Thursday, December 23, 2004


Someone somewhere is talking about santa. Good myth or bad lie? Ghosts of Christmas past drift about the conversation:

Davey McGrath has a secret to tell me. We clamber off the climbing frame, wander to a corner of the playground.

“Santa isn’t real,” he whispers into my ear, earnest and excited. “He doesn’t exist.”

“He does!” I tell him, scandalized. “I saw him last year.”

On the way home, I tell myself that my best friend has got this all wrong, terribly wrong. I’ve seen Santa’s hat – surely I did – bobbing past my window, as red as tomato ketchup. I heard the whinny of Rudolph, the scrape of the slay as it took off and soared up, up and away. I did, I did, I did!

But then doubts flood my mind: how could he get round all the houses? Why would he exist? How come that bike he got me last year - it had been stood outside the local second-hand-shop for a month before?

“What’s wrong?” mum asks when I arrive home. I tell her. Soon she is explaining: Santa’s part of the magic of Christmas for children. I’m growing up, so now it’s time for me to understand that. But I better not tell my baby sister.

Of course, I know straight away that I’m joining in with this game: it’s what grown-ups do! I’m seven years old, and the entire world makes perfect sense again.

Years later, I’m covering my chips with tomato ketchup in front of the TV. Long ago my father had given up trying to stop me drenching food in the stuff. All his warnings – that it’ll kill me, that it’s processed rubbish, that it drowns out taste, that it’s no good for you, full of E numbers probably (whatever that meant) – have been firmly ignored. The news is on: the light-hearted feature at the end. The image of a bottle of ketchup suddenly occupies the corner of the screen. “Surprising news from scientists now,” the announcer begins to say. My father looks stunned as the newly-discovered health benefits from the stuff get reeled off – including, even, protection from cancer.

Now, you might expect that I gloated, or we joked about it, or he started eating the it with everything, like I did; hell, you might be picturing a pantry with piles of the magic stuff, bought in bulk. Or maybe that he stormed off, changed the channel, dismissed the claims. But by this time, we already knew about the brain tumour – which, as it turned out, would kill him at the age of 51. There he sat, as fat as santa should be from all of the drugs, letting the cold irony pass in silence, and soon the sports news was on anyhow.

Santa: good lie or bad myth? Ghosts of the past drift around without answers, and the ghosts of the future hold unknown questions. My last day at work this year, and nothing is left to do. Except to wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy new year.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


"Not been writing that blog much, Adam?" said an old friend last night on the train. We were heading to Clapham Junction, for a dinner party in the sought-after part of town, where 20-somethings cluster around exotic markets and over-priced bars, exchange telephone numbers and sexual fluids, discuss the city or legal jobs they do so well, remember the university days and all those parties, remark on the smallness of the world bumping into old School pals, or offer to show them the photos from their gap-year mucking in for charity, or from their sponsored 10km run last summer. Lives lived as they should be: your teacher says these are your best subject, your parents say do this at uni, your careers advisor says this will earn you most money, and heh presto. Lovely life just falls into place.

"Writing bits and bobs," I answered. "Got a few unfinished entries. I hate posting anything I'm not happy with. Hate it. Don't know why."

"You shouldn't. It's only a blog. So what's been happening? You never even told the world, or all three of your readers at least, that you shaved off your beard."

"True. But who wants to know about that? Dull story: I decided to keep it, bought some clippers to trim it into shape, and started hacking at it this way and that, that way and thot. And then ten minutes later, an uneven mess stared at me from the mirror, while strands of hair settled on surfaces all over the bathroom.

"Shaving is easier. And now, what to do with the clippers I don't need? Skimp on the hair-dresser and go for a short hair-cut, or be naughty and break them and return them and ask for my money back?"

"Keep your hair long while it lasts," my friend replied, peering at my hair-line, and its slight - slight - retreat from my temple. The train was packed: I noticed a black woman, crammed facing the doors, newspaper held at her side, no space to read it, smiling at our conversation. In a nice way, I thought to myself, in a nice way.

"You know what I'm having trouble describing at the moment? I told you about the dog?"


"I keep getting bitten by a dog on the way to work. Happened twice now - yesterday and the day before."

"You're kidding?"

"About the dog? Or describing it?"

"The dog, Adam, the dog."

"No. You know my street ends at a right-angle, like an L-shape, into an alley? Well, the day before yesterday, I turned into the alley and walked into this dog. I jumped back, swearing, and the vicious thing sprinted forward, then sprung up at my leg. Gnashing, furious, claws out. Razor-sharp teeth, gleaming. Biting, attacking. Up, up it leapt - about as high as my knee, I suppose."

"About as high as your knee?"

"Yes... that was about as high as the evil thing's little legs could get him. I suppose it wasn't much bigger than a guinea pig, really." The black woman is laughing by now under her breath.

"And the same thing happened the next day? What did the woman say?"

"Same thing next day - almost exactly the same. I swore a lot at her. Jesus Fucking Christ mainly, I think. Then, she asked me to listen to her explanation. Apparently she and her husband have been away on holiday for a couple of weeks, so the poor little thing has been in kennels - sorta hotels for pets. He was a bit upset by it, and isn't normally like that at all, she said. In fact, he's more scared of me than I am by him! Or something."

"And what do you say?"

"Well, I could have said (all hurt and vulnerable) that I've had nightmares about dogs ever since I was a kid, but given that the mutt was no bigger than moderately-sized rodent, I didn't. I could have said (all sarcastic and clever) that if the poor little creature had been traumatized by a holiday, then by all means it has the right to bite me. In fact, why not aim higher? What are my privates compared to your dog's peace of mind? I could have said (all superior and moralising) that I have the right to walk to work without getting bitten, and what if I'd been a little kid or baby? And that if a dog bites someone it's a criminal offence and he can be put down by law - and so I'm calling the cops."

"And what did you say?"

"Jesus Fucking Christ. Can't you keep it on a tighter leash. That, I think.

"I suppose at least I said something, even if it was blurted, uncontrolled, rushed, embarrasing, ridiculous - but something. Although she wasn't there this morning." And on we traveled, amused, a few chuckles about us, to a night of photo-albums and chatter about politics and sport, and delicious chicken wrapped in bacon, cooked according to fine recipee, dictated by some distant and successful TV chef in a luscious, solid, hard-backed book.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


"You always tell me what you think, Adam," some friend or other was saying a while ago, "but never what you feel."

O. Let me think. Feel, I mean. No, or - ahh, you know. Well, here goes:

A strange encounter: The woman I sat next to on the tube last night, flicking through a holiday brochure, ticking various hotels or places of names with a blue biro, then putting boxes around others, then scribbling across the page, stabbing it, hacking at it, peering at it - all before she turned and stared and grinned at me with this crazed, mad, pale, so young and awful face. Right then, I suppose:


Or some nothing moment: A brash business man queue jumps at an escalator out of the tube:


A bolshy business woman queue jumps just after, and I watch her beautiful figure clamber up the stairs:


Someone or other clearly in a real rush queue jumps with a sorry:

a pragmatic justice,

if that counts. Or some office moment: a phone call from someone asking for someone's phone number. "It's not on the internet? In the document I emailed you last week? And come to think of it, how come you always do this? Unlike anyone else? And I don't even work for you?" - is what I don't say, reading the digits off.


of course. In they come later, a Christmas card and some home-made biscuits I don't enjoy: a blip of lofty


passes. Walking outside my office at lunch with such thoughts, feelings going blip-blip-blip, as I wade through meandering students and sniping chuggers and the suited masses, I wonder what I feel about them all. I'm in a bad mood. Maybe I feel about the whole world roughly what I feel about heavy metal: I just don't like it, and can't work out how anyone really could. People-cars-birds-litter-shops pass, and feelings go




Surely life isn't just a graph with two dimensions: one, stuff; the other what you feel about it, there on a grid, with speech the only attempt at the smooth line that connects the dots of reality that randomly pop up?

At some point I'm walking around the side-ways C of the Aldwych: and the traffic has stopped. And the road is cleared. And everyone at the bus-stop is staring. And lights are flashing. And ambulance men are rushing over. And a figure lies still, dying probably, in the middle of the road. Further along a white van is stopped, alone.

This should remind my feelings of the essentials of life, its fleeting, precious nature and sudden end, this should be the image that provides the perspective, that gets rid of the bad mood, clarifies the feeling. "I know who I hope it is," I think, and walk on.