Stuart Prebble, a former producer of TV’s World in Action, is a grumpy old man. It irritates him that quality programming has been replaced by trivial nonsense such as Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here, David Beckham the Early Years, and the like.
He complained to his friends, his colleagues, his children and his wife – who all informed him that he was turning into a grumpy old man. This coincided with an article in the Daily Telegraph which claimed that 35-54 year-old males are the grumpiest group of people in history.
They are grumpier than their parents, who were glad to have survived the War and lived to collect their pensions. They are certainly grumpier than their children, with their iPods and text messages – and grunge, garage and the other garbage that passes for music.
The penny dropped! Demographically and psychologically, Stuart Prebble was a grumpy old man. He soon discovered he was not the only one. He came up with the idea of giving others a chance to vent their spleen about things that irritated the middle-aged male.
A TV programme was born. The format was simple. Talking heads verbalised their cantankerous thoughts about the world. Their complaints were spaced apart by footage tenuously related to the subject.
Bill Bryson, Jeremy Clarkson, Bob Geldof, John Peel, and even Neil Kinnock, complained about anything and everything that annoyed them. It was an overnight success and was quickly moved from BBC2 to peak viewing time on BBC1. It seemed to strike a cord with everyone.
They complained about everything – like listening to canned Vivaldi for forty minutes while you wait for a call-centre to answer the phone, and the evening newscast that led with a story about S-Club7 when twenty thousand had just been killed in an Iranian earthquake.
They hated newspapers serialising the biography of Charlotte Church when she turned eighteen, and giving front-page coverage to David Beckham’s latest tattoo. ‘Is that supposed to be of interest to me?’ Bob Geldof asked.
‘Cup holders in cars – does anyone actually use them?’ enquired Jeremy Clarkson. Our sympathy went out to Rory McGrath when he asked, ‘Do cut-price air fares mean that you also have to cut out efficiency, charm, punctuality and getting you and your luggage to the same destination?’
‘Are people really that stupid’, mused travel writer Bill Bryson, ‘that when you buy a Superman cape from Toys R Us it carries a warning that the cape does not enable actual flight?’
And what about escaping abroad on holiday to experience a different culture and cuisine – only to find the resort full of Irish pubs offering English breakfasts and screening Scottish football?
But nothing irritates the grumpy old man more than Christmas. About July special Christmas shops appear, selling everything from glitter-sprayed pinecones to illuminated plastic Santas.
The stress of choosing and purchasing just the right gift for your wife – only to discover on Christmas Day that it doesn’t fit, is the wrong colour, or is something her ‘mother would have worn’. When you return it for an exchange you discover you could have got it for half the price in the January sales.
Then there is the awful Christmas music. The grumpy old man gets sick of hearing Roy Wood or Noddy Holder chanting their tinny drivel in every shop they enter. No Roy, we don’t ‘wish it could be Christmas every day’.
Christmas trees must be put up at the beginning of December ‘for the sake of the children’ – so that by Christmas Eve all the needles have dropped off and you are still picking them up in July.
Then there is the school nativity play. Why does somebody else’s child always get to play Mary, Joseph or one of the Wise Men, when your child is stuck on the back row of the angelic choir?
What does it matter? You can’t see them anyway, because Joseph’s dad, a largish man, is sitting right in front of you with his new video camera, trying to capture his son’s five minutes of glory.
Why do grumpy old men receive socks, jumpers that don’t fit, and musical snowmen that play Jingle Bells when you press their noses? Grumpy old men do not like Christmas very much. Indeed, it could be argued that Christmas contributes greatly to their grumpiness!
But wait a minute…
But if Christmas were celebrated as it ought to be, far from making us miserable it would bring us joy. For Christmas is just a pagan festival unless it brings us face to face with Jesus Christ.
On that first Christmas night, the angel announced to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy’ (Luke 2:10). Christmas ought to be a time of great joy, for it reminds us of the greatest news ever announced to the world.
The angel continued: ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you’. In all our misery, our grumpiness and sinfulness, what we need more than anything else is a Saviour – someone to rescue us from the consequences of our sin and bring us into a right relationship with God.
This is exactly what Jesus Christ does for those who trust in him – who hear his gospel call and follow him. They discover that he died for their sins that they might live to God – and that he rose again from the dead to give them everlasting life.
Maybe, just maybe, if we were able to strip away all the tinsel, tawdriness and trivia that have attached themselves to the season and smothered its real significance, we would be a little less grumpy and a little more thankful.