In which The Author has a rather
unconventional festive season
It’s been a funny couple of days. Christmas Eve started with an overnight text from Carys asking what time I was going to be in town. I texted back, saying I’d keep her posted as I moved from place to place. I was rather fragile from the night before, and couldn’t face any breakfast.
I still needed to sort out presents for everyone except Carys. This year’s been Xmas on a budget for everyone, so I was planning to do the tour of the charity shops. However, there’s nowhere in town to buy DVDs, so I had to venture to Tesco first.
I think I took working in Cardiff for granted. I could nip over to HMV in my lunch break, or go out for late-night shopping, and not have to make a special trip. Since Woolworths closed, there’s been a dearth of local places to buy things like DVDs and CDs. I certainly couldn’t face Cardiff as a casual shopper, so I braved the ice rink as far as the bus stop. A combination of frozen pavements and a dodgy back isn’t conducive to walking far.
My friend Kelly K. was there with her young daughter. The little girl was very excited – her name’s Eve, so she’d managed to convince herself that Xmas Eve was an extra birthday. An elderly chap, a pub regular who walks with a stick, joined us a couple of minutes later. I told him he must have been mad to go out in that weather, but he said his wife was ill so he had no choice. We boarded the first bus that came along, and fortunately for me it was the one that runs to Tesco anyway.
I made my way to the DVDs and bumped into my friend Reg. He’s a fellow student and has been working part-time in the store for a couple of months, but he’d finished his shift and was doing some last-minute Man Shopping. He’d been to the cashpoint as soon as he knocked off, a few hours earlier, only to find that he hadn’t been paid. He was livid. He told me he’d had to wait around for the wages clerk to arrive, and then he was only able to get a sub out of his pay, which he’d have to pay back as soon as the fuck-up was sorted out, some time after the bank holiday weekend.
As we were chatting, Sophie came along and said hello. I haven’t seen her since the early summer. I told her I’d catch up with her in a minute, and then lost her among the crowds.
I found a DVD for Mother and went to the self-service till. Phil hates these things anyway, and I usually find them a bit of a pain. Sure enough, even a cash sale needed a supervisor to ‘approve’ the item I was buying – a 12-rated film. I’ll be forty-four next birthday. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of Mankind to have some sort of very rudimentary biometric system which can tell a chap in early middle-age from a schoolchild.
I took some cash out as I walked back into town, and sent Jenny a text to see what she was up to. I texted Carys as well, to tell her I was heading to the Cambrian. I was just planning on a quick glass of Coke and a read of the papers. On the corner I bumped into Dai B. He was looking for his wife Sam B. She hadn’t come home the previous night, and when he rang her phone it turned to be in Wetherspoons – she’d left it there at some point.
I rang Richard F., as he’d been out with a gang the night before, and there was a good chance that he’d bumped into Sam at some point. It went straight to his voicemail, so I left a message and told Dai I’d let him know if I heard anything while I was in town.
As I got into the pub Vicky was putting out the lunch things, so I decided something to eat would settle my stomach. It turned out to be a good plan. I had lunch before setting out in search of Xmas presents.
Richard rang me while I was in the pub, confirming that Sam had been out with them the night before, but they’d parted company towards the end of the night. Meanwhile, Dai had rung me to tell me she’d turned up safe and well in her mother’s house. I texted her and said ‘I’m assuming you’ll have had your phone back by now, so I can tell you you’re a silly bint!’
That text, like all the others, hung around in a truck stop on the information superhighway for well over twelve hours.
My first stop was a charity shop at the bottom of town. My cousin Denis had told Mother he was an aficionado of the Victorian poets, particularly Wordsworth, about a week before. She’d tried our local newsagent/bookshop, but without any success. The last time I was on campus I’d walked up to Blackwell’s, but they were closed. I don’t know whether they only open during term-time, or if the snow had put the mockers on them, but either way I’d been out of luck. Not even Barnardo’s bookshop in Aberdare had anything on the shelf.
On 23 December, purely by chance while browsing the charity shops, I’d come across a huge volume of Wordsworth’s poetry. There were uniform editions of Hardy, Byron and Browning as well. When I told Mother I’d struck gold on the Wordsworth, she asked me to buy the others for Denis as well – hence my return trip to the charity shop.
On the way I bumped into Karen L. She was quite manic, as usual, also running around for presents. She’d bought some real mistletoe, and gave me a sprig to tuck in my pocket. I had a wander through the market on my way through town. The other poetry books were still on the shelf, so I grabbed those immediately. While I was browsing I found something for Phil, and something for Matt H. as well – a nice little haul of presents.
I popped into the Conway, just opposite, and had a can of Coke. I still couldn’t face a pint. I texted Carys again, but the mobile network was jammed solid. Texts were hanging about in the ether for hours. I rang her and left a message. I tried ringing Jenny as well, but her phone went straight to voicemail.
While I was chatting to Becky J., Rob C. rang me from Cambridge. He’d just finished work – literally. Borders had closed their doors in the UK for the last time two days before, and Rob and all his colleagues had lost their jobs on Xmas Eve.
He sounded a bit tired and emotional, so I told him not to lose heart. Six months ago I’d been in exactly the same position – no job and no prospects. Then a strange sequence of events led me to a new start and the best thing that’s happened to me in about twenty years.
Rob’s a brilliant computer geek (although he denies being a geek) and he’s based in the IT and science centre of the UK. He’ll easily land on his feet. He could even conceivably work from home, while looking after his young daughter, while Katy goes back to work full-time. It worked for Deno and Julia, after all. He seemed a bit more cheerful after we’d talked. On reflection, I could have gone straight from Waterstones to Borders and found myself in the same position. That’s life.
Becky left to go home, so I sat at the bar and chatted to Gypo for a while. The Conway needs a Resident Old Git in the corner. I applied for the vacancy after poor old Don passed away back in February. Claire H. came in and gave me a kiss. That was the only Xmas kiss I got all day. It must have been genetically-modified mistletoe – Claire’s a young and very pretty lesbian.
I went from the Conway back to the other end of town as I had to collect a prescription. I had a look in the gift shop next door to Boots and found the perfect present for Shanara. She’d set me a challenge over the weekend. We had to buy something for each other, but the challenge was to spend less than the other person. Even though she’s a Muslim, she likes representations of the Buddha. I bought a tiny statuette of a laughing Buddha (Indian style). A quick look in Barnardo’s bookshop turned up a last-ditch present for Jenny, and I was done.
I had a quick glass of orange juice and lemonade in the Pickled Pepper, and headed back to the Cambrian. I’d been only been in there a couple of minutes when Shanara rang me. She’d finished work at 4.00, so she was heading for the station. I told her to ring me again when the train reached Mountain Ash. By then I’d either have headed back to the Welsh Harp, or I’d still be in town.
I joined the boys in the corner and had a chat with them until Shanara rang me again. She’d only been in the Cambrian once before, the night of Craig’s leaving party, when it was heaving and far too loud for us to talk. This time, it was quieter and a lot more pleasant. Shanara and I exchanged presents. She’d bought me a little doll dressed as a Venetian-style clown. It’s cute and rather eccentric, just like her. I’d managed to undercut her by 49p, but I over-estimated how much she’d paid, so we declared the game a tie.
While we were chatting, Carys rang me to see where I was. A few minutes later she dived into the pub, we exchanged presents, and she headed off again.
Shanara and I caught the 6.30 bus to Trecynon and called into the pub. She’s getting to know the regulars now, and I’m sure a lot of them think we’re an item. It’s an illusion which neither of us are about to shatter for them. If some of the older, more reactionary folks who frequent the pub can see an ordinary Muslim girl in their midst, drinking Coke and talking about food, clothes, books, and crap reality TV shows the way other girls do, it might help to break down their mental walls.
Shanara went home at about nine, so I stayed in the pub until closing time. There was a good crowd, a decent atmosphere, and it’s close enough for me to walk home without risking life and limb on the pavements.
Mother rang me early yesterday to tell me she was stuck in the house. Even though the road is a bus route, the local authority hadn’t gritted it, and so she hadn’t been able to get the car out since the weekend. On Monday, she couldn’t get to Glynneath to get her pension. The buses weren’t running the whole route as the roads were too dangerous. That was my Xmas dinner scuppered.
I also had eight text messages – a couple from Carys, a couple from Jenny, one from Karen, and a couple of Xmas greetings from friends. They’d all been sent hours and hours earlier, and arrived in a batch. I opened my present from Carys – she’d bought me a lovely pen. I’ve decided to keep it by my bed with my dream diary. I know that if I take it to lectures I’ll only lose it somewhere. I had a look to see if Jenny was online, but she’d gone off-grid again.
Matt and I went to the Welsh Harp for a quick lunchtime pint before he went round to his mother’s house. I gave Matt his present and he was completely chuffed. My neighbour Jim came in. He sounded a bit breathless when he said hello, and told us he’d had a multiple heart bypass operation. We chatted for a while, and soon afterwards French Judith came in. I haven’t seen her since the spring, so we had a good catch-up until the pub closed, discussing uni life and the irregularities of the English language.
I went home, had a bite to eat, and set off to see Denis at the care home, about ten minutes’ walk away. Luckily the drive leading to the home had been cleared, as it wouldn’t have been safe to walk up there otherwise. He was in good spirits, and really pleased to have a visitor on Xmas day. He was thrilled to bits with his books, and it seems that I’ve scored a direct hit with everyone so far.
I haven’t seen Mother or Phil yet, of course, and I still haven’t caught up with Jenny. While I was chatting to Denis, a text arrived that she’d sent me lunchtime on Xmas Eve. It had only taken a day and four hours to get from her phone to mine. I thought it was pointless texting her back, if that was the sort of performance we were getting over the holiday period.
Denis and I had a good chat, as always, and I came away just before it got dark. I still wasn’t confident that I could walk down the path without taking a tumble, and I don’t want to risk hurting my back again. I got home, had something to eat, and settled down to watch Doctor Who. Sam B. decided to phone me about ten minutes in, so I killed the call and put the phone on silent. You’ve got to get your priorities right.
Sam rang me back after the programme finished, and told me what had happened the previous night. She wanted to know how I knew she’d lost her phone, so I told her I’d seen Dai the previous day. She laughed. Apparently he still wasn’t speaking to her. That must have been a fun Xmas day for their four kids!
In the night it started pissing down. None of the local pubs were open, and I didn’t fancy walking to town, so I stayed in and watched a DVD. At least the pavements are clear today, so I’m heading out for a pint soon.
And that was my festive season in a nutshell: lots of friends, a tiny bit of family, and a Xmas dinner consisting of a Linda McCartney country vegetable pie and chips, followed up by a mug of hot chocolate at bedtime. No Xmas pudding, brandy sauce, shortbread, or Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Women galore, but no sign of my ‘girlfriend’. And not a satsuma in sight.
Happy New Year, everyone!