Thursday, 14 December 2006

CHARLIE'S CHRISTMAS SHOPPING LIST

When, a week or two back, I was writing about lists, I inexplicably overlooked one of the Best Lists Ever Drawn Up (and certainly THE Best Ever Christmas List) which was compiled by Charles Dickens Esq. in his A Christmas Carol.

It is a description of late-night Christmas Eve shopping, c. 1843, as witnesssed by Mr Ebenezer Scrooge on his perigrinations through the streets of London in company with the Spirit of Christmas Present.

It is clearly written by a lover of Christmas (and Christmas Fare) and, above all, LIFE!

Here it is...

The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers" benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

The Grocers'! oh the Grocers'! Nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses. It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.

GLORIOUS!

I'm not sure whether Christmas Past ever, truly, WAS like that; but, if it wasn't, then it most certainly SHOULD have been!

5 comments:

Scrooge said...

I think the fact that he can create that street for us means that Victorian Christmases will always be the ones we aspire to on biscuit tins and Christmas cards across the land. Charles Dickens, God Bless Him !

Brian Sibley said...

Hear, hear!

Jonathan said...

Brian, that's a great illustration, do you know where it's from?

Brian Sibley said...

Uncharacteristically, I omitted to credit the artist, so thank you for asking, Jonathan...

It is the work of Roberto Innocenti for a 2003 edition of Dickens' story.

Jonathan said...

Thanks! I'll 'check it out' as they say in the vernacular. It's perfect inspiration for something I'm working on.