I’m not sure that I’ve ever published on a Sunday before, but …well, it’s been a rum old year hasn’t it?
As we in the UK meandered along towards our first new-normal Christmas I decided that I would visit some of my favourite ‘Little Fiction’ characters, to see how they were bearing up. I had already taken Dinah and Shaw half way towards their Christmas celebrations (Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt – here) and I knew that they would reappear on the Saturday before Christmas in order to resolve a couple of hanging threads, which, in the case of Shaw, probably amount to more than you would find in the average three year-old’s balaclava (Searching for the Christmas Spirit, the second part of the Christmas episode is here). I knew that their world could not be constrained by Covid. If I’m honest, I’m not at all sure of how Shaw and restrictions would rub along at all. He certainly would find it difficult to be bound by them. I’m not even certain that he is at ease even with the restrictions imposed upon him by normal everyday life – I think that the struggle to reconcile himself to a restrictive three-tier structure might be a step too far for him. I fear that it would leave him with more than a couple of dropped stitches to pick up. Fortunately fiction does not always have to bow to reality. I don’t actually need to write these two, they just appear fully formed in my head, often newly faceted in a way that takes me by surprise. I was a little taken aback by Dinah’s tetchiness in episode seven, but as I began to write episode eight I suddenly understood. It’s baby steps with these two, in everything they do. I’m not quite sure exactly when I will drop in on them again – I don’t want them to become boring – but I will, I feel sure. Perhaps their world will have collided with our own by then. I have a ‘case’ for the new-found partners, but I’m not sure yet quite what they will make of it. When I find out, I’ll let you know.
The three old ‘pub friends’ just had to be out and about for Christmas, but I couldn’t see them spending time together in their homes, so I sent them to the pub for a quiz. (You can read Supplementary Philosophy here, if you missed it – or even if you didn’t.) They don’t mention Christmas – men seldom do. It is black-boxed alongside weakness, illness, emotions, worries and loneliness, as something to be profoundly ignored until there is not enough Scotch left in the world to drown it. I love Christmas (although, I have to be honest, I would happily forgo it completely this year for the knowledge that we would all remain well enough to return to normal next year) but I never really discuss it with male friends. Most of them think I’m odd enough already. My wife and children have to put up with my usual over-spilling Christmas spirit every year – which bubbles over, long, long before dawn on Christmas Day as I can’t resist the opportunity to eat chocolate in my Christmas pants before breakfast and drink fizzy wine with my cornflakes – and the grandkids like the fact that somebody is even less grown-up about it all than they are, but I’m always very oh-hum about it with other men. I have no idea why. A psychologist’s dream, no doubt.
I live in England’s tier three, but I think the friends obviously live in tier two, where (I hope I’ve got this right) pubs can open to some degree – even if it is just to serve freezing Australian lager and turkey sandwiches in a tatty gazebo. If not, well, it’s a Little Fiction, isn’t it? It will not be bothering the Booker Prize panel. It’s really hard to write a Covid tale because the rules always seem to change between writing and publication, but as these three are every bit as confused about what is right and what is wrong as I am – well, that’s ok isn’t it? These are a joy for me to write as I know them all so well, and they were ready for the world in a single evening.
My relationship with the bearded man is a mite more complicated. He is not difficult to write, but I am very particular about him. Somehow, it is necessary that he does not have a word out of place. None-the-less, this vignette also came together very quickly (although I then fretted over it, word by word, for much longer) and against all expectations, it has a nice pre-Christmassy feel to it. If you have read it, you may have noticed that Lorelei, too, does not live in a Covid world. I thought about dragging him into our current reality, but I couldn’t reconcile it with the ‘story’, so I decided to leave him where he was in the real world (our own world, of course, being a totally unreal one at the moment). I hope that it works anyway. (If you want to read it, A Pre-Christmas Exchange is here– if you don’t, it’s still there anyway.)
So, having visited these seven people in the run up, I wondered what I should do in the final few days leading up to what, in the UK, will be the Five Days of Christmas this year (I cannot but imagine what the stockists of geese a-laying will do with their livestock). What I crave above all else this year, I think, is a degree of normality: a world where Louise Lear forecasts the weather and Rita Chakrabati reads the news; where I put three inches on my waist over the two days, and ten years on my liver. I attempted to recreate the spirit of those days by visiting the posts that represent my Ghosts of Christmas Past: the Christmas that I used to be able to write about before the world went psycho. I became aware that I would only get drawn into the dreariness of Christmas Present should I try to write Christmas now, so in the lead in to the big day I have scheduled two Christmas posts from 2018, two from 2019 and a Boxing Day special, also from 2019. I have read them all today and they made me smile, so I hope that they might do the same for you.
Whatever you choose to do (or, dependent upon where you are, are allowed to do) over the next few days; whether it is an important celebration for you or not, I would just like to send you all my very best socially distanced best wishes. However you spend the day** I hope you all stay well and have a wonderful time.
I send you bags of glitter-wrapped boxes full of what the Beatles said was all you need.
*Explaining the unexplainable.
** My wife and I are alone on Christmas Day and, I think, may be heading for the seaside which, I believe, is allowed as it is outside – although I almost certainly will not be able to buy a moulded plastic hat shaped like a breast or a penis-shaped stick of rock. Covid is killing our culture!