So, Christmas. My bumper crop of presents included a coffee table-style book featuring artful photographs of French cats accompanied by quotes from cat-loving French philosophers (Fernand Mery: 'God made the cat in order that humankind might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger' . The man may have a point). Also a catering-size box of chewy sweets in the 1980s-iconic 'Fruit Salad' brand; a stylish and showerproof laptop case; a Newcastle United scarf ; a giant and very manly metal toolbox that is actually for keeping your garden seeds in; a Match of the Day Quiz Book featuring preface by ex-Leicester City frontman Gary Lineker; and a pair of quite extraordinarily comfortable slippers (I've never had a pair of slippers before, so these amused my sister, whose telephone verdict was: 'Ah, so that means you're definitely a dad now').
Frankie got what he longed for: the computerised Train Simulator 2014 game which he has been obsessed with since his Christmas button became activated in early November, and with good reason, since it promised to allow him from the comfort of his living room to take charge on a daily basis of various European locomotives of note including the Munich to Cologne sleeper, and (his personal favourite, don't ask:) the London to Faversham Express. Unfortunately Santa Claus had reckoned without our ageing family computer, whose hard-drive processor and graphics card (whatever they are) turn out to be hopelessly unsuited to the task of reproducing in minute detail and at 125 miles per hour either a platformfull of Bavarian commuters dressed in culturally and climactically-appropriate outerwear, or various features of the contemporary Kent countryside (an ancient oak Tree; a lineside allotment site; a grammar school playing field dotted with true-to-life future bank managers and cabinet ministers engaged in mid-morning hopscotch; the vast CarpetRight warehouse on the outskirts of Ashford, its primary-coloured corrugated iron exterior partially obscured by drizzle).
Such minor technological oversights apart (and hell, it's nothing that a new state-of-the-art desktop at £849.99 won't put right, although more realistic options unknown to the good people on the PC World helpdesk and involving online purveyors of reconditioned hardware, all above board now, honestly guv, sure as I've got this here ex-army motherboard stuffed up me greatcoat, squire, fifty quid a shot or you can have the lot for a ton and I'll throw in a box of rust-damaged scart leads, now I can't say fairer than that, old son, can I now are being actively explored) it was a thoroughly marvellous if typically exhausting Christmas, featuring the usual doses of actual as opposed to virtual train travel to farflung family-inhabited outposts of Northern Britain, inadvisable quantities of unfamiliar licquor, a special seasonal edition of Miranda (seven out of ten, I'm giving it, but I'm giving Ms Hart a straight ten for her leading role in Boxing Day's primetime treat Gangster Granny, so she shouldn't be too downhearted if she is reading), and a multi-generational trip to the most middle-class pantomime in the history of pantomimes (held annually in the semi-hidden university precinct theatre at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with guards at the entrance checking family groups for the requisite quotas of tall slim bearded dads, colourful-big-button-coated mums and artfully floppy-haired, rosy-cheeked and expensively polka-dotted Charlie and Lola-lookalike infants. We passed, and with flying colours).
This curious and halcyon alternative on-the-road, off-grid existence lasted until Friday, when due to an administrative oversight (I had forgotten to book the day off, silly bastard that I am) I had to go back to work for one day only. I managed to fair rather better than last year's first day back, but of course that is not saying much when we remember that on the equivalent post-festivities morning of 2013 we were by 10:30AM to be found tramping the residential streets of Manchester's fashionable Westside in a state of advanced nervousness, muttering maniacally to ourselves in tongues and entertaining serious thoughts of running off to start new lives as postmen. Yesterday, by contrast, I actually managed to go to a meeting, speak (albiet sparingly) in intelligible English sentences, and stay there until the end- which I am taking as a surefire sign of a stellar year of professional excellence, probably resulting by Autumn in my unsolicited and summary appointment to the scandalously-renumerated executive cadre of Not For Proft Company X. Failing that I will settle for another twelve months of untroubled anonymity and the overdue repair of the temperamental boiling water dispenser in the fifth floor kitchen (the nine-to-five is hard enough without having to fill and boil an actual kettle two times a day for a half dozen thirsty colleagues- I mean for heaven's sake, what is this, a fucking sweathouse?)
So, where were we? Oh yes, January. Onwards and upwards it is, then. Happy New Year to one and all, and best of luck to your luck.