Terry from Derry: God Bless Us Curmudgeons, Everyone
By Terry Boyle
If you’re a curmudgeon like myself, you’ll know just what the countdown to Christmas really means; long queues at the shops, traffic nightmares, buses and trains packed to the gills, anxiety about purchases (too cheap, too expensive) and so forth. Every year you live in dread of seeing the first display of cheap, tacky decorations, followed by the usual raft of musical exhortations to be happy and thankful. From late October to Christmas Day, we could be in North Korea listening to Kim Jong-un ordering us to fall prostrate before the jolly fat man in a red suit.
It’s bad enough watching the dark nights devour more and more of daylight without whipping ourselves into a happy frenzy of epicurean stature. We end up getting fatter while our bank balances get thinner.
I remember reading an article attributing the modern concept of Christmas to Charles Dickens. The author of the said article suggested that ‘A Christmas Carol’ with the conversion of Scrooge, the archetypal curmudgeon, is responsible for our indulgent commercialism. Isn’t ironic that an author whose work was used to reform child labour laws has since been used to line the pockets of the merchants of capitalism?
The one place of refuge against such blatant exploitation is usually the pub. Having a few jars with your mates is always a good salve for the soul. Within an hour, you’ve sorted out the world’s problems, righted every dodgy political system and ended world hunger, without having moved more than 20 yards from your seat.
If only politicians were astute enough to eavesdrop on their inebriated constituents, we might actually see some change for the good, instead of the usual dance around the Maypole propaganda. But, I digress, as Christmas looms, the norms of pub life radically change. Hordes of office party goers invade the sacred space of the regulars and to quote Yeats, ‘all changed, changed utterly’.
The alternative to going out isn’t much better. You can stay at home hugging the fire, or wrap yourself around the radiator while watching another re-run of a would-be nun fending off the Nazi threat from her native Austria by teaching kids the musical scale, or the one about a tornado survivor (possibly an acid dropper) caught up in the surreal world of little fat people with a yellow brick road, and a wizard of no substance. It could be worse, I suppose, we could be walking in the air with a snowman, something I’ve always thought possible during those heady psychedelic hippy years.
Given the stay-at-home option, the prospect of a pub full of revelers was maybe not the worst thing that could happen to me. I determined to leave early. The closer to seven the fewer chances of getting a seat.
If I timed it right, I could snag one of the snugs and keep it for one or two mates, if they dared to face the Christmas nightmare. One thing in Ireland that you can be sure of at this time of the year is the weather. The damp cold eats into your bones.
Going anywhere, you have to dress up prepared for the worst weather conditions, and tonight was no exception. Rain and sleet, slush around the feet, while you almost kill yourself trying to avoid people and puddles.
Getting into the pub, I spied a vacant snug. Moving quickly, I caught the bartender’s eye and signaled for the usual poison. Staking out my spot with a very wet coat and scarf, I made my way through the usual frequenters with a nod and a ‘how are ye?’ I had made it.
Alone with a drink in my hand, I had successfully negotiated a truce with the dreaded holiday and soon, one or two of the gang would be here to keep me company. For the umpteenth time, we’d set the world to right again, or so I thought.
In they came, sporting Santa hats, the elves and snowmen. Young, sickeningly happy, they swept aside the other curmudgeons in their tide of frivolity. Orders were thrown at an elf, while Santa and his posse surrounded me.
Laughing, toasting me with imaginary drinks, they wished me the season’s best. My wet damp coat and scarf proved to be no deterrent and lay squashed under the bum of Rudolph. As the world shrunk around me, I tried in vain to ignore their antics.
Refusing to acknowledge any of my social nuances indicating a need for privacy, I was unwillingly adopted me into their Christmas tribe. And, suddenly, I was inundated with questions, banter and offers to buy my next drink.
As they pressed in, I could barely lift the glass to my mouth without feeling my arms had lost their range of motion. I was being overcome with that well-known quality of Irish generosity and it was suffocating. When two of my mates arrived, I watched as they pointed to me and laughed.
When I tried to get up to join them, I was pulled down and made to drink. There I was stuck with no red slippers to click, my potential rescuers enjoying my excruciation too much to intervene, and my snowman was downing a Jägermeister.
Money for Nothing
One of the merrymakers started a conversation about songs that made no sense or she’d completely misunderstood. An example she shared was Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets.’ Instead of singing ‘she got electric boots, ‘she had been singing she got electric boobs.
Another chirped in with Dire Straits and ‘Money for nothing and your chips for free, instead of chicks for free.’ This was followed Adele’s ‘or should I just keep chasing penguins instead’ rather than chasing pavements.
On and on they rattled out their malapropisms with infectious enthusiasm and, for some reason, I wasn’t squirming. They were funny, even witty. What was happening to me? Had they spiked my drink with some kind of Christmas ecstasy?
Then, turning to me, I was put on the spot. What yer song mucker?
Well, there’s always been a song that’s troubled me. It’s long before your time, so I don’t expect you’ll know it, called, ‘Leader of the Pack.’ The guts of the song goes like this. A young girl is telling her friends about her boyfriend who’s died in a motorbike accident. Out of nowhere, they asked her ‘was he hurt’ to which she responds, ‘I’ll never know’. Now, tell me if that isn’t a stupid question. Was he hurt? No, but he’s lying in the fecking morgue never to see the light of day again.
Falling about laughing, they rallied for more. It seems my plot was following a predictable outcome. God bless us, everyone.