Omicronic Christmas

Just outside Sainsbury’s a mask lies on the paving stones like a delicate blue lifeboat on a hard, flat sea.

The food bank boxes by the entrance are fuller that usual, and people have donated bottles of wine.

The elderly man who regularly begs outside Aldi sits holding a piece of bread, entranced by the pigeon that perches on his knee to peck it. The bird flies off as someone puts money in his cup. The old man looks up, nods, and touches his heart.

A teenage boy in an immaculate white kaftan just out of Islamic Saturday school zips along the pavement on an electric scooter.

Distracted and tired, I drop a saucepan of baked beans in the kitchen. Baked Bean shrapnel explodes everywhere. Over the floor. Up the fridge, Up the wall and blinds as far as the ceiling. All those CSI stories about “bloodsplatter patterns” come to mind. This morning I discover bean juice splatter on the windows that had got through the blinds. Forceful.

Reading a book about murder in Ancient Rome – A Fatal thing happened on the way to the Forum by Emma Southon. The author stresses that murder of slaves in Ancient Rome was not considered murder, but damage to property; and it occurs to me that the public school products that currently run our government, and most institutions in this country, received the benefit of a classical education. Which explains a lot.

At the bottom of Buck Lane, a family traipses home after Xmas shopping; Mum and two boys. The smaller boy is dragging along a black rubbish bag filled with supposed goodies with a very disgruntled air. It bumps along the pavement. A lot of the kids I see out and about look angry at the moment. Sometimes too much is too much.

An Ad by the side of the road appeals to people “Don’t be alone in the festive period” which is a haunting warning.

The horribly thin Santa that hangs from the side of one of the houses on Kingsbury Road is back. He looks more than ever like a prisoner hanging in a dungeon in a festive suit. Last year, he was left hanging there until March as a forgotten and forlorn reminder of Christmas just past.

In the flats opposite – Mountaire Court, Ernest Trownbridge’s last hurrah, all tall, late medieval, Tudor fantasy in apartment form – a couple of windows sport Christmas lights. One has soothing dark pastel greens, blues and reds that twinkle slowly and gently like a massage for the eyes and brain. The other rapidly flashes yellow in an intense alarm signal staccato that can only be described as a visual klaxon; and makes me seriously grateful not to have epilepsy.

At the end of Handel’s Messiah on Radio 3, I usually well up during the last bars of the Amen chorus -as the soaring fugue gets too much for my nerve endings to cope with. But this time it was the announcer that got to me. She talked about the audience standing and applauding, so grateful for this communal experience that they had missed for so long, and stating in a defiant sort of way that the choir was going to carry out a full programme of concerts over the Xmas period. That was last Tuesday. And now, the lights are going out in concert halls all over the world, and it won’t all be over by Christmas. Weeping felt like appropriate.

Of Small Santas and Parakeets.

On the bus, two pairs of identical twin toddlers poke each other in the face and giggle. One is wearing a bright scarlet wooly hat with two pom-poms on the top that enrages her; and she angrily takes it off every time her mum jams it on – a lifetime battle of wills in the making. The girls are dressed identically in sugar and spice pink and scarlet; to underline their distinctive similarity. “Look. I’ve got two of the same one.” The boys are in a mustard sludge colour; making the same point in a more “puppy dog tail” way. And so, we are branded and colour coded before we can talk. I recall one of the six year olds I used to try to teach to read saying very indignantly to me “Boys can’t wear PINK!” I was wearing a pink sweater at the time. I think the word he meant was “daren’t.”

Out the bus window at the bottom of the hill waiting to turn onto the Edgware road, climbing up the wall of one of those painfully thin first generation council houses that seem to exist nowhere other than Barnet – “Honey! I shrunk the house” – homes fit for heroes who weren’t quite heroic enough – there is a very small Santa seemingly caught mid burglary. Perhaps its his size, that of a wiry goblin, or the lack of any visible support or props – no sleigh or reindeer or even a ladder – that makes him look so menacing.

In a sudden break with the norm, a huge chatter of Parakeets flashes across the milky sky above the Sainsbury store, glinting green in the pallid sunlight; still an exciting shock to see, like finding a bright shoal of tropical fish in a dull suburban pond.

In the store. a bloke wearing foam antlers looks miserably at the bananas.

In the evening, Christmas lights glow in windows – some elegantly soothing, in white or deep colours like a collection of gem stones in stained glass – some overloaded and crass, an embodiment of the principle that more is all too often less, and flashing manically like alarms – inducing just the thoughts of panic, migraine and epilepsy you need for a season of peace.