Monday, December 27, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 32

This holiday season I came to a startling, well at least mind-blowingly average, conclusion that I have come to like Christmas, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.

I realised that I really rather like it. I'm sure this has always pretty much been the case, but I finally realised why at the close of 2004 and, of course, I think I should share.

Up until now it's just been this nebulous unstructured feeling of well-being that you get when you are away from London and tucked away for three or four days back at your parents.

This realisation came at about 10:45am on Christmas Day. More precisely it came as I listened to Xfm on the radio, still nursing the cup of tea I had been delivered more than half an hour ago. What can I say, I am a slow tea drinker.

Admittedly I was being exceptionally lazy but there seems little point in getting up because, really, getting up early on December 25 is only something the very young and very old enjoy. As our family was this Christmas lacking in both departments, staying in bed seemed perfectly justifiable.

My mother, as is so often the case, was of a different mind entirely. She rapped on my door and asked wearily: "Gordon are you ever coming out of that room?"

That was it. Right then. I was hit by a feeling of deja vu. Then I got it. It was one of the staple sentences I had heard throughout my teenage life. "Are you ever coming out of your room?" was up there with "Are you ever coming off of the phone?" and "And why is it that you can never do one thing I ask?".

It wasn't just that one motherly utterance, it was the whole environment. What I worked out was that the whole retreat to the family home was just one long retreat back to teenage life. All the signs were there. No I wasn't smoking in my bedroom (one year smoke free as of December 23), it was the other things. The clockwork-like appearance of various people and the acting out of various traditions such as the burnt parsnips, tearful sister and annual visit to the cemetery with Alison and co.

I should clarify about the cemetery. It's just kind of nearby and borders the woods, and Alison, who is after all best, always likes to go walking in the cemetery.

Along with Alison there was, of course, Paul, and Adam who lives down the road. Oddly, Adam turned up on a shiny new pushbike, which kind of surprised everyone and only confirmed my thinking that going home is one long teenage experience.

"Adam, you're on a bike," Alison said, speaking for us all.

"Yeah, I know, it's a surprise to me as well. Can you believe it my parents bought me a bike for Christmas?"

"They know you're 34, right?"

He nodded: "I think so, I think it's the Alzheimer's kicking in."

"Are you taking it back to London?"

He shrugged: "I guess, I suppose we can go out on our bikes."

This made us all laugh. "Oh you can give me a backy," Alison said delighted.

"You know I was never very good at them, it seemed to involve balance and coordination, as well as plenty of leg power."

I digress, the cemetery trip is just one of many annual rituals. Not least among these is the annual appearance of my first serious teenage girlfriend Sally, who drops by with a group of neighbourhood people for drinks on Christmas Day. It was all so circa 1986, you know minus the fact that Sally is now married and has a four-year-old child, but that's just a small detail.

It was slightly embarrassing when Sally turned up because I, at that point, happened to be blasting Japs away on the PS2 with my 16-year-old cousin. Sally found this very amusing in the way that some women do who, having passed into marriage and motherhood, view anything outside this world with haughty disdain. OK, you can tell I was slightly annoyed.

"Nice to see you're keeping up your interest in games," Sally said.

Somehow at the precise moment when a witty, but not too withering (season of good will an' all that), retort was needed, my brain emptied like the sieve that it had become after 3,000-plus Xmas units of booze. Despite the lack of a sharp comeback, I was sadly not able to keep my mouth closed.

"It's not mine," I said, pointing to the PS2. "It's his," I said, pointing at my cousin.

This was, of course, a total lie but because my cousin Stuart is a real teenager, as opposed to... well... not a real teenager, this comment was met with a long roll of the eyes before promptly dispatching me again in an act of virtual punishment. I tell you my thumbs are just not what they used to be.

"Why did you say that the PlayStation was mine?" he asked me.

I shook my head. "You wouldn't understand. It's complicated," I said, for a brief moment assuming the role of a wise and intelligent grown-up.

"Oh as if," he said, which was the cue for more rolling of the eyes.

What's with all the rolling of the eyes? I don't remember rolling my eyes so much as my former teenage self.

After my cousin had slunk back to a couch and pulled the hood of his parka up again ("no I'm not taking it off so don't ask") to listen to Eminem on his Discman, I tackled my mother on the issue of Sally. There was definitely an issue there.

"Mother, you know it's really a little weird that Sally drops by at Christmas don't you think?"

My mother seemed to find this rather amusing. I tell you parents should not drink at Christmas. I, of course, mean older parents, my parents, rather than the parents who happen also to be my friends.

"You don't think she comes to see you, do you?"


"She comes around because I babysit for her every Wednesday."

"Every Wednesday?"

"Every Wednesday."

"Ha," said my cousin, "I understand perfectly," which was definitely my cue to roll my eyes.