Wednesday, 29 December 2010

On A Resolution Already Broken

Once again I find myself returning to the blogosphere's warm embrace with my tail between my legs.

After months of worrying about my advancing age, my greying hair and increasingly severe hangovers, I began to consider growing up. I decided to draw a line under the excess of my youth and at least to grow old gracefully. I was happy with this decision, until Boxing Day - the day on which this new resolution came crashing to ground.

I blame myself. To be more precise, I blame this post. Did I really believe I could be that smug and escape unpunished? No; I should not have said that I've 'learnt from the past' because, quite clearly, I haven't. I'm still completely useless at handling my drink and shouldn't be allowed up past 10 o'clock.

I started early, you see. I noticed that my dad and my (younger) brother were nursing their pints slowly, savouring them and that mine seemed to be disappearing somewhat faster than everybody else's. I explained this by telling myself that they were drinking Guinness, which is very heavy, and therefore cannot be drunk as quickly as lager. And then back to the house, where I should have stayed up for a few hours to catch up with relatives I haven't seen in a few months before heading to bed.

Unfortunately, I did no such thing. I did catch up with everyone, I had many an enjoyable conversation. The problem is that these conversations tended to increase in volume and crassness with each rum and coke that passed my lips.

The clock strikes 6 in the morning. The house is asleep, or at least it would be if yours truly, his father and his cousin weren't belting out a rousing rendition of Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas'. My dad threw in the towel at half past 6 and climbed the stairs to bed. My cousin fell asleep on the sofa. I, true to form, did some washing up - smashing an apparently expensive wine glass in the process.

The next day I was the last one up. I had trouble looking people in the eye, that bad did I feel. In fact, I felt so bloody bad I also had trouble walking, staying awake, talking and sitting upright. A group of particularly bedraggled people gathered in the corner - Those Who Stayed Up Late. I went to join them, and glanced briefly at their hungover faces before a wave of nausea demanded that I close my eyes. With my dad, my brother and two of my cousins I sat and listened as they patched together the night before. Apparently my brother made my dad go round the circle and tell everyone that he loved them, which we all found terribly amusing after so many years of him being emotionally closed off.

Since then, the memories have crept back. I had a great deal of fun, it must be said. I did not learn from past mistakes and retire to bed without making a fool of myself. I did not remain cool, calm and collected. We spoke of football, of music and people who are no longer with us. I sang, I shouted and I laughed until it hurt.

And then, the next day, I was sick down the back of my dad's head from the back seat as he drove us home.

A fifteen-minute drive later, we reached a motorway service station. As I wiped the vomit from my lap, and tried my best to wring out my sleeves, I began to think that next year I'll have to take my decision to grow up a little more seriously, I'm not 18 anymore, and if I'm not careful I'll have to start making my own way there and back.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

On the Small Screen


1. I have huge bags under my eyes. I am not a drug addict, I've just been out a lot lately, which coupled with this getting old lark is taking its toll on my once youthful features.

2. Despite what this may sound like, I am not going to turn up on your doorstep, so fear not.

3. I keep sniffing. I am not a drug addict. I've just been ill.

4. I'm making a 'I'm going to kill you face' at the beginning. This is unintentional. I don't want to kill you, not in the slightest.

5. This is also complete rubbish.

Monday, 20 December 2010

On Protest

I'm not sure you'll remember my post about possibly becoming more politically-minded. Well, I did mean what I said, and as such I've been devoting no small amount of time to my political education. It hasn't been easy - I'm still trying to suppress the rage that seems to form as soon as I open a newspaper for long enough to enable the formation of an intelligent, considered and balanced opinion of current affairs. This intelligence, careful consideration and balance went right out of the window on the day of the student protests. The more I read, the more I saw; the more I became a monster. Twitter and news websites combined forces to work me into a righteous anger I've seldom felt before. And so, after work, I trotted down to Trafalgar Square for a look.

When I arrived there were very few people about. A few tourists were taking photos. A group of old ladies wearing sashes bearing the name of a children's charity were taking their positions for an evening of carol singing. It was all...lovely. I thought I'd missed the show, and was about to head back to the station when I saw it, in the distance. A huge crowd moving its way slowly up Whitehall. The chants grew louder. The writing on the placards grew clearer. The hoard of Britain's 'Feedom Fighters' grew closer and closer.

Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere. Traffic cones flew through the air into the fountains, metal barriers crashed to the floor, the carol singers fled. A silent line of riot police stood unmoving on the steps of the National Gallery. And then a horrible thing happened. They started to pull the lights from the Christmas Tree. I looked on, AGHAST. I could hardly watch - but luckily the lights held their own. They are evidently very well secured. So the masked youths (how old does that make me sound?) tried a different tactic; they started a fire, and threw burning objects into the Christmas tree's branches. At this point I was beside myself and my Christmas Spirit lay crushed, on the floor, like a broken fairy light. In a daze, I turned my back and made my way home. I am so very far from hardcore.

However, apart from the attempted destruction of the Christmas tree (which survived mostly unharmed, by the way!) I'm all for the student protests - I back them, completely. I think. But it has to be one of the oddest moments of my life. The next day, any column inches the papers hadn't devoted to Charles & Camilla, told of the dangerous anarchist groups that managed to infiltrate the students' peaceful protest. I'm sure that's true to an extent - but I think part of the reason it spiralled so spectacularly out-of-control is that for the first time in ages, it's the young who are angry. Most of the protesters I saw were so bloody young. I applaud their engagement, but with all those hormones flying around and so few responsible adults, it was only a matter of time before things got messy. It's probably a sign of my age that my main reaction to what I saw was 'WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?!'

But, in a way, that's the point - isn't it? Who should they look up to? How else can they really make themselves heard? Who can they trust to keep their best interests at heart? The politicians they voted for lied to them in a way that's far more obvious than is usually acceptable. Graduates and people already in employment turn away, glad that they were lucky enough to sail the sea of Higher Education in calmer, happier climes. Many this new legislation will affect are still not old enough to vote - silent victims of a government they didn't vote for. It's no wonder they lashed out - it's no wonder they feel abandoned, frustrated and angry.

And part of me thinks it's just the beginning. As high street shops are forced to close their doors on the busiest Saturday of the year by people disgusted by legal tax evasion, I can't help but think there's something different in the air. A winter of discontent it may be - but the past couple haven't exactly been joyous. It's almost as if somebody has woken a monster, it's yawning and grumbling and stretching for the first time after a long hibernation. British people are, perhaps, learning from their continental cousins. Or perhaps they are just rediscovering a forgotten art that fell by the wayside in the boom years. Where's the stiff upper lip? Where's 'Keep Calm and Carry On'? I think maybe they've been left behind, for now. Maybe I'm just being dramatic. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, though, it's refreshing to see someone standing up for themselves.

Monday, 6 December 2010

On Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come

The fact that I have never read any of Charles Dickens' work has always been a source of shame for me. I've often felt that, as a British person with an appreciation of classic literature, it was nothing less than my civic duty to at least get to grips with his most famous works, if not immerse myself in his entire bibliography. And how better to start than with A Christmas Carol, at the time when the country is at its peak of festive merriment? So that's what I've been reading today. I know the story, of course - the Muppets taught me well - and the more i read the more I'm impressed with the timelessness of the lessons it contains.

This morning it seemed terribly apt. The snow has mostly melted, leaving the pavements covered in almost invisible patches of treacherous black ice. It was bitterly cold, and a dense freezing fog hung over the City, obscuring from view the top of the Gherkin and its new, and marginally taller, skyscraping neighbour. As Scrooge made his lonely way home through strikingly similar atmospheric conditions at the beginning of the story, so I scurried (and slid) my way to the office.

And as Scrooge ignored the pleas of two men seeking donations for the poor, so I avoid making eye contact with the people collecting for charities who camp outside Kings Cross, snaring unsuspecting commuters in their guilt-laced webs. It would seem then, that not so much has changed. Perhaps I'm not so different from Ebenezer. If this is indeed the case, then in what form would the spirits of my three Christmases appear?

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST. I have perfected the art of holding a grudge, of clinging onto regret and embarrassment far longer than is necessary. From the Christmas Day I shot my mum in the face with a toy gun that propelled foam balls in whichever direction I pointed it (while shouting 'I'm not spoilt!') to the accidental flash in front of my cousin, my past Christmases have been full of moments I'd rather forget. Of course there have been happy times, too. They were predominantly happy, in fact. But it's the humiliations and awkwardness of my past that stay with me and colour my current outlook on life the most. My ghost of Christmas Past would be an amalgamation of all of these - the jokes gone too far, the drinks I really shouldn't have accepted, the tantrums and bouts of ingratitude. I was a snivelling child and a terrible teen for which I'll be eternally embarrassed - but these things have played a part in making me who I am.

Well, that was grim. But fear not - 'tis the season to be jolly after all and my CHRISTMAS PRESENT is a bloody jolly place. You see, I've learned from the past and used it to my advantage. I'm a better person, capable of thoughtful gifts and hiding the slightest trace of 'what were you thinking?' when I get presents I don't like. I've found a place and personality that I'm comfortable with and I've banished the majority of the demons that plagued me as I grew up. At the moment, I'm so chilled I put that icy pavement to shame.

And so to CHRISTMAS YET TO COME. It's hard to say what future yuletides will bring but in order to end this post in a way that reflects the unusual sense of optimism I'm currently enjoying, I'll stick to what I want and not what is definitely achievable. Some of you may already know that I'm yearning to move out. There are circumstances that prevent this at the moment, but one Christmas Day I'd like to wake up in a house of my own. I'd like to repay the favour so many have shown me. To cook Christmas Dinner for everyone that matters to me, maybe. A small thank you to the ever-patient family and friends who have stuck with me for so many years - through the bad, through the good and right up to the perfect. A bit ambitious, perhaps. Not least because I can barely cook a microwave meal, let alone a turkey.

But anyway, I hereby swear that, this year, there will be no bah humbugging from me.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

On the Other Side of the Fence

When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper, my parents took me with them when they went to see Cats. I don't remember it at all, but afterwards they bought a copy of T.S. Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats', the poems the musical is based on. I read it over and over again, from cover to cover. I had my favourites, of course - and the cat I identified with most was The Rum Tum Tugger:

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he'd rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he'd rather chase a mouse.

Now I'm not all that fussed about chasing rodents, to be honest, but I think I share the Rum Tum Tugger's outlook on life. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.

It's incredibly annoying - to the extent that I irritate myself. The week before last I found myself, as usual, crammed onto a train at rush hour. I was one of hundreds of people jostling for space, gasping for air, throwing 'don't-even-think-about-it' looks at the man with the suitcase as big as a car wondering whether to attempt boarding. As the train trundled along its underground course, I wanted so badly to be somewhere else. Somewhere quiet, comfortable and, most importantly, stationary. Somewhere I could be on my own with my thoughts.

Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long, as I'd booked last week off. Finally I'd have a chance to relax. I'd purposely made as few plans as possible and couldn't wait to do sweet F.A., all day long. When I awoke to find the garden covered in a thick blanket of snow, with more still falling, I thought it couldn't get any better. Snow makes everything seem peaceful, quiet and uncluttered. Everything was perfect; the ideal situation for a week of ultimate relaxation.

Around three hours later, I was bored out of my mind. I had nothing to do but sit in front of the TV, and the TV was annoying me. I wanted to go out, but the snow meant that no trains were running. I even rang the office, to see how everyone was. I was bored shitless, rattling around the house like an old woman whose children have grown up, moved away and don't talk to her anymore. It nearly drove me insane and the phrase 'be careful what you wish for' had never seemed more apt.

But I made it through. The snow came to my aid, in fact - it snowed so heavily that N couldn't get to work, so I had someone to talk at, which alleviated the boredom somewhat. At least for me. Looking back, I can't tell you what I did, it passed in a blur; a blur of complete nothingness that I'm pleased to see the back of. And so, tomorrow I make my long-awaited return to work; to the busy, bustling, exciting place that is London at Christmastime. I can't wait for to be back amid the bright lights, the loud noises, the fast pace. The train delays. Slow-walking people when you're already late. The walk to the station on an icy road. WORK.

I want more time off.