High Street. A week and a bit before Christmas. Busy. Noisy. Cold.
A man is shouting “Leave me alone”. I assume he’s having an argument with his wife whose Christmas list is very long, specific, and unattainable. But he’s shouting to no one in particular and follows up the odd shriek with a hoarse ‘fa la la la la’, scraps of an old yuletide song bursting from the frayed end of his roll-up. He is quite mad, but nobody seems to mind. There’s nothing like unfortunate souls wandering about in public to make us feel better about our own lives, especially at Christmas.
Further up the street is a nice Irish lady singing operatic versions of Buble/Barlow/Groban shopping precinct classics. She’s offering to sign things so she may have been in Bewitched or The Corrs once or something. Some kids are trying to mimic her vibrato and aren’t doing a bad job. I feel bad for her. But not when she starts You Raise Me Up for the seventh time. I feel bad for myself then.
People are rushing about with bursting bags, bemoaning all the stuff they have to do and for whom. Lots are rude, impatient, sulky. Lots don’t acknowledge the humans around them as they bash bags, rub sleeves, and obstruct paths.
I watch the man ambling slowly off, bagless. Part of me feels more kindred to him than to the frantic money-spenders pinballing around. Which is a bit worrying really. He’s probably got voles living inside his army coat.
“Leave me alone”. I think it might be the refrain of his whole life rather than just his mood for the day.
“I hear you, mad dude.”, I thought, wilfully mistaking myself for a cantankerous misanthropist.
It’s easy to start feeling a bit grumbly when you’re tired and busy.
It’s easy to wish the nice Irish lady would suddenly develop chronic laryngitis as she begins to crucify Hallelujah, a song constantly wrongly commandeered by the twee, faint-hearted, and nice and unbroken by life.
It’s easy to wish the bustling shoppers will all fall over and roll around on their backs like beetles until all the bags melt away and they forget what they were even charging around for in the first place.
It’s easy to wish you were somewhere away, alone and quiet, with no encroachment of Christmas or other people or general life to stop you from doing what you really want to be doing; writing, reading, thinking, kissing, being.
But then you bump into 3 old friends in quick succession – people you haven’t seen for ages – people who make you instinctively throw your arms open wide then around them and hold onto them a bit while you chat in their ear. And you natter happily over each other as you take in each others’s faces and observe how they’ve changed, and know they’re thinking the same of you, and you think how cute they look with their nose all red from the cold. None of you want to stop for long and that’s ok too, and you enjoy the thick woollen thud-patting as you clap each other’s arms and wish each other a happy Christmas and move on in different directions, a little warmer for that minute of hugging a person you used to see all the time and now don’t.
The shrieking man has moved on, scattered with the pigeons and the leaves and the rubbish, and the Irish lady is still murdering songs not in her register that she doesn’t understand and you forgive her even though you won’t give her fifty pee.
And realise you wouldn’t be without all the bustle and noise after all. Not yet.