One of the best things about lockdown is that I don’t have to go into shops, and not going into shops means that I haven’t had to listen to Mariah Carey singing “All I Want For Christmas Is You” incessantly while people push their way past one another buying cheap cologne and a Cadbury’s selection box.
The next-door neighbour has hung a particularly fulsome set of the brightest white Christmas lights on the front of his house set to a pulse reminiscent of a bad trip at a 90s rave.
Lying in bed at night before he’s switched them off I feel as if I’m in one of those US movies where someone is forced to move into a dingy apartment next to a strip joint flooded in neon light that spells out the word “Girls”
All through the summer, I have to contend with his two cats shitting in my raised beds, and now this. I’m feeling far from festive.
Later, sitting at my desk, I am watching while the man across the road is taken away handcuffed in a police car by two officers in masks. He is shirtless and looks at me looking at him through my window.
I’m telling my daughter about it and she says, “I wonder what he’s done?”
“I don’t know but I’ve often seen him walking through the park alone. I’m always suspicious of men walking through parks without a dog.”
She raises her eyebrows at me.
“You used to walk in the park without a dog before we had a dog.”
It’s hard to work out why I’m so grumpy, judgemental, and Grinch-like.”
Later, bereft of ideas, I ask the children what I’m going to write about and my son says,
“I don’t know, what have you done recently?”
This week I have been to the funeral of my mother in law and then, two days later, my sister told me that someone we know, about the same age as us who’d been hospitalised with COVID, had been taken off a ventilator and died.
But I didn’t want to write about death again.
Our hairdresser comes to cut hair for the first time since October. She is dressed in full PPE and can’t drink a cup of tea.
When she leaves I say, “Have a good Christmas, and don’t get too drunk.”
“There’s nothing much to celebrate.”
The words have tumbled out of my mouth before I know that they’re there as if they’d been blocking something.
My son and his girlfriend want to make a gingerbread house so I find them a template and a recipe.
I put the tree in its stand and cut the netting from its branches letting them breathe a sigh of relief. I leave it bare in the corner for a while and smell the sweet fragrance of pine.
The children are in the kitchen, rolling gingerbread and wondering why it’s sticking to the rolling pin.
“Put some flour on it,” I call from beneath the branches of the tree where the dog has joined me to investigate.
“Put some music on, Beth,” my son calls to his sister.
Through the window, I can see the neighbour posting Christmas cards illuminated by her garish lights and, coming from my kitchen, the unmistakable sound of Mariah Carey.