That time again.
The winter feast is held without family, with friends this time, in our city, not the decaying monuments to our childhoods where the ageing parents still live, ready to love and admonish in equal measure. This Pagan-Christian-American bout of gluttony is meat-free, and we crunch all day through peanuts dry-roasted and overload on protein. Mexican crisps are dipped in guacamole and hummus (both home-made), as beer cans are cracked open prematurely and bellies swell. We chop our selection of vegetables, bought a few days previous from the Farmers Market, almost believing it made a difference. We eat nut roast, kale, roasted squash, not the traditional fare, our attempt at veganism. Couldn’t bother with the dessert. That was shipped in from Sainsburys.
More alcohol pools in our stomachs. A glut of congealing gravy and cooling potatoes is heaped on a cheap wooden table. The hummus has formed a skin and the guacamole is greying, with not enough lemon juice to preserve it. We’ll have enough leftovers for tomorrow, we say. A comfort in the ritual language, the clichés that leap from our lips. At other times we would never allow ourselves to be so trite. The winter feast allows us to take a break from ourselves, our rational minds. Allows us to justify over-indulgence, though we know the world starves.
The television flickers as it shows nothing fresh or new, merely the leftovers of decades long gone. Bill Murray breaks the fourth wall. Michael Caine sings with puppets in a fake-Victorian London. A kind of comfort in the familiarity, the boredom, the child’s favourite viewed anew through eyes that now know what poverty is, the effects of hunger and violence.
The day after the limbo-time begins. News programmes burble softly in the background about widening gaps, that the surplus population created by the great march of Mammon and Moloch will now be thrown away like so many leftovers, consigned to valleys of the dispossessed. A neo-liberal Trail of Tears leads to their homes. People, whole lives, deemed no longer viable.
In our society we have more than we need, says the flat-screen bought on credit, paid back in monthly instalments. So much wastage, the television pundits say. State help is dwindling. Fall through the gaps and you’re a goner. You spent too much! You naïve populace, didn’t you know? Then adverts flash and flicker with minor celebrity faces selling the supermarkets latest. Unnatural hunger swells, momentarily, in an already distended gut. Fleeting thoughts of joining huge crowds outside shop doors tomorrow. Prices will fall, the flat-screen says. Unmissable bargains. Don’t miss out.
We’ve heard another story, though; that the people down in the valleys are thriving, dancing to a different beat. Unofficial sightings and leaked reports suggest that maybe the left behind, the outcasts, the leftovers, are organising. Evolving. It’s hard to be sure. We ask the flat-screen, but it meets us with indignation. These people you speak of, it says, are cultural traitors. Drop outs. They lost, they want something for nothing. We try and remember how the flat-screen entered our home, who purchased it, who wanted it. No one can remember.
We undertake a trip outside the city, dance the alcohol dance, to return at the arse end of the year to the North East of London to celebrate something unclear –ending or beginning?
The night pans out like many others. Too many others to remember, now. We tell ourselves it isn’t alcoholism because we have jobs of a sort, are creative, and other people succumb to the depression and the sadness that comes from being still alive after the best night of your life. Not us.
But daylight comes, too soon, and all we can see through bleary eyelids are the remnants of the night before. Strewn across a cheap wooden table, the empty fag-packets, a quarter full bottle of rum, crumpled cans, a suspicious piece of plastic. Half eaten kebab meat sullies the atmosphere. How many years, now, has it been this way? Not one of us can remember. Digits have shifted and we are told we are older. That is all. So one by one, the revellers depart.
The ritual is complete for another year.
Some begin again.
Days pass, then I head for the valleys where the leftovers live.