NEW FOR 2016: ‘Tea Shop Tales’. The First event will be on Friday 5th February and will feature special guest tellers, DAVID GOO and RICHARD FROST together with your host Paul Eccentric plus open mic’ guest Meera Betab.
If you’re unlucky enough to miss one of these events, don’t worry; Paul’s stories will be presented here, monthly, for you to read and enjoy in the comfort of your own home (you just have to imagine the dodgy accents). Here’s the Christmas story for those who missed the December event….
WITHOUT THE TRIMMINGS
by Paul Eccentric, copyright Rrrants Publishing, December 2015. Performed at The Teabox Richmond 4th December 2015
You know those mornings where you wake up all bright eyed and bushy tailed; thoroughly rested from your statutory eight hours; bouncing off the walls and ready for the off like a five year old on Christmas morning who hasn’t yet had his Ritalin? Well this isn’t one of those mornings.
He’s had those mornings; which is how Bob is able to analogise the state that he’s found himself in today with that of his ideal. He’s had mornings like that, but not very often and not for a very long time. Not since the advent of offspring has he woken up without a headache; not since he married Lorna has he awoken with a spring in his step and not since he allowed her to convince him to move to this money-pit shithole has he surfaced of a day without that slight sick feeling you get when you see a fresh wound in that nanosecond before it starts to bleed. In fact, he can’t recall even wanting to wake up since he got himself into this mess that they call normality.
Thankfully, this morning isn’t atypical of his usual mornings either. Bob’s most common mornings begin at ten to six with a squwarking alarm that drags him reluctantly from a fitful night’s sleep that involved at least two early-hours piddle trips and a cold ten minutes between them standing at an open back door in his slippers trying to convince that fuckin’ stupid Shitzu of hers that they weren’t being broken into and that it’s time he came back indoors before he wakes the whole bloody street. Bob usually snaps-to with a creeping feeling of sinking dread in the pit of his stomach, having prayed the night before that he might just slip away in his sleep like his grandad did only sooner, but becoming gradually
more aware that he hasn’t done and that he is now doomed to face another day.
This morning is different though: a one off; well, a once-a-year, anyway. Last night was the one night of the year when he’s allowed to drink himself so insensible that he generally wakes up on a cold tiled floor hugging the porcelain bowl that he has spent the night throwing up in, on and around, thus blocking anybody else’s access to the bathroom until he’s able to relearn how to stand. He drinks so much in the hope of spending the whole of the oncoming day both subdued into a state of acceptance and, just as importantly, unwilling to chance even a glass of Liddel’s Prosecco with his dinner. For today is Christmas day; the one day of the year that Bob hates above all others.
He was awoken, as’d been expected, by the sound of warring children; Christmas having begun without him. By the sound of it, Harry; the slightly autistic one of the set, has done a quick mental calculation and worked out that his present had cost a couple of quid more than Raif’s had and a whole tenner more than Georgia’s.
Bob bangs his head on the toilet seat as he struggles to orientate himself in a hurry in order to accommodate Lorna’s attempt to get the bathroom door open despite his prone bulk being wedged behind it.
‘I need a piss, Bob!’ hisses his perfect match, ‘It’s time to be alive, now; you’ve got a problem to sort out.’
‘I’VE got a-‘
‘Yes, YOU’VE got a problem! It’s seven o’clock on Christmas morning, there’s dog shit all over the kitchen floor ’cause you didn’t hear him asking to be let out and I’ve got a fuckin’ nut roast to prep’ for little miss “I’ve got a conscience”. The least YOU could do is put some pants on and go and explain to the three amigos up there exactly why we love one of ‘em more than the others!’
‘Tis the season to be…’ he begins, following a beat later with: ‘sick,’ before chundering copiously into the bathtub.
Two hours and two Alka-Seltzer and raw egg cocktails later and Bob is finally able to drag his seatbelt across his portly bulk and plug it into its receptacle. The entire Blunt clan are finally washed, dressed; dressed-down and in their respective seats inside his battered blue People Carrier and in record time too! It’s a tight fit; none of them could be accurately described as slight and Lorna has insisted that it’s cruel to leave Mungo home-alone on Christmas day and so he and all his canine accoutrements have had to be crammed in as well. Every other day of the fuckin’ year, no problem whatsoever; leave him in the kitchen with the radio on and a rubber bone to maim, but today: the day when they really could’ve done without a dog that whines whenever it isn’t being stroked and pukes whenever Bob takes a corner or a speed hump at more than twenty five, he couldn’t possibly be left out!
‘Now, are we absolutely sure we’ve got absolutely everything we could ever possibly need for a day at Grandma’s?’ Bob asks of the general assembly, eyes forward; one hand on the handbrake, the other ready to turn the key on a massed affirmative, ‘inhalers; epipens; Piriton; school reports; flickknives; bandages-‘
‘Just drive the fuckin’ car, Bob; you’re not funny. Sarcasm, as an excuse for humour, is what pisses everyone off the most.’
Bob inclines his head toward his wife who is beached in the passenger seat beside him. He can feel his blood pressure rising even through his thumping hangover.
‘Are you suggesting that last year’s row was, perchance, my fault, Lorna?’ he asks tartly, turning the key; pumping the squeaky pedal as if filling a tyre with air and coaxing the tired, damp old engine into life.
‘Let’s just get this over with without loss of life.’ she replies whilst checking her lipstick in the sunvisor mirror, ‘Go, Bob! Go, go, go!’
Bob slams the gear stick into first and roars out of the drive, narrowly avoiding Randi from next door, who’d been walking past with a Chihuahua dressed as some kind of sexy-Santa; the dog, that was.
Spotting his evil nemesis, Mungo erupts in his cramped boot space, barking and snarling threats of both a racist and homophobic nature toward the little dog; desperate to claw his way out of the glass box and eat what he considers to be an affront to dogkind.
‘Same t’you, Randi!’ Bob grumbles, as his glaring neighbour scoops up his pampered pet and attempts to soothe it from its panic with a soft palm that has never seen the inside of a coal mine, ‘wiv fuckin’ sleigh bells on.’
It’s a ninety minute drive to Lorna’s mother’s in Kilburn; just far enough that they couldn’t be expected to make the trip all that often.
Thrice in one year is their generous all time record: the old bag’s birthday; mother’s day and today. The other two visits he can tolerate: they only ever needed to spend an hour or so with her for each, with the rest of Lorna’s vile relatives co-ordinating their own visits so that there was no need for anyone to cross paths, but Christmas; Christmas is different, isn’t it. It’s a great British tradition, that every twenty fifth of December, groups of people who are both related to and simultaneously hate each other’s guts, must come together in claustrophobic dining rooms to eat obscene amounts of additive and preservative laced, supermarket food and to drink vast vats of cheap booze, whilst posturing and baiting and overplaying their children’s achievements until somebody eventually kicks off.
Bob hates Christmas. He hated it when his own family were alive, back in the days when they used to alternate obligations, but all his parents’ death in that freak turkey stuffing accident had done had been to ensure that he now has to spend every fucking one of them with his wife’s mongrel kin.
Lorna has two brothers. Adie is a bus driver; a card carrying fascist who believes that Nigel Farage really won the last general election, but that it’s been covered up because Barak Obama didn’t like it. He’s married to Kylie. Kylie wears the bruises that mark her legs between the bottoms of her overtaxed leggings and the straps of her white stilettoes like rank insignia on a soldier’s shoulder. They have two brats together: twin boys; Frankie and Montgomery. Neither can string a full sentence together in an order that anyone can understand and neither are allowed metal cutlery in case anybody gets hurt. They’re seven.
Milton is Lorna’s older brother; she being the middle child. He’s an accountant. He believes in corporal punishment for a wide range of fairly minor offences; when committed by poor people, of course and advocates the immediate return of the death penalty for crimes like murder in order to free up the prison system so that fewer chavy types have to do community service. Milton is married to Pauline. Pauline is a career snob. She’s also a medicated Kleptomaniac, but
nobody’s supposed to know that. They have one daughter: Honoria, who goes to private school. Honoria’s voice can shatter toughened glass and she is allergic to everything.
Lorna’s mum has early stage Alzheimer’s, apparently; though Bob doesn’t know how they managed to arrive at that convenient diagnosis, noting that he’s known her for nearly twenty years and he’d thought she’d been border line asylum fodder when he’d first met her!
He considers driving the people carrier into the Thames as he passes it at Marlow. It’d probably do them all a favour. It’s certainly preferable to the Monopoly based row that they are destined for when they reach Kilburn.
‘SNOW!’ shouts Raif from the third row that he’s now sharing with a whinging Mungo, ‘SHITCAKES; SHITCAKES! AAAARRSSSSE!’
Raif suffers from Tourettes; well… they all
suffer for Raif’s Tourettes.
A second flake spatters against the windscreen, followed by a third and a fourth: heavy, ominous ‘shit, we could end up there all night’ sized flakes are now coming down all around them.
‘YAAAAY!’ bellow the twins in the second row.
‘SHITCAKES!’ advances Raif from the back.
‘It won’t settle,’ Bob says, hoping to convince himself, as the windscreen wipers begin a go-slow protest.
Harry and Georgia begin an impromptu rendition of:
‘I’m dreaming of a-‘
‘Right,’ says Lorna to her husband, ‘Stop dawdling on the back roads and pick up the M40. At least they’ll have gritted that.’
The snow is really coming down now. In the space of the last half a mile it’s gone from a sarcastic frosting to a full on in-your-face arctic blizzard.
There aren’t that many cars on the road; well, it is Christmas day! Most people are indoors, either involved in delicate negotiations with relatives regarding the locating of receipts or because they’d kept a wary eye on the weather forecast on account of having a monkey riding on the outcome, so Bob’s tyres are hitting unsullied, virgin snow rather than the wet, assailable slush that they should be riding. The People Carrier doesn’t handle well on slippery roads at the best of times. It’s spacious; you can cram a lot of shit inside, but it’s heavy; it doesn’t have four wheel drive and it’s old and in need of a service.
The wipers are struggling under the weight of-
Bob slams on the brake.
He’s an experienced driver; he’s driven in snow before; he knows not to make sudden stops in weather like this, but he’s reacting to suddenly not being able to see, as his windscreen wiper is no longer an integral part of the vehicle. His reflexive action causes the vehicle to turn from a four wheeled vehicle with a modicum of rubberised traction to a proxy sleigh without even a reindeer’s worth of steering option. They slide diagonally along the empty country lane in muffled, anticipatory silence; like a bowling ball heading for the central pin in a match defining bowl for the home team. Bob wrestles with the steering wheel, but to no avail as they careen sideways through a wooden gate marked ‘BEWARE OF THE BULL’ and slide down into a ditch that had been dug to dissuade doggers from doing their business on the farmer’s land.
They stop dead with a sickening thump that cracks the windscreen from right to left…
A retching sound from the back seat is the first sound to break the deafening silence, followed by a deep-bowelled chunder from Mungo and a ‘SHITCAKES!’ from the child about to receive the dog’s steaming payload.
‘Everybody okay?’ asks Bob tentatively, his head feeling like a snow globe that’s been dropped from the twenty fifth floor and filmed hitting the pavement in slow motion.
‘MUNGO’S SHITTIN’ SICKED!’ shouts Raif from behind him.
Bob looks to Lorna, who’s eyes are closed and appears to have a livid red gash bisecting her once average face, but he quickly realises that it’s just lipstick and that the blood spattering the windscreen in front of her is, in fact, nail varnish. She’s dazed, but alive. Bob risks a glance back over his shoulder; a pain searing in his left hip as he does so.
Harry is sitting calmly reciting prime numbers under his breath whilst his sister… Georgia… Bob’s sweet little vegetarian, CND supporting, badger loving daughter is stuffing her face with the box of After Eights that were supposed to have followed the after dinner coffees.
‘Bob, you bloody idiot!’ Lorna snaps; coming to and twisting, as far as her bulk will allow, to check on her babies, ‘you could’ve killed us!’ Content that her brood are still breathing, she starts rummaging in her bag until she finds her phone.
‘What’re you doing? Bob asks, panicked; desperately attempting to disentangle himself from his seatbelt.
‘I’m calling the police!’
Bob grabs at the phone.
‘With THIS amount of alcohol in my system? They’ll string me up!’
‘We’ll say I was driving.’ she suggests, snatching it back.
The car is wedged at an angle; driver’s side down. Lorna is hanging precariously above Bob like the model of the blue whale in the natural history museum.
‘Exactly how do you propose that we swap seats? Neither of us can get out!’
It’s at this point that Lorna’s seatbelt groans ominously.
‘Well, if you weren’t so fat-‘
‘If I wasn’t so fat?’
‘Mummy, I’m hungry; are we nearly there yet?’
‘I want my presents!’
It’s getting dark now. The alcohol in Bob’s blood stream has been all but diluted. It stopped snowing hours ago and has even begun to thaw, leaving the landscape around Wycombe resembling that of a traditional British Christmas card.
They could have called the police at two, or the RAC but they didn’t; they were having far too much fun…
After the initial shock had warn off and it’d been established that no one had sustained any injuries and that there was no hope of the family making it to Kilburn that day, Lorna had suggested that they open up the hamper. She had precooked a nut roast for the vegetarian, to be reheated later and it was still warm. The boys had been reluctant at first, but had gone along with it when Lorna had let them wash it down with the fizzy wine that she had brought as presents for her arsehole brothers. There were precooked carrots too; carrots being the only vegetable that Harry would currently eat and the one vegetable that Lorna could be sure her mother wouldn’t provide on account of her own dislike for them. There were biscuits too; lots of biscuits: her presents for the two obnoxious wives. Obviously Bob wasn’t allowed any more wine, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that his car had been trashed either. The important thing was that they had legitimately escaped Christmas dinner with his in-laws without anybody having to die in the process.
Bob wasn’t used to seeing Lorna tipsy at Christmas. She generally kept to tea at her mother’s, just in case Bob’s pre-Christmas binge plan failed (and it usually did), meaning that she’d have to drive home. She was smiling. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her do that. It must’ve been before the kids; before they’d got married and before they’d bought that bloody house. He liked her smile. It was what had first attracted him to her.
With three hours still to kill; just to be on the safe side, they’d decided to break out the Monopoly. Bob normally hates Monopoly. They only ever play it at Christmas and it’s always the catalyst by which the row starts.
He dreads the start of every game, knowing that he’ll say something that they’ll all regret before passing go for the first time. Not deliberately, you understand, but in self defence; defence of his kids, usually.
He looks at them now, hanging over the board in their seatbelts without a care in the world; stuffing their fat little faces with shortbread and cheap wine, paper hats jammed onto their heads; all having the best Christmas Day that they’d ever had. Laughing. They were all laughing. And being nice to each other. He thinks about Kilburn. They probably should have phoned to explain, but… what the heck: they were too busy enjoying themselves to give the family much thought. Let them think they’re dead, he thinks as he watches his brood enjoying themselves. This is what Christmas is all about! And at least then they won’t be expected to go next year!
This year’s Christmas Message
I’m a miserable bastard at Christmas:
it’s the time of the year I like least;
full of cynical, snideying greetings
and tinselly tat from the East
and sleigh bells;
I hate fuckin’ sleigh bells
and fairy lights:
the whole festive facade
is a ruse; it’s a con;
as is the shit it’s based on
and that’s why I’ve not sent any cards.
Happy Next Year,