Friday, December 21, 2012

We Need a Little Christmas

I've been trying to come up with an appropriate holiday post but the spirit keeps flitting away from me. All I know is, this song has been in my head these past two weeks, and I think, given the overall global circumstances, it is highly appropriate: 

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet

Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
It hasn't snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry

So climb down the chimney
Turn on the brightest string of light I've ever seen
Slice up the fruitcake
It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough

For I've grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older

And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little CHristmas now

For we need a little music
Need a little laughter
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter

And we need a little snappy
"Happy ever after"
Need a little Christmas now.

Have a Happy Christmas
(or the holiday of your choice)
and a Great New Year

See you in 2013!

For those out there (both of you) who have never heard this song or are otherwise unfamiliar with the tune, I have included this video. I was hoping for a better, more festive and familiar one, but this is the only one I could find on YouTube that did not begin with a 30-second advertisement for an iPad or HSBC or was otherwise simply a jumble of nonsense some jackass uploaded, which sort of feeds into what I'm getting at:

Oh, and when I attached the video, I put the URL in the box and the search came up with the following:

What on earth Interactive Sex has to do with a Christmas song is beyond me, 
but again, it simply emphasizes what I'm feeling about the season.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Siege

Counting today—which is just now pink-tinged with dawn—I have been “retired” for a baker’s dozen of days. Of those days, nine have been actual working days and six would have been within my truncated work week. And I have been sitting in this flat for three of those days (plus a fourth one back in October) watching workmen complete a job that I was originally told would take one day.

The first visit occurred during one of my days off, when I was semi-skivving, before begin made redundant I decided to retire, but the subsequent visits—today’s included—are on days when normal people work. How do people with 40-hour a week jobs find the time to get things like this done?

This “window project” has been going on since June, and it was supposed to have been finished by the end of August, then September, then November, and now they are telling me it will be well into the new year before they finish. But that was what I expected at the onset, because workmen in Britain are just the same as workmen the world over: they show up, make a great deal of noise and commotion without actually getting a lot done, then disappear for days on end leaving us sitting in a construction site.

Typical work crew. Location: anywhere in the world.

And the insouciance of the workmen is breathtaking. I was told they would be here on a certain day, but they couldn’t make it that day (well, in any case, they didn’t show up) so they came a different day. Then they returned to do the finishing touches. This was scheduled for yesterday but at 1 o’clock they suddenly left, saying, “We’ll be back tomorrow; we can’t do any more until the plaster dries.”

Now, this caused no consternation because, quite frankly, I welcome the diversion, but it left me scratching my head wondering how we would have coped with these sorts of demands on our time if I was still holding down a full-time job.

And this is not simply about inconvenience; every time they visit I have to move everything away from all the windows—bed, sofa, curtains, tables, chairs, exercise bike, knitting projects, old pairs of glasses sitting on the window sill that haven’t been used since 2004—the lot. All of it has to go into the middle of the rooms, then, after the workmen leave and I hoover up the mess, it all has to go back where it was, only to be removed and stacked in the middle of the room the next day.

I must say, however, that with all this reaching and bending and lifting and dragging I’m getting a hell of a workout, and since I’m eating better and working out so much, I am actually losing weight. So now I wonder if it really isn’t the workmen’s fault for being so disorganized; perhaps my wife is behind it.

She’s probably calling the foreman right now from her office, telling him to make sure to arrange for another visit next week to touch up the paint or stress test the new window sills or something, anything to keep me from sitting on my duff all day and getting fatter and lazier than I already am.

I can’t blame her; my capacity for sloth is legendary. And I really don’t mind because, if this keeps up, I might look like this by the time our 11th wedding anniversary rolls around:

Now I ask you, what better gift could I give my wife?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Hide and Seek

Ah, Christmas shopping! It used to be, in times long past, that I would put off shopping until the last minute, and then dash to the mall on the 24th to buy gifts for my brothers, sisters, friends and parents. I referred to this sort of excursion as “Panic Shopping” and held to the theory that a short deadline was essential for maintaining focus.

Granted, I usually ended up buying things like corkscrews, hand warmers and novelty coffee mugs, but the adrenalin rush was not to be missed.

These days, I take a more organized and proactive (some might call it anal) approach to holiday shopping. What I do is this: during the weeks running up to Christmas, if we happen to be in a store and my wife points at something and indicates she might like it, I make a firm mental note and quickly write it down before the leaking sieve I call a brain drops the thought into the great waste bin of my mind. This way, when I do have to begin shopping, I can just go into town, visit the location where the potential gift was, buy it and return home.

This is a foolproof method for eliminating the stress of holiday shopping, and it has worked every year. Except this one. This is due to a new policy the shops seem to be experimenting with called “Hide the Merchandise.”

It started with the jacket.

Last weekend, my wife and I happened across a display of jackets that appealed to me. The jackets were stylish and reasonably priced but, being a weekend, the store was crowded and the staff were busy serving people who looked more wealthy than us. So I proposed to return the next day when it would be quieter.

When I returned, however, the entire store had been rearranged and the jackets were nowhere to be seen. When I enquired, I was told that they had been on sale and the sale had ended.

“Okay,” I said, “so then where are the jackets?”

“Well, we pulled them; we don’t have them anymore.”

“Then can you give me the part number so I can order them on-line?”

“They won’t be on-line, either; once the sale is over, the merchandise is pulled from the stores, and the web.”

“You mean they are now absolutely unavailable anywhere for any price?”

“That’s right. Unless they go back on sale.”

“And when might that be?”

“Well, there’s no way to tell that, is there?”

The logic she seemed to find in this eluded me. I left the shop disappointed and baffled, and unaware that this was a sign of things to come.

Today, I began my Christmas shopping in earnest and, armed with my list, I headed into town. At the first shop, I maneuvered to the proper location, looked at display rack where the diamond tiaras (my wife reads this blog, so I can’t say what I was really after) always resided and found that the store been rearranged. There were no diamond tiaras anywhere; they seemed to have completely disappeared. So I went in search of the Jet Ski.

Nothing ostentatious; something understated and tasteful.

Now, I considered the Jet Ski a slam dunk; I didn’t even have to write down where to buy one as I could hardly avoid tripping over them when my wife and I wandered through the stores these past weeks. But today, not a Jet Ski to be had. Anywhere.

Really, how could you NOT want one of these?

And that Romantic Getaway to Lego Land I had seen advertised? Also gone and nowhere to be found. So I returned home, defeated and—uncharacteristically—empty handed.

Legoland, every woman's dream romantic destination.

So now I have less than 20 days to come up with alternative gifts, locate and acquire them and haul them back to the flat. But in a way, I’m looking forward to it. It will be a return to those bygone and carefree days when I embraced the holiday buzz instead of doing everything I can to contain and mitigate it. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” louder than the crushing stress of pending shopping that sits on your shoulders like an 800 pound gorilla. So maybe I should just go out at the last minute to elbow my way through the mall with other panicked shoppers, dodging between them to get at the last tea cozy or staple puller. What a great way to feel the true Christmas Spirit!

Yes, it’s time to embrace Christmas Fever and dive headlong into the swirling maelstrom of the holiday.

I just hope my wife likes the corkscrew.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day One

Today, as the cliché goes, is the first day of the rest of my life. I finished up my last day in the office yesterday, and as of this morning, I am a gentleman of leisure.

At this point I’m not really noticing anything different. I would have been off today, anyway. And on Tuesday—the actual first day that I don’t have to go into the office—it will probably just feel like a vacation.

And December itself was always going to be a relatively work-free month. My part-time schedule, coupled with judicious use of my remaining annual leave, meant I wasn’t going to be in the office for the final half of the month, anyway. (I feel strangely cheated by this; it’s hard to truly enjoy doing nothing unless you are, in some way, avoiding actual work.) The upshot is, my work week wouldn’t have settled back into a normal routine until after New Year’s Day, so I expect sometime in the middle of January, I’ll sit up, blink my eyes a few times and say out loud, “I really don’t have to go to work any more!”

Granted, this exalted status is sorta dependant on me making some money from my writing, and while that may seem like a tall order, I’m already pulling down a six-figure monthly income from my books, so I don’t think I have a lot to worry about. That is, unless you take into account that those six figures include the digits after the decimal point. And the decimal point itself. And the pound sign. (They are figures, after all.)

But we’ll leave that for another day; for now, I am simply amazed. I began work on 24 August 1973 at the Skyline Corporation just outside of Valatie, New York, making mobile homes, and ended up on 29 November 2012 at ROCC Computers LTD in West Sussex, UK, doing project management. And in between, I collected these:

That is every pay-check I have ever received in my entire working life.

Now, I do expect to add to this pile at some point in the future, and I hope to continue earning royalties, but for now, my actual career has come to an end and I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life: the one where I am either a productive and profitable writer, or a lay about in an ill-fitting track suit lounging around all day, drinking beer and watching daytime television.

I guess time will tell. (Now where did I put that old track suit?)