of what they are doing. Are they? Why am I filled with so much doubt?

Which brings us back to Charles Lamb:

Are the great leaders of our country and the European Union "kissing and congeeing in awkward postures of an affected civility?" And nothing more.

Heaven forbid. It looks that way, eh, Charles?


Jack (Lord) Ashley

Sir John Barbirolli

Sir Osbert Sitwell

The Queen at 90

Bryson: the words that smile

The boy in Aleppo

The Queen's Speech that never was

Lord Bragg

Donald Campbell

Sir Neville Cardus and John Arlott

Ronald Carter, blacksmith

Violet Carson (Ena Sharples)

"The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. Then I'm back to 'Ee, by gum' in the Street. It trapped me. It made me, if you like: it has gone all over the world. But it has destroyed me, because nobody sees me or anything about me."

Dame Catherine Cookson,

Earls, Dukes and Godly Men

Dame Gracie Fields & me

Ronald Fraser

Dame Thora Hird

Lionel Jeffries

(Railway Children)

Russell Harty

L S Lowry (above)




"You're not getting your ball back," she used to shout. "You'll kill somebody, you lot."

The crucible (climbing)




Grannie Morshead

Pubs and landlords

Wing and a prayer


Genius Family

Lancashire pride

Is democracy dead?

The best of whimsical fiction

North-South divide

The pleasures and agonies of Spring,

George Best at 20


Summer of 2006


Buddhism + life (Manjushri, Lake District) Life and Living 1 Life and Living 2 Life and Living 3

Rant: rumbles and grumbles. Lancashire affairs. Snippets: Bits and pieces.

copyright: Geoffrey Mather 2017

  • Retrospective

  • (collected in one spot)
  • On growing old
  • So there they were - Hollywood dominating the world with its Clark Gables, Jean Harlows, Spencer Tracys, Garbos and Bogarts, tears in its eyes, inventive, vulnerable, blessed by climate, limos and money but tormented, insecure and edgy as fledglings in nests.
  • Bennett's art is to take the apparently trivial - his mother's views of "her betters" and so on - and make them meaningful in much larger ways. Miss Shepherd tested all his beliefs and inhibitions one by one. The two of them existed together, but in worlds apart, like aliens. And yet, I suspect, it was the sameness that reached furthest into the writer's psyche. His long essay on Miss Shepherd is superb. Even on the second reading, I was laughing out loud, to the disgust of the dog,, and in the next sentence feeling for Bennett's own agony. So you have this magic formula, where the relationship between two people over 20 years can match the life experiences of us all. 

  • .

    "I am all for the unusual on Page One. I do not read stories of the type headed ' Bandits gag, tie up woman' very much nowadays because people are always gagging and tying up women. Such incidents are as common as gas-oven suicides." 

    Arthur Christiansen

    became editor of the Daily Express in October, 1933, a position he held for 24 years until 1957. During his editorship sales peaked at two million in 1935, over three million in 1944 and four million in 1949. Each day he wrote a bulletin. It was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff. Here are many of those bulletins.

    The Beaverbrook Saga

    The newspaper crisis


    + Molloy of the Mirror + Clive James + Churchill + Big-ego words + Vanishing language + Noam Chomsky's words + Great words of great events

  • In spite of his own eccentricities, he wanted the world to behave as he expected it to. Big companies, shops, waiters and hotel managers were his normal fodder. He terrorised them. When he snagged a coat on something protruding in Woolworth's, he said to the manager, "This is an expensive coat." "I can see it is," said the manager. "I noticed it when you came in." "Right," said Brian Duff, "I expect you to pay for it. And I don't want it invisibly mended because you can see it."
  • Ian Skidmore

    Sir James Scott Douglas (gossip columnist)

    When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive London hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time.

    I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle

    James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions were once almost fundamental to the job.

    Pub Talk with Peter Thomas

    Accrington Observer Observed

    Peter Stringfellow

    Edna the Traveller

    The pearl hunter

    Blaster Bates

    RSM Lord

    Concert Secretary

    Champion eater

    Witch woman

    Railway Children

    Mathers of Salem

    Crown and Kettled

    Railway Children

    Billiards halls


    Holy fizz


    TV to do



    St George's Day

    Selwyn Lloyd

    Lt Gen Sir Oliver Leese

    Theodore Major

    Sir John Moores

    Albert Modley

    Beatrix Potter

    Frank Randle

    Bill Shankly

    Les Dawson,

    Fred Dibnah,

    Dudley Doolittle (comic),

    Lady Anne Clifford

    Maureen Lipman

    The Immortal Griffin


    Soccer language