Rogue Male Attends Christmas Carols

After a brief hiatus it is with pleasure that Damien Shalley blogs again for Bear Skin, this time with something a little more personal. A Christmas reflection.

Rogue Male Attends Christmas Carols

by Damien R. Shalley, Esq.

for N.W.

Last Saturday I awoke at 3:47 pm feeling mighty used, having spent the previous day and night attempting to prove that a person can be sustained exclusively on fermented malt beverages. (Fun fact: You can, until you lose consciousness). I can usually manage to stumble out of bed by the crack of noon after a big session on the stagger juice, so even for me this was a grand anti-achievement. I popped a Berocca and some Nurofen Plus and attempted to reintegrate my synapses. I had a vague feeling that I was supposed to be doing something on this day, but my addled cerebellum wouldn’t reveal this secret knowledge. So I moved to my default position whilst in this condition – oblivious ignorance – whilst wallowing in self-pity and emitting quiet whimpering noises.

I hit the shower for an extended water therapy session. I revived enough to realise that I had forgotten to take off my socks. (Oh well, they needed a wash). The water was soothing but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was required to be doing something else other than rehydrating whilst curled up in the foetal position on tiles of my shower bay. On the plus side, my socks were now very clean. I lay there until the throbbing in my head had reduced to a low-key drumming. The dullness in my corpus abated to the extent that I could reach for and open the shampoo bottle without risking heart failure. Small mercies. I continued to absorb the H2O for an extended period and eventually relieved my H2 woe. I exited the shower on my hands and knees and blow-dried my socks whilst still wearing them. (Incidentally, this resulted in remarkably fluffy and comfortable socks – I would recommend this technique to the hung over). Now I was ready to face the day, despite the fact that the day was pretty much over.

At this point my resolute nausea was weirdly challenged by a desire to eat something. Food, I thought, might provide a nice counterbalance to the strange percolations that were occurring in my stomach – an organ only marginally less abused than my liver. Experts recommend eating a healthy, low-fat meal after a hangover to help one’s body cleanse toxins. Phooey! I hadn’t listened to expert advice about how to avoid a hangover, so I wasn’t going to listen to expert advice about how to treat a hangover. (I know this is circular logic, but hey, I had a hangover!) I proceeded to fix myself two fried eggs on toast. With greasy bacon. And a lot of sauce. Tempting fate much? I am not a chef and there are two things that always ring true about my culinary exploits: 1. Nothing cooked by me tastes any good, and; 2. I’m not kidding. My meal was average at best but at least it quietened my bubbling gastric system. In the back of my mind I still felt that I had forgotten something. I retired to my favourite leather recliner to give serious consideration to this dilemma – and promptly fell asleep. Food always makes me sleepy, and in my weakened state I entered the land of nod without resistance. Blissful slumber ensued – for a while.

Two loud beeps broke though the arc of snoozy zzz’s emanating from my reclining body. That’d be my phone, I thought as I returned from unconscious oblivion. I had previously forgotten to check this device because I was preoccupied with my own misery and because I secretly resented the way it ruined my naps. After fumbling with the insidious creation, a text message from a friend revealed itself. “Don’t forget Carols tonight at church, biggest night of the year! Be there by 6:00!

Uh-oh, Christmas Carols! That is what I had forgotten to remember! Caroling is not supposed to send chills of fear through one’s body but my friend is pretty demanding and if I was late to these festivities there’d be a passive-aggressive price a pay. Luckily for me it was only around 4:30 pm, right? Wrong! It was 5:25pm, I’d been away with the pixies (or Christmas elves in this case) for an hour! I grabbed some previously worn “going out” clothes from the floor of my bedroom which were crinklier than my Grandma (luckily I didn’t to find socks – serendipity!) and splashed on a lot more cologne than I should have to improve my freshness factor. And so, smelling like an accident in a Lynx factory, I proceeded to my destination. Almost.

My trusty car picked this critical moment not to start. Arrggghhhh! I popped the bonnet and found, well, an engine. I don’t know too much about cars, but my old man always told me to check your points and battery connections first if the vehicle is playing up. I retrieved my trusty red toolbox from the boot and proceed to fumble around. I tightened a loose battery connection and the engine turned over. Dad was right about something for once! A Christmas miracle! I threw my trusty red toolbox onto the front passenger seat and hightailed it to the church.

I usually drive defensively but sometimes the best defence is a good offense, so I ducked and weaved through indecisive motorists noodling through the local streets until I hit the motorway. Unnecessarily singing “Get Your Motor Running” by Steppenwolf, I made great time until, a few minutes into my run, I felt an unmistakeable urge. Maybe it was the previous dodgem’ car antics that had upset my stomach, maybe it was the hangover treatment of eggs and bacon, maybe I was worried about disappointing my friend – but man, did I have to throw up! Oh no! The urge was overwhelming and there was no time to pull over. The only thing my addled brain could think about was not vomiting on my clothes. Nobody wants to attend carols looking and smelling like the local alcoholic hobo. There was only one thing I could do. I grabbed my toolbox, flipped the latch and, well – hurled into it. Recalling Jim Morrison’s warning to “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel”, I managed to time my paroxysms to unpleasant intervals in between rapid-fire scans of the road ahead. The expulsions, amazingly, resulted in no unpleasant residues on my clothes. The same cannot be said for my toolbox. I threw it back on the passenger seat and pressed onward at speed.

I arrived at the church with a few minutes to spare but couldn’t find a park in the car park. Or in a side street. Or on a side road. The entire population of northern Brisbane was apparently attending this event. So I ventured down to a dimly lit local park. This less-than salubrious locale didn’t even have a name like most parks do, just a sign that read “No Dumping”. I pulled onto the grass in what may not have been a breach of 21 local by-laws and jumped out of my seat. Some shifty-looking teenagers were loitering around a bench on the other side of the park. I told myself that all teenagers look shifty, abandoned my car to the will of the universe for the evening and entered into a slow jog (very slow considering my condition) towards the place of worship and tunes. Halfway to the venue, I remembered that I hadn’t locked my car. Too late, too bad, I thought and continued toward salvation.

Whist negotiating a swampy miasma at the edge of the park which appeared to exist in order to prevent the unworthy (i.e. me) from entering the church – and muddying my boots in the process – I received another text message. “You idiot, where are you?” It was 6:02pm. Assuming that the word “idiot” was a term of endearment, I responded. “Nearly there, a minute away”. I was expecting to be congratulated for this achievement. I was disappointed. “You know I’m the sound tech for tonight, right? Busy all night, I won’t see you at all. Should have got here earlier, idiot!” (Idiot again. Must really like me).   In fairness, this probably was not new information. I did have a vague recollection of something like this being mentioned previously, but I had forgotten. What can I say, I drink. I extracted myself from the swamp and continued forward to the sing-along, arriving muddied, befuddled and just in time to be late. The celebration had begun. Music wafted over my sweating brow and passed through the air above the fetid mash I had just escaped.

I grabbed a song book and infiltrated the crowd in a vain attempt to show my friend that I had arrived against great odds. I was immediately struck by the fact that nobody in sight was alone. The place was packed with families, couples young and old, extended collections of relatives, groups of excited children performing boogie-woogie moves. I was truly a rogue male in this milieu.   Rogue males are not welcome in places with multitudes of children, and can often find themselves subject to unwelcome scrutiny from “proper” adults. (We are welcome at dinner parties though, and regularly get set up with somebody’s unmarried female cousin who has worked in the Bureau of Statistics or some such fascinating entity for the last twelve years whist being treated intermittently for spastic colon). My move towards front of stage was thwarted by a large and particularly enthusiastic assemblage of primary school-aged children dressed as elves. (I would later learn that they were to be part of the night’s stage entertainment. For a while there I thought I was experiencing DT’s from all the booze). I took this as a sign and implemented Plan B – strategic retreat.

The rear of the arena was actually not such a bad location to spend an evening. I have a singing voice roughly akin to an angry walrus and the term “tone deaf” was invented specifically for me. So it was quite refreshing to find an area of respite, both for myself and fellow participants who didn’t have to listen to my tonal dissonance. I staked out some territory near a sound mixing desk (no sign of my friend here either) and got my groove on.

The first carol of the evening had been a traditional religious song, nicely performed by the church choir and a live band. The next performance however, was a dance routine by some hip youngsters tightly choreographed to a funky Justin Bieber tune. I was not aware that anything Justin Bieber has ever produced constituted a carol. (I was not aware that anything Justin Bieber has ever produced constituted music). I made a mental note that I secretly hated this song. The kids in the audience were enraptured. What do I know?

“Hear the Angels Voices” arrived next, with lyrics projected via digital teletron. The words “Fall to your knees” precede the chorus lyric of this carol – I was ready to do just that at this stage because my hangover was telling me that I really needed some fluids. At this point I contemplated an excursion to the nearest 7-11 store for a litre of Gatorade, but my exit strategy was thwarted by an assemblage of performers behind me who were preparing to run toward the stage costumed as the “ghosts of Christmas past”. I felt that I was in grave danger of becoming a ghost at this point so poorly did I feel, but I stuck it out and, unbelievably, started to feel really uplifted by the performances. The songs were (mostly) familiar – Bieber be damned – and the tradition of gathering together to celebrate something as joyous as Christmas is beautiful. This is collective memory writ large, and what a beautiful memory to have. The whole occasion had an aspect to it that – dare I say it – was holy.

The night’s official festivities went on for two hours. Carols and songs, both old and new, lifted spirits. The band was tight, the lighting was spectacular, the performers were elegant and the assembled families (plus one rogue male) were entertained. This really is the way to experience Christmas.

After the event I finally caught up with my friend. We laughed together about my dumb exploits prior to arrival and made plans to meet up again soon. Christmas wishes were exchanged, and I then beat a retreat to retrieve my vehicle and get home to bed (and painkillers). As I approached my car, I noticed that something didn’t look quite right. As I got closer, I could see that the mirror on the driver’s side of the vehicle had been torn off. It was lying on the ground beside the car. “Damn kids, I thought. They’ve vandalised my car!” The driver’s side window was missing too. Parts of the shattered remnants, still held together by tinting film, were sitting on the driver’s seat. I opened the UNLOCKED door (guys, you didn’t have to break in) and surveyed the scene. They had stolen, along with some other small items, my trusty red toolbox! I don’t know whether it was the joy of the night’s carols, the Christmas spirit in general, or my hangover forcing me to prioritise my concerns, but I just couldn’t help laughing out loud. “Boy are they going to get a surprise when they open that!”


If you would like to guest blog for Bear Skin please message me on

St. Nicholas the Defender

Tradition tells us that Santa Claus is named after St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, now modern Turkey. He lived 270-343 AD.

Son of wealthy parents, Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

This practice is still celebrated on his Feast Day, celebrated on 6th December in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches and has found it’s way to our December 25th celebrations of Christ-Mass.


The modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, a derivative of “Saint Nikolaos”.

In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine to appear at the First Council of Nicaea. There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian, defender of the Orthodox Christian position,and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.

This council addressed the question of Christ’s divinity and humanity against the Arian position. Arius argued Christ was a created being, not co-equal with God. If this were true, Christ’s birth, death and resurrection had no power and the gospel was rendered a useless fable [1 Cor 15:14].

Tradition has it that he became so angry with the heretic Arius during the Council that he punched him in the face.

coca cola

It is fitting then that the patron saint of our most beloved holiday, not only initiated the tradition of secret gift giving on a feast day, but was the true “Guardian of the Galaxy” – defending the significance of the advent of Christ’s birth for generations to come.



The Consistency of Change

Percy Bysshe Shelley first published poetry in 1810 as an 18 year old undergraduate at Oxford University and he wrote consistently until 1822 when he tragically drowned,  a month short of his 30th birthday.

He is widely considered to be one of the finest of the Romantic poets.

His poem Mutability, was published in 1816 in the collection Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude: And Other Poems. It is a poem dedicated to the only constant in life – change.

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!–yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:

Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary writers, thinkers, philosophers and artists of his day, including Lord Byron, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock, William Godwin and Godwin’s daughter and Shelley’s own second wife Mary  Wollstonecraft Shelley. Shelley was influenced by other Romantic writers such as William Wordsworth, William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

NPG 142; George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron replica by Thomas Phillips

Shelley, an aristocrat by birth, was an iconoclast. He was famously bullied at Eton for refusing to take part in fagging and later expelled after only a year at Oxford for publications which contained anti-monarchical, anti-war and anti-religious sentiment.His thoughts on vegetarianism, social justice, the rights of the working class, feminism, and non-violent resistance influenced many who came after him.

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

Several months after being expelled from Oxford for atheism, at the tender age of 19, Shelley eloped with 16 year old Harriet Westbrook. After a failed relationship which ended with Harriet’s suicide, Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft, the brilliant daughter of Shelley’s idol, political philosopher, William Godwin.

mary shelley

More traveling yielded Shelley and Mary fruitful friendships with Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt and John Keats. This fueled not only Shelley’s creativity but seemed to catalyse the creativity of others. He himself left an impressive body of lyric and epic poetry while his wagers with Byron and Mary Wollstonecraft were effective in producing their great works, Don Juan and Frankenstein respectively.

We rest.–A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.–One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

During his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish his work for fear of being arrested for either blasphemy or sedition. As a result Shelley enjoyed little but infamy during his own lifetime.  Nevertheless, his works had profound influence subsequent political and literary thinkers such as Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatmah Gandhi.


Percy and Mary lost all their young children except one to infant illness. A number of Shelley’s close friends died prematurely including Keats of whom he wrote the poem, Adonais. He himself perished tragically young. 

It is the same!–For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

Mutability mediates on the permanence in impermanence.

The transitory and ephemeral nature of human life and the works of humanity are common in Shelley’s poetry. In life, we lack true freedom. In sleep, the mind cannot control the unconscious and in waking, the path of departure of sorrow or joy is not under our control.


Shelley’s conclusion is to embrace the truth that the only constant in life, is change.

In “A Defense of Poetry,”  Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that:

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

He felt that poetry and poetic language reveals the truth. His legacy and his truth have lived on long after his premature death.

Tommy Taylor: The Unwritten

Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross, “The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” is the first episode in a graphic novel series first released in 2010.

TT 4

The novel tells three interweaving stories. The first tells of three kids Tommy, Peter and Sue, facing the wicked wizard Count Ambrosio. Tommy Taylor has dark hair and round glasses and has a wheel tattoo which aches when his nemesis is near. [Harry Potter much ?]


Tommy speaks the words of a spell defeating Ambrosio but injuring himself in the process. Bruised and dying, Tommy cannot survive the encounter but his friends know the prophecy and taking Ambrosio’s trumpet, they sound the final note.


The second tale is set in the present day, Tom Taylor is a celebrity doing the rounds of comic conventions. His father, Wilson Taylor authored the wildly successful comic book series about boy wonder “Tommy Taylor”.  His father’s sudden disappearance at the height of his fame, meant Tom unaccomplished in his own right, has been the face of his father’s work.

TT 3

During a comic convention Q&A, Tom is accused by journalist Lizzie Hexam to be an impostor. Evidence emerges that Tom’s childhood records have been fabricated.


Fans begin to agitate for the truth about Tom’s identity. One fan, steeped in Tommy Taylor lore, claims that Tom is the “word made flesh” and is the incarnate form of the boy written into the comic books. This fan theory is dismissed as the bogus ramblings of a crazy man but Tom is shaken by it. Framed as an impostor, pursued by crazed fans thinking him to be the real Tommy Taylor made flesh, Tom flees to Europe to track down information about his deceased father.

TT 5

Here Tom is framed for murder by Pullman, a mysterious hitman.


The third tale is a behind the scenes account of sinister characters seeking to rewrite public opinion and conceal the truth of Tom’s identity.  In an epilogue famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and finally Wilson Taylor interact with mysterious suited gentlemen who offer literary fame in exchange for adherence to their agenda. The ascendency or decline of these authors is determined entirely by the whims and caprices of these mysterious men.


The three stories begin to strangely intertwine as the narrative continues. The mysterious suited gentlemen  frame Tom as a murderer but while Tom is being arrested, the winged cat Mingus, his childhood companion from the comic series appears to him.

TT 2

Once in jail, Tom encounters Lizzie Hexam and another inmate Savoy, both reporters who have planted themselves in jail to shadow Tom. Together they plot an escape. Lizzie reveals she is still in touch with Wilson Taylor the author of Tommy Taylor and uses an magic door knob from the comic books to break out from jail. Tom, Lizzie and Savoy, now mirror the three young characters, Tommy, Peter and Sue, from the Tommy Taylor stories. The door knob carries the three into a series of parallel stories.

tom t

It seems we are a party three layers of authorship. While it seems that Tom lives in the real world while Tommy Taylor exists in the scripted world of comic books. However, increasingly it is revealed there exists a higher world vying for control of Tom’s life indicating he is perhaps the one and the same Tommy Taylor written into different scenes, but one with moral agency and self-consciousness.


The stories explore the interesting nexus between fiction and the human consciousness. Is Tom in fact also Tommy, and is he still the subject of Wilson Taylor’s fiction?

Who are the mysterious suited gentlemen and is Wilson Taylor writing Tom into “real life” in order to subvert their controls?

tommy taylor

Like Sophie’s World – the text explores the interaction of author with characters of their literary worlds. The characters are granted life by the author; at what point do they have moral agency or free will of their own?

the unwritten

At what point do we question whether it is in fact us that are the characters within someone else’s story? Who controls the forces within our world, wars, revolutions, famous ideas, cultural change. To what extent are we truly free?

horn blower

Count Ambrosio the arch villain of the Tommy Taylor comics, who breaks into Tom’s world and seeks to execute him, articulates the main point best:

Stories are the only thing worth dying for.

Stories shape our world, powerful story tellers influence generations to think and feel in history shaping ways. Stories shape political and religious ideas and shape cultural identities. It is for stories and ideals that people go to war, begin revolutions, sacrifice wealth and change laws and social systems.



Who would seek to control our stories? And as agents within a story, how can we use the devices of stories to escape the powers that would control us?

Tom and Lizzie

JRR Tolkien, philologist, linguist and lover of ancient narratives and myths, argued that:

Myths are not lies.


Tolkien detested heaved handed moralism of fables such as Pilgrims Progress, opting instead to created internally consistent worlds with characters each with their own place within history and mythology. So serious was he about story, that he argued with CS Lewis, then a staunch atheist, that life was in fact a grand narrative into which the great mythical archetypes had intersected.

As a Catholic, to him the Christ narrative was the event in which myth…

…has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.

For Tolkien and later Lewis who later wrote much on the matter, the ground and truth of the Christ narrative was that in it the Word became flesh.  The intervention of voice and hand of the author into history transformed history from a random collocation of events into a grand narrative imbued with profound meaning.

Wilson Taylor

To them both, this miraculous juncture gave ground to the struggle for meaning in their lives. In it, the author meets them and exonerates their quest for agency.


Why Vampires?

A recent discussion with a friend about relationships revealed he was a shameless cad until he met his current wife. Prior to meeting her, he had made plots to sleep with every girl in his department – and he had made good efforts to do so.

Why the change from shameless playboy to monogamous husband?

LOVE. He fell in love. She tamed him, he was willing to settle down. She was enough for him.

Such a discussion illuminates an interesting psychology that complicates the game of love. Of course, novels and stories such as the Twilight Saga, gain traction from the vampire motif to embody this tension.


It seems exciting and energising to a woman to be the maddening object of desire to an otherwise animalian appetite. Despite protestations of being lusted after, cat called or stared at, women love to be desired. The more powerful the pursuer, the more energising the feeling of being desired.

However, what peaks the romantic tension for her is that his LOVE for her transcends his lust for her flesh but forever, their liaison is one of slight danger in which her “being enough” is the means to hold the full brute force of his animal self at bay. Of course erotica spin offs such as 50 Shades take the danger, violence and sexualisation of Twilight in more explicit direction. But nevertheless the motifs remain.

This is alarming because of course the upshot of discussions around violence against women can tend to slide to female fault. She no longer was enough for him and so he strayed. OR she placed herself in danger of an otherwise untameable force. Protective voices warn women and girls, without addressing the perpetrators, who are after all seemingly acting out of their nature

The prevalence of partner and sexually related violence shows the dark side of these fantasies. The transformative power of attraction and desire can soon wear thin, leaving an unfettered animal instinct and two hungry souls to tear at each others flesh and emotions.




Danger occurs when anyone believes they deserve negligence, violence or exploitation in ANY context.

Love narratives are powerful at showing how redemption can channel and transform unfettered forces into life giving dedication, self giving and sacrifice. However, the converse is not true. The belief that anyone be motivated to maintain the welfare of the other purely by the value or allure of that person holds,  is sorely misguided.

Indeed to be a fully actualised human, male or female, is to realise the power we have over others. This coupled with a full understanding of  the intrinsic value of all others despite our perception of this value should inform our default inter-relationships.

The true supernatural power of being human, is to build and sustain life giving relationships with a range of people despite their utility. Whether we be vampire or not, the role others is not to transform or redeem our baser desires. This transformation must occur first and from which all relationships can flow.

That transformation comes from a greater love story.