Stewart Lee's Christmas message

Lee fondly imagines the formative festive experiences he should have had in London (but didn’t)

Stewart Lee Stewart Lee - © Rob Greig

Like so many of my generation, I came to London in the mid-’70s in search of sensation; the legendary Hope and Anchor pub-rock scene of the Feelgoods and Ducks Deluxe; the then exotic delights of London’s take-away food community: Italian pizza, Indian curry, Kentucky chicken and Chinese Chinese; the availability of cheap speed; and, above all, the lure of a London Christmas. For was it not Brinsley Schwarz himself who said, ‘If an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had Eastered, he would Christmas in London.’

But even in the ’70s, so many of the London Christmas traditions that had duffed Dickens’s plum were fading.  My first London Yule, Graham Parker of The Rumour took me to see the Hackney Christmas Rat. Every December 23, the Hackney Christmas Rat would poke his head up from an open sewer and indicate, through a display of interpretive retching, whether the children of Hackney had been naughty or nice. If nice, the rat would have spiced urinal cakes flung at him by Pearly Kings. If naughty, his head would be blown off with a sawn-off shotgun. In ’76, it was curtains for the Christmas Rat. Wired to fuck, Parker laughed so hard he dropped his peshwari and blew warm Truman’s down his whizzy konk!

Sometime between Christmas and New Year ’78 and I’m on Westminster Bridge with the Kursaal Flyers, awaiting the passing of the Danish Arse Barge. Ninth-century Viking connections meant that, each year, the Danish embassy sent a slow moving torch-lit barge along the river, festooned with elderly Danes dressed as Thor and Odin, elegantly baring their bottoms to the accompaniment of sombre bassoon music. A thoroughly ripped Will Birch was so amused he spewed a Directors into the river and lost a spring roll and a schnozwrap over the railings.

I have guzzled ampheto-nog at The Nashville with Kilburn and the Highroads, and dressed up as Tiny Tim with Eggs Over Easy for the Massed Camden Limp, fuzzed on Fuller’s and whites. But those days are gone. What have you got, kids? The Saturdays singing so-called R ’n’ B on Oxford Street, you barely buzzed on alcopops and plant food, and Hyde Park full of fake German fairgrounds, like pre-punk never happened. Merry Christmas, London. You’re welcome to it.

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