G.M.B.’s Tales of Nativity

By Bernie Bell

I was looking for something to read – again.  Looking all along the book-shelves.  I tried ‘Phineas Finn’  by Anthony Trollope. Trollope can be relied on for good writing and taking the reader into a ‘different world’. “

I argue with his presentation of what a woman should be, and what her place in society should be, but it is undeniably good writing.  There’s a surety about that world which is what I need just now.  I’ve recently read all Trollope’s ‘Barchester’ chronicles, and they hold a surety about what is and what is not acceptable as human behaviour.

After the ‘Last Chronicle of Barset’ – I re-read Philip Pullman’s ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy, which I had devoured when they first came out.  

First book – a marvel – a ‘find’ – and surety in the form of Iorek Byrnison and Lyra’s honesty – an accomplished liar, honest in her being and her core.

Second Book – still interesting ideas – I thought it was losing its way a bit.

Third book – got plain silly.

I’m not going to inflict the ‘Book of Dust’ on myself again, as the disappointment of the first time of reading is still strong.

And then I tried ‘Phineas Finn’, but there’s just too much politics. The first time I read the ‘Palliser’ novels, I liked to read about Planty Pal – a very steady chap – but now – I’ve had it up to here with politics in real life and want something else in the world I step into when I’m  reading.

Looked along the shelves – Dickens….grim.  Kipling – Jungle Book……wonder-full but read too recently. Mervyn Peake’s ‘Gormenghast Trilogy’ ……..grim.  Kurt Vonnegut….too familiar.  Mary Renault……….a bit too much of people killing each other in particularly gruesome ways. 

Along the shelves……….grim, grim, grim.

Then – the GMB section, and I noticed a copy of ‘The Sun’s Net’ which, for some reason I hadn’t read when we got it. 

Sometimes I feel that I want/need a big, solid book to immerse myself in, not a collection of short stories.  How wrong can I be?  I’d only read a bit of the first story  – ‘A Winter’s Tale.  Doctor.’ And already recognized a certain kind of dinner party that I’d pay good money to avoid.

And, a young couple letting an old man die peacefully – mistaken in what he thought would happen to his home when he’d gone – but peacefully. ‘Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise’ – Thomas Gray.

This was an echo of the opposite of something that happened to someone I know, or used to know.

All this life – all this human behaviour, in just a few pages.  That’s what he can do, GMB, encapsulate, catch, capture a whole sweep of events and connections in short, clear word pictures.

Then – the Doctor gets involved in a nativity scene in a derelict croft. In-explicable – not explained. Just a piece of mid-winter magic, mystery and miracle. Following on from him having to sit and listen to the Minster poo-pooing miracles, trying to appear ‘modern’ and ‘clever’.  Again, horribly recognizable . As the Doctor comments – if he sees it that way, he should be in a different job.

And as it turns out – he should be.

Thank you GMB.  You’ve done this many times – odd little tales of babies being born in unlikely circumstances at that time of year.

Does everything have to be explicable?  The people at that dinner party are very fear-full.  They’re uncomfortable with the in-explicable. They seek a different kind of surety.

Here’s to GMB, and miracles, and magic and the in-explicable nature of LIFE.

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