Festive Musings. 23/12/15

A few weeks ago I found myself having one of those times that is so shit that you question what you must have done so wrong in a former life. I had a meeting five miles from my work and opted to cycle. Just before setting off, the zip on my rucksack did that infuriating thing where the teeth won’t close properly. With a bit of nous and patience, this problem can usually be fixed. However, I have neither and after a lazy and ambitious attempt to use masking tape to close it, I gave up and decided to carry the bag’s contents in my left hand.
 If I’d been in my job a bit longer, I would have asked a colleague for a lift or maybe a spare bag. At the very least, some advice. I’m still trying to come across as cool and competent though so after hiding the broken rucksack and tangle of masking tape under my chair, I left with a confident goodbye.
 As I set off, riding one handed, it started raining heavily. This did little to aid my comprehension of the directions I’d handwritten on a post-it and flustered, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the hard shoulder of a motorway.
 Cycling along waveringly and probably in the wrong direction, I struggled to work out the most aerodynamic way of holding a clipboard in the swirling wind and rain. A man in a van shouted something barely decipherable but definitely derogatory at me before the final insult came when, in the midst of the chaos, the chain came off my bike. 
 Come on now? 
 As I sat on the hard shoulder, trying to reattach the chain with freezing cold hands and carrying the clipboard under my armpit, I started laughing at how stupid this was. Surely things can’t get any worse? 
 I’m aware that this is quite a bleak story. Probably not suitable for Christmas?
 It gets worse.
 A week after the cycling mishap came a cycling disaster. I naively left my bike locked to some railings outside the snooker centre and some shitbag pinched my back wheel. I didn’t previously think of snooker players as thieves and vandals but from now on when I watch the Crucible on TV, I will be eyeing the players with suspicion. Who steals one wheel? How much can you sell a solitary wheel for? Who are the buyers?
 This was annoying but my driving test was three days later so I consoled myself that I would soon be joining the rest of the twenty-nine-year-old population in having a fast, convenient, and sheltered mode of transport.
 After listening to the advice of a pal, I tried to form a rapport with my test examiner.
 “If he likes you, you’ll pass. 100%.”
 I’d thought that there might be a bit more to it but followed my friend’s guidance nonetheless.
 Unfortunately my guy wasn’t in the mood for small talk.
 “So, how many tests do you normally have in a day?”
 “Left at the next junction.”
 “Plans for Christmas?”
 “Take the second exit at the next roundabout.”
 New friendships were not formed and obviously I failed. Unduly hesitant.
 Failing is really quite upsetting but at least I gave the examiner a dirty look, then responded in a series of dismissive grunts when he explained that I should have overtaken a bus. The bastard got what he deserved.
 When I got home and it had sunk in, I found myself feeling as annoyed as I’ve ever been. In the same league as unrequited love when you are a teenager. I was so annoyed in fact that I quite literally did not know what to do with myself. I considered, but fortunately decided against, punching a door. This would have been a very short term solution. What are you supposed to do in such states of agitation though? A whisky? Loud music? A bike ride? (Or, in my current situation, a unicycle ride.)
 I rang Louise and got rationally angry with her for being able to drive, before trudging to Spar and buying a very average meal deal. 
 Nailed it.
 I’ll pass next time. Maybe. 
 Okay, I’ll try a subtle shift onto more cheery topics.
 Christmas is good isn’t it?
 The season of goodwill, time off, (the wind down starts after Bonfire night doesn’t it?) quality time spent with friends and family, packed football fixture list and the only time of year where it is socially acceptable to become a functioning alcoholic. This Christmas will be particularly good as I have a cool eleven days off. Last year, I had a harrowing time working in my cold calling recruitment job seemingly every day over the festive period. The box of Quality Streets and tinsel on the monitors fooled nobody into thinking it was anything less than awful.
 I always enjoy Christmas Eve. In years gone by my pals and I have held a fine festive routine of playing football at Goals before going to the Original Oak, often via the bookmakers. Everyone is keen to play well in this fixture as the first two pints at the pub are usually spent scrutinizing one another’s performances. After a characteristically poor showing one year, I felt paranoid that my friends taking a bit too long at the bar had been side-tracked and were slamming my inability to track back.
 On Christmas Eve, the Oak hosts a nostalgic congregation of old friends, acquaintances and foes who have come back to Leeds from far and wide (London) for the festive period. As most people are in a cheery mood / drunk, you always find yourself talking to an interesting cross section of your past and present. Or being cornered by someone who you never really got on with as they tell you about how they have smashed their targets and earned a bonus before waiting for you to get a round in.
 “Grab us a Sambuca as well Andy, yeah?”
 There is one old primary school classmate with whom I have an odd tradition. Circa 1994, we used to play a crap football game on his Sega Mega Drive. Once, there was a malfunction in his game and the commentator said some bizarre things that made no sense. When we see each other on Christmas Eve, which is the only time we ever see each other, we repeat these commentator glitches, then walk on. That’s it. No small talk. 
 I have absolutely no idea what he is doing with his life.
 The Oak, like every pub in England I imagine, descends into sloppy group hugs and singing along to the Pogues. People think that they are being niche when they tell you that it’s their favourite Christmas song despite the fact that it’s everyone’s favourite Christmas song. There is little competition though is there? At my mother’s Christmas do last weekend, I would have been quite happy to launch ‘Now that’s what I call Christmas’ under the wheels of a truck after its third loop. Or put it in a microwave. If you’ve never put a CD in a microwave, I can’t recommend it enough. Light show.
 I’m not actually very well qualified to talk about the Oak at Christmas as I haven’t been for four years and I’m not going this year. Things might have changed? I doubt it though.
 Comfortably the worst Christmas over these four years in absentia — and possibly my worst Christmas ever — was spent in the renowned Christmas paradise of Shenzhen, China. I woke up hungover and opened the curtains on Christmas morning. The view; a man riding a motorbike with a side cart into oncoming traffic. 
 I’d convinced Louise that it would be fine as I would book us in at an English pub for Christmas Day. We tried to find it on Christmas Eve, got lost and wound up going ten stops on the tube in the wrong direction. I’d also eaten some sushi that was given to me for free by an unconvincing Chinese Santa Claus which was a regrettable and inadvisable decision. As I sat, stomach churning, on a Chinese underground train, I wished I was in the Oak buying drinks for that guy that I never really got on with.
 Our only option for Christmas dinner was at our soulless business hotel on the outskirts of the city. Turkey, stuffing and egg fried rice is an odd combination, although not as odd as the luxury dessert of a chocolate fountain, with only tomatoes to dip in it. 
 Well played China.
 I’m confident that there will be no such culinary mishap this year and I’m looking forward to a good Christmas. I’ve got the worst bit over with; dodging the Mad Friday ‘boss let us out at lunchtime!’ crowd and managing to complete my Christmas shopping unscathed and in decent time. There will be no flustered Christmas Eve spent stumbling aimlessly around Wilkinson’s this year so it’s time to kick back and enjoy the festive season.
 This is probably my last blog for a while (although I might get bored / seek attention and write one for New Year’s Eve.) Thank you if you have read any of my nonsense over the last few months. An even bigger thank you if you have read my book.


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