Christmas Time, Irn-Bru and Wine

It was a day I’ll never forget because it was when everything went from bad to terrible. The 12th December 2019. I was in Edinburgh with my friend Alex Nye, both of us suffering in the cold, but still excited to be seeing our old friends in the writing community. Our equivalent of an office party for people who spend their time writing new worlds into existence in makeshift work spaces, kitchens, living rooms, garages, and cafes. It was a shiny frosty white day and we were dressed in our exploration gear of coats and scarves. We got off the train, our shoulders pressed against other shoulders, breath on our necks, tightly packed into Haymarket Station’s departure lounge, an informal scrum in the Christmas rush. Not enjoying close contact with anything, but accepting the need to find a place in the whole, I let myself be swept along until it came time to leave the station. Alex got there before me. Together, we headed up to The Honeycomb Café, a lovely little tea shop that serves the best Earl Grey in Edinburgh. Fine china, high pretension, and the sort rarified atmosphere I enjoy – especially with company. Alex adores it too. She insists on going there before we meet everyone else at the restaurant. It’s always something to look forward to every year, the culmination of a calendar of events featuring The Edinburgh International Book Festival, Book Week Scotland, and Aye Right.

That day was slightly different to the other times we’d attended the author and illustrator’s lunch. It was the day of the general election. Jeremy Corbyn was locked in a battle against Boris Johnson. We spent our time in The Honeycomb talking about the potential results and what they would mean. For this election, I was willing to forgo my usual SNP vote on behalf of Jeremy because his manifesto appealed to me. Here was a man willing to help the poorest in society, giving to the many and not the few, and I found it a worthwhile cause. I raised my cup of expensive tea in fine china to socialism! Alex, like me, despises The Tories. Unlike me, Alex literally chases them down the street, yelling at them to keep their ‘junk mail out of her letterbox’. We were nervous but excited at the prospect of seeing the evil of Boris Johnson finally be vanquished. His gut had cast a shadow over British politics for too long. It was time for him to fuck off, or so we said while we waited in the café. We hadn’t yet voted, but there was still time later that night. We were definitely going to do our duty in a bid to stop the peroxide bog brush once and for all.

Soon enough it came time to head to the restaurant for Christmas dinner with the other authors. Edinburgh looked like a Christmas card, the kind you sent your grandmother or a Christian friend because other cards are too hip and ironic. I always appreciated the power of ice and frost in improving any location. Not one building in the world looks worse with snow and ice on it. Think of your house, flat, apartment block – then sprinkle a layer of fine white icing sugar over it. Beautiful! Falling on your arse because the council can’t be bothered gritting the path is less sentimental. Thankfully, Edinburgh can afford gritters.

Talking about our latest works in progress (which never happened because I realised my idea was too Bridget Jones but make her even more of a whiny pain in the brain), we finally ended up at the restaurant where we greeted everyone as they arrived. Yes, we got there first. I hate being late, so I usually turn up early, which helps me get a good seat – usually one near the main door, so I can flee if a fire breaks out in the kitchen.

At some point Alex did that terrible thing and brought up the election. Ah, I had a bad feeling it would go wrong. Forever the left-wing firebrand, she made her feelings about Boris clear and how better things would be if Jeremy was in charge. Agreeing with her, I ordered some more Irn-Bru. Emily Dodd, sitting nearby, ordered something stronger than a drink made from girders in Scotland. Not everyone sitting by the table was receptive to our lefty views. But here’s something I’ve learned about the publishing industry: it isn’t as left-wing as I expected when I entered into it. Somehow, I always believed the arts were a safe space for people like me, but that isn’t true. When the furore over JK Rowling’s views of trans women happened, I wasn’t surprised: I’d learned long ago that even authors of children’s fiction were capable of holding ‘alternative’ views. That day at the table, the afternoon of the general election, should have told me how things were going to be in 2020.

In hindsight 12th December 2019 feels like a tipping point. Alex and I left the dinner to vote, but I was no longer confident of Jeremy’s chances. Alex was far more optimistic, which made what happened next far more gutting. Boris won with a landslide, which was felt here in Scotland most of all. Thank goodness Nicola held her own against the tremor. Jeremy, however, was all but obliterated. He had prior experience in feeling completely wiped out since the press, the machinery of state, had turned against him from the start, bombarding everyone on a daily basis with every unflattering headline imaginable. I was naive to think he could win. They would never allow it. Today Nicola is feeling a similar sense of assault with headlines and photographs of her being stalked at a funeral where she briefly removed her mask. Boris was able to move freely, shake hands, not give a shit and catch the virus but no-one seemed to care. How can anyone win against that sort of hypocrisy? A man who used Brexit to further his career is now languishing as everyone sits waiting for vaccines that are taking forever to happen. Life is quietly frightening. Sometimes I think the malaise that hit us, the bad luck we’re suffering from, didn’t start with the 21st December 2019. Perhaps Brexit was the start of it all? I sometimes feel there’s a curse on us all. Where did everything go wrong? It seems to be one thing after another, random cruelties, modern horrors. There’s no answer to any of those questions, simply because we’re all waiting for what happens next. I feel like waiting is all I do these days. Have you ever tried launching a novel during lockdown? Tried to get people interested in your fantastic new book, the novel you know is on a different plane of existence to everything you’ve done before? To be candid: it ain’t fucking easy. So here’s to 2021. Surely it can’t be worse than 2020?

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