Tuesday 15 October 2019

David Robbins: The magic that happened at our triangular party

David Robbins

The square where I live is bound to fall foul of the Trade Descriptions Act one of these days. For it's not a square at all, but a triangle.

James Joyce, who was born a few doors down from me, found this amusing, and alluded to its deceptive geometry in Ulysees.

And various neighbours have put forward theories on how its inward-oriented shape affects the interaction of residents and the general feel of the place.

The fact that the terraces of the "square" all face towards each other does seem to have an influence. Certainly, it's a very friendly and neighbourly place to live.

Your neighbours are a bit like your family: you cannot choose them, and it's a sort of added bonus if the ones you get turn out to be nice.

When I first moved into the "square" in 1994, many of the houses were in flats or bedsits and interaction with neighbours amounted to stopping them from putting stuff in our bins.

Shortly after we moved in, an elderly neighbour called over to welcome us to the area and proceeded to deliver a long list of recent muggings, car thefts and burglaries.

A few days later, we were burgled. (Could she have been casing the joint?) It seemed to be a rite of passage in the vicinity. We regarded it as an informal means of wealth redistribution. I mean, why involve the tax authorities in the process?

Gradually, the many landlords with properties on the "square" sold up. The property boom was too tempting for them. They're probably living in Spain now, on some golfing resort, laughing at us eejits left behind.

Families moved in and set about restoring the old Victorian houses. Partitions were torn down and a good deal of box hedging was thrown about.

The triangular nature of the place began to work its strange magic. A community garden was set up, and before long residents' events were held in the private space on to which all our houses look.

These were convivial affairs involving impressive amounts of alcohol. We may be burdened with mortgages and laden down with the cares of parenthood, but we still know how to party, we thought.

Indeed, when the guards were called to one summer barbeque, we felt our street cred had hit new heights.

This year, someone suggested we organise a neighbourhood event for Christmas. Mulled wine and mince pies, perhaps a few carols, maybe a bonfire or brazier outside.

I was all for it, picturing it as a midwinter version of our summer barbeque, perhaps without the chaps in high-viz jackets. I could practically feel the heat of the fire and the inner glow of the mulled wine. It all seemed suitably Dickensian.

The idea of having Santa there was put forward. The kids would love it, someone said, and soon we were discussing suitable Santas, suit procurement and sack capacity.

Santa. Of course! I had been thinking of our evening as completely adult-centric. I had been so caught up in arrangements for the event that I had sort of forgotten what it was all about.

I thought of the story about the man with a supermarket trolley laden with wine and spirits. "Ahh," he says to the checkout operator, "Christmas? If it wasn't for the children we wouldn't bother."

There are two gates into the "square". On the night of our event, I happened to be glancing towards the one on the west side. The street lamp threw a pool of light just there over the grass and the fence of the vegetable garden.

I thought I saw something move. And then I was sure I did. A portly figure with a sack over his shoulder was silhouetted against the street light.

I heard a gasp from below me to my right. My daughter had seen him too. And then squeals and screams as the others caught on.

A stream of kids ran towards the figure and I heard, carried on the still winter air, the familiar sound of "Ho, ho, ho".

I had been given my reminder about the meaning of Christmas alright, and just in time too.

Later, my daughter was alive with excitement about seeing Santa. "I hugged him, Dad," she informed me.

"But Dad..." she said.


"How did he find us here? How did he know where to come?"

"Simple," I said to her. "We told him to look for a square that was really a triangle."


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