77. Beef with Claus

Christmas sentinelWhile I pine for my wife as a Christmas tree yearns to shed its needles in the furthest echelons of your living room, at this time of year it’s best we meet on her side of the equator. She needs sunshine, and here in Lancaster in December it’s hard enough to find sufficient light. After my morning stint at home I walk to the city centre, surfboard tucked under my arm, to chase a few watery rays before gloom encases the city and it becomes a romantic silhouette of itself, minus the romance. I don’t mind the melancholy so much. I might have been away for a few years, but this is the country I grew up in – I can’t say I wasn’t warned. However, it doesn’t take much for the ice in my veins to start bubbling with seasonal rage, as happened yesterday in Poundland.

Readers of my short-lived Toxic Bachelor blog will recall both my fondness for bargain stores, and my poor track record in negotiating their subtleties. But my confidence was high this week. I’d avoided slipping on the pavement beside the ice rink and paid my respects to the solitary sentinel above the chemist’s (pictured). Having stopped off at the croaky tobacconist’s therein, I’d emerged from ‘Santa’s Passage’ (last month no more than an austere shortcut into town) relatively unscathed. Charity shops scoured, I decided to stop off at Poundland on my way home – seeking something cheap and cheerful.

Unlike wedding anniversaries, the materials utilised for Christmas celebrations year on year never seem to change – plastic and chocolate. Yes, it’s time for the annual blowout; to forget the problems of the world by creating more of them. Perhaps you’re thinking this is the year I finally surrender all my worldly goods and wander the country barefoot preaching abstinence? You’re misremembering – that’s next year. Instead, grim-faced and guilt-ridden, I take my shopping to the self-service checkout seeking a quick getaway. What I get is the disembodied voice of an imposter.

‘Ho, ho, ho – unauthorised item in the bagging area!’

A schoolboy error. Rucksacks trigger alarm bells, or worse – robotic jollity. Because it seems Santa is moonlighting in place of the standard mechanical orator we all know and love. Perusing the clogged aisles, it’s clear we’ll be waiting a while. I’m content to wait in silence. The same can’t be said for Santa.

‘I think I’ll have a mince pie while we’re waiting – yum, yum!’

You have to be kidding. Not only is Santa insulting my intelligence with this little charade, but the bastard fails to offer me one. I tell him what he can do with his mince pie, under my breath, then thank the woman who comes to help before resuming scanning.

‘Ho, ho, ho – product requires age verification!’

Another schoolboy error (Santa can’t tell if I’m over 18, apparently, nor whether I’ve been a good boy – the cigarette papers suggest not).

‘I think I’ll have a mince pie while we’re waiting – yum, yum!’

This time I fail to keep my voice down when replying to Santa, allowing him to enjoy the moral victory his pompous tone suggests was never in doubt.

Heading home I detect the unmistakable scent of effluent in the moistening air – either from Santa’s passage or the drains; or perhaps the river or canal. I’ve nothing against Lancaster. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the UK. But the city’s appeal isn’t ever likely to run up and smack you in the face, like the smell of faecal matter. On plenty of days the most inspiring thing about wandering its streets is witnessing the unfussy goodness in ordinary, uncelebrated members of the public; people despised by the current government and scorned by the tabloids.

Because, despite getting my knickers in a twist in Poundland, and beginning a beef with Santa that could end badly (he has some powerful friends in the media), I couldn’t help noticing a couple of elderly people assisting a group with learning difficulties, some in wheelchairs, with their Christmas shopping. Details like these are my personal source of Christmas cheer. Long life to them. Up yours Santa.

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