Yuletide is a time for cheer, but can also be a time of great sorrow. It was Christmas Eve just a few years ago and I was picking up some last minute items in Asda, a popular supermarket. My memory can only imagine what it was I was buying – perhaps a copy of NME magazine, perhaps a Coca-Cola, maybe both.
As I exited the shop the cold hit me like a knife. Supermarkets are warm, loving places and I had clearly forgotten the winter temperature while enjoying the festive cheer inside. Instinctively, my hands reached for the zip of my grey duffle coat, and as that task was done, I placed my hands in my pockets, as wearing gloves was not a habit of mine at that point of my life.
I looked across the peninsula with its charcoal car park, and the fish and chip shop glowing in the distance. Christmas really was all around me, St Nick’s spirit glowing across an Essex riviera so steeped in the holiday tradition that it could have been a Coca-Cola advert or something.
And then, a sound as harsh as the rain on an umbrella less day. A noise that creeps out of the wind and into the ears with no warning.
“I told YOU to get the turkey you fucking cunt”
It’s the voice of a man no question. Half Danny Dyer half Ray Winstone – a terrifying combination.
“Christmas fucking eve and we haven’t got a fucking turkey. What were you thinking about you daft mare?”
I turn, as many others do, to see a man, 45 if he’s a day, a bald head, blue jeans, smart shoes, and a puffy jacket. He’s squaring up to what one can only assume is his wife, a woman who seems tired of the chores of life, tired of the brute admonishing her on the eve of Father Christmas.
She snapped. I’d only ever seen snapping like that in films before, or when a teacher at school would get tired of smart arsed questions. I’ll never forget the words that sprung from her mouth in response for as long as my time on this Earth.
“Why don’t you shove your turkey up your arse you piece of shit? You’ll only try and assault it like you did my sister.”
With that, she was gone, a heeled boot on the pure pavement clacking away from the scene. I was aghast and depressed at the scene that had just taken place before my very eyes. This was Christmas, a time of unity, a small amount of time when wounds are healed over a mulled wine and a cracker.
This was just saddening, the idea that no matter how old you get in life, how many Christmas days, how many carols sung, cards sent, that it could all end up outside of an Asda, with the angry spittle freezing in the chilly air. All these thoughts did run through my head, but the lasting one?
Did he fuck her sister?
It seems appropriate then, that we celebrate Don’t You Want Me by The Human League in this countdown with its negative title and subject matter. The song was number one in 1981, for a total of five weeks beating out Daddy’s Home by Cliff Richard to the top spot.
The Human League started life out in Sheffield in the late seventies as a wholly electronic outfit influenced by the likes of Kraftwerk, but eventually developed a slicker pop sound, and by 1981 were approaching their commercial peak. Quite incredibly, this song sold over a million and a half copies, making it the 23rd best selling single of the 20th century.
As a song, well everybody has heard it, it’s one of those tracks which has maintained its popularity over the last thirty years. A duet between usual lead singer Phil Oakey and regular back-up singer Susan Ann Sulley, who got the gig by “pure luck” over the bands other female singer. Oakey was not convinced of the chart potential of the song, and in fact called it a “poor quality filler track”, but luckily for fans of electro-pop duets, and Oakey’s own bank balance he was proved wrong by an adoring public.
The music video was actually considered very sophisticated for its time, and is still a good watch now, if only because it reminds me of film noir from the sixties I pretend to have watched to people who are more cultured than me.
Keep up to date with the countdown via this handy playlist. Just click play and off you go.
In terms of the songs tone, prior to that fateful Asda I would never have labelled it as a Christmassy track save for the fact it was at the top spot in December 1981. However, when I really think about, it’s what Christmas can be like for so many of us. Feelings of loneliness, of unrequited affection, of mistakes made and battles lost all hurt, but for some reason they all seem to hurt that little bit more at Christmas time.
Maybe there is a cocktail waitress in all of our lives, the one that got away. All that hostility in life, that anger is realised in this part of the song:
“But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.”
Sometimes I wonder if that couple outside Asda made amends before it was too late, and the shutters closed. I hope they managed to buy that turkey, that he changed his clothes, stopped being horrible to his wife, and that he didn’t fuck her sister.
Another part of me is realistic, they probably did reconvene but for the kids, they put on a brave face in front of them, had the turkey, exchanged thoughtless gifts, but he still fucked her sister and he still wears smart black shoes with blue jeans.
Oh well. As Bert said to Mr Banks in Mary Poppins, you’ve got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone…
Maybe the YouTube comments will cheer me up.
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