I worked in retail for something like twenty-five years, so Christmas (and especially Christmas music) have a different and more testing association than it might have for other people. I am getting better, though.
It's the Saturday before Christmas as I write, which was typically the busiest day of the year back when I was selling records to people. This was the big one. Queues without end, baffled people with scrunched up lists, a shop that looked like it had been spun-dry, and perhaps, if you're lucky, a selection box hidden just under the counter. It was an effort.
(As opposed to Christmas Eve itself, which was busy up until lunchtime, and then the pubs opened, and the only people you got in were the blokes struggling with gravity, desperate for that present they had obviously forgotten thanks to one pint too many at the local boozer. I remember one time, when a customer Indiana Jonesed under the closing shop shutters, brushed himself down, and said "well, I'm in now, so you better serve me.")
I'm percolating what to do next with my writing. I'm pleased with the books - people who have read them have been kind (so far) - but I'm still struggling to solve the problem of getting the word out. I am wrestling with my natural reticence ("Talking about myself? How vulgar!") and needing to talk about myself to get the books in front of people. I'll keep on. I've got a few ideas on what's next, so maybe just best to dive in and see where it takes me.
Some good news to finish up with, though. Thanks to a prompt from the excellent writer, John Reppion, I entered the ArtsGroupie Christmas Short Story competition, and managed to get selected for the top ten. The brief was simple - 500 words with the theme being a Christmas ghost story. You can read the winners over at their site here.
I thought I'd leave you with my story, and with that, I'll raise a glass to you and yours and hope to write again in the New Year.
I’m in bed, in the dark, but outside my bedroom door, the house is still alive. The sounds from downstairs – the muffled whisper of the television chattering to itself, the clink of glasses as my mother washes up - do nothing to distract me from the impossible problem of being a child on Christmas Eve. Sleep will bring me tomorrow, and all the excitement that comes with it, but the harder I try and close my eyes, the further away from the morning I remain.
Minutes pass at the speed of hours. Nothing changes. I trace the shapes in the wood of my bedside chest of drawers with my finger, until, frustrated, I pull the covers over my head, push my face into my pillow, and demand my body listens to me.
There is a weight on the bottom of my bed - I can feel the covers pull slightly as someone sits down, and, unable to resist, I peek out from under the sheets to see who it is.
"Don't look," my dad says, shocked at being caught. He has a pillow case in his hands, full of right angles, as the wrapped boxes jostle for position inside.
"Don't look," he says again. "I'm helping Father Christmas. If you look, you might see him, and if you see him, he won't bring any presents for tomorrow."
“Don’t look,” he says one more time. “Not yet.”
I don't say anything. Instead, I bury my head under the covers, so scared that I might somehow be the one to ruin Christmas, and hold my breath for as long as I can. The night is long, and dark, and hot, me not risking the slightest movement that might betray the unspoken promise I had made to my dad.
Years pass. Decades.
I’m in bed in the dark, in my own house. I’m alone, and there’s no noise from the other side of my bedroom door. Not anymore. It’s Christmas tomorrow, and a memory of a long night years ago won’t shake free from my head. I stare at the darkness where the ceiling used to be. I can’t sleep. My dad died a year ago, just as the only snow that winter hit the ground.
I pull the covers over my head. Maybe if I really concentrate I can remember what it was like to be a child again, in a house holding its breath before the excitement of Christmas arrives.
I feel a weight on the bottom of my bed. I don’t move. I don’t dare do anything.
“Don’t look,” a voice says. “Not yet.”