I'm in a good mood: what can have gone wrong?

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The Independent Culture
I WENT to the sales on Boxing Day last year, and how strange it sounds to write that. There should be an interregnum, a brief period of thoughtful acclimatisation during which last year isn't actually officially last year, not quite, not yet. A sort of afterglow, so that although we have been spat out, gasping, into a bleak post-orgasmic future, we can lie quietly, cradled in the arms of the past for a while, before we have to get up, shave and go out into the street to face our enemies. (Speaking metaphorically, of course; my enemies don't hang out in the street, except for one whose face I shall smash in if I see him, so I will. The rest of them turn up at spiffy media parties, and if you saw me there you'd think I was some sort of pasha, reclining in my armchair while people come up to me, one after the other. You would, of course, be wrong. What you see is not reclining but cowering, and all my supplicants begin their remarks with one of the traditional journalistic questions: who, what, when, where and why. You know: "Who the hell do you think you are? Saxifrage is in the kitchen in floods of tears, you bastard." "What are you doing here when you should be in South-East Asia, you bastard?" "When are you going to pay your bill, you bastard?" "Where's the article, you bastard?" "Why are you such a bastard, you bastard?" Well; you know how it is. One does one's best, but the world ... The world ...)

But there is no afterglow, no soft cuddle with the departing past. One minute it's this year, the next minute it's last year and there's a whole new one in progress, barking and snarling and serving us right. Even now, people are still mumbling "Happy New Year" to each other. The fools. The traditional Australian drinking-cry would be more appropriate: "D'you think you could keep another one down?"

Well; do you know, I rather think I can. And it's all to do with Boxing Day. Do you ever have those moments when you somehow seem to step back and see your life for what it is, all at once, like a horrid plate of school stew, all unidentifiable nastiness swimming in non-specific fluid, some bits once nice but now gone to the bad, other bits vile from the word go, and the worst bit is that you can't tell which are which? Do you ever get that? I've been getting it a lot over the last year or so. It's been hell, frankly. One minute I'd be chugging along happily, pretending to be an intrepid sea-dog and captain of my soul, and the next minute, poof!, the mist clears for a second and I stand revealed to myself as a pallid and unseamanlike amateur, utterly lost in a leaky bum-boat and puttering hopelessly around Hull Fish-Dock. Nothing could be more unpleasant, and until recently I would have said it was God's way of telling me that I was an utter schlemiel with as much hope of fulfilment and happiness as a satyr in a nunnery.

But that was before Boxing Day. My taxi- driver on Christmas Day - God knows what I was doing in a taxi on Christmas Day; everything went black around tea-time and the rest of it is a closed book - said that everyone was desperate. Those were his words: "Everyone's desperate. Shops and that. Nobody's bought nothing. They'll all be starting tomorrow, the wossnames, sales."

Which would have left me wholly unmoved, except that we were just passing a laughing family, all happy in Russell Square, and then, moments later, I saw a handsome young shag in a cashmere overcoat getting into a Ferrari, and next thing I knew I was plunged into a Hull Fish-Dock moment and everything came into focus. "I'm desperate," I thought; "I'll go to the wossnames. Sales. It's obviously the done thing." So next day, off I went, out onto the streets in my new Evil Dominator leather trousers, to look for the meaning of life at 40 per cent off.

Boxing Day is an honorary Sunday. It gets dark too early, and it rains, and makes you sad. And nothing was open. Nothing was for sale. But it didn't seem to deter the crowds. Oxford Street was crowded with bewildered people like medieval peasants, heads swivelling slowly from side to side, grumpy and disoriented, and nothing was open. They milled up and down South Molton Street, grumbling and smoking and snarling at their children, and nothing was open. By the time I got to Hanover Square, it was dark and drizzling and the peasantry had shuffled off to the dry comforts of videos and turkey; and nothing was open.

Nothing was open in Bond Street, either, but the street was busy with French people, wandering up and down and from side to side in alarmingly well-dressed little shoals. A French woman in a fur coat stood transfixed outside the Versace shop. "Didn't I read that he had been shot?" she asked her husband. "But yes," he said. "Hmmm," said the woman, gazing at the vulgarities within; "a pity; I should have liked to shoot him myself." Another little group had formed outside Watches of Switzerland, peering in at the empty velvet cushions in the window. I said hello. "Nothing is open," they said. They had come over on a Eurostar special trip; their hotel was half-staffed and surly, the food bad, London closed, and here they were, plodding hopelessly along in the drizzle, the dark and their smart Loden coats, staring at things which they couldn't get in to buy.

I was just settling down for a nice enjoyable spell of gloomy introspection - life as a hollow charade, the emptiness of consumerism, ultimate futility of all aspiration, the fugitive nature of human love, night in my soul and drizzle in my veins; in short, the usual - when something went "doink" (or it could have been "tink") in my mind and I realised that it wasn't going to happen. I strained and strained but all I could see was a bunch of mildly disappointed Frogs making the best of it with some nice window-shopping. My uncontrollable metaphor-machine, it appeared, had finally run out of steam. Nor has it come back since. This morning I saw two sad little men, a dead pigeon in the road, and a drunk old woman with a limping dog, and not one deep thought rose up to torment me. Shallow at last, and such a relief. Happy New Year? Gosh, yes; better than Prozac. !

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