Chapter 30

Friday 24th December - Christmas Eve

Right, that does it, I am starting Xmas shopping today, not tomorrow, but today. The strategy this year is to execute all purchases within 100-metres of my office. This does not sound so preposterous when you consider that my office is located at the epicentre of London's shopping district. Two pairs of flash "Ted Baker" boxer shorts will appease my two brothers, one of whom is sorting out dad's "joint" present, one cashmere scarf for Tomoko, a couple of Beatrix Potter picture frames for nan and mum and we are sorted. Swift, clinical, hassle-free shopping.

On the train journey home I almost retaliate against a drunk, pin-striped commuter who gives me a bruising kick in the shins for Xmas, before collapsing comatose upon neighbouring passengers. I pardon him since it is the season of forgiveness, but deploy about 50% of my expletive vocabulary in his direction. I limp home and begin wrapping the gifts, the joint-presents for Tomoko/unborn baby proving the most difficult to wrap. My gifts look like congealed balls of paper and a mish-mash of Cellotape.

The evening is spent with a bag of delicious fish 'n chips (so English) laughing at American actors forgetting they are supposed to be French in the film "Chocolat". Naturally Tomoko is watching for the sole purpose of oogling Johnny Depp who looks like a gypsy dressed by Louis Vuitton.

I love Xmas Eve, preserving that childlike sense of wonder at some superbeing delivering presents on his reindeer-powered sleigh through the night, descending down chimneys, scoffing a bit of cake before riding off to the next house with an obligatory "Yo ho ho". If only Parcelforce were as reliable.

Saturday 25th December - Christmas Day

Wake up bright and early yelling: "It`s Christmas" like some hyperactive toddler jacked up on E-numbers. To my chagrin, Tomoko tells me that we cannot open any presents until after breakfast, unlike my own childhood when most of the presents were ripped open, played with and broken before the break of dawn. Around eleven we finally get to open the four parcels that miraculously appeared under the B&Q Xmas tree overnight. Tomoko likes her cashmere scarf, I like my blue cardigan and we assume that the baby enjoys the two life-size Beatrix Potter bunnies, who shows her appreciaton with a sharp kick to the upper diaphragm.

We drive down to Leigh-on-Sea on a crisp, chilly Xmas morning. There is a full complement of Martins when we arrive, nan sitting bewildered by the blazing coal fire, sloth-like brothers scattered around the front room, mum wrestling with a legless turkey (apparently it fits into the oven better) and dad AWOL somewhere in the melée. This year we are joined by John's girlfriend Rebecca who is experiencing a Martin family Christmas at first-hand and is no doubt still downing quaalude cocktails as a result. Nan cannot cope with the stress of feeding turkey to the 5,000 and resigns to the living room to eat with Bing Crosby on the TV. I open a bottle of claret as is tradition, this year Chateau La Conseillante 1986 for my expectant family. Alas, this wine is an insult to the stuffed turkey, which would have marched off the table in disgust had it not been legless.

After lunch we congregate in the front room for the annual gift-giving around the Xmas tree. Those of you who read last year's diary entry know the score and nothing has changed in the interim, save for the plethora of inter-genus exchanges between assorted pets. Whenever mum declares "And this is from Tigger to...", a chorus of disapproval resounds around the room and the carefully wrapped canisters of cat-nip are placed to one side for later.

As expected, many of my own gifts are labelled "Suitable for 0-3 months" although I do come away with a hefty tome on The Beatles, a stainless steel dish-rack, a Ralph Loren towel and a Terry's chocolate orange (that`s my Vitamin C taken care of.) This year there is an financial theme to our gift-giving, with frequent comments such as "Whoops, I Left The Price Tag On" or "Notice the Logo" or "Guess How Much That Cost". We might as well have an electronic scoreboard positioned in the corner so we can tally-up individuals' total expenditure. Of course, I am just the same. "Not any old boxer shorts," I implore to my siblings, "those are Ted Baker boxers and they cost me a bloody fortune." Naturally, some gifts are immediately rejected with a stunned silence, a startled expression or a "What do I want that for?" and join the mounting "Returns" pile.

At 5 o`clock we convene for a rather pugnacious game of Scrabble. There are three teams, John united in love with Rebecca and representing Brighton, Simon representing the pink community of London and myself. Around halfway we begin flouting the basic rules in an effort to build up a lead so for the record: yes, I should have been penalised for putting down "yuck" and then replacing it with "yuk" although both are in the Collins dictionary; "nippa" ought to have been "nipper"; acronyms are not permitted and perhaps my "cardio" that I placed on a triple word score is merely a prefix rather than an entire word.

With turkey sandwiches all eaten and television programmers serving up the worst entertainment in living memory to the extent that we try to find succour from MTV2, we depart early evening so that I can consume alcohol at home. Xmas is over for another year.

Sunday 26th December

Switch on the BBC News 24 as soon as I awake. There is "Breaking News" of a tsunami that has swept through the Indian Ocean, resulting from an under-sea earthquake. Reports suggest a large number of casualties in Sri Lanka where my cousin Caitlyn is holidaying, so I spend the rest of the day with her well-being at the back of my mind. Thankfully, we hear news that she alive and well at the end of the day, by which time the magnitude of the disaster is just beginning to dawn on the world. I receive a text from her the next day, confirming she had a few "hairy" moments so I text back ordering her to return in one piece.

Iraq, Beslan, Al-Queda, the Madrid bombings and now this. What a world to bring a baby into.

Monday 27th December

Talking of babies, today we visit Tomoko's friend who had her first child just eight weeks ago. This is the first time I have met them, though it also provides an opportunity to find out first-hand how they have coped with their tumultuous change in life. Fortunately they have been blessed with a perfect baby i.e. one that sleeps, cries very little and is happy simply to dribble its first few weeks away. Is there some kind of advance ordering service where we can reserve one of these idyllic tots? Hopefully our unborn learnt good manners this afternoon and will wish to create a minimum amount of disruption to our lives. Or am I tempting fate?

Thursday 30th December

This evening I meet two of my oldest friends: Vik and Jude for pre-New Years Eve drinks in the West End. We have been friends since we were bushy-tailed teenagers discovering the joys of under-age binge drinking, trawling the streets from parties, philandering with the opposite sex and generally running amok around Southend-on-Sea (thankfully this was pre-ASBO.) It takes a while to plough my way upstream through the torrents of shoppers surging down Regent Street. The scene inside "Zara" is one of carnage; scores of bargain-hungry women rummaging through piles of discounted garments on a mission to return home with as many clothes as is humanly possible.

Meeting Vik and Jude at the till (thank God, I was beginning to hyper-ventilate after a mere 30 seconds) we walk through Soho for food and liquor. We head for Chinatown and choose a restaurant who will remain nameless, though it is an anagram of the word "Spoon". We are ushered to a table by the maitre d`, but a surly waitress orders us to move on since it is "Reserved". We are therefore consigned the malodorous basement that reeks of cheap lemon bleach and sucked dry of atmosphere, since we are the only diners. The food is mediocre at best, there is little that can go wrong with crispy duck and pancakes although they manage to screw up our order (as far as I can remember, I did not request an ocean-full of seaweed.) Conversation ranges from our New Years Plans, the difficulty finding "Mr. Right", internecine Festive family rows, impending fatherhood and our resolutions for 2005.

Our conversation comes to an abrupt halt when Vik remarks "Look at that." Glancing down at the silver tea-pot, wriggling "Hello" in merry abandonment is a worm. We stare down in disbelief, the worm making a futile attempt to escape from the Chinese basement back to wherever worms live. Jude calls over the grouchy Chinese waitress, still smarting after we refused to move from the upstairs table until she told us where to sit.

"Look what we found on our table," she remonstrates, the worm appearing to recognize the waitress and crawling towards her.

The waitress is speechless, just laughs in amusement before whisking the tea-pot away and placing it on the bar so that we can actually still see our vermiform friend continuing to wiggle. A justifiably irate Jude suggests that we refuse to pay for the entire meal, whilst the more irenic Vik and I would probably accept a reduction in the bill. But matters change when we are finally confronted with the assistant manager, who responds to Jude's refusal to settle, by growling a few incoherant excuses and insinuating our complaint is inappropriate given the Indian tsunami.

He digresses into the plight of the Sri Lankans, the worm remaining within eyeshot and appearing to be amidst some aerobic workout. I am thinking:
1) What the hell has our worm got to do with the tsunami disaster?
2) As far as I am aware, the tsunami did not reach China, yet you are tastelessly equating the helplessness of your situation with that of the Indonesians, the Sumatrans etc. in the hope that our sympathy for them will rub off on someone else from the Far East because like, we are white and we cannot tell the difference, right?
Consequently, I agree with Jude and refuse to pay the bill, leaving only a tip for the waitress and donate an equal sum for the Relief Fund the following day.

Friday 31st December

2004 is over although the world is numbed by the horrific images coming from Southeast Asia. I get upset every time I see an emaciated orphaned child, yet I remain glued to news to find the odd story of salvation or good luck, some shard of optimism to see in the New Year.

Tonight we celebrate the New Year with a low-key dinner at a Thai restaurant with Phil. Looking out on the streets of Crystal Palace, there is a discernable lack of ritualistic hedonism that usually accompanies every reveller at this time of year. We arrive home by 10 p.m. where I see in 2005 slumped in front of the TV and ruminate upon the previous year.
Married. I did not foresee that one so soon, although it was always in the pipeline.
Fatherhood. That was a bolt out of the blue, but I am comforted by the fact that my child will have her own vague recollections of her dad being cool, instead of the middle-aged, cardigan-wearing, moany old man with a receding hairline.

I watch the fireworks over the "London Eye". It is only half way through the pyrotechnics that I realize that I could be watching them live, if I just look north from the bedroom window. By the time I draw open the curtains, they are over. Bugger.

Bye-bye 2004. Hello 2005.