I’m typing into my keyboard. I’m in a Santa hat. It is ironically un-ironic. If I embrace Christmas now then I can feel like I have done my bit. If I can make it till lunch, and email that I will be working from home for the afternoon, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a pleasant break, well then I can sit in my car and rest there for a few minutes, listening to cars fizz by, the sounds of myself: my scratches; my breath; the tension of the chair. A smell of cigarette ash. I can try to forget my workmates. I can forget the Christmas songs that play all week. I can forget “Blue Christmas”. I can forget the brassy idiot who sits opposite me, eating from a cartoonishly big box of Maltesers, pointing up to the speaker on the wall, tonguing the chocolate malt debris to one side of his mouth and fixing his eyes on me:
“This is my favourite Christmas song this.”
“Oh right,” I reply.
He tries again, using his feet on the floor to spin the chair left and right, fiddling with the box of balls. “‘Blue Christmas’, innit.”
I say nothing.
“Anything miserable I like,” he says.
It’s not altogether fair to blame Christmas. I do not dislike Christmas. I like most Christmas movies, I fucking love the food. Christ knows I like to booze. It’s the people I can’t stand. Obviously people in general are hard to be around, but at Christmas people are more peopley. People who are not usually drunk are drunk and people who are not normally happy are merry. In a world full of people who cry at adverts, December is a fucking frenzy of terrible human beings.
What Child is this
Who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
It is precisely because people ruin Christmas for me that I have decided to spend it alone. I am newly single. This isn’t about that, it’s not a break up story. Please don’t think that. I didn’t really want to break up, and it was hard yada yada yada, but I hated having to spend Christmas with her, or fit her into Christmas with Dad’s family and Mum’s family. And this isn’t about coming from a broken home either. It was broken long before it existed in two separate households and I get on fine with Mum and Dad and even their families precisely because I don’t see them very often. Dad is poor and he doesn’t really talk, not even to his new family who don’t seem to pay him any attention, which I think suits him better. So Christmas at his is shit because it means shit beer and talking to strangers. Mum is Christian (she cheated on Dad and the Christianity was sort of a takesy backsy some time after) so doesn’t really drink and neither does her partner Steve, who is boring as fuck, so I don’t really get a drink there, and I have to listen to stories about his shed. Last Christmas I had to drink Coors Light at Dad’s, then nothing at Mum’s, then a glass of mulled wine at my girlfriend’s parents’. It was shit. Just fucking terrible. Especially annoying that all day on Instagram my friends were posting pics of excellent food and better beer.
I shall spend Christmas alone. And doing so will be easy. I shall tell Mum that I cannot make it because Dad is not well and I don’t know how many Christmases he has left, and I shall tell Dad that Mum is not well and that I don’t know how many Christmases she has left. And I shall spend it alone. I am typing on a keyboard. I am drinking an ice-cold can of Coke, which is my only friend in here. I am avoiding emails. I am on a beer website, I order a crate of 24 beers from Beavertown.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
I’m in my car. I’m excited at the prospect of a Christmas alone. A Grinch. A yuletide Huysmanns. I sit in my car and rest there for a few minutes, listening to cars fizz by, the sounds of myself: my scratches; my breath; the tension of the chair. A smell of cigarette ash.
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.
Petrol stations on my usual route home are just petrol stations but if I take a little detour I can hit the BP with the Wild Bean Café. For those not au fait with petrol stations a Wild Bean Cafe is essentially a dry-croissant shit-but-not-Kenco-shit coffee appendage inside a petrol station.
I pull up in the space designated to drivers not immediately in need of petrol and when I see that the shop is busy, consider backing up and heading straight for home. I have lots of Christmassy foods at home and in truth this visit is less about the Wild Bean Café and more about seeing if the short gold-faced girl with large but immaculately crafted eyebrows is working. Underneath her cap they look like bold apostrophes.
As I walk past the newspaper stand outside, I can already see that she’s not there, but because of a sense that my every move is being watched, reviewed, and reported, continue on my way and into the shop towards Wild Bean’s offerings, pausing only to survey the covers of men’s magazines fronted by seriously ripped brutes. There is a good range of black men and white men on the covers and I note that diversity is not an issue in the abs game. The photos themselves are in black and white, too, high in contrast, but somehow I am still able to imagine my ex getting done doggy style by the guy on the cover of Men’s Health with blond curtains. This pangs less so than last week.
“No. Can I get a medium white Americano and a pain au chocolat, please?”
“No,” I repeat, hoping that the queue behind me hasn’t heard me ask for coffee. They will know soon enough anyway, I guess.
“OK, one moment.”
I spin my elbow on the counter and face the queue behind me. I don’t want to make eye contact so feign renewed interest in the magazines, but the blond curtains guy is seriously pummelling my ex now, so I turn back and watch the squat moustachioed Wild Bean dude make my coffee. The large bloke behind reaches to one side of me to pick up a pack of Lockets (Honey and Lemon) like he’s on a date with me and teaching me how to strike a cue ball. I can’t imagine why he had to grab at the lockets now rather than wait till he’s at the front of the queue, so flick him a glance to let him know that I don’t approve of him attacking my personal space.
“Sorry there, pal.”
“No trouble,” I say, immediately backing down.
He clears his throat. A satisfying sound if not slightly repulsive. He smiles. “It’s always bloody Christmas when you get ill isn’t it?”
“Sometimes it’s not Christmas too,” I say.
The squat Wild Bean dude with the moustache returns with my goods, takes payment, delivers change, but the whole time I’m thinking about the Locket bloke behind me and that line I just laid on him. So focussed is my distraction that when I turn I almost drop my coffee, and in almost dropping my coffee I do drop all my change, which crashes around the immediate area. I grab at the coins mid-air, catching none, like Sonic having one of his recurring nightmares. The fairly busy shop comes to a standstill and they look on me as quite the tragedy. I try to laugh it off but I’m made to look an even bigger fool when the Lockets guy starts patting my back as I bend down. I don’t know why he’s touching me so much but he is definitely not all there. Other people are helping now and despite my protestations they persist, offering weird condolences such as “I’ve done it many times,” and one colossal cunt even attempts comedy with, “Didn’t your mum ever tell you that you should look after you money?” He says the words ha ha. But that’s not the worst of it: Lockets guy breaks into a jig as the opening chimes to the Shakin’ Stevens track “Merry Christmas Everyone” plays, and before the opening line sounds he replaces it with: “Change is falling / all around me.”
“Just… no, you fuckings!” I say. “My mum has died, OK. She’s dead meat.”
I look over at the Men’s Health and sure enough my mum is getting done by blondie. She’s not dead, and she’s not getting banged on the cover of a magazine, and neither is my girlfriend. I leave the station. I’m in my car, I’m shaking my head. I laugh but I don’t mean it.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and donkeys are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
At least at home I’ve got all the food I’ve ordered. Away from everyone and their shit Christmases I can get on with my own Christmas planning. I take out paper and a pen from the draw where she left them and plot out my course. In the morning I will arise to M&S’s Christmas coffee. I will have gold top milk from Jersey with it, and the water I boil will be Evian’s finest spring water. Breakfast will be ten bacon medallions, each with a soft fried egg on top. You probably don’t believe that I can eat ten eggs. That’s fine. We’ll see. I’m not massive on bread so I’ve gone with English muffins. They will be squashed, toasted brown. I have purchased some Hollandaise from Waitrose. Yeah, the breakfast meal is knocking on the door of benedict. Then I will start drinking. I have considered wines and liquors, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart wants double IPAs and Belgian farmhouse ales that cost ten times as much over here as they do in the abbeys they’re brewed in. I have never been, but I have read as much on many a blog post. The day will continue like that. There will be no turkey, but there will be armies of pigs-in-blankets (honestly Morrison’s do the best P.I.B.s) and plentiful stuffing to boot.
All the note-taking of food is taking its toll, and I crack open a giant bottle of imperial-something beer. “Imperial” is middle-class for Special Brew. It doesn’t stop there. Of course it doesn’t. It’s fine though, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which is a good day to be hungover and do nothing. I have already told family members that I can’t see them because I’m working, old friends that I’m seeing family, and colleagues that I’m seeing old friends (yes these giant fucking ingrates want to meet up on the eve of Christ’s birthday). Notes, notes, notes. Squiggles. A pig doing the Apocalypse Now thing in water. I’ve seen off the lion’s share of the beer. I’m back onto serious notes but I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still getting a bit creative with it all as I listen to the Piano Moods playlist suggested to me by Spotify and name my shopping list “Chopin Liszt”.
Nails, spears shall pierce him through,
the cross he bore for me, for you.
Christmas Eve. I wake up and my head hurts with dryness. Like it’s cracked in places. I imagine shaving my hair off and the scalp looking like drought desertification. Really quite hungover. I have been dreaming about drinking milk from the fridge, which is at least a reprieve from dreaming about getting fingered by some kid I used to know in school. “Water, not there,” I report to myself. I remember a line from What Child Is This: Nails, spears shall pierce him through / the cross he bore for me, for you.
I feel a little cheated for Jesus. He did all that and here’s me feeling like this? Fuck. I almost laugh at Christ’s misfortune, but I’m trying to sit up and my head rings foul. There is little else for it, I head to the kitchen, grab the four-pint carton of milk and take it to the toilet where I sit taking a shit, swigging greedily as an unwelcome erection persists. What would people think I was into if they saw me now? I head back to bed, collapse, then remember the Hotel Chocolat stuff that’s back in the kitchen. A little ahead of schedule, sure, but I take to it and drag the paper bag full of confection back to the discreet promise of the white sheets of John Lewis. They are in part warm, and for this I am truly thankful. I put BBC World News on because I need the comfort that subtitled despair brings. I find an empty box of Chesterfield Reds. Bogart’s pallbearer. I lie in a fetal position and, without looking at them, break open the little clear wrappers and stuff the choc into my gob. I do this until I feel faintly sick, and then just lie there watching a news reporter walk past a giant Dr Pepper mural that has been bombed. I need to sleep. Why can’t I fall asleep?
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.
The sweat on my pillow wakes me up. I cough but can’t catch the phlegm that sits in my throat. Fuck’s sake, was I smoking? The cough turns into a retch. Wretched. I head back into the toilet and spit out everything I can. Not vomit, just all the phlegm I’ve coughed up. The retching is behind me. I head downstairs and straight to the fridge. I need something fizzy and cold. There is only beer. I take a low percentage session beer, flick the cap off with my teeth, sip tentatively. The beer produces a burp. Against all odds, this was a good idea. I have a few more sips. Definitely the first time that I’ve gone down the route of “hair of the dog”. I’m usually a large pepperoni from Papa Johns the moment I can open my laptop kinda guy.
There is not much else for it now. I break into the chocolate stash, devour that. Then hit the cheese. I eat a giant Babybel, dipping the rubbery tears into Encona hot pepper sauce as I go. The Manchego I eat on black pepper crackers from Whole Foods. I approach nausea, and sink another couple of beers. This makes me ravenous, and so I start groping at the fridge again, and pull out a kg of sausagemeat and stuff it into the oven, and when it’s good and edible, I eat half of it, slicing it with a fork which I also use to feed myself. I’ve left the oven on, reminds me that I planned to cook pigs-in-blankets today and eat them tomorrow, so I tend to that. Foresight is not usually my strongest hand so, fairly chuffed with myself, I have a few beers, and then beers. I head to the front room, which is the only tidy room in the house. I turn on the TV but it’s shit, so I open a bottle of red wine instead. I order Chinese. x2 chicken chow Mein.
When I was a child, I had a cat. I got it for Christmas. Completely unexpected. Maybe my last good surprise. Who knows? But both my parents were allergic to cats so having one in the house had been unthinkable. This isn’t about the cat either. Don’t think that it’s about a fucking cat. It died before seeing another Christmas anyway. A nurse ran it over outside our house. She was in tears when she came to the front door. I was sitting at the top of the stairs, from where you could see the front door, watching her tell my Dad. We made eye contact.
I can’t finish all the Chinese. I’m bloated, and quite tired. I finish the wine though. Turn on the TV. Repose.
So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
This is no good. You cannot feel this way on Christmas morning. I put Home Alone on and cook up a batch of M&S Christmas coffee. The pigs-in-blanket are a struggle, but a tasty struggle. I am fighting this. This hangover is not bigger than me. Somehow though, the coffee renders even the thought of the “hair of the dog” tactic employed yesterday now an impossibility. “Rockin Around The Christmas Tree” plays on my screen, and I do a little dance. I have more coffee, but it makes my hands a bit shaky so I throw half a cup away and have water instead. I eat as much of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange as I can, then take my phone to the toilet and play games on it whilst I shit. It’s no use. I start crying. So much of me is done on the toilet. Dad texts me.
“hope all is well merry xmas and hope all is ok with mum. dad xx”
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
I’m in the car and I’m driving forty-seven miles to see Dad. It is approaching 11am. I get my phone out to text him that I am on my way but the battery dies. Fine. Fine. Fine. That’s OK, it will be a surprise. No. It will be a Christmas fucking miracle. I will spot him through the curtains, his dim face lit green, then red, then blue, then yellow by the bulbs of the Christmas tree lights, then he will hear me slamming my car door shut and see me through the window, through the snowfall, and his face will be like that of the protagonist of an advert who finally gets the post-Christian normative togetherness that they’ve desired. We will embrace at his door. A place for me at the table will be set and after dinner I will sit with him most of the evening and sip on Coors Light or Bud or whatever and make him feel like a good dad. I will tell him he was a good dad. When he says, Well, I don’t know about that or I did my best I will stop him and portraying sincerity I will relay how much I had never been so happy as when he got me that cat. He will laugh, I had to fight tooth and nail with your mum to get you that. We will trade anecdotes on the mischief the cat got into in its short time with us, the time it scratched up mum’s Moroccan rug from Tunisia. I will let that go. The look on her face and You know I don’t remember being so happy as that. We’ll raise a glass to it, to that nurse. The look on her face. I’ll tell him we had good times. A car pulls into my lane and I can’t quite believe it but she’s on the phone and doesn’t see me and it happens really quickly and I’m spinning. Loud noise.
Raise, raise the song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
The other car is gone. That’s what I notice first. I don’t think I’m that annoyed. It’s Christmas and she must’ve had somewhere to be. Obviously I’m not dead or anything like it, but my shoulder hurts like it’s been punched really hard. The car is pretty fucked up. The radio fizzes into life. I check to see if my legs are still attached because this is usually the bit that the driver looks down to see a couple of thighs torn to bloody pulsating stumps. They are still in tact. I get out of the car, take a look at it. The left front wheel is almost off, turned out slightly – clearly not in line with the other wheel. Am I in shock? No, I am not that sort of person. When I was thirteen I was touched up a few times by my rugby coach but it’s never bothered me. I’m just not that sort. I get back into the car. “Blue Christmas” plays. I grab my wallet from the compartment. Adele falls to the floor. She’s 25. She looks right through me.
It’s pretty chilly out here. Still no cars coming. Madness. Not one. I walk. There’s nothing else to be done. It’s dark, it’s freezing, I’m going nowhere. I say it out loud: I’m going nowhere. And then I sing: I’m on the road to nowhere. Ah, mum always sang. Or at least hummed along to music. Especially at Christmas. It was adverts that would get her going. Rum-alum-atum-tuming to “Stop The Cavalry”. It was really only the Toys R Us advert that would get me going. Nothing like jumping on their bed at 7am in mid-November, hands in the air, “Millions of fucking Geoffrey all under one roof!” How glorious. How glorious that first visit of the season to Toys R Us was. The quiet expectation of post-shop McDonalds. The back seat’s collective heart sinking as the giant M passed. Or the release of every good chemical in your body when the car slowed to a turn and the glow of red and yellow rode up on all sides of the car as you entered the fog of that instantly recognisable mist of sweet oil, its scent. I can smell it now.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!
I can smell it now.
And lights. I see lights. Is it… it is. It’s a SERVICE STATION. A glowing service station, monolithic. A north star. A hub of civilisation. I make my way inside. McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut. There’s a Krisky Kreme stand. I haven’t yet tried their limited edition donut. This is glorious. There are no cars. There are no cars? Wait. Shit. Is it closed? It can’t be, I think, making my way across the car park, the lights are still on. All of them. I raise my arm to open the first giant door, it feels like an age, like everything stops for a lifetime before I make contact. It opens. It opens. It opens. I’m in. I should call Dad, or the AA. I will, of course I will. But first McDonalds. And then I think, Fuck it, why not everything? You’ve always wanted to eat a medley. I order Chicken McNuggets with fries (McDonalds fries are the pick of the litter), an XL Bacon Double Cheeseburger, I sneak a few slices from the Pizza Hut Buffet, and order a Meatball Marinara (six inch) from Subway. It feels like too much, but I still get a Zinger Burger. I still remember my first one. I hadn’t liked spicy stuff or mayo before that first time. I have a Coke and a banana milkshake (McDonalds). I sit down in front of two plastic trays. Survey the feast. Survey the surrounding tables. Survey this giant hall. There’s no one here. No one? Not one person? I bite into each item, moving from one to the next before I’ve swallowed the last. In the frenzy I think maybe I enjoy the bite of the nuggets the most, the oil seeping from the sponge of the coating, but this is a frenzy, it’s hard to know, and I don’t have time to dwell on the details. I love this. This is everything. I am glad I am alone. This is everything. Krispy Kreme next. No need to finish this. It’s Christmas. I walk over to the stand, carrying the box of McNuggets. I open the tiny panes to get a closer look at the selection, where’s that Christmas one? I’ve noticed it around. It’s bright in the stand, the shelves sparkle. Some of the donuts are so bright, in fact, they’re like snow at midday. More than glistening, they’re ferocious in their whiteness. It’s hard to see. Is that the Christmas one, with the little red Rudolph nose? It’s right at the back, hard to grab at. The tiny flickering lights of the crystallised icings are ganging up on me. So, so bright. And then I get a sniff of that Christmas donut as reach into the light. How sweet it smells. It stinks. Stinks sweet. It stinks of sweet oil? No, it stinks of oil. Just oil.
Burning oil. I look up at the stars. Where?
“It’s ok, you’re safe now,” says a handsome kid kneeling over me.
“Krispy Kreme,” I tell him.
“You’re delirious. You’ve been in a crash, mate.”
“You’re that cunt from the magazine,” I say.
“You fucked my girl on the cover of that magazine.”
“Mate, you’ve been in a crash. You’re delirious.”
“No, you’re delicious, Krispy Kreme.”
I start laughing, I’ve worked it out now. I laugh louder, taste blood in my mouth. I look beyond the handsome fucking kid and the woman is spread across the floor. She doesn’t look like she’s getting up. I hope she enjoys her Krispy Kreme. The Christmas one.
The handsome kid sits me up, tells me, “Stop crying, you’re going to be fine. You’re OK.”
I tell him it’s not fine. It’s not OK. Ask him to tell me something nice, something sweet. And, behind the crackles of oil fire, he says to me in song, “What child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?, This, this is Christ the king.”