The ghosts of Christmas past: Grey town.

It’s the early 90’s and I have developed a wonderful coping mechanism for Christmas…. To get absolutely stoned out of my mind. It’s Christmas Eve, I’ve not long returned from work where so many people have gone on annual leave that the office is like the Shining but with buff folders. I’ve just had dinner and am sitting on the floor rolling the first of many spliffs. To hand are a huge stack of videos, se7en, from dusk to dawn, withnail & I, Akira… A few others…. There is also a big bag of twigglets, a few packets of fags (consulate(cool as a mountain stream )), some amber leaf rolling baccy, an eight of high oil content hashish, a quarter of grass and a family sized box of Jaffa cakes. It’s all on the floor as I intend to get so smashed that I will have trouble standing. It’s at this point that the phone rings, it’s my brother. “Chris” he never says hello or anything like that, “what are you doing?” I still regret this reply some twenty years later “urm, nothing” wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Stupid Chris!! “Good! Cozy am are outside, you can’t spend Christmas alone, you are spending Christmas with me..” 

I’d forgotten that my brother owned a mobile phone, the sort that was large and heavy enough to club a seal to death with if it took your fancy, I peeked through the curtains and there he was hovering in his black Mercedes the cliched yuppie type, he waved. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Why did I answer the phone? I hastily hid anything illegal as he parked up the car. I then threw a few things in a bag and came out before he had a chance to come in and survey the scene  and got in the now parked car. I hated that car, the suspension was eerily smooth, as we drove through the dark country roads to his home it felt like I was dead, my senses cut off by the precision engineered floatation tank of a car. He was mumbling some guff about how no one should spend Christmas alone and how we were going to have Christmas Day with his girlfriend’s family. Family is important…

Family is vile, a bit like people. One human being is fine, you can find common ground, understand what makes them tick, maybe even learn something. But people… People take sides, form aleigances, gang up, ostracise, shun, bully,  gossip, form hierachies, create leaders and minions and families? The same but more so, you are stuck with them.

The grief kicked off not long after we got there and I realised my brother’s sudden need to get reacquainted with his kid brother,  I was a one man U.N peacekeeping force. They were quite obviously going through a bad patch, there was bickering about the logistics for the next day, things bubbling under the surface as they both took up separate armchairs on different sides of the room in front of the monolithic television which blared garbage (not the band) at full volume, I think I was there to prevent the arguments boiling over in public. I couldn’t even go to my designated room as there was Christmas festivities to be had. When a fitful night’s sleep in the wrong bed finally came it was followed by a Christmas morning of little comfort and a frosty car journey. I remember wishing all the while that the car would veer off the road, Christmas in hospital would be better than this.

Grays in Essex is famous for three things, the huge and soulless lakeside shopping centre, the comedian Russell Brand and being the location of the grim funeral scene from the film Four weddings and a funeral. A grim and desolate place full of chemical processing plants, warehouses and people itching to be anywhere else, all overshaddowed by a giant bridge. As we turned into a cul-de-sac full of identical new build houses, all plasterboard and upvc, I resigned myself  to my fate. I was introduced to various people, all nice enough in their own way but instantly forgettale. I recall that Robin Hood prince of thieves was the big film that Christmas and as we were ushered around the table it still chuntered on in the background. 

Christmas dinner for me was the usual affair in the home of well meaning meat eaters, toast. As all the food was tainted by meat or meat products. I felt heat prickles of embarrassment as I sat at the table of strangers and refused the proffered potatoes roasted in animal fat and other veg served on the same dishes and utensils. I was spared the obligatory lecture on the evils of vegetarianism as the booze flowed and that morning’s argument reignited at the dinner table and the rest of the table either froze or carried on eating in embarrassed silence and minimal eye contact. All the while I thought of my dinner at home in the fridge, a pizza followed by a strawberry yogurt and a massive spliff. And now we sat, in cold silence in strange people’s company as we waited for one of the two warring parties to sober up enough for the drive home. It came many, lonely and painful hours later after  The Italian Job had played through on the television and the Queen’s speech had long passed in the presence of patriotism I can’t comprehend.

On the drive home I remember suggesting a detour to drop me home that fell on deaf ears. I was not deaf though and the slanging match that reignited was all to audible as I sat queasy in the back seats. On arriving back at my brothers home, some I ushered myself to the guest room and huddled there as world war three kicked from in the room below… Merry Christmas to all! Comfort and joy. 

I got home the next morning, dumped at the train station, I got through the door and got instantly smashed… 

It is said that pain plus distance equals comedy, but over twenty years later that Christmas is still as funny as cancer. 

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