Going Home From a Christmas Work Party
The last time we saw you was at the railway station trying to go up an escalator that was coming down. You were falling on your face.
It was also the wrong station.
Some time earlier I was at a daytime work Christmas party in a city in England. I recall lots of sprouts. And lots of wine.
The next thing I know I am standing with a large bag on a platform in a train station. My face is bleeding. I have no train tickets, no money, no wallet. I have no idea where I am, or how I got to a platform without a ticket.
This is a different railway station. And I have no idea how many hours or days have passed since the last sprout.
I see a railway worker.
-Excuse me, where am I?
-Where do you want to go?
-I don’t know where I am?
-What train do you want to get?
-I don’t know.
He sends me up the ramp to look at the signs, but they tell me where the trains are going not where we’re starting from. And having come through the ticket barrier I now can’t get back to the trains.
With the help of some policemen I find out it is the day before Christmas Eve, which means I am on my journey home for Christmas, to Dublin via Holyhead and the ferry. I haven’t missed Christmas. Or forgotten it. But I still don’t know where I am.
The English police help me with my journey by telling me if I don’t leave the train station they will arrest me. Aiming for sympathy, and ignoring the couple of years I now resided in England, I play the Paddy-Off-The-Boat Card telling them gently, I’m not from this country, you know.
The police officers nod together and say, We know. Unknown to me they have the advantage of being able to read what was written on my forehead some time between the sprouts and this train station — in large green letters: I’m An Irish Dick.
The police point at doors, tell me to go out and across the road to a park where I should empty my bag and find my train ticket. I go through the doors. It is dark. And cold with no coat. I look up at the buildings and recognise Birmingham. How did I get here?
The park looks dangerous so I go back inside. Avoiding the ordinary police who threatened to arrest me I make my way upstairs to the Transport Police, who must surely be used to drunken Irish men in suits with obscene slogans on their bloodied foreheads.
Having lost my train ticket, boat ticket, all my money, and my wallet, I ask for suggestions. The nice policeman tells me I should call someone I know, reverse charges, and ask them to wire me a train ticket.
-Call somebody? At this hour?
-It’s ten to eight in the evening sir.
As he is closer to the wall than I am, I trust the clock is in focus for him.
One step is all it takes to descend the metal spiral staircase, as it changes into a chute with metal bumps. I must have my hands in the right place though, and my bag bouncing off the steps behind me helps, for I land on my feet at the bottom.
In your darkest hour you remember the phone numbers of people you love, although the loving can turn out to be one-directional. Inside a phone box I crouch down on my hunkers and whisper because the nasty police of the arresting kind are near. They are so near they see me and open the phone box door.
-We’re sick of seeing you around here. If we see you again you’ll be arrested.
Loved and ticketed I am then sitting on a train. I look out the window at a crowd of what is clearly Irish people on the platform and wonder where all the Irish people might be going this close to Christmas. And why aren’t any of them on this train?
To read the destination of my train I get up and open the window in the door, put my head out, and read upside down — while the train is moving.
-Edinburgh? I’m not Scottish, I say, and quickly open the door and jump out to proudly join my people, like jumping off moving trains is something I routinely do.
In a crowd of over a hundred people I walk directly over to a woman, and point at her large bag.
-Is this your bag?
Not knowing that because I’m drunk the words in my head do not match the words I speak, and the words in my head are actually, Is this seat free? — the woman answers,
-Thank you, I say and promptly sit on her bag.
Being the coolest woman on the planet, she behaves as if men sit on her bags every day, and together we chat as we wait for the train and wherever it might take us. Which for her is ultimately home to Ireland, and for me it would also be Holyhead and the ferry home except I get off before then and board another train.
In an English city not part of my Christmas plans I still have no money, no wallet, and a large gap in my memory that just won’t refill. But in my head I have phone numbers of friends. And the night before Christmas Eve they are going out. On the town.
Not yet sober I think maybe several more pints will help my memory. Strangely it doesn’t.
I am in the company of two beautiful women. They are both licking their index fingers and rubbing me on my forehead, as if rubbing me out. I wonder if two women rubbing my forehead at the same time are erasing more of my memory, but I am not going to tell them to stop. Ever.
-What are you doing?
-Nothing, they both say still rubbing before both adding, Stay still.
With my pockets now magically full of money, I finally say goodbye to the girls and their fingers. Because I have a ferry to catch. Still. Two train journeys later I am on the ferry. It is Christmas Eve. I will make it home for Christmas.
Dehydrated I buy milk from the cafeteria. I cradle the cartons like a baby. All twelve of them. To retrieve my money I put the baby down on the cash register.
-Sterling or Irish? asks the woman.
Taking this as a question of nationality, I stand abruptly to attention, snap my heels and answer ‘Irish’ as I hold out a handful of sterling — the only currency I have.
In the quiet room I look for the large missing part of my memory. I get thirsty again. Six more cartons. Sterling or Irish? Irish! I announce as I hand over sterling again.
The last thing I remember is the Christmas dinner. Unlike my memory, my thirst won’t go away. ‘Irish!’ Another four cartons take the last of my sterling.
Brussels sprouts. I think I had too many sprouts. Thirty-six I remember counting. I walk out on deck to look at Howth in the morning sun. And the Wicklow mountains. I am almost home.
I walk in the door of my childhood home. The phone rings. It is from England. It is the voice of a work colleague:
-And now a word from your sponsor
I then hear the voices of all those who loaded my plate with sprouts and wrote on my forehead, as they shout in unison:
Tea is in the pot. I am home.