Christmas now

December 25, 2016

Pattern matching is a bugger. Amongst all the other issues I have collected over the years hypervigilance and pattern matching come into play today of all days. I look for indications of Christmases past, horror stories repeating themselves, rather than seeing what is really there, an endless string of possibilities. Even when I have had partners, those happy family Christmases have eluded me. What I need to remember is that they elude most other people too. 

There are several couples in St Leonards where I live who really seem to have a handle on things, after years they are quite clearly still into each other. I was told once that relationships that only exist in a bubble aren’t real… How badly they missed the point of love. You make your own world together, that bubble can expand to include others but the bubble is the core, the heart even.

That’s why Christmas only really works for narrow spectrums of people and for everyone else it is, at best, tolerated. If you see the people you see at Christmas all year round it is probably quite a nice affair, or if you actually get on with your family,  but when you are put in a position, like many, where life has taught you that your family are best avoided, or that you can’t wait to leave work at the end of the day so why on earth would you want to spend your free time with your work colleagues? Or that those people your partner has inexplicably aquired as friends quite clearly aren’t your friends, quite the opposite in fact. Christmas or indeed new year forces you into the company of these people and that is why so many arguments kick off. There is a reason you don’t see these people or you know well enough what the handling rules are so that you don’t get hurt. 

For me this is just another of those Christmases where I just have to be kind to myself and get to the end in one piece Where I have to acknowledge that by some I am quite pointedly being ignored or managed and where my usual lines of survival have been cut for this one magical day as all my friends I would call are off doing family things and I can’t even sit quietly and have a coffee in a seaside cafe as they are all shut. 

I’m still in bed, typing this instead of doing my usual idle Facebook scroll through as I can’t bear having my nose rubbed in it all. Christmas is a mirror and it will show me today that, no matter how hard I tried, my relationship failed and I really don’t want any more reminders of that thank you. I shall now get up, open my presents to me from me that I wrapped up with my eyes shut and I shall start this lonely Christmas Day….

Oh! Before I forget. This thing about choice… No one actively chooses to spend Christmas alone. It’s a bit like this choice… “Would you like me to poke you in the left eye? Or the right? It’s no choice at all right? With Christmas it is… Would you like to spend it with your own nightmare family and risk having a breakdown? Would you like to spend it with someone else’s family a and be reminded what a mess your own is? Or… Would you like to spend it with a bunch of sad singletons and try your hardest to convince yourself that you are having fun and it is all wonderful? As I said, Christmas is a mirror and a distorted funhouse one at that, it shows you at your worst, the things you let slide because you are too busy just getting on with your life to usually focus on them.

Ok… It’s nine in the evening, and if I give it a couple of hours I reckon i  will be able to go to bed and call it a day. While it wasn’t the best Christmas I have ever had, it’s been a long way from the worst. I got my coffee by the sea, so that was a step up from last year. I got contacted by lovely people. I got a few nice presents (mind you, they were bought by me so they had better be.) The day went quickly enough, the Japanese model kit (from me) took up most of it. There is something rather lovely about being able to sit down and idly make something, knowing full well that I, for once, won’t feel obliged to sell or market the bloody thing like everything else in my life. I can just while away a few pleasant hours making it and then stick it in a glass cabinet with all the others.

The best thing about this Christmas is that I shall forget it. A pleasantly dull day that won’t stand out in any way whatsoever and, at this point in my life, that’s the best I can hope for.

The ghosts of Christmas past: dead man walking.

December 24, 2016

Of my 46 Christmases on this planet it is surprising, considering how terrible some of them have been, how easy it was to pick out an all time low and it is this one.

Pick a day, any day from the past year. Providing it wasn’t your birthday you would be hard pressed to remember what you were doing, even on the most awful or the most magical, it’s just a day. There were ones before and ones after until the one on which you die. But on days like Christmases and birthdays, they come around again and again and, after a while, patterns form. 

There are gifts you get given on certain days, some make everything in the world seem right but some, most even, just leave you feeling hollowed out inside. Of these there are the tangible ones, the ones that demonstrate how little someone knows you, like giving the goth Chris at seventeen a copy of micheal jackson’s Bad cd or the time I got three hideously expensive bottle openers after I had given up drinking alcohol. The worst gifts though are the intangible gifts of worthlessness, acts of apathy, thoughtlessness and unkindness that intentionally or not are guaranteed to knock your self esteem through the floor. This is one of those…

It has been a grim year, one of those where you meet inertia at every turn. I have had to do a lot of fighting throughout to keep my head about water both financially and mentally. I have fought all my life though, not with fists, I’m never violent, but with a constant iron will. You see people like me every day, the walking wounded, the bungled and the botched as Nietzsche described them, the flakes of human dust beneath the butterflies on a wheel. They fall through the gaps in life, casualties of capitalism, the necessary byproduct of a system designed to favour some more than others. Usually, when you fall, you stay fallen, you drift further down into homelessness, substance abuse, alcoholism, premature ageing and death. Patronised by some and exploited by others, people don’t come back from that. Me, I stopped myself, I dragged myself back to sobriety, to stability and started to make a career rather than a job as I slowly over the course of a decade crawled back up the sewer pipe of life into the world again. It all took its toll though, and left its mark.

It is rare to find true friends in this world, most people want to keep you stuck. It is often the case that when you are poor, they will not help you up the ladder out of poverty and if they are single or unhappy in their relationship, they will subtly and less subtly try and undermine  your relationships in turn and if they are really nasty and manipulative they will do it in such a way that you will probably end up being grateful to them for their support. If you find true friends, friends who will support you even when it means they will be getting less attention from you in the future, hang on to them, they are precious. I had a year of shitty people, gossipy, unpleasant, stupid, ignorant, self absorbed people, causing havoc. And I did exactly the wrong thing, I made it worse, I fought back, I let every stinking one of them know what I thought about them. It was fun at the time and there was and element of reward but it was as unwise and self destructive as a drunken tattoo. 

To me, the worst gift you can give is the gift of worthlessness, to demonstrate by your actions just how little someone means to you and how little they matter. The easiest way of guaranteeing that someone feels like shit, in my books, is to make sure that you choose the most appalling people to spend time with and the most pointless, and preferably actively harmful, things to be doing instead of spending time with them

Like I said it was a rough year, culminating with long hard days dragging equipment for miles and lying on cold concrete floors in December. And then I was left alone. Some bizarre misconstrued nonsense about a drawing of a Shepard and sheep, a passive aggressive excuse to walk away. Things went from bad to worse, unused tickets went in the shredder (again) I soldiered on for a while before a bad week and suicidal thoughts and then plans led me to my doctors surgery. For once I had a decent doctor, I hit all the red flags and received some serious attention and through sheer fluke and a chance comment he picked up something gravely serious. I had heart problems. In retrospect what I had was unstable angina excacerbated by stress induced cardiomyopathy and a 94% blocked left block aorta. Stress and heartbreak can be fatal apparently.

Things happened and appearances were made but the upshot of it was that I would be spending Christmas Day alone. Alone whilst a travesty went on around the corner, a farcical pretence at a family Christmas, perpetrated by people who had had their knives in each other’s backs all year long, I suspected there was an ulterior motive to this travesty and was proved right later but at that point it was enough of a snub considering my suspected condition. 

It was a squalling dark day of a Christmas, the cold bit into me. It was a constant toss up between feeling ill because of the cold and feeling ill because the weight of warmer clothes was just too much to cope with. I opened my presents, mostly bought for me, by me, the only way to prevent almost certain disappointment. The worst thing about Christmas though… No decent coffee, nowhere to go and have a walk by the sea. It was with grim determination that I made a flask of coffee, stuffed it in the capacious pocket of my  vintage mod parka and headed out into the cold, down towards the seafront. I think I got two hundred yards, I fought to breath, my left arm and fingers twinged  and stung and for every step I struggled forward I was painfully aware that I would have to struggle back again. I sadly turned around and went home, battered by the cold and sideways rain all the way. I had to use my heart spray on the way home, it is mostly nitroglycerin, the main ingredient in the explosive dynamite, it gets oxygen around your body but also leaves you a sweaty nauseous mess with a pounding headache like a brain hemorrhage. I took to my bed for many hours when I got in, waking again in the dark, above the pain in my chest and the pain in my head, the pain in my soul was far worse, knowing that I was worth so very little, as next to nothing as the laws of physics allow. Knowing that a life was going on around the corner, a life I was being slowly but constistantly pushed out of, a death of a romance by a thousand tiny cuts. Rather than distract me from my worthlessness, the pain framed it, gave it shape and form. The day went eventually, in minutes and seconds each like an age. I would like to say that things got better after that, but they didn’t. They never did.

The ghosts of Christmas past: comfort and joy.

December 24, 2016

This was just a few years ago….

I broke the rules…

I went out in the evening, I went to a private view I had work in and now here I am in the doctors surgery, struggling to sit with all the bruising in the waiting room as Christmas songs fill the air. 

I got badgered into going out,  a couple of days before Christmas, the cold still biting into me despite layers of clothing. Standing outside the kave gallery as the crowd buzzed, getting tanked up on free booze. And here I stand, stone cold sober, away from the crowd wishing I was back home in the relative warmth of my flat. I gave up drinking many years before, I gave up everything, all those props that buffer you from the world and effect your judgement, stop you noticing important details. My sanity is hard won after years of therapy and I will no longer let bad stuff into my body or bad people into my life. I know the drill here and now, be nice enough to all the people here but be careful not to let anyone too close, not unless I know damn sure they deserve it. My work has a marmite quality, people either love it or hate it. I can see the odd person who hates it here this evening, I even get the odd person who assumes I’m some kind of idiot and patronise me accordingly, I happily tied their brains in knots and pulled their assumptions out from under them. My work is Socratic irony personified, a spiked baseball bat hidden inside a cute sock puppet, a nasty trap for people who think they know it all to walk straight into. 

I soon get tired of the constant babble and made my way home, slipping into the night, my departure unnoticed and unmissed. Outside the bubble of generally pleasant people near the gallery, there is a road full of bad vibes, people drunk enough for the bitterness to come out but not drunk enough to be incapacitated. There are so many expectation around Christmas and, in a poverty stricken town like St Leonards, so few are ever fulfilled.  I make the decision to go the long way round, along the well lit street, avoiding the feral teenagers and the hoards of bitter drunkards. Bad move!

As I walk up the hill along the main road, I passed the mencap building where I volunteered every Wednesday, doing art with the adults with learning difficulties. My attention is distracted as there is a buzz of activity inside, a party is going on in there. I am distracted enough not to notice the human nightmare lurching down the street, dressed in only a thin jumper on a cold winter night, strutting down the road with ill purpose in every step. I side stepped him but it did no good. “Oi! You bumped into me.” (No I didn’t) I ignored him and carried on up the hill. He went into full reverse and got ahead of me again, “ere! I’m talking to you! You bumped into me!” I realised that this was a variation of the “you spilled my pint” scenario, this angry creature wanted to hit someone and today it was me. Distracted for a second by whatever else he saw in his drunk or drugged up brain I made a run for it but he grabbed hold off my scarf and threw me accross the bonnet of a car. I lay face up as cars whizzed past as, obviously with much practice, this guy pinned me down with one hand and repeatedly punched me in the stomach with the other. As I lay there I thought “so this is it, I’m going to die” it wasn’t a terrible thought, it had to happen one day, it might as well be today in this rather pathetic incident. 

As suddenly as it started, it stopped, scared off by the shouts from two femail care workers leaving the mencap party. They asked if I wanted to call the police but, still in shock , I didn’t want the police turning up and frightening the clients. The reality of it hit home when I got in and I called the police who suggested I go down the police station the next day and formaly report the incident.

And now here I am, lying on a surgery bed on Christmas Eve being poked and prodded as the doctor checks me for signs of internal bleeding and spinal damage, getting a vital paper trail in case the attacker is actually found amidst the glut of drunken assaults and domestic abuse carried out on one of the most violent nights of the year. It all kicks off at Christmas it seems.

Christmas Day I lie bruised and battered, hobbling about my flat alone, lying to my family so the news of my assault doesn’t worry them too much and spoil their day all they get are good tidings, good tidings of comfort and joy.

The ghosts of Christmas past: a port in a storm.

December 22, 2016

It took a lot to bite the bullet and arrange my first non family Christmas and indeed it was supposed to be my first Christmas on my own. I’d got sick of the pubs, sick of the parties, sick of the shallow people. Maybe I could have coped better if I knew what I know now, that all the loudmouths and show off’s were usually such awful people because they were deeply damaged inside, that anyone who craved that much attention was hollow and could probably never be filled,  that anyone that hung about with those sort of people did it because their self esteem was through the floor. But knowing what a bloody minded little sod I was back then I probably wouldn’t have listened and, let’s face it, you can’t tell anyone anything, they have to work it out for themselves, most people don’t though, ever.

At that point I truly despised Christmas, rather than the cold indifference that has set in over the years. Back then, before the middle class mafia cornered the market in anti consumerism and environmental awareness, both were already appalling me. I had set up my desk area at work as the land of narnia, where it was always winter and never Christmas, and when I did give out cards they were handmade with black trees on a black background with jaunty little messages about the amount of turkeys killed or the conditions of child workers in India. My family had gone away entirely and I stayed where I was, in a squalid little bungalow in Edmonton, north London,  stranded in a wasteland of light industrial units and overshaddowed by monolithic tower blocks. I used to get that feeling that if I didn’t go out, or I didn’t get involved, I would be missing out on something, that there was this  magical world of fabulous people and amazing conversation that was always just over the horizon, just around the corner, just out of reach. I was starting to work out then what I completely know now. That if someone isn’t fascinating in a t shirt and jeans, totally sober, during the day time, they never will be. I had, by the age of twenty one, become advertising and social  pressure immune. I spent Christmas Eve reading, I’m not sure what as it was a quarter of a century ago but I would lay good money on it being pretentious, so I’m guessing Kafka or Sartre or some such waffle. My posh public school girlfriend was back home from university but was tied up with her parents, being heavy duty Catholics, she was expected to do the midnight mass thing. Christmas Day was a big deal too, more church, more family things and, being very Irish and somewhat bigoted  too, a common London boy like myself wasn’t invited, for which I was rather grateful. So there I was, some videos, some pot and some sixteen bit gaming wonders on my Super Nintendo. 

It was not long on Christmas morning before my plans went awry in the loveliest of ways, my girlfriend turned up. Dropped off by her father after church trip number one of the day to be picked up a few hours later after much pressurising of her doting dad. She wore the most lovely Kelly green skirt suit, pinched from her much shorter mother’s wardrobe. On her the skirt was barely more than a mini as opposed to the below the knee number it was on her mum. The fabric clashed wonderfully with her flame red hair that cascaded in curls accross her shoulders. It wasn’t long before we ended up in bed but the catholic guilt kicked in, reinforced by just coming from church, and she would not remove more than the navy blue velvet knickers that she was so fond of wearing. I still to this day haven’t worked out the logic of this strange bit of modesty but I’m sure it was there somewhere. I really loved that girl, filthy temper aside, I loved her mum too. We used to swap knitting patterns. I remember her mum bought me a present with fish painted on it because, being called Chris, I too was a C creature. I often got called krystal by them, the Gaelic for Christopher, it’s funny, I used to get on so well with mums… My friend’s and girlfriend’s alike, a gift I seem to have lost it seems…

It was not long after my dear girlfriend departed, hopefully not disheveled enough to give the game away to her devote father, that one of my friends arrived, four pack in hand. He was a refugee from his family Christmas, his father had left earlier that year in a cliche of middle aged manhood, leaving his wife for a girl half her age. The wronged woman was spending Christmas Day switching from manically pretending to be supermum to breaking down in floods of tears. A scene from which my friend excused himself with wise haste. It wasn’t long before his girlfriend joined us and a pleasant afternoon was spent wading through the harder levels of Mario and getting smashed on pot. Two more friend appeared, escaping another banal evening of party games and estranged families and we all dined on a festive meal of pasta before getting hammered and cackling away to a glut of carry on films after we’d run out of manga and anime videos we could all agree on watching. Everyone rolled away to their respective homes in the early hours of Boxing Day morning as the sky turned a deep shade of blue and the birds began to sing. I collapsed into bed, the room spinning around me, not the quiet Christmas I had aimed for but a good one nonetheless. 

The mistake some many people in life seem to make is to really try too hard to fill up their lives, if we plan every moment and book every day solid, we leave neither space nor time for the magic to creep in. Sometimes we try so hard to have fun that all we find is a manic kind of desperate misery. Often, magic and  wonder will come and find you but you have to be very quiet or you will scare it away. 

The ghosts of Christmas past: Grey town.

December 22, 2016

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. 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year?

December 17, 2016

Bloody hell! I hate Christmas, the whole thing is an assault course of awfulness from start to finish and then, to top it all off, there is new year to look forward too. It’s like being kicked in the balls for good measure after someone has blasted you in the guts with a shotgun. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. 

It’s great for little kids, they can have all the magic they want as far as I’m concerned. It’s the boozing, the parties, the desperate people trying to find someone at any cost (only surpassed in patheticness on New Year’s Eve of trying to find someone, anyone, to snog you,  that I can’t cope with. It’s all meaningless arbitrary crap. Being single (not by choice) is the fucking pits at this time of year and having a mess of a family makes it worse. And even more tragic, the attempts by people to get you to come along to their Christmas as if being crushed by the weight of depression wasn’t enough, you have to do it in front of witnesses. Last year’s Christmas was a particularly spectacular example of being shat on and having it rubbed in, in retrospect it was an ovature to the year that came after. The year before that was a set up to a monumental row of which no part was my making and before that? A beating by a drunk, family horror stories, going back ad infinitum. 

But below all other depths, the worst thing about Christmas is the patronising, guilt assuaging, do gooding, shit that goes on. The only day food kitchens have a waiting list for volunteers, the concerts, the this, the that, the other. Just don’t make us not enjoy our own Christmases and the obscenity of parties we go to, stuff we buy and food and drink we stuff down our gullet.

Do you know what I want for Christmas? 

No Christmas…. That’s what I want. No birthdays , no Easter, no thanksgiving, no nothing.

Call me naive but I just want an endless  string of days where people are decent to each other, where people make stuff for each other or write them little notes just because, where nasty bastards and bully’s get their just deserts, where narcisists and show offs get ignored. Where the walking wounded get themselves some therapy so they don’t wreck other people’s lives and where people are just honest with each other.

Call me cynical now you gits. I dare you!

Alice is for Christmas, not just for life.

October 29, 2016

Let’s face it, Christmas is mad, madder than the maddest thing. Millions of people work themselves up into a frenzy doing the the strangest things, from the hunting of the turkey (or in my case the non horrible nut roast) through to the coating of everything with glitter, baubles and lights. What I have to do is even madder, utter nonsense in fact, drawing images to be used as Christmas cards during an Indian summer as the sun shines and I cover my head so it doesn’t burn. The conventions of Christmas cards, are strange. Take snow for example, when did it properly snow at Christmas? I honestly cannot remember and yes there I go drawing snowy wintery scenes that never ever happen.

When I drew my set of Alice illustrations for my Dweeblings in Wonderland show  a few years back, madness was an ever present factor in my life, I guess that is why I have always had such an affinity with the book. I tried to incorporate all the elements of madness in my drawings then, homelessness, exploitation, falling through the gaps in society. These elements are even more pronounced at this time of year and as the cold begins to bite and the disparities between rich and poor, sane and mad become more obvious. 

The real irony for me is that Christmas sends me scurrying away for cover like the cards from the queen of hearts, looking for somewhere to hide until the whole thing goes away. It’s never been a good time of year for me, new year neither and I never really recover until March. But for those who can embrace the madness and throw themselves wholeheartedly into it there is fun to be had I’m sure, if you like that sort of thing.

I think this is my third set of Alice cards now, it’s becoming my own Christmas tradition now in a strange way, a tradition of drawing things that never happen with a different twist I guess that is what Christmas really is, traditions, and mad ones at that. 

You can buy my Alice in Wonderland Christmas cards here.

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