The Nothing Days


These are, as I may have observed before, the nothing days.

Whether you recognise Xmas as a religious occasion, as a season of peace, goodwill and family, as an opportunity for gift-giving and receiving or just an abhorrent pain in the arse that you really wish people would ignore, Xmas is a season that impacts on everyone, and the last days, as the occasion itself grows reluctantly near, are days that have no significance in themselves, except as way-stations.

Not everyone will see them that way, people with plans, events, parties, boozy nights out. Things to do. But many people, like me, who have completed their planning in advance, who have nothing but work, and ticking off days lying between us and next Tuesday, see these as nothing days, neither fish, fowl nor good red meat.

I’ve no-one left to buy me presents, and no-one to buy presents for. My only family is a younger sister, from whom I’ve been estranged for over fifteen years. We meet only at funerals, and barring any disaster affecting her children, which I hope and pray to anyone who has the least influence over such things, will never happen, we will not speak at the next one, for it will be one of us awaiting the flames that reduce us to the ashes that will be sprinkled on Plot C at Dukinfield Crematorium, rejoining that family of which we were once just the junior parts.

But presents there are, ordered and, except for the impulse buy off Amazon on Sunday that may or may not arrive before the day, received. And I divided the food into groups, some to be bought on each of the few shopping occasions permitted me by my shifts. Three more items tomorrow night, when I get out early and can get to ASDA, the fresh stuff – carrots, brussels, bread – on Saturday.

I’m working Sunday the 23rd, until 9.00pm, my working Sunday falling on that day. It’s better than last year, when it fell on Xmas Eve, and I was coming out at 9.00pm after the buses had stopped running at 6.30pm. This year, I will be in my pokey little bedsit for 9.25pm or thereabouts and, short of needing any emergency food and drink buys on Xmas Eve, I plan to lock the door behind me and the world out, and to have no contact with anyone beyond the ethereal medium of the internet until Thursday 27th at the earliest.

It’s all about a complete switch-off, a complete down-time, with only me and my own concerns to be concerned about. There are many people who couldn’t handle that, but for me it’s going to be a highlight.

I’ve a couple of mates I usually meet for a drink between Xmas and New Year, and I have an annual trip to Dukinfield Crematorium, for what will now be the 27th Anniversary of my mother’s passing which, with it being Saturday, I will combine with a visit to Manchester City Centre on the way home.

The rest of it will be new books, new graphic novels, new CDs and the DVD Box Set of The Big Bang Theory season 11. And writing, don’t forget the writing. I am currently turning the second draft chapters of my current novel into third draft chapters, with varying degrees of writing, and when that’s completed, I will be looking at certain of them in order to edit down or build up into fourth draft chapters. That’s discounting my regular features on this blog: there’ll be no stinting on these.

Writing will be the most important part of Xmas, as it is every day: writing keeps me sane.

Roll on the 23rd. Roll on shutting myself away. Roll on the peace of solitude. Roll on the Xmas turkey and the lager.

Spinning Wheels…


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.

Restlessness


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.

 

Roll on Xmas Day


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.

Old Xmases


Old Xmases are magic, populated with people you will never see again.

Sitting on the bed with Mum and Dad, me on Dad’s  side, my sister on Mum’s side,  watching both of us struggle to get things out of the Xmas stocking they filled every year. She got the one with red trimming, I got the one with green, though I preferred the red.Fighting to get your arm right down to the little thing at the toe, and pull it back with the strings tangling your arm all the way.

Watching the people you love unwrapping the gifts you’ve had so much fun buying for them, their expressions. I remember visiting my then-girlfriend one Xmas: she already knew I’d managed to get her a couple of early Chieftains LPs which she expected I’d tape for her, because her record deck didn’t work so it had to be all cassettes. But she knew I had something she didn’t know about and was all eager to get it. The look on her face when I stuck my hand in my pocket and pulled out… a plug. Then snapping my fingers and going, oh yes, you need something to go on the end of that, and back out to the car, her kids racing out to look, and coming back in with this box: a not too expensive but still decent hi-fi system, including record deck. I still remember her speechless expression and how, still unable to speak, she flung her arms round my neck. Best Xmas present I ever bought anyone.

One year, my best mate bought me Spike Milligan’s ‘The Goon Show Scripts’ for Xmas, which made me laugh out loud (so did the book, raucously), because the present I had bought for him was Spike Milligan’s ‘More Goon Show Scripts’, and then only because they didn’t have ‘The Goon Show Scripts’ in the bookshop I went to.

Re-learning how much fun Xmas could be again, watching the excitement on the face of the kids.

Old Xmases. Xmas was always better then, no matter when ‘then’ was. They are part of your memories, along with the people who cannot or will not celebrate with you again.

To all my memories at Xmas, to all our memories of when Xmas was Xmas. And to the new memories Xmas will make for us this year.

At work, a customer wished me Happy Xmas in Welsh. According to Google, he said Nadolig Llawen, though he could have been speaking Timbuctoo for all I knew. So I wished him Happy Xmas in the only other language I know how to say it, wildly inappropriate as it might have been, and I wish it you here, in Spanish.

Feliz natividad.

So this is Xmas…


The flat door has been shut and locked behind me, and downstairs the porch door is closed, and if anyone else is going to go through it now, it won’t be me. It’s not quite yet noon as I write, and my Xmas has begun. Ian Dury and the Blockheads are on the boom-box, the turkey is in the oven (defrosting in a cold room). There’s dusting to do and I’m going to change the bedclothes, including the duvet cover. The duvet’s getting a bit limp – I was allowed to bring it with me from the homeless flat when I moved in here seven years ago come February, and it wasn’t new then – and though it’s still good and warm, I might look at getting a new one in the New Year.

Otherwise, though, it’s music, the paper, the internet, reading, and of course my daily thirty five minutes of thirty year old transcription. But the break’s begun, even if it’s only three days until I go back, and for those three days I can relax in my own company.

I’ve no plans to post anything during the rest of the day, nor yet tomorrow, but who knows what “creativity” might prompt? To all of you out there, those who Follow this blog, those who alight here randomly, my Xmas wish is that you each and every one of you will have the Day and the season that fulfills your wishes. Greg Lake, one of those who left us in this utter arsehole of a year, once sang, “the Xmas we get we deserve”. Well, I hope that you have the Xmas that’s beyond your wildest deserves, the Xmas that owes nothing to deserve and everything to happiness, peace and being good to each other.

Keep that in your heart and try to make it work every day until I write a version of this for Xmas Eve 2017.

Martin

X (void where prohibited by Law)

The Odd Days


These are the odd days, the last few before the day itself; slow and pointless and in the way.

Sunday will be my seventh Xmas in this pokey little flat, and it will be the a repeat of the previous six. I would call it almost a ritual, except that it is too relaxed, maybe even chilled, to assume such proportions. But at some point on Xmas Eve, hopefully relatively early, I will shut and lock the door behind me, throw off the world and, save for excursions onto the internet, will neither see nor speak to any other person until Boxing Day. And then only to buy the newspaper.

Not everybody could handle Xmases like that, but then I’m not everybody. I have the complete freedom to do as I choose, without responsibility to or from anyone else, and I will exercise that freedom by doing exactly the same things every year.

I will wake when I wake, and I will lie in bed, warm and tired, for as long as I want. When that is done, I shall unwrap my presents, unwrapping here meaning taking them out of the various packets, envelopes and boxes wherein they have been received, from Amazon and eBay, this past six weeks. Books, CDs, DVDs.

Sometime around 2.00ish, or maybe later, the turkey will go in the oven for however many multiples of twenty minutes, turn and turn about, its size requires. Based on that, I will, at different intervals, put in the vegetables, prepare the stuffing and the gravy, to cook for the requisite times so that all will be ready at (roughly) the same time. A massive leg, some slices of breast, the bacon off the wings, a couple of bangers, the plate piled high as I can get it without gravy running off in protest.

I have a hankering for jam sponge pud and custard for desert this year – I have never been able to eat  Xmas pudding, or Xmas cake – though I imagine that, as usual, dessert will effectively be my tea, later in the evening.

All the Xmas presents have been bought. All the Xmas food has been bought, apart from the jam sponge pud because I haven’t yet found any that amount to more than two mouthfuls, and those genuinely last minute things like fresh bread.

And that’s what makes these the odd days. Because there’s nothing to do. My regular TV programmes are into their several Xmas breaks. This year’s Festive TV is completely unappealing, nothing – literally – until Sherlock, and that’s after New Year’s Day. There’s no football, no cricket. I am going to no parties, for no drinks. I am working all week, and it feels peculiarly hollow, especially as the day nears, and most solutions are now going to have to be postponed until after Xmas.

There’s no engagement, no involvement, just a handful of days to be passed through on the way to something better. Xmas holds no religious significance for me, and it never really has, for all that I used to believe, vaguely, in God for most of my life. I am now, and for several years have been, an atheist, so really the season is now one of material pleasure – in the turkey I’m going to stiff myself with, the books I’m looking forward to reading etc. – and the pretence, at least and however falsely, that we can be good and nice and decent to each other.

For a couple of days. Until we are let off the hook, and can go back to being utter bastards again, the way we seem to like it (see all political developments in this country, and overseas, in 2016).

It’s just a question of getting there. Which means going through the odd days, the ones with no meaning except the passage of time, from minute to minute and hour to hour.

Merry Kirstymas!


They say it’s only the fourth time there’s ever been a Chart published on Xmas Day itself and I can believe it: all those long years of no chart in Xmas week, the Number One getting an automatic two week stint – so that’s how ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Mull of Kintyre’ did it: cheats.

It’s also going to be only the second time since Simon Cowell took out a private purchase of the Xmas No. 1 that it isn’t going to be the X-Factor winner at the top, and that can only be good. Part of the fun, when it was still fun, was the uncertainty. Is it going to be Justin Beiber still, or are we going to see the NHS Choir at no. 1. Less than a minute until we know, as I type…

And ‘A Fairytale of New York’ peaks this year at no. 13.

(And the Choir did it: good on Justin Beiber – and those are words I never thought I’d ever type – for urging his fans to buy it instead of him).

Marry Kirstymas, everybody!

Secret Santa


Living alone, as I do and have done for the past few years, makes Xmas and Xmas presents a very simple subject indeed. I have only one living relative in this country, to whom I only speak at funerals, which leaves me only one person to buy presents for.

This is a two-edged proposition. On the one hand, I am absolutely guaranteed getting only things that I want, but on the other hand, I have to forego the simple joy of tearing off the wrapping to find out what that odd-shaped parcel is concealing. This year’s Xmas is contained in a couple of supermarket carrier bags tucked in beside the desk, and an overlarge cardboard box containing the Russell Hobbs Slow Cooker that was my selection from my employers’ annual ‘Xmas stocking’.

The sole exception to this is Secret Santa.

My first experience of this expedient device was back in 1987, when I was working for the first of my two firms in Altrincham. By the time Xmas came around, I had been (secretly) dating one of my colleagues, and it was with a great glee that had to be firmly suppressed in order to preserve our privacy that I immediately went and drew her name!

Not that I need have bothered: all the women in the firm had worked out about us from a very early stage, though in defence of my hopelessly inadequate poker-face, there were seriously extenuating circumstances.

Not that I played Secret Santa for long: three years later, we ‘merged’ with a nearby firm and Secret Santa was just one of many things – our offices, our systems, 95% of our staff – that did not carry over.

Nor did Secret Santa rear its head again at any place I worked until the formation of my current team at my employers, three years ago.

So it was done today, an extremely rare occasion when we could actually get all of us, on our different shifts, in the same place at the same time. I have given out my present, and have unwrapped the only present this year that I did not know the contents in advance. And have demonstrated, yet again, how bloody difficult I am to buy for.

(Actually, when I drew the name of my recipient, I have no idea what to get her, but I enlisted one of our team-mates as my personal Secret Santa Xmas Shopper, resulting in a tasteful collection of little things that she absolutely loved. So that was two presents where I didn’t know what was under the wrapper).

Six days left. Are there any surprises in store?

Xmas Starts Early 2


I work in a Call Centre. Unless the calls are flying thick and fast, we usually have televisions on in the background, with the sound off. This isn’t too much of a problem when it’s something like sport, where you can follow the pictures, but less successful on something like, say, Xmas videos.

Each year, we sit here for days on end watching MTV on the overhead screens as they plough through various Xmas oriented programmes, despite the futility of watching music with the sound off.

It’s the kind of programmes we get that gets me. Firstly, Has-Been Celebrity No 1 picks their Twenty Favourite Xmas Videos. These include such luminaries as Mariah Carey, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, The Darkness, Slade, Wham!, Wizzard, Mel and Kim, Band Aid and the rest of the usual suspects.

This is then followed by Has-Been Celebrity No 2 picking their Twenty Favourite Xmas Videos, seventeen of which are the same as those chosen by Has-Been Celebrity No 1 but in a slightly different order.

After which Has-Been Celebrity No 3 picks their Twenty Favourite Xmas Videos, eighteen of which you’ve already seen during the prevuious two programmes, and you still haven’t heard a single one of them. In the case of fifty per cent of these videos, this is a bonus, especially if the choice has fallen on any John Lewis Xmas Ad Famous-Song-Done-Hypersensitively-At-A-Tempo-That-Would-Bore-A-Snail.

It’s not even December until next Monday. All a bit previous, what?