It’s Christmas time and there’s no need to be afraid.
Except that I am afraid. Not of Band Aid – they’re harmless enough, despite their misguided and rather patronising plans to try and fix Africa.
I’m afraid because this time of year is my Achilles heel, a consistent vulnerability exposed every twelve months, as society around me swings in one direction and I swing in quite the other. My mood declines, my behaviour becomes erratic. Problems spring up out of nowhere and the impact of every such problem is magnified ten-fold in my mind. I fear the ghosts of Christmas past, a haunting that begins with the year my ex-girlfriend and I – just two weeks following our break-up – were forced to spend the entire winter holiday together with my family, after she was unable to secure an earlier flight home to her native Washington state. Awkward, or “totes awks”, as the youth of today would put it.
This unhappy memory is well over a decade old, not to mention being a problem entirely of my own making, yet the incident somehow triggered a series of unfortunate events that, over the intervening years, slowly began to turn my festive experience into an endurance test rather than a period of celebration. Fast forward to the present day and, despite my best efforts, I find myself alienated by the merriment going on around me, dislocated from the community spirit and coming-together-ness, and ultimately unable to bask in the fuzzy warm glow of mulled wine, mince pies and preposterous jumpers.
Even when things are all going smoothly, I still find myself grumbling with far greater regularity through the month of December. This year, I’ve decided to take issue with the UK’s infatuation with German Christmas markets, which seem to have grown exponentially over the past decade. Why would anyone in their right mind want to flock to an over-crowded town centre in the middle of winter, to purchase ornate wooden ducks, eat over-priced pretzels and stand in the freezing cold to watch misguided locals attempt Schuhplattler dancing?
Like St. Patrick’s Day, an event that seems to be observed more by the English than the Irish, the German markets have become yet another excuse for local yobs, reprobates, boozehounds, bartenders and thieves to behave like drunken morons in public, free from admonishment or reprisal. It’s apparently permissible to be completely pissed and staggering about in a town centre at two p.m. provided you’re at a Christmas market.
I’ve been to local markets in Berlin and Frankfurt and at neither did I find the townsfolk exhibiting similar characteristics. What must the Germans make of this misappropriation of their festive traditions?
It’s surely no coincidence that the Germans repay our annual dalliance in their culture by sitting down once a year and watching a peculiar black and white British comedy skit from the 60s called Dinner for One, in which a butler gets drunk for the amusement of the Lady of the House. We think of our European neighbours as crazed sausage-eaters dancing around in Lederhosen. They think of us as absurd drunkards staggering around in our stately homes.
I’m conducting this rant from my workspace in Goodge Street, where I’m sitting in an over-priced café-bar area, trying to avoid making eye contact with a gawkish, doe-eyed waitress, whom one could easily mistake for a Zooey Deschanel character. She’s taken over the jukebox and remarkably, in the past twenty minutes, every single track she’s chosen has been a band I’ve seen live. Earlier, I attempted to engage her in conversation about my expedition after she randomly selected the recent James single “Nothing but Love,” however the conversation broke down after she mistook my polite banter for flirtation. She has since done everything in her power to avoid further interaction, while I made the situation more intense by admonishing her for putting on Little Drummer Boy, a song I have thankfully never seen live, as it’s a pile of crap.
This is the halfway point in my expedition; like Palin in “Pole to Pole”, I’ve reached the Equator and there is now as much live music behind me as lies ahead. If live music were water, it would drain neither clockwise nor counter-clockwise. It hasn’t flown by, but nor has it dragged its feet. In the past six months, I’ve discovered musical worlds that were hitherto unknown to me; I’ve rekindled my love for unknown talent, dingy venues, taking a chance on artists and attempting to suspend non-musical judgements, so that each band gets assessed only on the essentials. I’ve gained my inaugural tattoos – both of which are musical tributes, grown my hair long for the first time in a decade, and retaught myself the valuable lesson that the way you dress for a night out is far less important than the company with whom you spend it.
It pains me to think that I could ever have forgotten such a basic truth, but then, much pains me about the way in which the last few years have panned out. In this sense, the expedition feels as though it has gone some way to restoring my sense of self, allowing me to try and be the person I want to be, rather than the person I think I need to be. There is still a vast distance separating the Equator from the South Pole, but there is still life in the tank, providing I can make it through the frost, the snow and the pools of mulled wine vomit staining our city streets.
 If you’re unfamiliar with Schuhplattler dancing, it is a bizarre and antiquated thigh-slapping ritual practiced by ageing men (and possibly women) in the Alpine regions of Southern Germany and Austria. According to Wikipedia, Schuhplattler dancing is becoming increasingly popular with young people, however, having seen it, I find this extremely hard to believe and suspect it to be a modern myth, like the second coming of vinyl, or the resurgence of the Welsh language.
 I’m not making this up – it is a widely-held German tradition, as well as in many other non-English speaking countries, to watch Dinner for One every New Year’s Eve. For some reason however, it hasn’t caught on over here, hence on British television we must make do with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, which I recently found out is pre-recorded, thus meaning that they all must fake the New Year’s countdown.