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CALM’s resident Doctor Pop will see you now…


Seasons greetings to ye! Yes, I, Doctor Pop, am back to prescribe more musical solutions for your most pressing of problems. This time? I’m taking on the whole damn festive season. Oh yes I can. Watch me.

Right. It’s bad enough feeling blue at the best of times, but during a period of enforced jollity? Forget about it. If you’re feeling down, sticking a stupid hat on, inhaling cheap booze and hearing East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’ for the 40th time is not going to help.

You know what I was saying last month about the power of music to change our mood for better, or indeed worse? Yes?  Well, it certainly doesn’t make my job easier when you consider the high percentage of Yuletide hits that are a) utterly maudlin and b) impossible to avoid. And if family irritations or feelings of isolation are intensifying, but you’re reminded constantly that ‘“tis the season to be jolly”, well, it can be hard not to explode. With the following pop prescription, we can at least aim to avoid Christmas self-combustion.

We’re going to look at two major issues that affect people at Christmas: loneliness and family tensions. Sounds like a great party, eh? Stick with me, grab a mince pie and let’s DO THIS. (If money’s a contributor to the seasonal blues, my previous prescription may bring some relief)

1) Lonely this Christmas?

For Pete’s sake, don’t even think about ‘Lonely This Christmas’ by Mud. Although I realise I have now mentioned it (twice, technically) and now you are, inevitably, thinking about it. ‘My bad’, as they say in the good old U S of A.

For some reason a lot of people like to ‘match’ music to their feelings, perhaps to engender the comforting thought that, if even a glamorous rock icon like the lead singer of Mud could feel this way, then maybe things aren’t so bad for me. This is all very well, but my concern is that it could lead to a great big wallowing session that is rather hard to wade out of.

Similarly, steer clear of anything too nostalgic. ‘White Christmas’ is a killer for me, I’m afraid, and the same goes for ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, which brazenly breaks the Ronseal (does what it says on the tin) rule and has me in distinctly un-merry little pieces within the first few bars.

Maybe you’re alone by choice. Maybe you’re not. Either way, being alone at Christmas can be tough. A friend of mine once cheerfully chose to spend Christmas on his own. He could do whatever he wanted, had no one he had to see, nothing he had to do, no family politics to navigate. By the end of his Christmas day, which included an ill-advised walk through the deserted streets, passing houses filled with noise and light, he was not feeling cheerful any more.

Christmas for one can be done, but careful planning is vital. You can’t just sit at home, sinking gradually into a malaise of misery and misanthropy. You have to have a plan. Here are some ideas:

– Decorate your flat (I mean with Christmas decorations, not slapping on a coat of Magnolia) – it doesn’t matter if it’s only for you, just flaming do it.

– Plan your favourite meal – you can have whatever you want, no one else to worry about!

– Line up movies that will uplift you. No one will be fighting you for the remote, no one will be talking over the best lines.

– Write a list – jot down what was great about the year that is about to shuffle off and put its feet up, what you learned, and, crucially, what you want from the year to come. It helps to get it down on paper, and writing is an excellent therapeutic tool. There are no rules here, no one has to see it, just scribble down whatever comes. You can refer to it next year if you like, see what you stuck to, what has changed, what just doesn’t matter to you any more.

So what of the playlist? Again, some thought is required here. You don’t HAVE to have Christmas songs, by the way. Maybe you don’t even celebrate Christmas – it’s just that everyone else you know is ‘rocking around the Christmas tree’, or so you think. In reality they’re probably fighting over the one decent cracker prize (fake moustache) or no longer speaking after Aunt Enid went into one of her dreaded political rants after dinner.

Anyway. Music. The priority here is YOU. Personal circumstances aside, the idea of being able to do whatever you want on Christmas blooming Day is a luxury many people would be rather envious of, so choose what you want. You can ‘rock out’, as they say, to garage band The Sonics’ ‘Don’t Believe In Christmas’. Not a Grandma-pleaser, but you don’t have to worry about that. Also, give Ultra-Lounge’s often surreal and hilarious Christmas Cocktails compilation a try. It will, I guarantee, make you chortle, and it features the mysterious Continental’s rendition of ‘Violets For Your Furs’, which is totally retro Hollywood and just downright bloody creepy – all Hammond organs and Lugosi-esque spoken word… stick this on, light some candles, turn your tablecloth into a flap-away cape (mind the candles) and make like a Christmas vampire (don’t go too far with this, obviously). Extremely diverting, not to mention entertaining for the neighbours. Do let me know how this goes.

2) Merry Christmas, I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight (Ramones)

Indeed, it’s not unusual to feel more lonely in the bosom of our own family. Beneath forced grins, old family scores remain unsettled, passive aggression abounds, everyone treats you as if you were a sullen 14-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually a quite nice 45-year-old; you’re back home, it’s Christmas, you’re sullen and you’re 14. And, incidentally, if you did anything remotely bad when you were 14, expect to have this referred to once the glitter has faded, or at least to be silently judged by it with unreadable looks and sighs. Me-rry Christmas!

Anyway, this is quite normal, so you don’t have to feel alone in that sense. It’s happening all over the world. Now, when in a collective sort of situation such as this, it would be naive to volunteer a selection of songs and expect everyone to dig it. They’re not going to. You’re a load of different individuals from completely different generations with different taste, different preferences, you’re all just so bloody different.

And that’s a beautiful thing, of course, but where does that leave us in terms of music? Well, one thing I would definitely recommend is a good old-fashioned singalong – it’s silly, it’s fun and it keeps your mouths busy – you can’t argue while you’re warbling Elton John’s uber-cheerful ‘Step Into Christmas’ and you’re less likely to slosh yet more booze into your open pie-hole out of sheer boredom, before getting horribly drunk and bellowing out a few home truths. Singing is definitely better than that. I’d like to say that it won’t give you a headache either, but that I cannot promise. Get some karaoke tapes (tapes! I’m so old). Once the initial embarrassment subsides, silliness is sure to follow, and silliness, my friends, along with music, is the secret to happiness. Here you are combining the two.

Sure, some might take it more seriously than others, choosing to make like they’re auditioning in front of Simon Cowell while everyone else titters, or fighting over who gets to sing the Paul Young bit in ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ but just allow it – it makes it all the more silly.

Also, don’t forget that singing raises our endorphins and promotes euphoria, which is just the ticket. It doesn’t have to be good; in fact, the crapper the better, in my experience. Way funnier. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves, especially if we’re freely guffawing at each other. No room for ponciness or perfectionism here, thank you.

Anyway. Whether you’re going for traditional carols (I’m partial to a bit of ‘Dong Dong Merrily On High’ action myself; the long-winded ‘Glooooooooria’ bit is always entertaining after a few sharpeners) or popular Chrimbo hits (‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses rules, and I just have to think of Noddy Holder screaming ‘It’s Christmas!’ to get into the mood), you’re on the right track. Maybe give the neighbours some earmuffs for Christmas though.

If you really are feeling the strain and not even Noddy in his idiotic top hat can lift your mood, give CALM a buzz – that’s what they’re there for – and it’ll help to put things in perspective.

Have a great Christmas, dear chaps, and remember: a carefully loaded iPod is your friend. Use it wisely and it will bring good cheer.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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