'Tis the season to be a miserable old git

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
It's 5am, everything quiet except for the air- conditioning in the offices across the courtyard and the people downstairs who are ... doing it. Yet again. I blame Christmas. There's nothing to say about Christmas, but I have to write a Christmas column, so I sit here, stuck, in the small hours, and every now and then I have to get up and pace around the room.

This is an old house, 18th-century; the floorboards are cheap and warped and creaky, and I wear big boots; so when I pace around the room the people downstairs wake up. "Rats!" they think; "It's that cheap warped creaky bugger upstairs, waking us up again, nothing for it but a bit of the other," and off they go. I sit down again, trying to be silent, which means I can hear them at their other - a bit doesn't even begin to cover it, this is the entire bloody other, from soup to nuts - and then I sit there, brooding about the unfairness of life: me sitting here brooding about the unfairness of life while the people downstairs are downstairs having an awful lot of the other.

Presently they subside, happy, to snuggle in the afterglow, but I continue to brood. Time passes. The page remains blank. I remain stuck. In due course I have to get up and pace around the room, and they wake up, and off we go again in the sort of hideous metaphor of existence which comprises my "life".

It's worse than usual, tonight. Were it any other night, I could just write about the people downstairs, the Others: harmless enough people, quiet and tolerant neighbours, but I could write about them and criticise their smart appearance, their regular habits, the way that, every morning at 07.45am, it's into the shower, running water through the water-pipes without a care in the world, or the way they play their hi-fi so quietly that I have to lie under the table with my ear pressed to the floor before I can get angry about hearing every damn note. What do you think of that? Hmm? That's the sort of stuff I have to put up with. That's the sort of stuff I could normally write about, were it any other night.

But it's Christmas. I can't write about that. I have to write about Christmas, and there's nothing to say. Jesus may have come to bring peace on earth but on the other hand Jesus didn't have to put up with the sort of stuff I do: final demands, taxis, Duracells, rum, the general public, ironing, cigarette burn-holes in the duvet cover, wristwatch envy, deadlines, spermicide, Stagecoach plc, e-mail, catalogues, Microsoft Word, mice, Lucky Strikes, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Spice Girls, Remegel. I bet nobody ever rang Him up in a whiny menacing estuarine accent and said, "Is that Mr Christ? Mr J Christ?" I bet He never had to put up with people saying "You want to be more careful with that olive oil next time" while He was trying to write His Christmas column. I bet He never had to put up with Christmas advertising, never ran the risk of bursting, blood all over the screen, from one Boots commercial too many. Peace, goodwill, a new covenant between man and God? Feh. It's all right for some.

It was different when I was little. At Christmas, even the air smelt different. You can buy Christmas in a spray, now: all those evocative scents like pine and tangerine, cinnamon and cloves; but that wasn't what Christmas smelt of at all. They're the nearest we can get, now that we're grown-up and the bit of the brain that does wild irrational excitement has somehow healed up. I think that's what I'd really like for Christmas: that healed-over bit of the brain back. It's still there; it just doesn't respond as it used to. If I lie quietly on the bed and lower myself gently into the past, it still operates; all the intensity of childhood experience is still there, underneath a sort of impermeable membrane. I can still feel the trembling anticipation, the queasy excitement, the inexplicable descent into sleep when you knew that sleep was simply impossible. I can still remember waking up to the cold morning air in my bedroom, ridiculously early, but no matter how early, Father Christmas had always been. It was a fixed and infallible point, once a year, when you knew for certain that you'd never be let down, that you would have your heart's desire: not in the form of material things, not in the sense of wanting a Buzz Lightyear and getting a Buzz Lightyear, but of wanting, desperately, for it to be Christmas. And, lo, it was Christmas.

I'd like that back, please, this year. I'd like my entire past back, come to think of it, not to avoid my mistakes, most of which I've enjoyed, but because perhaps Christmas isn't just for the children, but for the parents, too. This time round, I'd try to make it a bit clearer to my own mother and father how much I loved Christmas then, how much I loved them, and still do; and how glad I am, in this tricky, edgy world, that they gave me a childhood which, despite all the turmoils and fights, still provides me with a refuge.

If I can't have my past back, it becomes more difficult. Oh, hell, there are things I want. I want a Ulysse Nardin GMT1 wristwatch, a Monster motorcycle, a Cessna 182 aeroplane, a new pair of moleskins, a brass-and-copper Pavoni espresso machine, three weeks in a Frankfurt brothel, a pair of real tortoiseshell spectacles, a long, low, one-roomed house on the western coastline of Madagascar. I want enough money to pay my tax bill, with enough left over to put in hand my new tweed suit at James & James.

But all this is useless yearning. The truth is that Christmas isn't really for me. I spend the whole year in a flurry of venery, self-gratification and wild sentimentality; frequently I do not even bother to get dressed; my job description involves lurching around, drunk on advocaat, contemplating the ineffable and talking nonsense. Christmas, for me, is just another day. What I really want is a day in an office, wearing a grey suit and doing something earnest with a very bad grace. Now that really would be a treat. !

Comments