‘Don’t mention the c-word to me,’ spat Half-life when I made the mistake of asking how his Christmas was.
He was handing a suit to Brigitta over the bar at a pub which serves as his extended wardrobe, fridge and warehouse, for things Half-life can’t, or won’t take home.
‘Take that and give me a pint of 1984 on Fat Tony’s tab.’
He’s never been the most festive soul, but this year he was even more bah humbug than ever. He routinely declines Christmas dinner offers from friends with a cheery, ‘Get to fuck!’
He is genuinely puzzled why anybody celebrates the birth of Santa Claus. He recognises that it’s an excuse to over indulge, but wonders why an excuse is required. His view is that if you won’t answer your phone at 4am on a Tuesday when he needs company, ice or rubber tubing, he’s not interested in having lunch when it’s convenient for your boss at what, to him, is the crack of dawn.
‘It’s a holiday for the robots,’ he says.
This year though, he had even more reason to resent the festive period. Someone, he claimed, had broken into his flat and stolen all the Christmas presents he’d intended to give.
‘It’s despicable,’ he railed. ‘Criminals today, they’ve got no respect for other people’s swag. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t got you nothing.’
I was surprised that he was doing any gift-giving. Turns out he gives his most valued customers a small token of his appreciation – out of date beer, blagged from Ollie the Schnoz, which he rebrands as The Half-life Collection – in return for top quality meat, fish, cheese and vegetables from some of London’s finest food producers.
His pals on the market rallied round after hearing of his misfortunes, and he made off with even more gourmet food than usual. His Christmas dinner consisted of oysters, lobster and steak followed by fine wine and opioids.
But he was inconsolable at the violation of his private space. The police refused to investigate, he complained. ‘They’re not interested in the vulnerable in our society. It gave my Château Lafite-Rothschild a bitter tinge, I can tell you.’
‘They took everything,’ he said, almost tearfully.
I sympathised, how could I not? I bought him a pint and a whisky chaser. I thought it awful that someone who likes to spend Christmas alone would be deprived of the opportunity to cry at Dumbo again.
‘Oh no, they didn’t take the telly,’ he corrected me. Just what did he mean by ‘everything’ then?
It was pretty much just the presents, he said. They weren’t just burglars, they were lazy burglars, the worst kind of scoundrel.
‘Hold on, so the only thing missing is beer?’
‘And they finished my whisky, rum and vodka, plus the weed and sniff.’
‘So someone broke into your house, drank all your booze, jacked your stash and left your valuables?’
‘Those are my valuables.’
‘What about your Vermeer?’
‘Nobody thinks to look in the lavs for priceless art.’
‘Isn’t it just possible that the burglar was… you?’
‘Don’t be soft. Why would I burgle myself?’
I suggested he may simply have forgotten he’d drunk all the booze, due to, well, all the booze.
‘Well, thanks for your support, you cunt. You’re worse than the rozzers,’ he fumed. ‘Victim blaming that is. Anyways, I couldn’t have drunk them. I was out with the Raider last night. Tuesday night’s steak night at Spoons, remember. Cheap fucker won’t take me anywhere else.’
Ah yes, their monthly ritual, born one Valentine’s Day when they shared a steak meal for two, a bottle of wine and a single rose for £19.99.
‘That was the night before last,’ I told him.
‘Fuck off. Today is…’
‘Is it? Brigitta, what fucking day is it?’ he bellowed.
‘I am, as it goes. I’ll have a pint, thanks,’ he said, never missing an opportunity for a free pint or an old gag. ‘It just gets worse.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Some cunt’s stolen a day off me.’
Just then, Jane’s soon to be ex-boyfriend, Toby, arrived to pick up the suit Half-life had brought with him.
‘Here you go, Jugs,’ began Half-life, handing over the whistle. ‘Thanks for the borrow. Sorry I spent the rolled up tenner I found in the pocket, but I had to hand it to a stripper or there was going to be trouble.’
A few days earlier, he’d fallen foul of a Gentleman’s Club’s stringent dress code as he was wearing lederhosen. He’d persuaded Toby to swap togs so he could escort the twins, Jane and Jane, to the club. One private dance later and he was in debt and under threat, until he found Toby’s note.
‘A strip club? For fuck’s sake, mate,’ I said. ‘It’s 2018.’
‘Oh, don’t say that,’ he moaned. ‘Brigitta, what fucking year is it?’