Watching "Kes" with my Mum

This Christmas my parents gave me thermal underwear. These garments are mysterious and mighty. There is a t-shirt with the length and appearance of chain mail, and also a set of ankle length hose which when worn look like the long johns of a cowboy. On the box they came in a male model reclines gloriously, appearing at once heroic and indifferent. They are fantastic and I love them. I plan to stride about enclosed in their cosy warmth in the manner of a proud warrior of old. This will be a most private and most delicious joy.

Christmas for me is a time of pleasurable recurrence. It is a cheerful playing out of familiar formulas, which I can stand because I only pay attention for the short time I spend at my parents' house. Each year I have the same job- decorating the small tree that goes in the back room; each year I wait until no-one is expecting it before letting off a party popper at the dinner table; each year the same films appear on television. "The Sound of Music", "The Snowman", "It's a Wonderful Life", one of the many adaptations of "A Christmas Carol"... They are soft, uplifting and hopelessly out of place at any other point during the year. Most of them feature sparkle-eyed children with an innocent faith in wonder winning out over cynical world-weary adults. They are mostly watched by cynical world-weary adults who want once more to be innocent sparkle-eyed children. I usually skip this part of Christmas. There are only so many times you can see James Stewart joyfully sprinting through town before you begin to hope for a disgruntled ex-postal employee to emerge with a shotgun, a grudge against Christmas and a preference for moving targets.

For some reason one of the movies that constantly reappears is "Kes". In the UK the first place most people come across "Kes" is at school. It is one of those works of art that are forever ruined for many by the English class autopsy: by overly mechanical analysis and embittered teachers prodding their bored pupils for the significance of the nature imagery. Maybe they identify with the authoritarian teachers of the film and pine for the days when discipline could be meted out arbitrarily with a few satisfying thwacks with a birch twig? Thankfully I never did "Kes" at school and I associate it with more positive emotions.

(I should point out now that I am going to spoil the ending of the film and if you haven't seen it (or read the book on which it is based) then I recommend you stop reading now and instead contemplate what the rest of the article might have been like.)

Channel 4 scheduled "Kes" on the 23rd of December this year and at half past eleven I settled down to watch it with my mum. Everyone else in the house had gone to bed but I had persuaded my mum to stay up. It is one of my favourite films, one of those I enjoy sharing with people if they haven't seen it. A Christmas treat. The relationship between the boy and the kestrel he trains is developed so skilfully it never fails to touch me.

Halfway through the film my mum suddenly turned around and said, suspiciously-
"This better not have an unhappy ending."
Oh dear. This was bad. I had praised this film and convinced her to watch it and now I quickly realised I was going to come across as some sort of sadist.
"That bird is going to die isn't it?"
I hate spoiling the endings of films for people, even if they ask me too, but here I had to say something or I would appear like a gleeful distributor of trauma and despair.
"The ending might be a bit...miserable."
She thought for a few moments and then decided to carry on watching. The rest of the movie was a terrible, terrible thing for me. All I could do was sit silently and wait for the inevitable, implacable moment of pain.

The film ends with the death of the kestrel at the hands of the boy's older brother in brutal retribution for a bet he didn't place. As the credits rolled my mum turned around again. Her voice was now ice.
"Well what was the moral of that then? Always put on a bet if your big brother asks you to?"
There was a few seconds of silence. My fate was being decided.
"You're watching "Stuart Little" with me on Christmas Day."
Let the punishment fit the crime...

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