Wednesday 20 March 2019

The ghosts of Christmas past who suddenly appear in front of you in the pub on Christmas Eve

The annual trip home for Christmas often involves bumping into some old faces you would rather avoid. Bill Linnane counts down the worst offenders

Reunion: The pals in The Night Before meet up every Christmas after a year apart
Reunion: The pals in The Night Before meet up every Christmas after a year apart
Bill Linnane

Bill Linnane

Ah, Christmas. A time to get together with old friends when everyone comes back home and talks about how their lives have changed and the strange elliptical paths that lead us back into each other's orbit once a year. Of course, there are also the ghosts of Christmas past who suddenly materialise in front of you in the pub before you have the chance to run and hide. Here are 10 of the worst offenders:

1. The Wild Goose

Up until 2009, they sounded like Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh being possessed by a sean nós demon. But then they emigrated, and depending on which hemisphere they ran away to, they now either sound like Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting (below) or Alf Stewart in Home & Away. But it's not the accent that makes them grate - it's the confidence they have been imbued with, as they talk down to you about the land of milk and honey, repeatedly mentioning the great "quality of life" in a country either plagued by mass killings or a species of spider that nests in toilets and can kill with one bite. You smile and nod and casually ask them when their flight back is so you can count down until this wild goose takes their grey wing, jumps in the tide and effs off back to where they now claim to come from.

2. The Swan

The easiest way to track your own demise is in the faces of your classmates. You look at their thinning hair, wrinkly eyes and 90s clothing and think: "Do I look this goosed?" The answer is a ghastly 'yes'. But there are always those genetic freaks who seem to age like a fine wine, as opposed to the bitter vinaigrette that you have become. The Swan went from so-so extra in the soap opera of your teenage years to looking like an actual movie star. After resisting the urge to stroke their face and hair, you go home, stare in the mirror and weep.

3. The Success Story

They made a fortune selling their company after getting deep into either tech or something to do with gluten. You know this because not only did your mother tell you repeatedly, but The Success Story is now recounting the story. After their 20-minute TEDxThePub talk on how great they are at blockchain (you assume it's something to do with Minecraft), they finally get round to asking you what you do, and then offer a nondescript "good for you" before you are finished telling them. They eye the room looking for fellow moguls before offering you a business card and disappearing, much like your own sense of self worth.

4. The Breeders

So how many kids do you have? That is their opening line. Kids are all that matter, the validation of your entire existence. No kids means no life, right? Wrong, and they are about to get a masterclass in what it means to be alive.

Just as they try to whip out their phone to show you photos of their sticky brats, you show them the tribal tattoos you got after spending six months living with pygmies in the Amazon basin or the crocodile bite on your leg, or just the photos of your studio apartment in the city centre, which is overflowing with Bang & Olufsen kit.

You can tell you just ruined their evening, as they desperately wanted to feel sorry for you and tell you "it could still happen". "No it couldn't", you tell them, as this planet is hurtling towards its doom thanks to overpopulation, and someone had to be the hero who wasn't vain enough to believe their bloodline had a right to continue. Satisfied with yourself, you walk away, covering up the bite mark from your neighbour's cat and the rubbish tattoos you got on an Ibizan booze cruise.

5. The Ex

Oh my god, there they are, across the bar - the same bar where you first met. This has to mean something - it's basically the video for Last Christmas by Wham! It's like the last few decades never happened. Your heart is jackhammering and you think you might be about to have a cardiac arrest as your left arm has suddenly gone numb. On closer inspection your arm is numb because the actual love of your life has your elbow in a vice-like grip. Through a frozen smile, they whisper "what are you staring at?" followed by "is that drool?".

You snap back to the present and the moment has passed, you are back where you are fairly sure you belong, and everything is fine, this is fine, as you are almost certain that 'this' is happiness. On mature recollection and reflection, you remind yourself that The Ex used to eat with their mouth open and believed in homoeopathy, so it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway. Probably.

6. The Poor Mouther

Despite coming from the largest farm in the province, they talk as though they grew up on an allotment in the inner city. Everything is terrible, the whole country has gone to ruin, it's all the fat cats at the top who have it all. You wonder whether you should bring up the €80,000 tax bill they got for never mentioning their plant fire firm to the Revenue, but you don't want to ruin their Christmas by pointing out they are actually incredibly wealthy. The conversation reaches a crescendo when they declare we would all be better off dead, before wishing you a merry Christmas and heading off into the night to drive their poor auld 171 Porsche Cayenne back to their 800-acre small holding.

7. The Who

"Hey! It's you, how are you, how is… everything?" This is the traditional greeting for the person you don't quite recognise. You know them from somewhere - Irish college, scouts, Bebo - but you aren't 100pc sure where. One thing you are entirely sure of is you have no clue what their name is, despite the fact they have used yours six times in five minutes of chat, so the pressure is growing, especially now your partner is staring meaningfully at you and waiting to be introduced. Clearly there is only one way out of this - offer to buy them a pint, and never come back from the bar. The only thing worse than this particular social nightmare is being the one who nobody remembers.

8. The Bully

They made your life a living hell for six years, yet somehow here they are, chatting away as if nothing happened. They seem to have suffered some sort of memory loss as not only are they talking to you, they are talking about "the good old days", as though there were such a thing. You wonder if they are luring you into a false sense of security before giving you an atomic wedgie, like the one you got in 1994 which means you now can't have children. No, they just want to chat and you slowly realise they managed to channel all that anger into something more productive... as they are now CEO of a vulture fund.

9. The Hero

Back in school they told everyone they were a Level Eight Vegan (they only eat gravel) but secretly ate a big dirty kebab every time they had a lash of pints. After school they got seriously into Facebook activism, endlessly posting conspiracy theories about how "big oil" and "big government" were secretly watching us all through our webcams. Despite their strong opposition to capitalism, they actually live and work in Saudi Arabia, wiring up the homes of oil-rich royals with IoT technology so they can watch beheadings on their tablets. The Hero sees nothing wrong with this, but somehow thinks Ireland is a police state just because they got busted with a nodge of hash on New Year's Eve, 1999.

10. The All Star

They won an All-Ireland in 1996 and somehow the celebration party is still going on. They look like they might be about to have a heart attack as they play online poker, swill pints and complain about the modern game and how the young stars now have no class before drunkenly hopping into their car and screeching off to a lock-in or possibly into a ditch.

Irish Independent

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