When I was a kid my family would buy the Christmas TV Times**. It was a bumper sized issue containing two whole weeks of televisual treats. From the Morecombe & Wise Christmas Show to the Top of the Pops Christmas Special, right through to the Bond movie about 3pm on Christmas Day***
As soon as I saw it advertised on TV my heart would flutter. After all this was the official announcement that Christmas was finally on its way. Some celebrity or other of the day would be on the cover in Christmassy garb, while the special treats we had to look forward to would be blared in large, colourful fonts on the cover.
I would fondle the magazine for a while before I opened it, marvelling at its freshness and lack of creases and that wonderful smell of new paper (a feeling only rivalled in later life when I began collecting Marvel comics). I would open it and my feelings were very specific to each day listed. It started for December 22nd and went up to January the 2nd. As I flicked through the pages to plan my viewing pleasure it kind of went like this.
Dec 22nd. A bit crap but hey, it's a day that's in the Christmas TV Times so it is to be respected. Nationwide would be only 5 minutes long, meaning we got past the boring news and went straight into the fun stuff.
Dec 23rd. Christmas Eve Eve. Starting to get fun and safe in the knowledge that we're not even there yet. So much fun is yet to be had. A decent movie and some Christmas comedy specials would set the optic nerves tingling with anticipation as Christmas hurtled ever closer.
Dec 24th. Oh my God! Day before Xmas and so much good stuff on the box. Maybe the Wizard of Oz again and movies and specials and comedy shows and ooohhhh, so much great stuff. The anticipation was killing me.
Dec 25th. Christmas Day. IT'S THE BIG ONE. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day at 6.30am and later on we had more than we could possibly handle. The requisite Bond movie would be on, The Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, a Disney cartoon or two....this would be heaven.
As I continued to peruse the portal to pleasure that was the Christmas TV Times I would mentally note that the build up was fun, that Boxing Day TV was still kind of cool and that the few days between Xmas and New Year were a buffer, to ease us in gently as the celebrations and all this awesome TV wound down. New Year's Eve TV was a consolation prize, to ease the pain and as for New Year's Day...well it and January 2nd could quite frankly fuck right off.
One year, on January 3rd I saw the Christmas TV Times in the kitchen bin, covered in tea stains, crumpled and useless. It was a bitter reminder that Christmas was now over for another year and the good times were so far away as to be almost unbearable in their unfathomable distance. What had I done to deserve to feel so joyous and yet to be confronted with the sight of the Christmas TV Times cowering in a bin covered in splodges of PG Tips?
The bottom line is that the build up that this magazine provided was half or more of the fun of Christmas for me, but also a good chunk of the depression that kicked in once it was all over. On January 3rd, school beckoned once more and normal bed times would be de rigueur. Presents would be rarer than seeing Brook Shields's tits and a life bereft of Christmas now had to be faced up to.
But I digress...
For the last two weeks, Diana Angustias, the co-author of my book THE COCKROACH EFFECT: Life in the Tampico Drug Wars, has been staying with me. I lived for 7 months in Tampico (a city in northern Mexico) where I taught Diana's 12 year old daughter English. The city, since 2009 or about then, has been torn apart by fueding drug cartels. Forget Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad. The people that are involved in this kind of thing are evil beyond belief and have virtually no ethics. Diana and me put the book together to tell people what life is like for Diana, and people like her, trying to raise a family in such a horrible environment, in a once peaceful and beautiful city.
For months I knew she was coming and we counted down the days, from 30 to 20 to 9 to 3 and then she was here. I picked her up at Birmingham airport and we went to Stonehenge, Kenilworth Castle, Mary Arden's house in Stratford-upon-Avon, and London. We went to Krav Maga and she hung out with my club mates.
I got us a free meal for the launch night at a new sushi restaurant in town and we went out on my birthday with my mother and step father to a lovely pub where I enjoyed a 32oz steak (and had pudding as well).
We laughed and joked and enjoyed ourselves and Skyped with her family (5 people crammed in front of the webcam, funny as hell!) and she cooked me lunches and we drank wine and, like Christmas as a kid, the holiday seemed to go on forever. We attended the first ever Leamington Comic Convention where Diana sat next to me and we signed copies of THE COCKROACH EFFECT for people.
Then it got to the day before she was to leave and we packed her suitcase and exchanged final gifts and went to sleep feeling sad. We got up at 5am feeling even sadder and I drove her to the airport where we hugged goodbye and I walked away without looking back so I wouldn't have to see her face.
I got home and her luggage tag from the flight over here, was on the floor in my lounge. Like the Christmas TV Times in the bin, it was a reminder that the holiday was now finished and I had to go back to a routine. As I picked it up and threw it away, it reminded me that life is about the journey, or the "middle" and not the beginning or end.
I know I'll see her again, but like the Christmas TV Times, it will be a long wait.
** Back then you also had to buy the Christmas Radio Times to see what the BBC channels were showing as they wouldn't/ couldn't list each other's stuff. Go figure!
***Invariably Moonraker or The Spy Who Loved Me.