Thursday, December 17, 2009


I'll be the first to admit that I'm slightly grumpy in the week before Christmas. I used to blame it on working in a shop, but I find that I'm still just as prone to feeling an undirected, indiscriminate anger at everything, particularly those houses with Christmas lights in the garden and inflatable Santas.

But Christmas has associations and I'm like an abused dog that flinches every time somebody bends down to stroke it. For me, Christmas Eve means queuing for three hours in Argos because my wife has decided that we haven't bought enough presents, followed by a 150-mile round trip to Twickenham to pick up my mother.

As much as I love my mother, she turns Christmas Day into an Alan Bennett play, with a steady stream of non sequiturs:

"Aunt Bess used to read the tea leaves. She could see all sorts of things. It's in the family. Then one day she gave up."

"Why? Did she see something bad?"

"No, she switched to teabags."

My wife's family used to know how to enjoy themselves. They would begin drinking champagne at 8.00 in the morning and, apart from a brief lull in the afternoon, the day would be one long party. The Christmas dinner wouldn't appear until 11.00 at night, as everyone was too drunk to organise the cooking any earlier. After the meal there would be indoor fireworks, which usually involved inadvertently setting fire to the Christmas decorations.

Coming from a teetotal family, it was a bit of a shock, but great fun.

Sadly, most of these people aren't around any more. Indeed, there have been so many deaths that I was beginning to fear a police investigation. With no siblings on either side, Christmases in the Steerforth household have become increasingly quiet.

On the subject of police investigations, my wife walked into a door latch last week and we had to go to the local A&E department. It was a ridiculous accident. A friend had sent a text to my wife and her phone was on the floor. As she bent down, the sharp end of a door latch cut her skin.

In the hospital, my wife told everyone that she had walked into a door. As she uttered those words, I could see people looking at me, thinking wife beater. "Can't you be more specific and say that it was the latch?" I asked, in vain.

Two days later, my son went to hospital with a suspected broken finger. It is only a matter of time before I receive a visit from Social Services.

To add to the Christmas spirit, our boiler started behaving badly. In Star Trek, they'd call it a "warp core breach", but the official plumbing term is "The pressure's up a bit." We have had two plumbers, neither of whom were competent enough to fix the problem, but that didn't stop them from invoicing us for £300! Hell will freeze over before I pay them.

Things seemed to be looking up at work, as a new person called Bill joined my team. Bill has had a remarkable life, working on engineering projects in remote jungle areas of South America, along with a six-year stint at the British Embassy in Moscow. Sadly, travel hasn't broadened his mind.

Bill is one of those people who vocalises everything that is going on in their head, rather like a woman I sat behind on a coach journey who said " hall." I have spent the last two days oscillating between hating Bill and hating myself for hating Bill, who isn't all that bad really.

But as I was thinking all of these grumpy thoughts, I learned that a friend has just experienced one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. Suddenly, my whole persective changed and the prospect of a quiet, uneventful Christmas now seems like a luxury. I won't take it for granted any more.


Bob said...

Dear Steerforth,

I am sorry about your friend - I hope she/he gets strength from your friendship.

Thanks for your blog. It is a smile make and a think maker.

Got a job for an ol' Aussie?


UberGrumpy said...

Phew. Cheer up Steerie, it's Christmas!

And that's breach. A warp core breech is an awkward Vulcan birth

Steerforth said...

Well Bob, I'm always looking for new staff, but it would be one hell of a commute ;)

Uber - you're quite right. I hope I've managed to change it in time before Starfleet find out.

John Self said...

Oh, so it's boiler wars, is it? My wife and I were sitting at home last Friday night and one of us said, "Bit cold, isn't it?" and the other agreed. The heating wasn't working, and when I pressed the reset button on the motor that drives the oil into the boiler, it whined and made a burning smell (electrical burning, not oil burning).

To cut a long story short (too late, I know), it turns out that the boiler was obviously completely fucked and if I was half a man I'd have realised that just by looking at it (that wasn't exactly what the plumber said, but it was in his eyes). By Monday we had a new boiler, the modern energy efficient condensing sort, and a bill for not short of £1,800.

I have told Baby Self that Christmas is cancelled. He can play in the box for the new boiler.

JonathanM said...

Ha, I too was introduced to in-laws of a very similar mind. It's much calmer now,(and yes, not everybody is still alive) but in the old days when we had house parties at Christmas, Boxing day morning, was to quote a customer the other day, describing something very similar, like the fucking Somme.

Personally though, I love Christmas in the shop, if only because, for a week at least, I feel like somebody who has some money.

It's January I'm not too keen on.

Have a good one.

Ms Baroque said...

Aw, what a sweet post. Really. Because Christmas does come right in the middle of real life - that's the whole point of it. It's a challenge.

If it's any comfort, I've got a month-old cough, a boyfriend who "just feels defeated," & a kid with flu, my ex-husband - a self-employed bookdealer who runs a stall - just broke his ankle and can't do anything, and I just lost a week's pay through getting flu 3 days into a contract job...

I'm worrying about your friend. Hope everythging will be okayish.

Merry Christmas, though.

Ms Baroque said...

And we've really been enjoying those photo albums...

Steerforth said...

John - I invested in a new boiler in 2002, thinking that it would serve me for many years to come. How wrong I was. £1,800 sounds cheap - I paid the best part of £4000 for a ridiculous system that sounds like an aircraft taking off.

Jonathan - I know that feeling, particularly when you have a good last Saturday before Christmas. I shall tell my South London friends (all three of them) to go to the Crow.

Ms B - I hope that things improve in Baroque Mansions. Perhaps your supplies of vodka and quinces will have an antiviral and antidepressant effect?

Ms Baroque said...