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I reach for a bottle of wine, already deep into my mid-winter trough. It happens every year, this downer; has done for as long as I can remember. Maybe everyone experiences a touch of SAD at this time of the year; probably the anticlimax after the Christmas goodies. For me, it starts earlier than it does for most. It comes on in the middle of December. That’s when I start seeing the reality of Christmas, looming ahead like a brick wall with no gate; a wall that goes on forever in every direction. I can’t go round it, so I’ve got to get over it – a fearsome obstacle. It’s the price I pay for a misspent youth, where the Christmas season was a nightmare blur, peopled by misty phantoms, and I was a derelict on the Sea of Alcohol. Those days are gone now. I’m staid, and tamed by the ravages of time and the rules of a good woman. The festive season is still a blur. But now it’s the blur of domesticity, the comings and goings of family and friends, the meals in our house and the meals in theirs. The struggle to put faces to names and names to faces. “Who’s that?” I hiss at my wife through the side of my mouth – like a con, touting for ganja in the morning exercise yard – as some misty faced stranger gives us a frantic wave and head-severing grin from the far side of a festive hall. “It’s Gertie Gobbledegook from two doors down,” my wife mutters in disbelief. “You see her every other day.” I force a grin and wave back at our chameleon neighbour. “She looks distorted when she’s off piste,” I growl, angry at the woman’s skill in natural camouflage. I’m rubbish on the present-buying-front too. Buying big-knickers for old women and socks for their creaking husbands is way above my IQscore. I could cope in the old days when I wandered round Marks and Sparks eyeing the multi-coloured lingerie and wondering which flimsy would look best on which of the pretty girls that my mates had purloined, while buying coffin-nails and matches to deflect the suspicions of the men. But those days are gone too. The cigarettes have taken their toll and the surviving ladies are bladders of lard with drawers like bell tents. Tension mounts as the winter-nights start ever earlier. Torrents of grey rain sweep in off the cold Atlantic. I trudge behind my wife through throngs of sulky December-people who shuffle around the maze of shelves in our local supermarket. Every now and again, Liz bumps into a friend or acquaintance... I don’t have any. I stand, waiting, like an obedient hound, listening to yet another rerun of the conversation that I hear repeated half a dozen times on every shopping expedition throughout the year. Except now, it starts with, “Are you ready for Christmas? Have you got your presents in yet?” As always, they are ready and we aren’t. The depression deepens. Now we stumble into some smartarse woman, who says that she always has... “My presents bought and wrapped the week after this Christmas, ready for next Christmas.” Nah-nah-na-nah-nah! I comfort
myself with the thought that, “If one of her friends drops dead, she’s wasted her money.” Christmas morning; family are coming for dinner; the kitchen transmutes into Hades. Elizabeth cremates a dead fowl in the oven. Roasting tins spit, threatening to engulf us in flame. Pans hiss and rattle on hobs. Water boils. Steam belches. Windows glaze. Fumes and smells engulf the house. Smoke alarms scream from the landing and loft. Compost boxes spew peelings and scrapings over surfaces and floor. Pots pile in the sink. Freezer roars. Dishwasher trundles. Washing machine screams like a cheap charter-jet on a desperate take-off. Overloaded fridge vibrates, rattling knives, skewers and implements that litter the groaning table. I’m out of my depth, staggering about blindly, wanting to help, yet getting in the way. The doorbell rings; bloodcurdling screams as I go headlong, cursing, over the cat. People pile into the hall and overflow into the trembling kitchen. A dog shakes itself violently, spraying a head full of body-fluid over the mince pies. Another wedges a massive head between the venison and sausage-rolls, tongue slithering over the table like a slimy red reptile. Elizabeth barks one of her strange commands, “#@&=+!?” “What does it look like?” I wonder, clueless, walking round in a circle, mouth and eyes wide, like a man with a loose connection. A stray piece in the wrong jigsaw box, I decide to make myself scarce, “Anyone for a drink?” I ask the guests, nervously. They ignore me, busy talking among themselves. “Help yourself,” I mutter, pouring myself a glass of red. “Did you get it?” Elizabeth demands. “Get what? Where did you put it?” I snap. I haven’t a clue what it is. “It’s on the thing!” she tells me. I blink, hopelessly. She communicates in code when she’s under pressure, either that, or she talks to an invisible third person. It all dates back to the years before we met. I think she was in the Secret Service. “I’ll get it myself,” she mutters impatiently, pushing past. I scratch my backside... Elizabeth started tensing a couple of weeks ago. I can tell when she’s uptight, she continually vacuums, gives orders in code, and talks to a third person about me. Like that day a couple of weeks back... I hear her yelling above the din of the Miele, “The carpet’s changing colour!” she screams. That brings me bounding downstairs, two risers to the leap, expecting to see some devil’s work taking place before my very eyes. I stumble down the hall and stand, gasping, in the living room doorway, peering at the carpet. It looks the same as it always looks to me. “What do you mean, changing colour?” I ask, baffled. “Well – look at it!” I squint at the floor. “It’s only wine stains,” I say, comfortingly.
“Dog hair!” she yells. “It’s covered in dog hair!” Then she goes charging after the vac, which has revved-up in anticipation and is already roaring round the furniture. As I sit recovering from the drama, I hear her shouting from the top of the stairs. “Someone’s left their socks on the bathroom floor...” It’s my turn to tense. Who is she talking to? And who is she talking about? Now she’s shouting again. “They’ve left dirty underpants on the bed!” “My God!” I’m racing upstairs now. There must be a flasher loose in building. But, when I reach the top step, I find that it’s my clothes that she’s talking about – and she’s telling that invisible bloke from the Secret Service about me. January the 1st finds us dog-sitting for Dougal, the labradoodle, seven super-charged stone of solid muscle. “He needs exercise,” Liz decides, “we’ll walk to the field and throw his ball.” Exercise, for Dougal, does not mean taking doggie for walkies. Exercise for Dougal entails a cocktail of weightlifting and all-in wrestling for any human involved. This dog is the epitome of the binary mind in action. binary mind goes – Liz carries the launcher in one hand and the ball in her pocket. The me following, as the beast launches himself at Liz and rams his nose in her pocket. “Sit!” I scream. The binary mind goes
Thought deed thought deed thought...
ball get ball get... My arm shoots across the pavement, sit arse...
backside hits the deck and he freezes. After several attempts, I come up with the solution. “You go ahead,” I tell Liz, “and we’ll follow.” Liz moves reluctantly away. Master and dog wait. I want to put distance between us, so that the ball no longer dominates the binary mind. But I have not allowed for Liz. She comes to a pedestrian crossing, which we must cross to get to the field. Years of training in the Secret Service abandon her. She becomes indecisive and stands on the edge of the kerb by the crossing, waving her arms frantically as she wonders what to do next. Cars, heading in both directions, slow down and stop, their drivers bemused by a gesticulating woman. No one wants breathalysing on New Year’s Day for zapping someone on a pedestrian crossing. Other cars pull up behind. Then more cars... I panic. I’ve read stories about road rage. Mad drivers splatter people on the pavement with baseball bats. I have visions of Dougal, bolting for home with a driver’s leg in his mouth. “Get across! Get across!” I yell at Liz. She crosses, then stands gesticulating on the far side of the road. More cars stop. I give up. “We’ll have to join her! Go!” I scream. The binary mind thinks,
I fly behind like a kite as Dougal shoots over
the road and rams his nose in Liz’s pocket...
Like I say, the blues come early for me. But I’m lucky with it, for spring starts early too. Spring arrives when the first buds appear on the bushes and trees – in early February. So, while many people are still moaning about the winter weather, I see nature waking from her slumbers. And there are signs already. Two or three years ago, our garden became part of the territory of a distinctive blackbird. He was distinctive because he had a white spot on his throat. We called him Patch and got quite attached to him; saw him claim the territory; fight off the opposition; watched him try to mate, and fail; then, finally, saw him find a mate and rear a family. Twice, I rescued one of his brood from a cat. Last year, Patch disappeared off the scene. Liz and I missed him. But this month, one of his offspring, a handsome young blood with a white feather on either side of his neck, has taken over the family home; and, with him, has come a plump young female. Lang may their lum reek! Life goes on. Cheers! And a Good New Year to all my readers!
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