Mal’s outside lights are the wonder of the region.
If people don’t understand where I live, I can always tell them ‘two doors down from the guy with the Christmas lights’ and they will know. He spends ages each year, cutting enormous wooden Christmas shapes, wiring up electrics and painting cartoon characters. It is amazing.
In a way, I feel a bit sorry for him – once nobody had these outside decorations except those who could create them themselves via a combination of hard, hard work and mad genius. Now any idiot with a retarded sense of taste can go to Homebase and buy twinkly outside illuminations for a tenner.
I go to Homebase.
The town is tense and busy. Nobody looks particularly happy. There is no festive air in TK Max, heads are down in Woolworth’s. And far across the ocean, deep in the bowels of the CIA building, anxious agents are frantically destroying video footage of Guantanamo detainees being sent to Christmas shop at Argos.
I hate installing outside lights. I am scared of heights and ladders or, more specifically, the hitting the ground bit that occurs when you plunge from the former off the latter. As it is, I do a magical and sinister Derren Brown trick on Short Tony, and he does them for me. I stand at the bottom, resting my foot reassuringly on the base of the ladder and shouting encouragement.
There is one window that is not covered, so I scoot indoors and fix indoor lights around the inside of the frame. This takes me ages and ages. By the time I have unwound them I am ready to kill somebody; by the time I have hit my finger with the hammer for the third time I am ready to revive them in order to play them Dido records. In the end I bang in some of those barbed galvanised things that you use to fix fence wire up, deciding to worry about removing them when the time comes. I step back to admire my work.
Short Tony’s figure looms at me – he is walking down the secret path that leads between our front gardens. I open the window to wish him well.
There is the dull crunch of cheap glass as I heave the window shut, crushing the bulbs between the frames as the hinges close. They do not even have the decency to shatter spectacularly.