The Things We Break In

I don’t have anything major for you this week. 

It is Christmas Eve, after all, and we all have  bigger fish to fry than my little blog. Nothing much here then.  A word, perhaps, about how evasive Christmas has seemed, thus far, this year. An explanation for two week’s of relative radio silence from me. Oh, and a hint towards the meaning of life, right before the end. That shit always seems to go down well, around this time of year.  

Christmas, though. Is it just me or has it been pretty hard to find this year? There have been lots of trappings about, there always is, but, for me at least, very little of whatever mysterious thing actually makes Christmas real. The best practical example of this 'elusiveness despite trappings' that I can think of, is sitting down in our local town square right now. Our town square, here in Castlebar, is quite unusual for Ireland. It is very much modelled on an English village square. Green and tree-lined. A place where people in cricket whites would not seem out of place on a Summer’s evening. For the last few years, the square or The Mall, as we all call it, has been beautifully lit with cold white wintery lights which adorn every tree. This has helped to instantly evoke Christmas for me every time they finally get lit. So much so that I would venture down there last on Christmas Night, when there is not another soul out and about in the world, to luxuriate for a minute or two in the winter silence and the cold light. 

This year, they’ve put an ice-rink on The Mall.. People in scarves and mittens smiling and careening about. A nice idea but, for me, it hasn’t worked. The simple winter paleness of The Mall has been lost to something that feels commercial and slightly out-of-place. It’s probably just me and my Scrooge-like tendencies but I don’t think I’ll be venturing to The Mall tomorrow night to see the dark temporary structure and the leering eerieness of the dark Disney-ridden carnival rides. 

This year, The Mall has roared and shouted Christmas to all who pass by. It has pushed Christmas forcefully into my hands. But still it has trickled through my fingers. Christmas seems to be best found via a whisper or a tiny nudge. That’s what I think anyway. 

But this might be just me and my cold, being miserable. 

Yes, I’ve had a cold. I hesitate to say Flu but, looking back, I think it’s been damn close to some kind of Flu. I’ve kept upright, kept moving, kept working in the run up to the holiday, but there were days when I wasn’t quite sure how I did it. I seemed to move about in a sort of a fever dream, sweating clean through all my clothes and collapsing every evening in shivers, shakes and restless dozes. Perhaps that’s why Christmas has seemed so elusive. It’s been such a struggle to keep upright, perhaps there was no time for anything else.

The Flu thing is largely gone now but it has left me incredibly weakened. Like the proverbial ‘drink of water’. I can do what I need to do but it drains me and leaves me longing for a sit down and a stare at the wall in an all-encompassing way that I am thankfully not at all familiar with. 

I think it might have been Flu all right. Maybe I’ll get one of those jabs next year. It’s certainly been no joke. 

I did eventually find a little bit of Christmas. It happened the other evening when Sam had to be transported to the Church to sing a Winter Carol with his classmates as part of the annual carol service. This may sound a bit like Home Alone or something but there was a real first taste of Christmas in the air inside the church. Not, strangely enough, so much in the carols or the story telling but rather in the hectic preparation for the event. 

We arrived about 45 minutes early and I sat at the back and sweated and stared blankly and then started to enjoy the show. The kids hurrying in and then back out again. The girls in their gospel chic drapes, enjoying the attention they imagined they were getting. The younger brothers and sisters, kicking and wailing against the requirement to wait for everything from bed to carols to the arrival of Santa Claus, still interminable days away. One mother had ill-advisedly decked her little boy out with potent looking desert boots and the little tyrant aimed kicks at everyone and everything who came within his reach. I think his poor Mum must have been black and blue even before the first carol started.

Here, in this mayhem, there was a first hint of Christmas. A hint of preparation for something. A hint of excitement and expectation. Only a tiny hint but a hint nonetheless. 

It all had a sort of 'Owen Meany Nativity' feel to it. If you’ve read the book you might have an idea what I mean. A sort of edgy but good-natured messiness that may come closer to defining Christmas than anything else I can think of.

Perhaps the secret is that you have to seek out and put yourself among people who care about Christmas. Perhaps the feeling cannot be got from TV adverts and shop windows or even from old movies. You have to feel the human touch. Then perhaps the season might arrive. Not sure. I’ll keep you posted. 

So, now, Christmas is upon us. Sam is drumming down the hall and John, newly returned from Paris, is reading in his intent curled-up way in the living room. Trish is making something to hang on the door and I’m in here scribbling away at this. We are together again, a little family reunited. It feels good. 

As I finish up for today I just wanted to mention the ‘meaning of life’ thing. In the height of my fever, last week, I had what I perceived to be quite a deep thought. I was going to write a whole blog post about it last week but I was too sick to function so here’s the gist of it. Make of it what you will. 

About a month ago, I got new shoes. I only ever have one pair and I wear them for all occasions and when they fall off my feet I buy a new pair. Always Doc Marten shoes. They always require a period of ‘breaking-in’. My heels hurt and my little toes get a bit out of joint too. This time it took about two weeks to break the new pair in.

On the fourth week, my new shoes developed a hole. More of a split, really. It was most disappointing. I took them back to the shop and they immediately gave me a new pair. No trouble at all. I went home delighted except for one fairly obvious thing…

Now I would have to break the new shoes in too.

But here’s the thing. Pay attention, now, this is the thing. 

I didn’t have to.

I didn’t have to break in the new-new pair of shoes.  They were okay, they just worked.

And that’s where I had my fever-dream-deep-thought. A thought that I like to imagine nobody has ever had before. 

Here it is, succinctly. Ready?

You don’t break in your new shoes, you break in your feet. 

That’s it. Think about it. 

I think the meaning of life, or at least a clue to it, may be hidden in there. I think it is a sort of a theory of relativity for the way we should be. We don’t break things in, things break us in. 

I’m not going to elaborate, mostly because I can’t. It came from a fever and the fever is gone now and all I am left with is the tiredness and the residue. The ‘Pixie Dust’ of a notion. There’s something there though, isn’t there? 

I can feel it. Can't you?

Happy Christmas to you and yours. 



Marc Paterson said...

Christmas arrived for me tonight. Visiting long term friends of the family who are practically family. The love lifted me into that place people call Christmas, Hanuka, whatever it is that makes us keep on going despite all the fear and loathing we hear from political gobshites.

December 2017 marks a particular fork in the road for me. I submitted some stories months ago and early next year heralds the deadline. I thought I'd gave one last crack of the whip and, as it was months away, forget all about it until the inevitable rejection came through, and I could move on with my life. I didn't forget. It's as present in my mind now as it ever was.

And when that rejection finally comes and, let's be honest, it will, will I call it a day?

Will I bollocks.

My "shoes" were broken in a long time ago. And... whilst the shoe fits...

Merry Christmas, Ken.

Anonymous said...

My feet (and other body parts)concur. Many happy returns to you and yours.
Cheers Shane

Jim Murdoch said...

In. Such an insignificant little word. Sometimes a preposition. Sometimes an adverb or an adjective. On good days it can even rise to the rank of noun and try to play with the big words. Does life break us in or simply set out to break us? Like horses. I was wondering a couple of days ago whether ‘damaged’ was the same as ‘broken’. I vacillate between the two. Yesterday night I had one of my semi-, well-quarter-, regular vertigo attacks and had to head off straight to bed. It seems to be the answer and when I woke at three this morning (a little later than is usual for me) the worst of it had passed but I still feel pretty wretched. That and what I’m assuming is tendonitis in my right leg that refuses to be comforted by rubbing. Life has most certainly taken its toll on me. Personally I’m glad what passed for Christmas here has passed. The pressies went down well this year—the highlight was an action figure Carrie had modified to look like me as ‘Jim’ from The More Things Change—but that was all over too quickly and then it was a matter of sitting around waiting on this year’s Doctor Who which was a decent enough affair despite from Moffat making a meal of the regeneration scene and Whittaker mumbling her first line: I swore she said “Goblin” the first time I heard it and it was only once I looked it up and listened a third time that I understood her. But that’s all done. We gave cards to all our neighbours as we do every year. This year only three reciprocated. There seems to be so little joy going around. It’s a chore to get out of the road. I suppose we should be glad we don’t have Thanksgiving and Halloween to contend with too. I was saying to someone—and that someone may well have been you a few comments back—that when I was down the town at the start of the month I came away being unable to remember having seen ANY Christmas decorations in the mall. Nothing registered. I can’t remember a tree or Santa’s grotto or anything. And the same with the stores. I’ve never known that before. I’m sure they were there but none of it touched me. I always find myself at a bit of a loss at this time of year. Since I was a kid I’ve tried to wring some kind of inspiration from this season but no matter how miserable I’ve got at this time of year—and I’ve had some pretty miserable Christmases over the years—I’ve never found them very fruitful. This has always been a time of year to get through. The only real highlight so far this winter was seeing one my neighbours—a man a bit younger than me—skating on his own in the car park. Now you don’t see that every week.