Saturday, 13 December 2008

I wish I had a river

Joni Mitchell was right: it's coming on Christmas.

I know this not because Joni Mitchell told me, but because someone got on the train yesterday wearing a Santa hat. This is not unusual at this time of year, of course. Apart from this was a commuter train at 9am. It wasn't half past midnight on the last train back to suburbia. He wasn't stumbling around the West End with the lights of Piccadilly Circus reflected in his glassy eyes, about to auto-asphyxiate by treading on the end of the tinsel he'd jauntily draped around his neck. Neither did he step into the carriage with an attention-expectant face that said 'Is this the Christmas Party express because I've got a first-class ticket to Fun Town!'

Instead he teamed his Santa hat with an air of complete nonchalance, sat down quietly with his briefcase and began his private train meditations just like everyone else.

It was a near-sublimal, semi-incidental signal of Christmas which charmed me right through.

And there was more to come.

As I walked from London Bridge to the office, one of the businesses had thoughtfully drifted their confidential shredded waste around the building to look like a winter wonderland. A lame one, obviously. And topically. But still. It worked for me.

Later, another Christmas miracle. I was let out of work at 2.30pm. So I wandered around Borough Market – pretending I was the sort of person who always wanders round Borough Market on a Friday afternoon – and overheard a well-to-do elderly man saying to his friend, 'My granddaughter eats olives like we used to eat sweets.' 

Then I went to a craft/design fair in the Menier Chocolate Factory. I took a shine to a heart-shaped, pearl-buttoned Christmas decoration on a stall run by two redoubtable 70-something ladies who were at pains to point out that all their wares were made from recycled materials. How much is this? I asked them. Oh, you can just have that one, they said. We just want to encourage people to make their own.

This threw me. Episodes of Seinfeld have been written about more trivial exchanges than this. I couldn't just walk away with a free decoration, leaving them with nothing in return – apart from a warm glow of doing good, but who actually believes in that?

Obviously I had to buy something. But everything else they were selling was, at best, odd. At worst – well, let's just say Not For Me. So I had to comb through all their merchandise looking for the cheapest thing I could buy, while trying not to appear as though I was searching for the cheapest thing I could buy, to ease my conscience and reward them in some way other than spiritually.

In the end, I chose a greetings card of medium-size (not the smallest, crucially), paid a paltry £1 for it, and walked away feeling slightly, if not totally, better and wondering which lukewarm acquaintance I could foist the unloved card onto.

If any of you ever receive from me an oddly-coloured birthday card featuring some slightly misshapen screen-printed birds on the front, you may wish to consider what this means for our friendship.

1 comment:

Gorilla Bananas said...

You need to be more assertive. I would have just asked what the cheapest item was.