By Barry Hill
Now that it’s over, I think I’m safe to write this one. I’ll give you a hint as to the tone of this blog. On the lead up to Christmas, my friends call me Scrooge because I don’t like Christmas. I tell them that they are wrong to call me Scrooge as Scrooge woke up with a change of heart on Christmas Day… I don’t.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of good will to all, and the coming together of family and friends. It’s also the time for drunken revelry at staff parties, eating until you are fit to burst, and an excuse to wear silly hats and jumpers, should you need an excuse. However, if you’re blind, Christmas can be one frustration after another.
In reality, the good will to all goes out of the window as soon as I hit the shops. The invisibility cloak starts flashing on and off like the Rudolf undies I was bought one year. One second they can’t see me, the next my guide dog is centre of attention, bump me, pet the dog, jostle me, play with the dog, block the aisle, and fuss the dog. You get the picture. I only went out to buy milk and bread and I was overwhelmed with people buying sprouts at an inflated price after the autumn crop failure (There is a God!), goose or turkey stuffed with a myriad of other farmyard animals, desserts laced with brandy (like more alcohol is needed), Christmas crackers, poppers, hats, napkins, and confetti, and enough booze to keep the England cricket team drunk for a month. All I want is some damned milk, for Santa’s sake!
Being a bloke, I’m not big on cards, and I used to get away with just sending to immediate family when I was younger. People knew that I didn’t really do cards, so didn’t get me cards. Sorted. But something odd seems to have happened now that I’ve reached middle age. I get cards from friends, acquaintances, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, and even from shops and stores. Actually, we look forward to getting the Matalan card as it’s usually our first card to come… and go in the recycle bin. The only person who has stuck by the ‘no card’ rule is my sister, but I forgot that she does stand by it and got her one, which made her feel obliged to get me one. Sigh.
So now I have to go out to get Christmas cards, lots of ‘em. I’m not brave or stupid enough to do the supermarkets again, so I go to the little card shop I know and trust. They sell me a bumper box of amusing cards that my partner, on seeing them, says is too rude to send to most. On reflection, that part of Rudolf doesn’t have to glow in the dark like his nose. So I have to go back to the little shop to explain the difference between suggestive and X-rated.
It’s not just Christmas cards. People who previously have never bought me a present have suddenly decided that I’m of that age where I should have one bought for me, even though men of my age are notoriously difficult to buy for, which means I have to figure out a suitable reciprocation. As I have no idea what to buy these people, I ring up there nearest and dearest to get suggestions. The traditional response in this situation is, “I haven’t a clue” As the nearest and dearest have already stretched their own list of presents to the point of ‘maybe’. Luxury biscuits/chocolates it is then.
The epitome of Christmas is Christmas presents and, like everyone else, I need to buy them for others. In the most, I quite enjoy this part, but there are frustrations almost every day. Here’s one prime example:
I bought a lovely photo frame for my parents. I told the helpful shop assistant that I was going to get a digital photograph printed up and was told that it was a six inch by four inch, or was that four by six. So, I took the photograph on a pen drive to a local photography shop and was pleasantly surprised to be told that it would cost 75p for three photos. Sorted, or so I thought. When I got both frame and photo home and checked with my girlfriend as to which way up it went, I was hit with the first frustrations - The frame holds a five by seven photograph. Sigh. No matter, I’ll use the card that’s in there as a background. Have you ever tried to get a photo square and in the middle using touch alone? It’s damned hard even for an obstinate person like me. I gave up after the third attempt and handed the lot to my girlfriend to do. It was at this point that we discovered my second frustration – The photo is in landscape and the frame only stands up in portrait. Bugger. So, it’s back to the camera shop to see if they can crop and rotate. It would be nice if they could do similar to the people in the supermarkets too.
One other thing that irritates a Bah humbug like me is that every shop assistant in every shop I visit from the beginning of December asks if I’m ready for Christmas yet. My usual reply is that I’m ready for Christmas to be over. Still, I can see why they’d ask you if you are ready for Christmas in somewhere like Boots. If you replied something like, “Well, nearly. I just need to get something for my dear old granny.” Then the shop assistant can likely spring into action and sell you that denture cosy or lavender Eau de toilette cleaner.
There’s always one unexpected present you get from someone. You’re getting ready to go out for another Christmas excuse to get pissed with friends on Christmas eve when your elderly neighbours from the flat upstairs knock with a ‘little something’. All you can do is bluff the, “I haven’t wrapped yours yet. I’ll drop it off later.” Whilst mentally planning a trip to Tesco Express to get their present. Of course, anything even vaguely worth giving as a present has been pillaged from the shelves long before you get there. Condoms and a packet of own brand fish fingers with a use by date of 24th December it is then.
Still, it’s fun to get the whole family together at Christmas, isn’t it? Well, it’s not for the poor sod that is expected to single-handedly prepare a banquet that could feed a small African nation whilst everyone else gets stuck into the booze. How many husbands cop out with the, “I’ll do the entertainment bit” which translates as ‘I’ll get drunk with everyone else’. Well, as I’m more of a hindrance in a busy kitchen and as welcome as a fart in a space suit, mein host is pretty much the only role I can adopt. Yeah, I know, woh is me, eh?
If, and it’s a big if, blind people are in employment, then they will probably be invited to the works Christmas party. There are two problems there. For one, a blind person cannot see the eye-candy, let alone steer them under the mistletoe. Second, some blind people need a responsible chaperone, and where are you supposed to find a responsible adult at an office party after 9pm? Tucked up at home with a nice cocoa watching ‘Wonderful life’ on telly, that’s where.
You could argue that the blind person should be responsible themselves, but why should we? Like everyone, we like to let our hair down and party with the best now and then. Well, these days, I don’t really have hair to let down, and am not really up to the vodka shot or two in the dark or drunken gropes under anything vaguely resembling mistletoe, although I do think that the plastic off a four-pack of Stella I used was pushing the mistletoe credibility somewhat a couple of years ago. Still, she was a friendly girl and mostly conscious. . For me, it’s a milky drink and an early night with a good book.
Some works party’s don’t bother with a venue and, instead, opt for the out-on-the-town Christmas party where everyone over the age of 18, well, 15 is invited. I’ve been out on these staff do’s and no matter how meticulously planned the evening is, it’s like a war battle plan – it all goes wrong after the first shot. Some want to stay, some feel the urge to go out in the freezing cold rain wearing little more than a negligee (but that’s just how Patrick is) and some have already passed out and curled up on a bench seat, snoring and dribbling, despite the classic Christmas songs blasting out.
Eventually, everyone has received the collective message that we’re off to the next pub, everyone but the blind man stood in a corner trying not to wear his pint and wondering who it is that they’ve been shouting over Slade and Sweet to for the last half an hour. Yup, several times I’ve been left in pubs by my mates, each of them thinking that one of the others has me in tow. Got to say, one time I was not happy for them to come back to find me - it’s not every day that you find yourself abandoned with a drunk women’s netball Team Christmas party. I was single back then, so there’s no need to go telling tales on me.
Regardless of the type of Christmas celebration, there’s one rather disconcerting feeling that nags at me when I’m there. Is everyone else wearing the silly paper hat or just the poor, pathetic blind man?
So, this year, as always, I was looking forward to the New Year.