I met a widow a month ago.
That's probably the most exciting statement I'll ever make and I'm tempted to leave it hanging there and go for a pint. Everything that follows is going to be a disappointment.
I met a widow a month ago. Now that I think of it, it was two months ago.
I told you.
Anyway. I used to work with her husband years back - so far back it took me ages to remember the man's name. His wife was standing in front of me and I thought her name was Vera but I couldn't for the life of me remember his.
Then I did.
And I was so glad, so relieved, I nearly asked her how he was. We were outside SuperValu, by the way. She was on her way out, and I was - you've guessed it - going in.
- It's lovely seeing you, Charlie, she said. - And come here - if I don't see you before, happy Christmas.
I remember the date: October the 6th. Her nose was still burnt from her two weeks in the Algarve but she was wishing me a happy Christmas. I was on my way into the shop for a couple of steaks and charcoal for the barbecue; the sweat was crawling down my back.
And I said this: - Hope Santy brings you something nice, Vera.
I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing from my own gob and, in a way, I felt I was being forced into it. I didn't want to be The Grinch that Stole Early October.
But I told the wife when I got home and she said I'd been flirting with her.
- That's an outrageous thing to say, I said.
- Oh, yeah? she said.
She was looking into the shopping bag.
- Where are the steaks?
She took out the contents: two selection boxes and a scented candle. She sniffed it.
- Mince pies.
- I picked up the wrong bag.
- You tried to pick up the wrong woman.
I'll say this and leave it: a selection box, with chicken Bisto for dunking, makes an unconventional but surprisingly tasty Sunday dinner. Anyway.
I remembered being wished a happy Christmas by Vera the widow in early October because I was also remembering that when I was a kid, Christmas started on the 8th of December. Any reference to Christmas - anything at all, hints about presents, letters to Santy - made before the 8th were met with that most frightening of punishments: my mother's silence. My father roared and it was hilarious; my mother went quiet and it was shattering.
The embargo was lifted the minute we woke up on the 8th of December. It was nearly as good as Christmas Day itself. The freedom to chat and fantasise.
- I'm getting a horse.
- Santy doesn't give animals.
- He gave Jimmy Bell a goldfish.
- Try winning the Grand National on a bloody goldfish, said my father.
- Don't listen to him, boys, said my mother.
- Can I ask Santy for a horse, Ma?
- I think he only gives horses to children that live on farms.
- I'll ask him for a farm, said my little brother, Pat.
- Then Charlie can ask him for the horse.
I knew what Pat was up to; he already had his eyes on my horse.
- Don't want a horse, I said. - I'm going to ask him for Meccano.
- That'll save us on oats, said my father.
- Don't listen to him, boys.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
I'm a bit proud of myself. I remembered the name of the holy day without going to Google.
It was a day off school and probably the biggest day in my mother's year. She was a Dub but her people came from Wexford and a delegation of the relations always came up to Dublin.
The Germans invaded Russia on the 22nd of June and the culchies invaded Dublin on the 8th of December. They stomped in their droves down the middle of the streets. They stood gawking at Liberty Hall. They ran in terror from the Why Go Bald sign. And they flooded into our house, my mother's uncles and aunts and more cousins than I ever managed to count. There were cousins on the stairs and in the attic; they were out in the back garden looking for the jacks; they were up in the jacks messing with the taps.
I apologise. Slagging the culchies is automatic. It's a generational thing. My kids don't do it; I don't think they'd know what a culchie is. We truly have become a multicultural society.
Anyway. Our corner of Dublin became Wexford and my mother was a Wexford woman for the day. Her accent changed; her smile got even bigger.
- Can I ask Santy for a chimp, Ma?
- Of course you can, Charlie.