I remember back when I was a lad in South London I used to listen to the patter of the adult males upon meeting another of the species. The questions asked of each other to make acquaintance were always the same:
'Alright, mate? Where d'you live?'
The answer was usually one of the various working class parishes around Peckham- Camberwell, New Cross, Catford, Lewisham, Bermondsey, Elephant and Castle, somewhere like that. In those days no-one seemed to travel very far (and they think that postcode wars are a new thing).
The question regarding one's geographical locale was quickly followed by:
'Where d'ya drink?'
On a hierarchical list that defined the male working class Londoner of the 1970s, these two factors sat atop such meaningless drivel as your wife, family and profession. You might detect a distinct lack of that particular facet that dictated the colour of one's scarf - the football club. But that answer could be gleaned from the answers to question 1 and 2 above. You wouldn't want to be drinking in a Millwall public house wearing a claret and blue coloured scarf.
The public house. The place where the men met after work to spend their hard-earned while the women were at home making sure that the spam, peas and chips were on the table. My own 'local' was the Greendale pub; the place that saw me and my brothers sitting outside on an early evening eating Golden Wonder crisps and sharing a bottle of Cream Soda.
The Greendale was a small community of Millwall scarf wearing men from the surrounding housing estates (with the addition of women at weekends). Everyone knew each other and there was an unspoken rank system that operated there with the hardest man at the top and the divvy fella that suffered a lack of oxygen during birth at the bottom (but he wore his blue and white scarf regardless of the weather so he was on the firm).
I don't know the position of my old man in that rank system; at the time I fantasised that he was just below the top boy, Lenny. Now I suspect he may have been just above the divvy fella in the scarf.
But my old man had a rule. Regardless of the regulars being in attendance, the one single day in the year that he downright refused to go to the pub was Christmas Day. The Greendale was swerved and the 25th December was set aside for family, presents, overcooked turkey and a sickly concoction of advocaat and lemonade known as a snowball.
I followed my old man's rule into adulthood and never stepped over the threshold of a licenced premises on Jesus's birthday; family, presents and overcooked turkey are the order of the day (I can't face the fucking advocaat).
That was until two years ago when I found myself in a position that I believed didn't exist. No one gets left alone on Christmas Day, right? The little boy outside in the cold looking through the window always gets invited in, right?
There I was, arrived home from work on Christmas Day morning. The house was cold and empty without the smell of a turkey that had been cooking since the early hours just to make sure it was drier than a nun's fanny. I shuffled about a bit, fed the fish, made a cup of tea, looked out the window and thought:
'How the fuck has it come to this? I'm at home, on my own, on Christmas Day.'
Then I had a spark of genius....the pub! So I binned my old man's rule, poured the tea down the sink, put on my blue and white scarf and hot-footed down the boozer.
I walked through the door imagining that I'd be greeted by similarly sad individuals wearing drab clothing and drab facial expressions celebrating Jesus's birthday with a pint of warm ale.
How wrong was I?
It was a veritable hothouse of fun! All these years my old man had got it wrong....the place was banged to the rafters with festive cheer, Christmas tunes on the jukebox, and snacks on the bar. Fantastic.
I proper filled my boots until it reached my two-hour window to see my youngest children so I skipped out the door to arrive home to a frosty ex-wife/partner (no.3) who was sat outside my gaff in her motor. She commented negatively on the beer fumes on my breath (such an odd occurrence at Christmas) before zooming off down the road back to the bosom of her family.
Christmas Day with the children was odd. They'd already eaten so my attempt at force feeding them turkey, mashed potato and piccalilli was met with the kind of welcome Gary Glitter might get at the opening of a new kindergarten (I thought that the mash and piccalilli might add an extra dimension to the norm but it just got a bleurgh).
The two hours came and went in a flash and as ex-wife/partner's (no.3) car zoomed off down the road I was left in unspeakable quiet and surrounded by discarded wrapping paper.
No problem, I've got the answer: pub, pub, pub, pub.
So it was on with the blue and white scarf and I'm off out the door like George Michael exiting a public loo upon hearing the words, 'Hello, hello, hello.'
I hotfooted down the road longing for the festive cheer, Christmas tunes on the jukebox, and snacks on the bar.
But as I tugged on the door that wouldn't move, and looked hopefully through the darkened window, the suspicion that was created when I noticed a lack of internal lighting was realised. The fucking place was closed. All those happy individuals earlier in the day were happy because their opposite number was at home cooking the spam, peas and chips.
My old man had got it right all those years; he swerved the pub on Christmas Day because the bastards only served til mid afternoon.
So I shuffled off home to a rerun of Only Fools and Horses and, when the beer ran out, advocaat and lemonade.
The moral of this story is this: If you're with your family this festive season, please don't take it for granted. If you're on your own, remember that the pubs close early so get some extra beer in.
Thank fuck I'm working.