Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Man it was cold at Heathrow Airport.

Minus three degrees – the last time I remember it being a minus was when I was a kid, watching Jack Scott play with magnets.

And now for a look at the weather.  Tomorrow will be... EVERYTHING!
However I was prepared. Having got through the deserted customs area, I put on me gloves, jumper and coat and headed off for the central bus station. A 285, a 490 and £2 later I was shivering my way home feeling rather good about it all.

At 7:20am I crept into my house and saw two cats raise their heads at me from the sofa, before starting as if to suddenly bolt away. Seven gave my finger a good 20 seconds sniffing before deciding that I was all right after all. The other one really didn't seem to care.

I woke my mum with a cup of tea – always a special moment – and so began the next two days of detox from the flight.

I rang Herschel, but was told he was too sick to come to the phone. The following day he actually managed to croak through two minutes with me. I think the strain of editing all those clips shows must be getting to him.

I saw neighbours. I ran into friends, one of whom told me that another friend I'd caught up with last year had passed away a month ago. Crikey. No more Pam.

Into my immediate plan I had scheduled two working days (Saturday 22nd and Monday 24th) for Christmas shopping. This involved two trips up to London, catching the mainline and the good old tube, and pacing around my favourite haunts on New Oxford Street.

It must be said that I have never known my way around London. Even today I still always begin my wandering at Centre Point, purely because that's where I always went as a teenager to get to the old old Forbidden Planet bookshops. Virgin Megastore has been renamed "Zavvi" (was it the only .com website they could still get?) while Tower Records at 1 Picadilly Circus has just vanished. Still, another interesting change in myself – I found that for the first time I was actively engaging with the geography and trying to build a map of it in my mind for future journeys. It just seemed like the first thing to do with the problem.

Every Christmas Eve there's a lovely moment. It's when the shops have all just shut. I always, wherever I am in the world, sit down and just watch everyone else milling around and going home. It's so peaceful. The professional stresses of the year are all over, and all that is left is to go back home to one's family, whoever that may be. I always maintain that, for me, December 24th is the real final day of the year.

This year, that lovely moment didn't happen.

I left the new new Forbidden Planet bookshop in Shaftesbury Avenue upon closing time at 6 o'clock, but the rest of London seemed to be closing at all sorts of different times. I wandered up New Oxford Street again, having varied luck, and outside Zavvi was accosted by the first, rather late relatively speaking, complete stranger asking for money, and clearly lying through his face.

In Auckland I would have offered to get him a burger, and then quite possibly sat in Burger King chatting with him for half an hour, but back here in my old environment I slipped straight back into my old habits and just gave him the money. Immediately another bearded guy sitting on the pavement asked me for some also, claiming that he'd been sitting there for 2 hours and had got nothing. I gave him much less, but as I flicked through the CDs in Zavvi afterwards, this bothered me.

The first kid had been quite rude, leaving with the money without saying a word, prompting me to even shout after him "You're welcome!"

For some reason though I found I believed the second guy, even despite the unlikeliness of his claim about having got nothing for 2 hours. Maybe it was because he was Scottish, like the homeless guy I'd played bogus interviews with to teach the present perfect continuous back at work in Auckland. Maybe this was why it didn't seem like Christmas Eve yet.

With my mind on a small note that I really wanted to keep in my pocket, I deliberately left Zavvi by a different exit.

He'd moved around the corner to this street. Dang.

I turned around again and dawdled on the spot facing the other way for several minutes. Finally I resolved to give him a proper donation, only to find... he had gone! Result!

Oh no, there he was, sitting a bit further up. Oh well.

A nice exchange, smiles, a shake of hands, and an exchange of names. He told me that someone had suggested he change streets, and I agreed that there did seem to be more people here.

Afterwards, as I headed down the steps into Tottenham Court tube station to go home, I pondered the morality of the musical buskers, and exited the subway into the ticket area, where a woman dressed in woolly clothes asked me if I could come and have a chat with someone on the other end of a payphone. He was lonely and just wanted to talk to anyone who was there.

Highly suspicious, I picked up the phone and had a very brief chat with a guy in New York. I asked his name, told him mine, wished him a happy Christmas and closed the conversation. He ignored my closure so I closed it firmly and handed the receiver back to the woman before he had a chance to protest. I smiled and told her "That's not a New York accent – good luck with your show." Her expression didn't flicker even slightly. I got out of there quick.

But wait – there's more and it's even more boring.

Still determined to sit down for a few minutes and watch people milling around and going home for Christmas, I got to Waterloo Station and decided to buy a Burger King meal after all, for me. It seemed to be a fairly short-sighted branch of Burger King, because I discovered it had no toilet. So I found the one on the station concourse, but was incensed to discover that I had to pay for it. Outraged, I did what any sane person would and briefly boarded a train that I had no intention of catching. Thousands of people must do this every day at Waterloo. Yet maintaining a toilet on a train must cost far more money than maintaining one in a station. So why do they encourage it? That's privatisation for you.

Anyway I then bought the meal at Burger King and sat outside eating it and watching everyone mill around, going to their homes.

Nope, the annual sense of peace and closure was just not there this year, no matter how much I wanted it to be.

I have no idea why.


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