In what will probably become an annual festive tradition as beloved of eating the entire contents of one of those plastic trays full of really salty pretzels while watching that episode of Dad’s Army where they help with the harvest for the two hundredth time, I have asked four of this year’s Best Music Recommender in the World competitors to write about a Christmas song. With only five days until Christmas, Adam Farrer brings us a musical slab of misery, with a slice of Henry Cavill to take the pain away.
Christmas Downer by Departure Lounge
I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten your Christmas dinner alone while watching Henry Cavill have sex with a sorceress who reminds you of your recently ex-girlfriend, but it’s not the greatest. If you have, then you’ll know that it feels distressingly like staring through the window into an alternative life, where you haven’t been dumped, because you look like Henry Cavill. While this experience was undoubtedly sad, it wasn’t the kind of sad I’d been planning on sinking into that day.
Have you seen Henry Cavill starring in The Witcher? You really should. It’s dumber than a Mötley Crüe album, enjoyable in a way that is hard to really explain and, crucially, was as far from Christmas as Netflix seemed capable of taking me. My plan had been to profoundly not enjoy Christmas Day, martyring myself and transforming December 25th into an event that was so un-Christmas that it became a Wednesday. This was why my Christmas dinner wasn’t a Christmas dinner at all, but a limp bacon sandwich served on ungarnished white bread, and why, as soon as I’d dropped my daughter off at her mother’s house, I took down my decorations, sawed up the tree and shoved it into the green waste bin. Christmas was cancelled, to be replaced by a maudlin binge watch of over-muscled fantastical bullshit.
I don’t know who I thought I was doing this for. My ex didn’t know, neither did my family or friends. No one knew that this was how I’d spent my day until I wrote it down here, where it now looks petulant and makes my dumping seem warranted. But what I was trying to avoid was having to go through a Christmas at all and, in the process, being forced to confront my favourite Christmas song.
Christmas Downer by Departure Lounge had always been a comfort to me because I dearly love Christmas and the lyrics represented a version of it that I’d not had to live through for a long time. It hasn’t been by design but 2019 was the first Christmas I’d been single since 1996 and I wasn’t really sure how to handle it.
That morning, while my daughter opened her presents, I’d put on a CD called It’s a Cool, Cool Christmas, a compilation that I play every year, released in aid of The Big Issue. It features mangled tunes from The Flaming Lips, Giant Sand and Grandaddy but Christmas Downer always stood out for being bleaker than the rest and soon established itself as my favourite. In previous years I’d listened to the lyrics and felt grateful that things weren’t that bad for me.
‘Christmas, is a lonely time of year if you’re lonely
And it’s that time of year’
“Not for me, lads” I’d think, as the drums and sawing cello cut through the sound of chiming sleigh bells, fully confident that I’d always be able to look across the dinner table at someone I loved, in a house full of joy and activity. A place of strewn gifts and shredded paper, where I could immerse myself in the special form of exhausted contentment that I only get from slipping into a food coma while Christmas Downer plays in the background.
‘Is anybody gonna really get the things they want?’
“Yep, me. Always.”
‘Everybody’s hoping next year’s going to be the one.’
“Every year is the one for me, mate. Christmas is ace.”
Then, unexpectedly, it wasn’t. It was a downer. And really, I deserved it. A bit of perspective. An understanding of what it’s like to be alone and desperately sad on “the happiest day of the year”. And now I know what’s like to go through that with the unexpected sight of Henry Cavill in a powdered wig making everything so much worse.
“Ow, that hurts,” I thought, wincing at what was happening on my TV. Then, on the heels of that, something extra. “Go on then. What else have you got?”
There’s a delicious agony in this sort of sadness. So intense a force it feels like it could pull up the carpet and smother you with it. I wallowed in that feeling, like the pig I was eating would have had it not been in a sandwich. I melted into my sofa, reeking of bacon grease and self-loathing, wondering what else Henry Cavill had planned for me. I couldn’t have made for a sadder sight had I been wearing a Batman onesie and gnawing on a pat of unsalted butter.
While I hadn’t told anyone I’d cancelled Christmas, some of my friends seemed to have picked up on it. There was Kate, who’d extended me a Christmas evening invitation to drink whiskey with her while eating a white chocolate dessert the size of a football helmet. Then there was Jenn, who had invited me over for a Boxing Day lunch at her place. All the trimmings and beyond. Jenn really knows how to do Christmas and is serious about it. She starts planning for it after her birthday in August, lovingly feeding her Christmas cake with fine liquor and forging encyclopaedia-sized slabs of seasonal fudge so loaded with sugar that just touching one could give you contact diabetes. Still, I was considering cancelling both and seeing where my lone sadness took me, when I got a text from my friend Zoe. “If you kill yourself, I’ll be livid.”
So, because the people I cared about hadn’t abandoned me, I decided that I couldn’t abandon myself either. I gave the rest of my sandwich to the dog, got in the shower and set about scrubbing the smell of bacon and misery from my pores, hoping next year would be the one. I didn’t yet know that something would come along and ruin Henry Cavill’s year by delaying season 2 of The Witcher or that, while Christmas 2020 would turn out to be a lonely time of year for the lonely, at least we had a good excuse this year.