Here are two short tales to warm any wintry heart.
There’s a pub in Norwich which occasionally plays films on a Sunday afternoon. They draw the blinds and pull down a projection screen from the ceiling. It’s exciting. It’s a bit like that last day of term when the teachers would pack everyone into the school hall to watch The Jungle Book with the lights turned off.
The pub usually shows films which have a kitsch value. They have to be easy to digest. Nobody wants to sit down to watch Czech New Wave cinema in a pub (even in Prague the idea doesn’t go down too well). To date, my Sunday visits have resulted in me watching Groundhog Day, Trading Places, Groundhog Day (sorry, I can never resist the Groundhog Day ‘joke’), and the original Miracle On 34th Street. And Groundhog Day.
It’s during the screening of Miracle On 34th Street that the first story takes place. Being, as I was at that particular time, bathed in the glow of the screen and candlelight, and added to that the the fact that Christmas was hanging fuzzily in the near distance, I was transformed from a stony-hearted ogre into a kind of giddy, drunken elf. I was immensely pleased with everything about the film. Every scene seemed magical, each crappy joke made me laugh. It was the best film ever. (Once the hangover of this metaphorical drunkenness had kicked in, I coldly re-evaluated my view of Miracle On 34th Street. Have you seen it? It’s about a creepy, adult-voiced child who relentlessly yaps outrageous demands until, in the end, she gets everything she wants. And we, the audience, are supposed to want her to have a happy ending. Personally, I wanted her to slip on some of her discarded wrapping paper and break her ankle. But it didn’t happen. Not even in the deleted scenes. I checked.)
We got about fifty minutes into the film when the screen went black. Was this part of the film, the people asked. Did it have an experimental black-out scene? A customer stood up, repulsed at the very thought: ‘An experimental black-out scene? I strictly demanded no Czech New Wave!’ he cried, before storming out.
After two or three minutes of staring at the black screen, it became clear that this wasn’t a primitive version of a cinematic technique later implemented by Eastern European directors at the cutting edge of their art. The problem was more elementary: the DVD was fucked.
A panicked member of staff took the disc out and blew on it.
‘Have you tried blowing on it?’ someone asked.
‘Yes!’ was the somewhat curt reply.
‘Try blowing on it,’ said a second voice.
‘Have you tried blowing on it?’ suggested the third.
‘Yes! I have!’ the staff member barked. ‘God, this is like Groundhog Day.’
‘And Groundhog Day!’ I added.
Amidst the growing distress at the realisation that we may not get closure on whether or not the spoilt Hollywood brat would have her impossibly over-the-top Christmas wishes fulfilled, a lone voice arose.
It is said that quietest voice can sometimes be the loudest. One immediately thinks of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, or little Samwise Gamgee in The Lord Of The Rings. In this instance, it was a pale-faced Goth in an Edward Scissorhands t-shirt. She stood up and told the room: ‘This DVD is on sale in HMV at the moment. I’m going to go and buy it quickly before they close!’
The whole world cheered. The girl hurriedly put her coat on as we applauded her festive spirit. She excitedly bustled her way out of the pub and into the dark, busy December afternoon streets. Christmas had been saved. We ordered more mulled wine and made ourselves extra comfy. And they say that The Blitz brought out the best in the British! How wrong they were – this, this,was Britain at its finest.
It took about half an hour of increasingly agitated watch-checking for us all to realise that the girl wasn’t coming back.
After a moment’s reflection, it was deduced that what she’d meant to say was this: ‘This film’s on sale in HMV at the moment. I’m going to go and buy it so that I, me, can go home and watch it there instead. On my own. Without you lot.’
It was a remarkably odd situation. What on earth was running through the girl’s mind as we’d all sat there wildly clapping her decision to buy the film and watch it at home? (‘Wow, these people really like the level of independence I’ve achieved!’) Actually, the more pressing question is why did she even bother mentioning the fact that she was going to buy the DVD? What a curious thing to announce. Who would make such a statement? If I ever concocted a plan as toad-like as that, I’d keep it well under wraps then try and slide out of the room while no one was looking – and hope to God that nobody saw me in the queue at HMV.
Whatever the confusion, one fact remained; the axe had fallen. The patrons finished their mulled wine, its taste truly soured, and filed out. Disappointed and half drunk, they muttered that the film would probably be on tele soon anyway. (It was. And, as noted above, it was rather annoying.)
Here’s a picture of the girl from the film being unbearable
Anyway, look, if that story didn’t warm your heart, then this definitely will. I think.
I was at a Christmas party recently. There was a raffle at the bar. £1 a strip or three strips for £2. Being something of a playboy, I flashed the cash and took the £2 option.
‘Three strips please,’ I said, coolly tossing a mere slice of my fortune into the raffle master’s (is that what these people are called?) novelty bucket.
The raffle-master wasn’t pleased.
‘The money goes in here,’ he said, motioning towards a separate glass jar placed on the bar. ‘My bucket’s for something else.’
I fished my money out. I was both red faced and confused. Never in my life had I seen someone walking around flogging raffle tickets whilst also carrying a bucket as part of a completely unrelated operation. Wiping a bead of playboy sweat from my brow, I put my money into the jar, carefully.
Now, even the most flambouyant of big spenders like to know where their money is going. They don’t like frivolity. Rockerfeller, who had an estimated fortune of £200 billion, is said to have once spent an entire morning showing one of his servants the best way to make a piece of coal last. It was with this in mind that I asked what exactly the raffle was raising money for. Was my money going to be well spent? Would it be buying Christmas gifts for orphans or hospital beds for the afflicted?
The answer was marvelous:
‘We’re trying to drum up enough money to get a new cappuccino machine for behind the bar.’
Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals,
My new book, Kismet Quick, will be out in Spring 2015. Check this site for further updates and excerpts.