Ode on an Abies Nordmanniana, with apologies to John Keats
There are some writing watersheds that have a tendency to stay with you. Your first rejection. Your first acceptance. That moment when you think you conceivably COULD give up your day job. The day you type ‘The End’ at the bottom of a 300 page manuscript. (Incidentally, when it’s edited, those words are routinely removed.) But some of the most enduring memories are often the quirkiest. Those moments when the writing seems to come from some deep, un-censorable part of you, and spills onto the page or screen like so much unexpected glitter. It might not result in your winning the Booker, but such outpourings can still be precious. Because rather than you writing them, they almost happen TO you. And when that happens – that glorious spewing waterfall of words – you know they will almost certainly connect with someone somewhere.
And so… It’s December. You want a real tree (no exceptions). You acquire one. You have a simple plan for it: To be done.
Now read on:
‘Thursday. In a spirit of joy (tinged only marginally by the bonk-question stress/Adam Jones thoughts-avoidance stress/respect for the newly departed etc) I decide to put the tree up.
In fact; go into garage, remove argumentative protective netting from tree, spray tree with tree saver, have fifteen minute coughing fit, find bucket, find bag of gravel, pour gravel into bucket, put tree in bucket, free hair from tree, take tree out of bucket, re-arrange gravel, put tree back in bucket, take tree out of bucket, raid perimeter of house for supplementary gravel, put tree back in bucket, free hair from tree, wonder why didn’t put tree in bucket while netting still in place, drag bucket plus tree through kitchen, hall, lounge. Position tree in centre of lounge, move sofa, coffee table, magazine rack and standard lamp to other side of lounge, re-position tree in front of patio doors, wonder why didn’t bring tree in via patio doors in first place, adjust tree in bucket, lash tree to radiator pipe for security.
Go back into garage, find decorative half barrel, bring decorative half-barrel inside, attempt to stand bucket in half barrel, remove half of gravel, attempt to stand bucket in half barrel, detach tree from radiator pipe, reposition tree in bucket, stand bucket in half barrel, put gravel back in bucket, re-lash tree to radiator pipe, step on assorted invertebrate life previously resident in half barrel, check tree for branch symmetry, hack off lower branch on right to achieve, hack off supplementary lower branch on left to balance, place hacked lower left branch on top of sparse lower right region to re-balance, add water to bucket, get kitchen roll from kitchen, mop carpet around barrel area.
Get decorations from loft, unwind lights, check lights, mend fuse in plug, replace five bulbs, re-check lights, wind lights around tree. Run out halfway down, unwind lights, re-wind lights, run out of lights two-thirds way down, curse, go to local sweet shop, purchase supplementary light set, return, wind supplementary light set around bottom of tree, check lights, find lights don’t work, replace bulb, go upstairs and look for adaptor, take adaptor from Ben’s room, make note to replace later, switch on all lights, say ahhh!, switch off lights, get baubles out.
Put angel on top, adjust dress, hang baubles, dislike layout of baubles, curse, re-arrange baubles, hang last family heirloom delicate glass bird-of-paradise decoration, hang miscellaneous colour co-ordinated decorations, hang chocolate umbrellas, remember have tinsel to deploy, curse, get tinsel, weave tinsel carefully through lights, baubles, umbrellas etc., knock decorations off branches, curse, step on family heirloom delicate glass bird-of-paradise decoration, curse again, remember box of decorations made by Dan and Ben at nursery/infant/junior school, get box, hang falling-to-bits sugar paper plus glitter plus pasta and pulses decorations on inconspicuous parts of tree, feel guilty, re-hang in pride of place positions, groan, re-hang select few in compromise positions, return remainder to box, switch lights on, curse, check bulbs, curse again, check bulbs again, find culprit, replace bulb, eat chocolate umbrella.
Spray tree copiously with fake snow, have fifteen minute coughing fit, realise not fake snow but tree saver again, curse, find snow spray, spray tree copiously with snow spray, get lametta, stand on chair and throw lametta artistically at tree, get down from chair, pick lametta up from floor, get on chair, throw lametta artistically at tree, get down from chair, pick up remaining lametta, chuck handfuls at lower branches, get hoover, hoover needles, lametta and invertebrate corpses from lounge, then hoover kitchen, hall and lower stairs, put hoover away, sit on sofa, fall asleep.
Wake to sound of insistent ding-donging of doorbell. Go to answer door to find Sheila Rawlins outside, wishing to deliver the Christmas edition of the parish newsletter, plus procure two pounds annual subscription.
I ask her in and pretend to have left my handbag in the lounge in order that I can lure her into the room to be impressed by my fantastical, magical etc. tree.
‘Wowee!’ says Sheila. ‘Your tree looks stunning!’
‘Really?’ I say. ‘Oh you’re so kind. It’s nothing very exciting really,’ etc., etc.
Donate extra pound to church fund.
Extracted from Virtual Strangers by Lynne Barrett-Lee
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