29 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 15

Lament, for St. Stephen


THE only painless Boxing Days I re- member are the ones that followed a virtuous work- 4, ing Christmas Day,

t,‘ f when perhaps one had sat self-con- sciously in ear- cabin prising a mince pie out of the roast pork with a signaller's pencil, thinking fondly of the lads making merry on brown ale over in the Nissen huts and wishing they hadn't pressed the two lukewarm plates so tightly to- gether. Boxing Day didn't count then, probably because you were asleep.

It's a barren, dampish day for the most part, with folk walking carefully about the parks waiting for their livers to recover and wishing they'd bought a smaller turkey or that Uncle George had caught his train. Heads are heavy, tempers fragile and you find that you've run out of aspirin. Or gin.

Then there's nothing much to fret about but the bills (and we knew they were coming any- way) and what to do with a chromium-plated tie- chain, an ecru set (your guess is as good as mine), a pair of red bedsocks, a white plastic telephone message pad, one hand-thrown mud- coloured pot, a multi-hued foamed plastic teapot drip-catcher and a wrought-iron picture of the Holy Family.

No wonder the wilder spirits used to go banging off at pigeons, wrens and squirrels on Boxing Day. They really wanted to shoot each other, and thought that they were too manly to shoot themselves. No wonder either that the old hiring fairs used to be held at this time. The servants had all quarrelled with master and mistress (probably mistress) over Christmas, had packed their presents and left.

And there were those fascinating giglet fairs where chaperons were not allowed and the common herd could get down to revelry without the inhibiting presence of their betters, accord- ing to Mrs. Sarah Hewitt ' in Nummits and Crummits, which 1 doubt anybody will think of giving me for Christmas. Apart from these exer- cises, most people used to pack up and go home from Boxing Day till New Year's Eve. And in some parts feasting and drinking went right on until Twelfth Night. In this welter of pies, possets and wassail, dreary old Boxing Day would pass unnoticed. Alongside such 'warm- blooded roistering the ancient Brighton custom of orange-bowling seems a shade pathetic.

The OK thing to do, of course, is to chase a fox (in the saddle, if you have one). Good for the liver. Capable even of restoring an interest in turkey fricassee. And preceded by stirrup cups and followed by mulled wine. That solves Box- ing Day in the grand manner.

But it does nothing for the pine needles all over the living-room, the sagging ranks of Christmas cards (123 this year, in spite of the fact that everyone decided not to send any),

the sad accumulation of empty bottles, the dust- bin bursting with bones, crêpe paper, tinsel, cottonwool snowballs and burnt-out crackers (no Box for them, the lazy devils), and the prospect of having to live for a week on figs, dates, crystallised fruit, cold meat, pickled walnuts, and warmed-up Christmas pud.