31 December 2006

Best and Worst of 2006...

Gentle readers, one does hope you purchased a copy of the Rent soundtrack upon my seasonal recommendation and have already paid careful attention to the lyrics of a song titled Seasons of Love? If not, you might already be familiar with a dance remix.

So, how does one evaluates a year just gone? How does one measure it?

In minutes? In inches? In sunsets or cups of coffee?

In sunshine? In postings?

In laughter?

In tears?

Neo-counter visits or calling cards, perhaps… 525,600… well, one can dream!

Of course, you realise that in the brief time you’ve known moi, I’ve been setting an outstanding example to be followed in the year to come.

What, hadn’t you realised?

Quite simply, this year you must take everything seriously... except yourself! One also encourages you to dispense with the need to measure everything… or think too much!

Embrace the moment, gentle reader!

Embrace the ridiculous!

Live, love, and be happy!

What’s another year?

As I cast a last wayward glance at what has happened me in the last twelve months- and in doing so brought pleasure or displeasure- here is what springs to my mind:

Best Moment of the year
One struggles to choose between first hearing that my best friend was pregnant, first seeing my best friend pregnant, first seeing my best friend heavily pregnant, or first receiving news that my best friend had given birth to a healthy, happy baby boy... click on the link!

Worst Moment of the year
Theft of my beloved red mountain bicycle, which supported and maintained my bottom, having travelled with me to four different countries over the last six years. Like its owner, the bicycle was of greater emotional than market value and no longer in particularly good condition.

Best Film of the year
El laberinto del Fauno
If you want to read why, click here!

Worst Film of the year
Snakes on the plane
“Do you want to come and watch Snakes on a plane?” someone asked.

To which I replied that one is sick and tired of watching snakes on planes; they’ve been serving what they call ‘food’ on every aircraft I’ve ever flown upon; skin wrinkly and crinkly from too many hours on a sun bed, hissing and spitting at passengers, their tails quivering with suppressed emotion and of course ready to strike at any minute. Honestly, why anyone felt impelled to make a thriller about trolley dollies is quite beyond me…

Of course I didn’t see the film, readers! I’m bored, but not that bored… I’d much rather be talking to you.

Best Book read during the year
Illywhacker by Peter Carey
Brilliant, brilliantly written and humorous… and he’s an Australian: who’d have thought!
Worst Book of the year
… no entries in this category, since one has enough sense to stop reading whenever any book no longer entertains.

Best Single of the year
I don’t feel like dancing by Scissor Sisters
Sadly, no other track on their last album is worth second listening…
Worst Single of the year
Sorry by Madonna
Said this, but it bears repeating: I’ve heard it all before, heard it all before, heard it all before…

Best Live Performer of the year
Sufjan Stevens at Le Bataclan, Paris (9th November)
Boy, did he deliver the goods: one listened to him share childhood adventures with a 'best friend' at summercamp, reading between the lines, not to mention tales of his mad grandmother, and by the end of the night, I was ready to line-up and buy his next single. Hell, I'm even considering conversion to his religion!

Worst Live Performer of the year
Ryan Adams at The Black Box, Galway, Ireland (24th October)
What do you mean, you didn’t notice there was an audience?
That’s no reason for failing to engage!

Best Live Show of the year

Rain by Cirque Eloize
Despite the negative
connotations of the title, this left me with a warm glow comparable only to… you know exactly what I mean.

Best Album of the year
Broken Social Scene by Broken Social Scene
Handjobs for the holidays
, anyone? Or would you prefer Finish your collapse and stay for breakfast? Delighted to find oneself in agreement with The Church of Me about this year’s best album release.

Most inconsiderate of the band to schedule their Paris gig on a weekend one was obliged to attend a society function in London.

We hate your hate, too…

Most Disappointing Album of the year
Sadly, as every year, there is a great deal of competition in this category; particular mention must go to The Great Escape by Ms G Stefani, nevertheless, this year’s winner is:
Reprieve by Ani DiFranco
One has no one to blame but oneself. After Evolve and Educated Guess, one ought to have paused at a Listening Post before skipping in the direction of the cutest sales assistant with my platinum card. Ms DiFranco, knowing you are capable of truly great things, we are willing to forgive… if you produce something more fulfilling than a healthy, happy infant next year.

Compliment of the year
Excessively handsome… excessively generous… excessively well-endowed… or, indeed, excessively anything!

Verb of the year
Examples of correct use:
He draped himself across the bed, waiting for his lover’s return.

At last, the excessively handsome man emerged from the shower, with a towel draped across his excessively large…

“Would you like cheese on that?” he asked.
“Yes, just a little Rocafort draped across it, thank you!”

“How was last night, J?”
“I was drrrraped.”
“You were what?
“Date-raped… and it was great.”

Best one night stand of the year
Frenchman (see my Christmas Quiz)

Worst one night stand of the year
Wash your mouth out, gentle reader! There is no such thing!
If you haven’t learned to derive some form of pleasure, even from those moments when it’s all going horribly wrong, I have a lot to teach you!

One anticipates that due to circumstances soon to be beyond anyone's control, any return of coherence to my humble bloguette will take a few days.

Please celebrate International Hangover Day without me, gentle reader

Happy Hogmany!

Best Quotes of 2006 (Part 2 - Celebrities)

In the past, one considered forming a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Celebrities.

Apparently for certain individuals, men and women in the public eye are fair game to be knocked off balance occasionally and made to look foolish. It’s so cruel… after all, a central figure at a social function isn’t always as happy as she looks.

But I have decided against forming any such society, given how difficult it is to determine what a celebrity is nowadays; why, a celebrity is any well-known face who looks like he/she spends more than two hours working on their hair.

One rarely receives an invitation to a celebrity event worth attending… but one often attends whenever one is invited, particularly if one has absolutely nothing else to do and there is a free bar.

But gentle readers, you wouldn’t believe some of the pug faces I have to look upon at such functions… and some of rubbish I have to listen to!

Take Mr Noel Gallagher, who is a member of a group that used to produce music and was once quite well known… really, how one wishes he’d all wander into the middle of a desert, leaving us in peace. When I arrived at the party, he was interrupting a conversation taking place about soldiers who claim compensation for their injuries, and all he had to say was this:
"If you're bothered about getting shot, don't join the army."
Some part of me felt a smidgeon of loyalty to my new intimate acquaintance Sir General Michael Rose, and a larger part of me that simply wanted to show Mr Gallagher up for the pillock that he is.

“You might recall that a certain well-loved musician by the name of Mr John Lennon was shot dead by a crazed fan who misinterpreted his words,” I said coolly. “Obviously you don’t have to worry about being well-loved or having fans nowadays, Mr Gallagher… but if one had a fan, the sad and solitary kind who sits in a bed-sit listening to a terrible album over and over and over- one of your last albums, for example- then I would certainly be a little worried! For is it prudent to make provoking remarks to an army that is bound to have at least one crack-shot sniper that has witnessed disturbing violence in Iraq and be ready to snap?”

At that point, I snapped my wicked fingers in his ugly pug, and either Mr Gallagher spilled his champagne without my noticing or… well, I’d really rather not discuss what might have been in that fizzy puddle on the floor.

“Yes, I’d bear that in mind before opening my stupid mouth if I were you, Mr Gallagher!” I said, sailing off toward the opposite side of the room, passing yet another insufferable guest.

"If I was a gold-digger, I'd have a lot of money in my account. I'd be worth millions," she had the audacity to declare.

Why, I spluttered champagne across the room!

“Try saying that with a straight face in a year’s time, Ms Heather Mills- formerly McCartney!” I cried, to which another guest added a particularly cruel remark about how they’d like to see Heather standing straight without her prosthetic limb… a remark far too unkind to repeat.

For a while it seemed there was to be no escape from insufferable guests at this particular social function; there at the bar was Ms Victoria Beckham, helping herself to all of the freebies as usual, while trying to start a rumour that husband David is to be Knighted…

"It's just so camp! It's wonderful isn't it! Lady Victoria ... that would be quite amazing," she gushed.

I wasn’t the only one pulling a face at this performance, let me assure you; there was one of the members of the Rolling Stones alongside me, although it is often difficult to tell if those band members are pulling a funny face, or if that’s simply how they looks.

“Given how often Ms Beg-ham is around at Dame Elton’s, you’d think that she understood the meaning of the word camp!” I remarked. “Why, she's even stupider than one thought, and that is saying something, if she believes her husband will be given a title! Not in her wildest dreams!”

To this, my companion nodded, albeit a little blankly. Together we stood, an awkward silence between us as we both waited for Ms Beckham to move aside so that we might assault the bar ourselves.

“Personally, I’ve never been among those interested in having David Beckham bend over, but the thought of having to address her as Lady Victoria makes me feel quite, quite queasy,” I continued, glancing at the guest out of the corner of my eye. “Why, Mr Richards, whatever is the matter? You look quite unwell! Is it something you’ve taken?”

He shook his head wistfully… if only, he told me. He hardly bothered taking drugs nowadays, he declared.

"I really think the quality has gone down. All they do is try to take the high out of everything."

“You don’t expect us to believe that you actually remember what the drugs used to be like, Keith?” I pointed out. “For years, your brain has been so addled that you hardly know what instrument you’re playing! Still no problem getting it up, from what I hear, but you have trouble figuring out where to put it… or where not to put it!”

At that point, the double doors were opened behind, to allow a rather plump fellow to swagger into the function.

"The big man's back in town," cried a loud distracting voice.

To my great distaste, it was none other than a Ms Wayne Rooney on his return to the England camp.

“Methinks the lady doth declare too much a little too loudly!” I remarked. Big man? Hoping for a little attention from the gay league, are we? Not with that face! But keep on repeating that remark, nice and loud, and maybe someone in a stadium audience will believe you and begin chanting out a nice nickname for you… something like the Big Stupid Roon ought to put a smile on your face. Will that’ll make you feel big?”

Thankfully, Ms Beckham had gone to the bathroom to make herself sick, so I left Mr Richards fumbling with Mr Rooney, arriving the bar just in time to hear a most amusing anecdote about how a certain Mercedes owner- who shall remain nameless- allegedly found the Bishop of Southwark slumped in the back seat of his vehicle, and asked him what in hell’s name he was up to.

“‘I'm the Bishop of Southwark. It's what I do!’ he replied,” a remark that elicited much laughter among those at the function. .

“I do wish that Mr George Michael preferred a nice comfortable back seat!” I sighed.

There was another young girl at the bar who heard my comment; I saw her looking admiringly in my direction, so naturally I introduced myself.

Ms Lily Allen spent a few moment trying to impress me by disparaging another faded 80s pop legend, launching off on a little tirade against Madonna.

"She's the most overrated person in pop history. She might have meant something once but I don't know many people my age who care."

I decided it would quite crush the little girl to mention that I had been saying that for years…and expressing myself so much, much better. So instead I asked her what her name was again…

The evening wore on, with guests that were clearly not celebrities but had crashed the function, trying to get my attention with a quick and pithy remark… individuals like Mr Salman Rushdie who, perhaps having been asked his opinion about what Salome had done to John the Baptist, remarked:

"Veils suck."

“Not as much as Shalimar the Clown,” I quipped.

That shut him up… but it probably won’t stop him from writing!

He wasn’t the only one making stupid statements that night, but I was quite, quite shocked to find this coming from Ms Scarlett Johansson’s ruby red lips.

"I get tested for HIV twice a year. One has to be socially responsible."

I took her to one side, explaining that while one has a social responsibility to provide entertaining quips from time to time and one must endeavour to be sociable and irresponsible in order to ensure endless attention, she was really giving out the wrong signals.

Didn’t she have a fabulous gay friend who had explained how HIV was transmitted? Apparently not!

Having explained that a pretty girl like her might enjoy plenty of fun without any risk of getting HIV, unless she was fortunate enough to meet a man capable of splitting open condoms, I led her to the bar.

“It’s a lot simpler than you thought to have safe sex, isn’t it?” I reassured her. “After all, surely you wouldn’t want to find excessively handsome gentlemen, upon hearing that it had been three months since your last check up, deciding it was too risky? And I don’t to hear any rumours about you taking a ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn!’ attitude, Scarlett… you deserve better! Really, you do!”

Ms Johansson thanked me profusely, indicating that she had a vacancy in her circle of acquaintance for a fabulous gay friend, asking if I would oblige by filling that position. I told her that I would be quite delighted, assuring her of my belief that she shows all of the necessary potential to become a gay Icon.

Needless to say, upon hearing this she was hardly able to contain her delight, and insisted that she would leave the party with me.

We were among the last to depart, gentle readers… but not quite last! There was a gathering of sad, desperate old men hanging around at the exit, desperate to pick up before leaving, and determined to make an impression on the guests; you know exactly who I speak of, Hollywood has-beens like Michael Douglas, Mr Warren Beatty and of course that hideous man- even in his prime, one would never have stooped quite so low- Mr Jack Nicholson.

"I only take Viagra when I am with more than one woman," he said to an elderly drag queen in his characteristically unpleasant drawl.

His remark drew embarrassed giggles from those gathered around.

“Jack, it’s the drugs those women are taking that we all want!” I told him, resting a flirtatious hand on the wall behind him. “If we can get some of those drugs to Mr Keith Richards, he will be eternally grateful… and I expect those stones will keep rolling for another few years!”

With Ms Johansson clutching delightedly at my arm, we got into the nearest available limousine. A light kindled in the sky overhead; the day started off promising, and so we were driven off into a clear dawn so fresh and bright that it felt like a brand new year was just about to begin...

A Gay Christmas Carol (Part 7 - The end of it)

...yes, oh yes!

It was almost better than sex!

"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as the devil, I am as merry as a boy running away from school, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody, I’ll say! A happy New Year to all the world!"

Scrooge found himself in a bed that was his own, in a room that was his own… and it certainly wasn’t the first time that he awoke fully dressed, with mud on his boots and knees. He was so fluttered, glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his command.

"Why, there's the door by which the Ghost of Bob Marley entered, and there are stains on the floor, made by those horrible wretched brought by the Spirit of the Past! And over there is something that the Ghost of Christmas Present left… why, it’s a tin of beans! So it's all true; it all actually happened!” cried Scrooge. "Lessons of the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all Three be praised! I’ll say it every time I’m on my knees… thank you; Bob Marley, thank you!"

He scrambled out of bed, determined to change his clothes. Soon his hands were busy with his garments, putting them on and making them parties to every kind of extravagance, before spending a considerable time fixing his hair. He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard.

Clash, clang, hammer; ding, dong, bell!

Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash!

Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, Scrooge opened it and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring cold; a cold piping for the blood to dance to!

Golden sunlight; clear blue sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells… oh, glorious!

Almost heavenly!

"What's to-day?" he cried, calling downward to a boy who loitered about in the street.

"Eh?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

"What's to-day?" said Scrooge.

"To-day?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day!"

"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like… and so can I!”

He laughed aloud, and even for a man who had been practicing his laugh for many years it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh; the father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs.

“Lad, do you know the Poulterer's, in the next street at the corner?"

"I should hope so," replied the lad.

"Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize turkey that was hanging up in the window?" said Scrooge.

"What, the big one? Not the little prize Turkey: the one as big as me?" returned the boy. “It's hanging there now!”

"What a delightful boy! Why, it's a pleasure to talk to him! He understands the importance of size!" said Scrooge. "Yes, my young buck. Go and buy it. Tell them to deliver it to-”

“They don’t do deliveries!”

“In that case, fancy earning a little money, lad?”

“Er… I’m supposed to be going to the Church!”

“No need… God’s always there, and besides, there are always so many people chanting at him all at once that she’s hardly going notice if you don’t go along this once. Here, I’ll give you a quid!”

“Bugger off!”

“Alright… a fiver!”

“A tenner, or nothing!”

“Done! Get the Poulterers to charge that turkey, but make sure that they leave a price tag on it, and then I want you to deliver it to Mr Bob Cratchit. He lives at-”

“Bob Cratchit, who has a son called Tim that’s hung like a-”

“You know him?”

“Hard to miss, isn’t it?”

“What a remarkable boy! Then you’ll know where to take it! And in a few years time, you’ll know a few other things, I’ve no doubt! Come back after you’ve done, and I'll give you the money."

But the lad wasn’t prepared to take Scrooge’s word and demanded payment up front: Scrooge gave him half, and the boy was off like a shot; he must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

“So begins my charm offensive on the Cratchit's!" Scrooge cackled, rubbing his hands and splitting with a laugh.

Shaving is not an easy task, nor was it for Scrooge that morning; shaving requires attention, even when you don't dance while you are at it. His hand continued to shake very much, for it had been hours since he’d last poured himself a decent drink, but if he had cut the end of his nose off, he would have put a piece of sticking-plaster over it and been quite satisfied that morning.

Shortly after he’d finished, the little boy called for the rest of his money. Nice boy… Very! With a chuckle Scrooge paid what was owed, promising to recompense the boy even more for his Christmas services if he called back to visit in a few years time.

As he closed the door, Scrooge’s eye caught the door knocker, bringing a smile to his face before he went frisking down the hallway to stand in front of the telephone, perfectly winded.

“So much to do!” he exclaimed.

It proved more difficult than he anticipated to contact an undertaker on Christmas Day. When at last he got through to one, Scrooge gave the receptionist an earful; it was an outrage, the way things were going in this country. Didn’t deaths happen at any time of the year? Then why shut for Christmas?

The gentleman on the other end of the telephone listened to all of this, and even murmured sympathetically, until he realised that Scrooge had telephoned to make arrangements for his own funeral at an unspecified date in the future; he required an expensive and elaborate one, with specific and detailed instructions concerning how to reach his own personal hairdresser, who was the only one to touch his hair. The undertaker provided contact details for another agency through which it was possible to hire mourners, but since they were certainly closed today, Scrooge resolved to make those arrangements later in the week.

With that task done, Scrooge telephoned his nephew Fred, delighted to find that the family were at church, so he left a short pithy message on the answering machine to inform them he’d be calling around that evening for dinner.

“If you’re thinking of calling back, just want you to let you know that I’m going out for a stroll so I won’t get the message and that means you can definitely expect me… oh, and as for your little New Year’s Eve party, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

Next, Scrooge telephoned his asylum seeker cleaning lady, who was at home with her underfed family, as he anticipated she would be.

“I’m just telephoning to tell you that you’re fired,” he said at once.

The poor woman was startled and upset at this news, asking what she’d done to deserve such treatment.

“Nothing, yet!” Scrooge replied.

How the cleaning lady wept and pleaded, explaining that she depended on the meagre pittance he paid her to buy food for her starving children, begging Scrooge to give her another chance… after all, it was Christmas.

“No!” he said, deciding to soften the blow before hanging up by adding the words, “But Merry Christmas!”

He sat down breathless in his chair, then realised his words might be taken the wrong way, and chuckled till he cried.

That done, he had to decide what to do next. Scrooge had the feeling he was forgetting something, but finding himself dressed in his best finery, he decided to go out into the streets for a little stroll.

People were by this time pouring forth from their homes on the way to church, and Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant that three or four good-humoured fellows said;

"Good morning, sir. A merry Christmas to you."

Scrooge often said afterwards that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.

"Come and see me!" retorted Scrooge to one particularly fine man who caught his eye. “Will you come and see me?"

"I will!" cried the gentleman.

And it was clear that he meant to do it.

"It’ll be worth your while," Scrooge whispered. "I am much obliged to you… but it’s you that’ll be thanking me… fifty times!"

He walked hastily past the church and continued about the streets, watching people hurrying to and fro. As usual, he slapped children out of his way and ignored all of the beggars, looking up through windows or looking down at the packages of the men he passed, and lingering upon everything could yield him pleasure.

Scrooge had never dreamed that anything could give him so much happiness… then, to top his every pleasure, he met Bob Cratchit and his son returning from the church service.

"Scrooge," said Bob, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say! It was very kind of you to send that gift this morning! Such munificence!"

“Yes, indeed,” said Scrooge, looking the younger man up and down. “We haven’t been introduced, but you’re called Tiny, I believe?”

“Er… yes, Mr Scrooge, but my real name’s Tim.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Tim… a real pleasure.”

All three stood for a while in conversation, with Scrooge endeavouring and struggling to feign interest in other members of this man’s family, delighted to receive an invitation to call around some afternoon, to discuss affairs over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, whatever that was.

“It would be a pleasure to get to know you better,” said Scrooge.

Scrooge was better than his word.

He did know at least one member of the family infinitely better… before Tiny Tim died

It was their departure on that Christmas morning that Scrooge remembered what he’d forgotten to do.

Dear heart alive, how he started!

He turned his steps back towards his own house, for in the midst of all these unprecedented happenings Scrooge had forgotten about the handsome young man under the Christmas tree; otherwise, he wouldn't have gone outside on any account. Back to his apartment he hurried, relieved to find that he had double-locked the door… which meant no one could leave.

To the living room he went at once. He turned the door handle gently and sidled his face in round, to find the young man waking up, looking at the tree in bewilderment.

"A merry Christmas," said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken.

“Where am I?” said the young man.

“At my place! I’ve been waiting a long time for this…”

“Wait a minute, is it Christmas morning? I shouldn’t be here! I mean, I’ve got plans to be with my family!”

Scrooge, whose hand was already on the dining-room lock, shook his head. He started off, and frisking round the fireplace

“I don’t think you’ll be leaving in the same state as you first entered… not after I’ve finished,” he said, clapping the young man on the back.

There were several other wonderful lines for Scrooge to play with from the original Christmas Carol, including "I'll go in here", "Will you let me in?", “Let him in! It is a mercy he didn't shake his arm off!” and “Nothing could be heartier!”

In short, both made a lot of noise until the end came: so did Topper when he came: so did every one when they came.

Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!

So, what did the future really hold for Ebenezer Scrooge? Perhaps there is a gentle reader out there who was hoping for a day when he needed to receive medical treatment from his former cleaning lady, who had been granted asylum and had her nursing qualifications recognised? But we’ll leave you to imagine a happy ending of that sort…

In truth, for the rest of his days, while some people laughed to see Mr Ebenezer Scrooge, he let them laugh and little heeded them; his own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. He remained wise enough to know that some people did not have their fill of laughter and he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, given the malady of their less attractive forms, and never forgot that nothing ever happened on this globe for good.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards.

And it was always said of him that he knew how to entertain well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge.

May that be truly said of all of us!

30 December 2006

A Gay Christmas Carol (Part 6 - Stranger than fiction)

…a solemn Phantom coming.

“A first time for everything, I suppose,” Scrooge quipped.

It was difficult to detach the Phantom’s figure from the night or separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded. In the very air through which this vision moved there was gloom and mystery. Draped and hooded, moving along the ground like a mist, slowly, gravely, silently, it approached. It was shrouded in a deep black garment which concealed its head, face and form, leaving nothing visible save one outstretched hand, and when it came beside him, Scrooge was filled with a solemn dread. Tall and stately, in its mysterious presence he bent down upon his knee.

Bearing in mind that Scrooge had a lifetime of experience in dark rooms and dark saunas, he had no inconsiderable experience with figures that were not to be seen, and several thoughts entered his mind at the offer of that outstretched hand… yet there was something about this Phantom that quite quenched his desires, altogether extinguishing any friskiness of mood.

"I am in the presence of the Spirit of a Christmas yet to come?" said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.

Drawing upon his experience with those who preferred to get right down to business, Scrooge didn’t press the stranger for any light-hearted small talk. In truth, he felt unsettled in the Phantom’s presence, and even though he was well used to strange and even spirited company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him and he found that he could hardly stand. The Phantom paused, observing his condition and giving him time to recover, and in time Scrooge dealt with his own discomfort in a characteristic way…

“Talk to the hand, is that it?” Scrooge pursued. "You’re about to show me shadows of things that have not happened, but will happen; isn’t that how the story goes?"

The upper portion of the dark garment contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Phantom inclined its head: that was the only answer Scrooge received. It gave him no other reply, simply pointed straight before them. Scrooge thrilled with a vague uncertain horror to know that behind the dusky shroud, eyes intently fixed upon him, while he could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

"Spirit of the Future, I fear you more than the prospect of a Spice Girls reunion!" he croaked. "But I am prepared to go with you. Lead on, for the night is waning fast, and there is a handsome man sleeping in the next room: this is precious time to me!"

It was only as he spoke that Scrooge realised they stood in his apartment once more. Looking around, he found many things had changed: his bedroom had been lavishly redecorated, with a spiral staircase in one corner leading to the apartment above. Unable to contain his curiosity, he hurried over to ascend, noticing that the Phantom followed in his footsteps.

For years, Scrooge hadn’t spoken with his upstairs neighbours, a quiet family who constantly complained about his lewd behaviour in the stairwell and the mess left afterward, in addition to his habit of playing his music loud… and of course his taste in music, not to mention all of the unpleasant noise occasioned by his nocturnal activities. For several years, their apartment had been on the market, yet the family had been unable to sell; prospective buyers who were unfamiliar with the reputation of the neighbourhood always seemed to visit at a time when Scrooge engaged in activities that put them right off its location. On occasion, Scrooge had dreamed of buying that apartment himself to get rid of his annoying neighbours and extend his own residential comfort, but could never afford it… and imagined that he never would.

Imagine how he felt - inarticulate with delight- upon discovering this was precisely what would happen in the future, for he recognised his own taste in the furnishings of the rooms above, with charcoal sketches of naked men to adorn the wall of a large dining room, with two additional guest bedrooms (not that he ever had friends or family come to visit) not to mention his own little private sex dungeon.

“But how will all of this happen?” he exclaimed.

He learned no more from the Phantom, who neither spoke nor moved.

Slowly, it dawned upon Scrooge, even though the possibilities were limited. No one in his family possessed anything worth leaving him in a will; he never gambled, so there was no way he would win money; he never advanced in his own career because he never committed to doing anything, so his earnings weren’t going to increase; either he would steal money to do all of this, or…

“I will stop buying drinks for those wankers!” he said.

The Phantom moved in the direction of what, in line with the distribution of his own flat, would prove to be a walk-in closet. Scrooge e followed in the shadow of the Phantom’s dress, which seemed to bear him up and carry him along. To his surprise, upon the closet door opening, he saw…

“What’s it doing here?” Scrooge gasped.

On the inner wall of the closet, there was a painting: it was an unutterably hideous depiction of a man whose features might be described as melting off his own distorted face, with curved and twisted lines that expanded to the edges of the canvas, reflecting how this horrible phenomenon blighted the world around him, repulsing upon all those in the figure’s vicinity.

Scrooge was convinced that he looked upon a famous work of art that had been stolen from a museum in Scandinavia; perhaps, after all, he would embark upon a new career as a stolen art dealer?

He glanced back at the Phantom, looming over him with a book in his outstretched hand; the Phantom tapped impatiently at the cover, before pointing at Scrooge.

“Oscar Wilde?” said Scrooge, upon reading the title; it was a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray. “I know what you’re trying to say, Spirit; I should read more in future. But is that what this painting is here for? Am I supposed to try and be more cultured?”

In exasperation, the Phantom pointed at the painting, then at Scrooge himself, then at the title of the book.

Despite Scrooge’s every assurance that he understood, the Phantom insisted on repeating his futile gestures, until at last Scrooge decided it was better to ignore him. He left the Phantom punching at the wall, continuing the tour of his fabulous extension.

Before he had quite finished his second look around, the city seemed to spring up and encompass Scrooge of its own accord. Glancing back, he found the Phantom standing amongst the crowd of a gay venue, while men hurried up and down to the bar, trifling thoughtfully with their hair, adjusting packets in their pockets or conversing in groups about the latest Madonna releases; and so forth. Scrooge had seen this often and recognised most of the clientele; he was a little surprised that the Phantom looking quite comfortable at the heart of it, stopping beside one little knot of gay gentlemen to point to them.

“Yes, they are badly dressed, aren’t they?” said Scrooge, advancing to listen to their talk.

"No, I don't know him: I only know he's dead," said one of the men, a fellow with a monstrous chin, or so Scrooge thought.

"When did it happen?" inquired another.

"Last night, I believe."

"What was the matter with him, apart from the obvious?" asked a third, sipping at a Bacardi Breezer.

"God knows," said the first with a yawn. "I thought he'd never die."

"Anyone know what he’s done with his money?" asked a red-faced gentleman, who had a pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose that shook like the gills of a turkey-cock.

"I haven't heard," said the man with the monstrous chin, yawning again. "He hasn't left it to friends, that's all I know."

This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.

"Likely to be a cheap funeral," said the same speaker. " I don't know anybody likely to go, unless we make up a party and volunteer."

"Only if there’s dancing on the grave," observed the gentleman with the excrescence on his nose.

Another laugh.

"Well, I am the most disinterested among you; I’d much rather know if Cliff Richard was Christmas Number One again this year," said the first speaker. “I certainly wasn't his friend, unless having someone try to pick you up counts as a friend. But of course I'll go to the funeral, if everybody else is going to be there?"

In due course, speakers and listeners strolled away, mixing with other groups.

Scrooge look for an explanation as to why this conversation was significant, but the Phantom had glided on to two persons meeting at the bar. There Scrooge listened again, thinking that an explanation might lie here; he knew these men were both wealthy and very well-connected, and they were always out in the bars: of course, he had made a point always of trying to get in with them.

"How are you?" said one.

"How are you?" returned the other.

Not a lot of greater interest was said until at last one remarked.

"Well, that old geezer had his last shag at last, eh?"

"Died with a smirk on his face, I’m told," returned the second. "Cold, isn't it."

"What do you expect, at this time of year?”

“Is it true Madonna’s planning a Christmas album?"

"That’s what I heard.”

“She’s getting a bit desperate, isn’t she?”

“Still, we’ll have to buy it, I suppose."

Not another word.

That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.

Scrooge was surprised that the Spirit attached importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the death of someone in the past, since this Spirit's province was the future, nor could he think of any one immediately connected with himself to whom he could apply all that he’d heard.

In time, he grew bored trying to figure this out, and so he looked around the bar, resolving to treasure up everything he saw about the future, for he expected this was a chance not to be missed, to know what was going to be in fashion in years to come.

What music were they listening to? Madonna, Kylie… nothing new there.

What were the people wearing? Expensive labels… no changes there.

What was different? What had changed?

Not a lot, from what Scrooge saw.

He looked about for himself, but although it was his usual time of night for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes that poured in through the open doors. It gave him little surprise, because he had been considering varying the places where he went out, and thought he saw his new-born resolutions carried out. Another man stood in his accustomed corner, and it was crushing to note that this man was in fact better looking than Scrooge himself.

Quiet and dark beside him stood the Phantom, all the while. When Scrooge roused himself from his thoughts, he fancied that unseen eyes looked at him keenly, making him shudder and feel very cold.

“They should switch off that air conditioning,” he muttered.

Without another word spoken, together Scrooge and the Phantom left the busy scene and went into an obscure part of the town, one that Scrooge had never before penetrated, although he recognised its bad repute. Alleys and archways disgorged their offences of smell and dirt upon the straggling streets, like so many cesspools, and the whole quarter reeked with crime, filth and misery. The ways were foul and narrow; the shops cheap and the houses wretched; the people were badly and scantily dressed- one might go so far as to say half-naked- not to mention drunken, slipshod, and worst of all, ugly.

In this den of ill repute, there was a low-browed pawn shop, where old rags, empty vodka bottles and greasy offal lay outside. Upon the floor within, heaps of rusty keys, nails, chains, hinges, files, scales, weights, and refuse iron of all kinds were piled up. Secrets that few would like to scrutinise were bred and hidden in mountains of unseemly rags, masses of corrupted fat, and sepulchres of bones. Scrooge wrinkled his nose, for this was the kind of place one expected to find the Beckham’s scavenging in the years to come.

Sitting in among the wares he dealt in, by a charcoal stove made of old bricks, was a grey-haired rascal. He was nearly seventy years of age and looked every one of those years, for he had never used moisturiser or screened himself from the cold air with anything more than a frowsy curtaining of miscellaneous tatters hung upon a line. He smoked a pipe in all the luxury of calm retirement. As Scrooge and the Phantom approached, a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop in question.

“Why, I recognise her!” Scrooge exclaimed. “That’s my cleaning lady!”

"Please help me!" cried the poor woman, kneeling in front of the old man who responded by removing his pipe from his mouth. “I am a desperate woman… I have fled my war-torn country with my family, hoping to find sanctuary in this country. My nursing qualification has not yet been recognised, and in the meantime I am left with no alternative but to eek out a meagre pittance by doing humiliating work for which I am over-qualified, like house cleaning… prostitution is the alternative, and I am on the brink of considering it!”

"Come into the parlour,” he said in a hoarse voice.

The parlour was the space behind the screen of rags. The old man raked the fire together with an old stair-rod, and having trimmed his smoky lamp with the stem of his pipe, put it in his mouth again. While he did this, the woman who had already spoken threw her bundle on the floor, and sat down in a flaunting manner on a stool, crossing her elbows on her knees and looking at the man with desperation in her eyes.

"I can’t believe I’m doing this," said the woman. “I am a good and respectable woman… but my children are dying of hunger; it’s simply impossible to live on the benefits we’ve been given, even supplemented by illegal earnings. With my former employer gone… I’ve done a terrible, terrible thing!”

"Every person has a right to take care of themselves,” said the old man. “Your former employer always did. No man more so. Open that bundle, and I’ll let you know the value of it. I'm not afraid to be helping myself, and you shouldn’t be either. It's no sin, I believe. Open the bundle!"

The woman did as she was told.

"I hope he didn't die of any thing catching?" said the old man, stopping before sorting through the contents.

"Don't be afraid of that," returned the cleaning woman. "I wasn’t so fond of his company that I'd have loitered around him, if he did."

“Who's the worse for the loss of a few things like these? Not a dead man!” continued the old fellow. “Why, if he wanted to keep them after he was dead, a wicked old screw, why wasn't he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck down, instead of gasping out his last breaths, alone. It's a judgment on him, and many wish it was a little heavier judgment.”

Throughout this, Scrooge gasped indignantly at the plunder produced.

“But… but they’re all my things!” cried Scrooge, trying to stop the old man, but finding that it was impossible to snatch back what had been taken from his home; a little wearing apparel, an old-fashioned silver dinner-service, a pair of Armani boots, several items of bed linen, and a valuable ring of no great emotional value, although it caused him greater distress to find an autographed Madonna poster that he was embarrassed to admit owning and his complete collection of Pet Shop Boys albums among the items spread out on the floor.

All were severally examined and appraised by the old man, who sat grouped about the spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old lamp and chalked sums he was disposed to give for each upon the wall, adding them up into a total when he found there was nothing more to come.

"I always give too much to pretty ladies, it's a weakness of mine and that's the way I ruin myself," said the dirty old man, leaning over the cleaning woman who remained weeping on the chair. "That's my final offer. If you asked me for another penny, I'd repent of being so liberal. That's it, and I wouldn't give another penny."

Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror.

“Villain!” he cried. “Those bed sheets are made from Egyptian silk, and all of those Pet Shop Boys releases are limited edition!”

He viewed the old man with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater though they demons, marketing the corpse itself.

The desperate cleaning woman accepted his offer, and the old man produced a flannel bag with money in it.

"Spirit," said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot. "I see what’s going on; if I don’t sack my cleaning lady, this is what’s going to happen after my death!”

The Phantom threw up his arms in despair.

In an instant, the scene changed, and now the room was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse. He almost touched a bare bed on which there lay something covered which, though it was dumb, announced itself in awful language. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon it; plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, it was the body of a man… his own body.

Scrooge recoiled in terror, glancing towards the Phantom whose steady hand pointed to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it- the motion of a finger upon Scrooge's part- would have disclosed the face. He thought of doing it, felt how easy it would be to do, but Scrooge had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side.

His dead body lay in a dark empty building, with not a man, woman or child to say that he was kind, and for the memory of one kind word. A cat was tearing at the door, and there was a sound of gnawing rats beneath the hearth-stone. What they wanted in the room of death, and why they were so restless and disturbed, Scrooge did not dare to think.

Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death! Set up thine altar, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command, for this is thy dominion. Of the loved, revered and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and that the man’s good deeds spring, sowing the world with life immortal!

No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge's ears, yet he heard them when he looked upon that bed… without understanding what they meant.

Still the Spirit pointed with an unmoved finger to the head; again it seemed to look upon him.

"Spirit, this is terrible! But I have got the message… I understand you," said Scrooge quite agonised. “Let us go. Something informs me that our parting moment is at hand; I know it, although I know not how. Before that happens, if there is any person in the city who feels a genuine emotion caused by my death, let us go see them!”

The Phantom spread its dark robe before him for a moment, like a wing; and withdrawing it, conveyed him as before through a different time to the end desired. It did not stay for anything but went straight on, until besought by Scrooge to tarry for a moment, who was wondering whither they had gone. He joined the Phantom and accompanied it until they reached an iron gate, pausing to look round before entering.

It was a churchyard, walled in by houses and overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation's death, not life; choked up with too much burying; fat with depleted appetite.

A worthy place!

"Answer me one question, Spirit,” said Scrooge as they walked. “Are all these shadows of things that will be, or shadows of things that may be? Men's courses foreshadow certain ends to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses are departed from, the ends will change, won’t they? Say it is thus with what you show me."

The Phantom stood among the graves, but said nothing. He remained expressionless, exactly as he had been throughout, pointing to one grave that was being prepared before their eyes.

Two grave diggers sat on a mound of earth having a cigarette, with another two figures down in the grave itself, busy digging.

“What’s your name again, love?” said one of the grave diggers.

“Sue,” answered one of the figures. “Sue Narmi. She’s called Ivana Hardman.”

“Nice name, love,” said one of the men.

“Shit! I’ve broken a nail!” said one of the drag queens.

“Look, why don’t you sit down here and have a ciggie! Already told you, this ain’t work for a nice lady like yourself, and besides we’ve already been paid!”

“I told you, I’m no lady!” Sue Narmi hissed. “Believe me, it’s worth breaking every single nail. I wouldn’t miss this for the world! You’ve no idea what pleasure this is giving me… I don’t expect it will ever be matched, except perhaps tomorrow night when we return to dance on this grave.”

“If you’re needing a bit of pleasure, love…” said one of the gravediggers.

“Later!” said Ivana impatiently. “This isn’t level, Sue: dig a little deeper.”

“Hmmn… that crooked old faggot probably wouldn’t have wanted anything to be straight, even his own coffin. Let’s get the spirit level… yes, you’re right; I need to dig a little more.”

“So I take it you didn’t like this fellow with the funny name… what was it again?” said one of the grave diggers.

“Cuentin,” said Ivana Hardman, pausing to light a cigarette.

“Are you sure that you’re not digging the wrong grave, love? I’m sure this fellow’s called Eb… Eb… something.”

“There’s no mistake,” Sue Narmi hissed. “He had several aliases, although when he wrote us, he conveniently neglected to change our names. I swore that I’d have the last laugh… and I will.”

“You’ve got to hand it to him,” said Ivana Hardman. “His last words… they certainly deserved a laugh.”

“Bastard!” said Sue Narmi, who had just broken one of her heels.

“What were his last words, then?” enquired one of the grave diggers.

“Well, one of his many life-long enemies, concerned that he wasn’t suffering enough, sent for a priest,” said Ivana Hardman. “I can’t think who it might have been… La Cicada hasn’t been on speaking terms with the Vatican recently.”

Sue Narmi tried to look innocent.

“Anyway, by all accounts Cuentin – or Ebenezer, if you prefer – was on his last legs at that stage… in bed, lying on his back– his favourite position- and he just kept staring at the priest, who it must be said looked quite fetching in his little black-”

“Even though I specifically asked them to send out an old ugly one… that’s one of the problems with the Church; always telling you what to do, but never listening,” Sue Narmi muttered.

“So apparently everyone standing around the bedside – I mean, that one other person; after all, someone had to be there, otherwise it wouldn’t have been fun!- was waiting for the old bugger to say something lewd to the priest, because that’s what you’d expect, right? The priest kept talking on and on, until eventually he decided it was time to deliver the last rights. Well, I almost expected Cuentin’s head to start spinning at that moment! But instead, when the priest asked him if he renounced the Devil and all of his ways, the old bugger opened his lips for the last time, and breathed ‘This is no time for making new enemies.’”

Both of the grave diggers laughed uproariously, much to Sue Narmi’s displeasure. She broke her other heel as she stomped on the shovel.

Throughout this exchange, Scrooge stood listening, as he had often listened to these two wenches. The Phantom remained at his side, immovable as ever.

Scrooge dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape as the finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.

"But Spirit, I am not the man I was," Scrooge cried, clutching tight at the Phantom’s robe. "I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me all of this if I am past all hope of changing it? Your nature pities me and will intercede for me; assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me? If I live in the Past, the Present, and the Future, with all that the Spirits have shared with me in my mind and do not shut out the lessons that they teach…”

In his agony, Scrooge fell upon his knees and caught the spectral hand, although the Phantom sought to free itself. But Scrooge remained strong in his entreaty and detained it. He advanced on his knees, trembling; the Phantom, stronger yet, repulsed him and down upon the ground Scrooge fell before it, crawling.

“Who’s there?” said a voice. “I can hear someone rambling… Cuentin, is that you?”

“Sue Narmi?”

“He said my name!” she shrieked. “That bastard… he’s here!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” said Ivana Hardman. “I was there when he drew his last breath! Why, I even drove a stake of holly through his heart, like you said.”

“Then you didn’t hear any voices, a moment ago?” Sue Narmi demanded.

“Well… yes, I thought that I did… but we have been drinking…”

“Are you speaking to us from beyond the grave, you old cuent?”

Ebenezer listened, aghast. How was this possible? Throughout his visits to the past, present and future, no one had engaged with him except for the three Spirits. Yet those two demented drag queens remained able to hear him, if not see him.

Was this because they were terrible spectral creatures that, like the three Spirits themselves, had supernatural powers? Or was it because they were fictional characters of his own invention? Or did they… was it possible that they really existed?

Still before the Phantom at the graveside, he stared upward; still he hadn’t moved when Sue Narmi scrambled from the grave.

Imagine Scrooge’s horror when he discovered that the Phantom moving aside to allow Sue Narmi to approach… with an uplifted shovel.

“Cuentin, there you are!” she smirked. “What an unexpected surprise to have this pleasure!”

She struck him backwards with a powerful blow.

With a loud cry of pain, Ebenezer was knocked back into his own grave, falling down, down, down, until…