The days leading up to my leaving the office for the Christmas break were productive, lazy and slightly fraught. On the Friday following a spell at the office Christmas party, which involved me shoving Chinese food and Champagne down my throat and a generous birthday gift from my colleagues, I fled. I was due to meet IC in a pub in Hackney and time wasn’t on my side. The journey was horrific, trains cancelled requiring replacement bus services, swarms of partygoers and angry commuters pushing and shoving resulted in my being 30 minutes late. It took half a bottle of wine to glue my shredded nerves.
After I’d relaxed IC, Pru and I chatted merrily away despite IC being bushed and yours truly feeling a certain degree of trepidation of the inevitable. IC was leaving on the early flight the following morning, in addition to not wishing to see her leave we had to get up at 3.30 in order to make the necessary connections. At 4.15 in the morning on Liverpool Street station I watched her train snake out of sight. ‘Fuck,’ I said after it had gone, and then I said it again loudly.
My first tube was leaving at 5am, I had a coffee shuffling about the dregs of London feeling tired and confused, when the gates to the underground opened I had the walkways and escalators to myself. It felt like Armageddon. There was only one person on the platform and I noticed to my chagrin that I had an hours wait before the tube would actually arrive. I said ‘Fuck’ again.
The time passed so inconceivable slowly I went back outside for a couple of cigarettes, when the fucking train finally arrived it decided to terminate midway home and I was chucked out into Stockwell which was heaving with scum. Fights broke out, people threw up and for the first time in a while I began to get a tad concerned for my safety. The bus took over half an hour to show up and when it arrived it was solid with humans. By now it was nearly 7am and I was fighting the urge to sleep whilst stood, sardined, on the 57 home. At almost 7.45 I finally arrived home and, by now, wide awake.
I got up at 4pm that afternoon and made my way to my brothers gaff in Peckham where we ate pie and mash with some wine. He, Aly and I watched TV and played on the PS3 but I wasn’t really there, my mind was on the departing train and my time-node was completely fucked.
The following lunchtime I left to meet Swineshead and his missus in Hackney. We were joined by a chap called Tea-Towel and spent a happy afternoon getting wasted on Black. By 8 pm, stoned and under the influence of sleep deprivation I made my way home passing IC’s gaff in the process, which wasn’t particularly helpful.
From there on in the countdown to the actuality of my being 40 seemed to take over. My recollection of the days leading to Christmas eve are straightforward enough. Days are blurred into a lump of lazy eating, hot baths and TV and evenings of beers with Friends, Harry and O on Monday, Frank on Tuesday, both followed by late wines and music as I attempted to stop time from continuing via inebriation whilst trying to shift the days until IC came home. I can tell you from experience that’s impossible to do one of these things let alone both.
When Christmas eve finally arrived I was good for a detox. I met up with James to meet his new son near Croydon and glumly dismounted my Black Bitch for the last time in my 30’s when I got home. I met my bro and Aly on the train at Wimbledon after a quick drink with Rosh at Wandsworth and by 9pm we were all at the folks’.
We ate Ham sandwiches and watched Brooker’s TV round up. Mum was most amused much to my surprise. I felt as Christmassy as the Summer Solstice, my stupid brain was in perpetual despair, the last Christmas in my 30’s, the last time I… the final occasion I… it wouldn’t stop and would regularly reduce me to narcoleptic silence.
I woke up on Christmas morning in the bedroom I’d known since I was 10, the hum of mum and dad’s congenial conversation, punctuated with the odd whistle from dad, unchanged after all the years. The fucking irony. I was 10 when dad was 40. I said ‘Fuck’ into my pillow and got up. Unusually mum and dad were about Christmas morning having fulfilled their Christian duties the previous evening. Whilst waiting for my sister, bro-in-law and niece we watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation that reduced mum to hysterics. That was rather nice I thought before thinking ‘Fuck, I’m 40 tomorrow’. I peeled some sprouts to take my mind off it.
When the family were gathering the present opening happened (the last time I… the final occasion I…etc.,) and we had lunch, the usual peculiar combination of not-quite-right veg and dry Turkey but, and I don’t know how this works, my favourite meal of the year. My niece is a greedy little bugger, incidentally, she manages to get food into her little mouth the size of her own head which seems to instantly vanish. I reckon she must be breathing through her ears. She and I are on much better terms these days, she won’t interact with me but at least she doesn’t scream the place down when I’m within a hundred yards of her.
Christmas afternoon passed quickly, mum tiddly washing and dad snoozing (traditional roles here, folks) with rest of the family fussing over my niece as she wandered about poking at various toys suspiciously observing her uncle who sat rigid in an armchair watching the last light of his 30’s fade over the rooftops.
That evening my sis and bro-in-law drove us back to their gaff in Surrey and the boozing begun in earnest. We watched Michael Macintyre Live (it’s bloody good even if not my usual bitter sort of humour) and played Trivial Pursuit, me against my siblings and their partners, which I won by the skin of my teeth. At 11.30 I began to physically shake, I wandered helplessly between the lounge and dining room drinking and smoking. I tried to sit, stand. It was fucking awful. I thought of Pierrepoint waiting by the noose for his victims. I actually nearly wept, dear reader. When the godforsaken hour occurred it was bro-in-law who was there to firmly shake my hand and muse on the inevitable. I felt wretched, like I’d done something irreversibly incorrect. I was, as I am now, forty. ‘Fuck,’ I said, but this time there was a hollow ring to it.
When I woke up it was sunny. The day seemed so innocent and irrelevant, suddenly my phone went off and I was treated to a chorus of Happy Birthday by IC and her family from somewhere foreign, I was completely delighted. We had breakfast, a fry-up, and left to go to my Bro and Aly’s gaff. Mum, dad and my niece joined us and I was given the spoils of age. To my genuine surprise the family had chipped in and got me a personalised number plate. Initially perplexed by the gesture I realised that it was an act of quite remarkable thoughtfulness. The number is relevant and personal. Turned out that IC had a hand in proceedings too adding an even greater degree of poignancy to my gift.
Throughout all of these festivities my brother was suffering from ‘flu. Not a cold but full on bastard ‘flu. He did a bloody good job of entertaining us all, the spread of food wasn’t dissimilar to the splendid buffet laid on at my mate Chas 40th last year, but come 4pm the poor sod was out of it. To make matters worse my phone had died and I need to go back home to grab my charger. My parents drove me back to Tooting where I took an hour or too to shower and shave before popping down to a local pub to meet Rob, James, Frank and, news in that very day, fiancée. Frank even asked me to perform best man duties. Three celebrations in one, then, and drinking happened.
It must have been about 3am shortly after the happy couple had left my flat following a few glasses of cheer that James fell of the chair in my kitchen. Even now I’ve no idea how he managed to do as he fell off the side landing heavily on my dustbin which was crushed like a plastic cup. Rob and I spent the final hour laughing our heads off, some time later they left and I presumably went to bed.
When I woke the following day, I had a hangover of vast proportions and it wasn’t until the afternoon that my memory returned. Yes, I’d had a good one, my bin however, hadn’t. After cleaning up I spent the day in my dressing gown eating what I could find in the cupboard and fridge and soothing myself with Top Gears on Dave. I did a bit of what you’re reading and went to bed early.
Finally the day of IC’s return was upon me. Hangover free I had a boiled egg with soldiers (dementia has already set in, it’ll be mashed up banana soon) and set off to do some shopping magnificently failing in purchasing a single item on my list. Of course, I could’ve bought everything at Woolworths if it wasn’t sat there like a carbuncle of crunched credit. I came home and packed a bag in readiness for Tuesday, took a bath, ate and at 11.00pm, set off for Liverpool street.