I have just had my Christmas spirit restored. Now there’s a word, restored; maybe I mean vindicated, but it seemed to blossom with the warmth of recognition like some pitiful and malnourished creature, as I sat and watched the Grumpy Old Men Christmas Special on BBC2. Best hour I’ve spent slouched in front of the goggle box in a long time and it did more for my personal validation than even Harry Enfield’s Kevin did, just after my eldest son hit thirteen.
Now I find myself feeling all kind of warm and fuzzy and hopeful and benign because I’m not mad, we don’t have the most dysfunctional family on the face of the planet and the odd reverberation of Bah Humbug that has rattled around in my head itching to tick, tut and set my eyes rolling over the past couple of weeks is no longer a shameful secret looked down upon by a disapproving society.
Perhaps I am living in the wrong town, or maybe I don’t get out enough, but surrounded, I felt, by people doing the rounds and visiting this or that aunty/ pantomime whilst claiming to be having a solvent, benign and perfectly tranquil and soul restoring Christmas (on a blatantly high budget) had made me a little bitter. I forgot that if people were truly having such a whirlwind of ecstasy they would hardly be desperate to rush over and tell me about it, they’d just be getting on with it. I’m not irritated at them, mind, don’t get me wrong, but at the whole palaver where options seem to become necessities, where one appears to be letting the side down if the relatives you had paid no attention to for the last twelve months didn’t suddenly become the centre of the universe and the best people to take to a party, where buying presents only for those people that mean something to you and within your budget to boot is seen as the height of party-pooping.
Yes on Christmas Eve in this house the un-ironed laundry will get wedged into a bin bag and hidden at the back of the airing cupboard so that both sofas are empty ‘at least at Christmas’ even though this means it will probably end up going back through the wash in January to shift some of the harder creases caused by storage. Yes I will then be up, alone, probably until 1am, wrapping the kids’ presents that quite honestly we’ve been too knackered to drag out of the hiding places. Yes there will be something that someone deems essential to Christmas that we will have forgotten to buy, like chocolate, or enough milk for a cup of tea. Yes the children will thrill and rip and discuss and spread paper and presents around until its time to start making the dinner. Set it up, tidy it up, cook the food, eat the food, slob to the sofa and watch some inane family programme and start to feel like a prisoner. It doesn’t matter. That one TV programme has jogged my memory and reminded me it always was and always will be like this, please God.
Until I laughed along with the observations of Arthur Smith, Will Self, John Peel, Rick Wakeman, Jeremy Clarkson and more, I had forgotten that this is actually what its all about. I was beginning to see the whole thing as over indulgence and an almost tawdry and masturbatory experience – one that seems thrilling or at least urgent at the time, until the second its over, when it suddenly feels empty and pointless and rather grubby. Err, what did I do that for? Right, mop up and put the kettle on then.
I want to take task with only one point in the whole programme; I don’t think all people camped out at the supermarket are shopping crazy; I think some are distraction crazy and quite honestly if I had the money I might have joined them. Being constantly ‘down the shops’ and bombarded with sparkly lights and jingly music and crowds pre-Christmas is a way to tell ourselves that we are having a ‘brilliant time’ because its busy, busy, busy. Being out to the sales at 10am on Boxing Day is simply ‘something real to do’ that doesn’t involve being wedged on a sofa next to Uncle Arthur while he tries to slurp Satsuma pith out of his dentures, or next to the kids while they argue over who broke the most expensive present one of them got and how. I suspect the end of any trip just after Christmas is incidental to the journey – somehow we feel we ought to be up and about, anywhere but staring at the residue of the day before, but to have a real place to go and a real reason to go there when in fact what we want is the air provided by the journey to and from.
Some marketing genius (and may God deal as He sees fit) saw this, saw the need to keep the momentum up, as if like runners we need to keep going when the race is run, not to come to a dead and terrifyingly jarring halt; to take our minds away from hangovers and the temptation to strike relative X from the Christmas list forever, if not from this life, for the outrageous things they said yesterday under the influence.
Hallelujah brothers, I have been saved. It all boils down to sex with yourself again – that awful situation where the spirit and the flesh are both jolly willing but the damned mind doesn’t want to play along, it happens you know, as soon as you start trying to schedule stuff like that. Going for a bit of FIY in the same way as you’d treat yourself to a bun from the bakers just doesn’t work, the mind isn’t focussed enough and things start to drag on as you become more and more bizarrely creative in an effort to (said it before) keep up the momentum. Boxing Day, when Christmas day was a damp squib, can be like that. Like a puppy chasing car tyres it feels, even as the imagined seventh heaven pulls further away, that if your subconscious can just keep your flagging body running, there’s still hope of Nirvana at the back of MFI. Sad.
Christmas for me, now, is going to be laid back. The children’s noise and disagreements, the husband’s inability to notice anything not square and electronic, all of it will go over my head, or otherwise I will smile benignly knowing this goes on all over the country, and more than that in the homes of some really rather wealthy and respectable old farts. And then I will do what their wives do – hide in the kitchen and politely refuse help with the cooking, possibly with the vodka and my jar of crystallised ginger for company. Why on earth not? They all get away with it at barbecues.
Honestly, Merry Christmas!