As I write this, it is almost 7.30pm on Sunday evening, Christmas Eve. I am still at work, with the prospect of another ninety minutes before me. The last bus home left the bus station fifteen minutes ago.
As it happens, I live close enough to be able to walk home, if I want to do so at 9.00pm on Christmas Eve, on Sunday. In terms of distance, it’s not too far, although 90% of it is uphill, and it involves walking through a district that may not be the least salubrious where I live, but is definitely in the top three percentile.
And this is before I factor in my arthritic right knee. And hip.
However, courtesy of the holiday spirit of a colleague who I’ve never spoken to before, I am guaranteed a lift home. He’s said home and he means home, but I’m going to get him to drop me off outside the chipshop, which is a little bit nearer than the bus stop anyway, and much as I appreciate the gesture, I’m not going to drag him all the way down to the bottom of my road, when he’ll then gave to drive all the way back and turn right across whatever traffic there may be at that point.
No, it’s the fact that I’m still here at all, that they’re requiring us to stay until our shifts end at 9.00pm, even though we’re not getting any calls for our team’s discipline, and we haven’t been getting any all day, and after 7.30pm on a Christmas Eve Sunday, there’s absolutely fuck-all we can do to help now.
So I’m doing everything I can to get through the intervening time and reach 9.00pm and get out of here.
And now I am home and the world is locked out, and my kingdom may be small, in fact, the word is usually use is pokey, but it belongs to me, and me alone. Peace, if not on Earth then on the small section of it I call ‘home’. I raise a glass to all of you who read here, and wish you the Xmas Day that gives you the most.
I’ve already been awake for more than six hours and I no more know what to do with myself now than I did in the dark hours before 5.00am when I knew that I wan’t going to get to go back to sleep. It’s Xmas but it’s not yet Xmas and I’m restless over the fact that I have nothing really to do except wait out the last couple of days.
The cold I’ve been suffering the last week has taken its toll, mainly on spirit and purpose. It’s denied me the concentration to do things in more than small bashes, especially writing, for which I’ve had ample opportunity. I’ve blown out gallons of mucus, coughed incessantly, sniffled and snuffled and when I have absolutely had to do something, the least amount of effort has exhausted me.
But, weirdly, there was this moment on Thursday evening when, as if with the throwing of an actual switch, my head came back on and I was suddenly clear and lucid. I was still dead on my feet, going back into work yesterday, and not at my most active.
It didn’t turn out to be a Retro Xmas after all. It’s Ed bloody Sheeran at no 1, with Wham! at 3, Mariah Carey at 4 and the Pogues and Kirsty at 7, with none of the others moving more than one position or two. We talked about Xmas songs at work yesterday, and about the nest eggs they’ve been. I remember that first year, 1973, Slade and Wizzard and Elton, when the idea of pop groups doing Xmas songs caught on with a vengeance. Before that, it was bloody novelty songs, like ‘Grandad’ and ‘Ernie’ and ‘Two Little Boys’, which used to set my teeth on edge when I was fourteen, let alone now.
But that was forty-four years ago. Forty-four years I’ve been listening to ‘I wish it could be Xmas Every Day’, and Lord knows I loved it and it’s massive fun but if I never hear it, or Slade, again I won’t feel deprived, because I’ve just heard them too many times now.
I’ve got to go out, before long, to complete the Xmas shopping. That’s carrots, brussells, an apple pie and a tin of Quality Street, plus whatever other chocolate I decide. I’ve worked it out in my head and on e-mail too many times. I’ve got everything else, I am prepared, I am efficient, I shall get the turkey out of the freezer tonight, but I am still desperately worried that I have forgotten something that I won’t remember until I’m in the middle of cooking on Monday. I must have forgotten something. Only what?
On Xmas Eve I’ve one more final day of working and I really don’t want to contemplate that, finishing at 9.00pm, technically, when the buses stop running at 6.00pm, and the way home is all uphill. In the meantime, there’s time that only can be killed, slowly, painfully, one second at a time, because it’s all about waiting until the Day, when all those things bought can be removed from their packaging, their suspension, my suspension.
Two more packages have been delivered today. I have no idea what they are, I have lost track, I have been assembling that pile all month. I need to ensure I don’t run out of electricity in the meter whilst it can’t be topped up. I can’t concentrate, I don’t know what to do, I’m restless.
I have to admit that I found this latest episode of American Gothic disturbing, not for its contents, which told a Kazantzakis-influenced story of the temptation of happiness, but for the fact that, only eight episodes in, the show underwent an abrupt change of credits.
That’s rarely a good sign. True, Person of Interest, in its later seasons, would change its credit sequence and voiceover almost weekly, but that was deliberately to reflect the changing positions the show advanced to. Remember that Tales of the Gold Monkey did a similar thing, late on. It’s usual done to try to rebrand a show, to attract more viewers, be more blatant in its attempt to keep them from changing channels.
Out went the eerie, creepy, soft music of the episodes to date. In came a new series of clippings, from episodes seen and as yet unseen, emphasising the horror aspect and, most disturbingly, in came a voiceover from Gary Cole, smooth, bland, putting his point of view about Trinity being a nice place to live as long as everybody plays by his rules, and presenting Merly, in particular, as a rebel against that.
It threw me, especially coming so early in the run, only a third of the way. And given that the new credits included at least one scene as yet unbroadcast, it causes me concern about whether I really am watching the series in its intended order. CBS really fucked around with the show, changing times, dates, dropping it for weeks, not publicising its return, showing episodes out of order, all of which played a massive role in preventing the show getting, and keeping, the audience it deserved. I’m having to assume the order of episodes on the Region 1 DVD Box set I’m watching is ‘correct’ in terms of the arc and that imdb’s listing is broadcast order, under which ‘Rebirth’ was episode 11.
With that in the back of my mind, I took a long time to settle into an episode of great darkness. It begins, for once, in darkness, Caleb mooching about on the trestle bridge, and being taunted about the ‘Temple Curse’ by a bunch of teenagers on the river. Merly appears, fretting and frustrated about how she can’t help him as she wishes, can’t even hug him. Her ethereal state, her passionless, friction-less existence, is getting to her. She says its unfair: she didn’t even get to do any of these things when she was alive. She’s less use to Caleb than Ray, the laid-back, cheerful biker, who hurls a tyre into the river, soaking the taunters.
And that’s the root of it. Marly wants to come back, wants to feel again, wants to sit on a porch with her little brother on a hot summer day, supping a cold drink. She wants sensation. And she works out a way to do it.
Her re-birth is marked by weird weather, sudden, violent winds, lightning crashes, but eventually she arrives at the boardinghouse door, as Hallie Monroe.
There’s a catch, however. Merly can do this because she is Borrowing another’s life. how she does this, what happens to the Borrowee, is not explained, nor does Caleb question this, overjoyed as he is to be able to spend time with his sister: that is, until she falls in love with/has her hormones twanged by biker Ray, and starts spending all her time with him instead.
But we the audience knowwhat’s going on. It’s no coincidence that Gail has a guest on hand, her fellow reporter and friend Christie. Christie is eight months pregnant and fretting: it’s her third pregnancy but she has two miscarriages behind her. Amy Steel is particularly good in this role, especially when complications arise out of the blue, or should I say upon the wind? Yes, Merly is using the unborn life of Christie’s baby-to-be, who she plans to name Hallie.
What of Trinity’s fly-in-the-appointment, Sheriff Lucas Buck. As usual, he knows everything, and more than ever in this episode, he’s popping up out of thin air, wherever you go, looking moody and portentous. He’s already hassling Ray even before Merly arrives, he knows who Hallie really is, he’s trying to get Caleb to doubt her and cost him his spiritual protection. And most of all, he wants Hallie/Merly to stick around. To stay alive. To enjoy the happiness of experience she is currently jonesing on.
Because if Merly stays, Christie’s baby will die, and maybe Christie too, Caleb will be estranged from her and she will be neutered in both senses, both as his guide and, by remaining corporeal, in whatever ‘powers’ she has. No doubt a young, unprotected girl can be dealt with as any man wishes?
So it becomes an ethical decision. Can Merly overcome having what she fervently wants and go back? Ray, who has been ‘bought’ by Buck to beguile her, attempts to take the moral step by running away but is intercepted by Buck, and is destroyed by being made to dig up Merly’s coffin, and see her as-yet-undecayed corpse. The final confrontation is between Buck and Merly, back on the trestle, whilst Christie is giving birth.
Marly sees the trap at last. She has the courage to do the right thing, to hurl herself from the trestle despite Buck’s attempts to stop her. Merly falls and dies again. ‘Hallie”s body dissolves. Christie’s baby is born alive. Sheriff Buck roars and angry “Nooooooo!!!” into the night.
And we abruptly cut into closing credits, with a new, undistinguished slice of swamp funk guitar replacing that eerie music of before.
I think I’ll leave it at that. I’m still not sure if the change in atmosphere I’m sensing is down to the framework or if there were things within that felt off. Certainly, the abruptness of the ending, and the absence of any scene in which the angelic Merly appears to Caleb and is blessed by him, is a change of pace. I’m anxious to see how, or if this is carried over into next week.
For a moment there, I was about to make a bit of a fool about myself, unintentionally of course.
I had just learned about the death, on November 30, aged 71, of Heather North, a little-known television actress of whom I had never previously heard. Ms North’s claim to was being the voice of Daphne Blake, ‘Danger Prone Daphne’, from Scooby Doo.
And I would have happily recited my memories, aged 12-13, of avidly watching Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, with that original theme music running through my head, because like all of us of a certain age, I loved Scooby Doo, and Mystery Incorporated and, even though she was a cartoon, I fancied Daphne (long legs, short skirt, red hair, hey, who wouldn’t?)
And then, just in time, I did a little bit more digging, to check exactly when Ms North passed on, and discovered that although the lady was the voice of Daphne from 1970 to 1985, and again in 2000 and 2003, she was not the original voice.
Given that I consider the first series of Scooby Doo to be the only true series, definitive and unmatchable, and that I do not allow the words Scr***y D** to be mentioned in my presence, I would have looked stupid to wax nostalgic over the loss of Ms North, though her longevity in the role demonstrates thatshe must have been good in it.
No, that wash of nostalgia is properly set in motion by a lady still with us, one Stefanianna Christopherson. She is the voice of Daphne Blake for me, the voice of those memories: long may she last!
This is the point that’s taken me over two years to reach, the outermost point of those evenings twenty years ago, of sprawling in front of the BBC2 showings of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The end of season 5, the start of the Dominion War. By the time DS9 came back, I had a house full of people, and coming in, throwing off my jacket and tie and sprawling on the couch was no longer an viable option.
I started watching DS9 from the beginning to fill in the beginning and end of a middle that, falsely, I remembered as stretching maybe as much as three seasons. When I finally caught up with my recollections, it turned out to be not even one full season. But the end of season 5 concludes that phase of the rewatch. Ahead of me lies terra incognita, just as much as if things had never gone the way they did and I had remained free to watch TV whenever I felt like it.
‘Call to Arms’ might have begun with the comic note of Rom and Leeta trying to agree a wedding dress for a ceremony in which, under Ferengi culture, she should have been naked (insert your own shallow comment here), but swiftly modulated to the tension that underlies the approach of war. The Dominion are bringing in warfleets every week, via the Wormhole, en route to Cardassia, regular as clockwork. Sisko has to take a decision: do nothing, and allow an irresistible fleet to be assembled, capable of ultimate victory when it chooses to act, or halt the incoming reinforcements, and preciptate war now.
The only choice, if victory is to be possible, is the latter: Sisko orders the entrance to the Wormhole to be mined.
Weyoun appears, to protest, to suggest a deal by which the mines are removed and the Dominion limits itself to civilian ships, medical and economic assistance for the poor, stricken Cardassian Empire. Sisko will consult the Federation, which isn’t sending its own reinforcements, for reasons we won’t learn until the end (a Federation/Klingon attack that destroys the Dominion shipyards in Cardassian territory). No-one believes anything for a moment.
War is coming. Everyone’s preparing for it. Keiko O’Brien and the children have been evacuated back to Earth, Jake Sisko won’t go because a reporter’s duty is to be where the action is. The Romulan Empire has signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion, Sisko advises Bajor to do the same, over Major Kira’s protests: five years ago, he was assigned to DS9 to protect Bajor after it gained its independence and that duty still remains, so he will use his position as Emissary to take them out of the firing line.
All Bajorans evacuate. Rom and Leeta get Sisko to marry them, before she is ordered to go: Rom has a duty to stay as a Starfleet member, and a duty to protect his brother, who seems for once to appreciate this. Gul Dukat’s half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal parts reluctantly from Garak. Quark starts smuggling in yamok sauce. Odo and Kira are still acting awkwardly around each other until Odo officially tells her that he’s locking away his feelings for the duration (some of these scenes are more effective emotionally than others: you can actually hear the writing staff’s cheers of relief underlying this one).
Seeding the wormhole with self-replicating mines (Rom’s suggestion) takes time, and the Defiant will be a sitting duck until it has finished. And it is not finished when the War steps across the line between coming and arriving. A Dominion/Cardassian fleet under Gul Dukat comes to attack DS9. General Martok’s Klingon Warbird protects the Defiant. The station defends itself steadfastly, destroying 50 ships. But once the seeding is done, it is time to take the inevitable decision. Deep Space Nine is lost: the Federation will evacuate.
Not permanently. Sisko, his staff and Garak depart to join a major fleet approaching DS9. McArthur-like, he promises he will return. Quark’s bar stays open. Rom rejoins him as Assistant Manager and (self-proclaimed?) Federation spy. Jake remains as a journalist, trusting in his ‘status’ as the emissary’s son to protect him.
Major Kira, Odo and Quark officially greet Dukat’s return to Terak Nor. The Major has already initiated a Sisko-developed programme that thoroughly wipes the control room computers of any ability to function.
But although it’s not the final shot, that being the cliched one of Sisko looking defiant, the episode and the series ends with a very effective moment. Gul Dukat commandeers the station commander’s office: his again, after five long years of waiting for revenge. It has been stripped of everything, but one item, Sisko’s baseball. Dukat recognises it as a message. Sisko is coming back.
We move onwards, I move onwards towards the only real step into the future since I began this series back in October 2015. Everything until now has been backing and filling, getting up to speed with the background to that brief period of which I was already aware. Forward I go.
Next week being Christmas week, I haven’t decided yet whether or not to take a week’s break. It is a perfect point to do so, but on the other hand, habit is habit. If you don’t get a DS9 post off me next Tuesday, that’ll be why, and we’ll pick things up again in the New Year.
I’m beginning to think that we might, just might, have a Retro Xmas no 1 this year.
If we do, it looks unlikely to be my dream choice, Kirsty and the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’, though that’s climbed to no 7 this week. But Mariah Carey and Wham! have both moved up three places, to nos 2 and 3 respectively. All three of these songs peaked at no 2, first time out, and there’s got to be a definite chance of either Maria the Diva or the late George M going that final one better.
We’ll know at 6.00pm on Friday, when the Xmas chart gets announced. Maybe a Retro top 3? Whoever gave that a chance of happening, in the years of livestreams?
We’re rolling onwards towards Xmas Day, and I’m looking forward to my usual peace and quiet-ful Xmas alone. It’s eight years since I last shared Xmas Day with other people, and that was in a homeless shelter, eating an unexpected traditional Xmas roast, drinking non-alcoholic lager and enjoying a surprising camaraderie with a bunch of strangers.
Ever since then, I’ve done Xmas day in solitude, and I’m looking forward to that again this year. I am prepared: there’s no-one to buy me presents so I have accumulated a pile which I shall unwrap on the day, unwrap here being a word that means tear off the Amazon and eBay packaging.
I have a turkey in the freezer which, on the day, I will cook (having defrosted it for the required period), sticking it in the oven somewhere between 12.00 and 2.00pm, with the aim of eating at about 6.00pm, back-scheduling all the necessary steps with that time in mind.
I currently have the booze in the fridge and the imperishables bought, except for the jam sponge pudding and custard I intend to have for dessert (can’t eat Xmas Pudding/Cake, just can’t stomach it) which I will buy tomorrow, leaving the carrots, brussells, potatoes, bacon (for the turkey breast) and sausages until next Saturday.
Like last year, I will be working Xmas Eve, technically until 9.00pm, even though this is a Sunday, though I expect/anticipate/hope we’ll get out about 7.00pm, or at least whilst the busses are still running.
But once I shut the flat door behind me, whatever time I arrive on Xmas Eve, I go into a pleasurable purdah, undisturbed by other people. I am responsible to no-one, beholden to no-one, able to relax completely and do my own thing. And I like it that way.
Between the closing of that door behind me on Xmas Eve, to the moment on Boxing Day when I decide to go out and buy that day’s Guardian, I will not see nor speak to any other person. On the Day itself, I will probably browse my regular sites and forums, and may make a couple of indolent posts if anyone is about.
But aside from that, this is the extreme of me-time, and I look forward to it.
It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed Xmas days in company in the past. A couple of them stick out in my memory. My Mother’s last Xmas Day, only four days before she died, when we were invited to my brother-in-law’s parents, which I recall with pleasure at my gradual realisation that everyone was looking forward to the premiere of the first Michael Keaton Batman film in the evening, the one with Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and that they all thought to was going to be an Adam West/Burt Ward, Biff, Bam, Pow affair and watching all their faces as the truth slowly dawned on them.
Or a few years later, invited to friends for the Day, and in the afternoon playing either Risk or that other strategy game that isn’t called Risk, getting knocked out fairly early on, starting to assist their younger son and helping him to Complete World Domination, with his ex-Army father complaining this was the first time he’d ever lost.
And then the big film was Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves, which I am here to tell you is the very best film to watch on Xmas Day when you are halfway pissed and cannot take it remotely seriously: he lands at the Cliffs of Dover in the morning, sets off to walk to Nottingham and by the evening is camping at Hadrian’s Wall? After that, the film had no credibility whatsoever and we took the piss out of it unmercifully.
But the fact is that I first started to spend Xmas day on my own in the mid-Nineties and did it often enough to coin the aphorism that you should always spend Xmas day with your family every three or four years so that you can understand how much fun you can have on your own.
Roll on Monday week, or rather Sunday week night at some point, where I shut out the world and for the space of a couple of days, it and I can have nothing to do with one another. Bliss.