It occurs to me that a lot of this blog is concerned with magic. The magic of baking, of writing, and of love.
Let’s take baking. Baking is magic. You take this selection of uninspiring ingredients (the curdled excretions of a cow! A chicken’s period! Some ground up grass!) and you combine it in the right way, and you apply heat and it is suddenly a birthday cake. Absolute alchemy. And you stick candles in it and make a wish and that is magic too.
Tomorrow is mine and Paul’s Fake Christmas, and I’m making the chocolate truffle torte my Mum always made. That’s not just alchemy, but also time travel. Such a simple combination of ingredients – just booze and biscuits and chocolate and cream – but it takes me back to being five years old, allowed to stay up for the grown-up’s dinner party for the first time on New Year’s Eve, and to that time I lived in the best houseshare ever when I was doing my MA and the day we got engaged. And we’re making it drunk after the pub – a brand new tradition that we started last year, when we had to take a hacksaw to our leg of lamb because it wouldn’t fit in the slow cooker.
And the very act of writing itself. I sit here typing this on a gloomy Thursday lunch hour, and you, maybe in America or Australia or Sri Lanka or Leeds, and maybe ten minutes or ten years in the future, you read it and you hear my voice. Stephen King said that writing is telepathy, and he’s right. I say something, you see it. I invent a character and try to make you love them, make you cry when I hurt them. A novel or a show (especially a show, perhaps) is just a very long-form spell.
And of course, there’s rituals, which is all this time of year really is. Venison stew on Christmas Eve, and presents in pyjamas and being the only one to stay awake through the whole of Dr Who. I don’t believe in God but I believe in a lot of other ideas, and I definitely believe in Christmas. I think we need it, whether the traditions we play out are old or new, traditional or all our own, religious or not – a little breather, a little shot of magic in a long, dark, otherwise unpunctuated winter.
This quote from Hogfather by Terry Pratchett has been circulating around my facebook recently and it is great. A conversation between Death and his Granddaughter –
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.”