The Letrasetter, by Julie Myerson

For weeks we've been exhorting you to spend, spend, spend, but now that the presents have (with any luck) been bought and the preparations are complete, it's time to ponder the deeper meaning of Christmas. We asked our favourite writers to rant, reflect or reminisce on a festive theme. As Ronald Hutton explains, the last thing you should feel at this time of year is guilty, so sit down with a mince pie and enjoy
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The Independent Culture

Christmas 1986, and in my job as a publicist at the National Theatre I was working on the early evening Platform Performances (the shows that go on before the main show). For several months I'd been working with a young assistant director who'd written and directed a couple of these. I didn't know him well, but the little I knew, I didn't like. He was extremely annoying a bossy perfectionist whose imperious manner verged on rude. Not only that, but he was critical of my Letrasetting. In those pre-computer days, I had to design and create each A4-sized poster single-handedly at my desk, then run them off on the photocopier. He had the cheek to ask me to redo one of his because the title words weren't quite perfectly straight.

But now it was the holiday season, the evening of 23 December, and I was in the Green Room. The place was packed and everyone was drinking next day the theatre would be closed and, as each show came down, actors and staff were off home to places up and down the country. I don't remember who I was sitting with that evening. All I know is that once whoever I was talking to had gone, I found myself next to the annoying young assistant director and it would have been impolite not to talk to him. I remember the exact corner of the room that we were sitting in the angle of the seats, the distance from the bar. I remember tinsel and lights and perhaps a Christmas tree, and the haze of loud faces and voices all around us. And the way they all seemed to dim and slip away as we talked.

He had paint in his hair and he looked exhausted. He was eating a stale-looking cheese sandwich, gobbling it down much too fast as theatre people do. He told me that he'd been married briefly but it didn't work out. That his father had just died after a long, sad illness. That he'd been trying to decorate his house, painting the walls late at night after the theatre and he didn't think he'd ever get it finished. He told me he had two kittens at home that two cats was better than one if you were out all day, because they kept each other company. I don't know what I told him. All I know is that two hours later we were still there and we knew each other's life stories and I'd changed my mind about him completely.

He asked me if I'd like to go and get something to eat. I told him I'd love to but I couldn't I was having dinner with an actor (an actor we, in fact, both knew) and had to meet him soon, when his musical in the West End came down. He shrugged and said in that case, he'd drive me there.

It was about 10 o'clock, a raw, cold evening little drifty flakes of snow squeezing themselves out of a black sky. We got in his car and he drove me to my date. The actor wasn't my boyfriend. He was just part of the fun I'd been grimly forcing myself to have ever since someone I'd loved a lot had broken my heart. And if this had been a movie, I'd have probably stood the actor up, left him waiting in the cold outside the Duke of York's, and allowed the evening to take me wherever it would. But I didn't. I was a good girl and I stuck to my plan. The young assistant director who now felt like an intimate friend stopped the car and stared at the steering wheel.

"Happy Christmas then," he said.

"Happy Christmas." I kissed him on the cheek. Just before he drove away, he rolled down the window.

"Come round for dinner some time after Christmas!" he shouted.

"OK," I said.

After Christmas, he smiled at me a couple of times in the lift, but said nothing. I waited for an invitation but none came. Finally, catching him lingering at the photocopier outside my office without anything to copy, I reminded him of what he'd promised. "Come tomorrow," he said straightaway.

I don't know what date it was a Friday some time in early January 1987 but I know the snow was thick and deep in Clapham that night. It had started snowing in the afternoon and hadn't stopped. As I walked up that long, lamplit street to the young assistant director's small, half-decorated terraced house, snow squeaking under my boots, I was stupidly imagining there might be other people there at dinner. But I was wrong. I was the only guest. Just him and me and the two kittens. And as he opened the door and I went in, I remember the feeling of walking straight into another life, and in a way, I was. The life I live now.

A few years and three babies later, he gave me a present. It was a framed copy of one of the posters I'd Letrasetted for his shows. It was completely embarrassing. I couldn't believe the crudeness of it. The photocopier had clearly been low on ink that day. And the lettering was just all over the place.

Julie Myerson's novel 'Out of Breath' will be published by Cape in February 2008

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