Shortest Day/Longest Day

The past few days have been full of positive results. Thanks to match abandonment on Saturday due to pea-souping fog, my team managed to avoid defeat for the first time in a few weeks. Result! Then, out of the blue, we sacked the manager! Result! He/we never saw that coming. (Fog joke there). And the boy has done well in his prelims. Result!

Yesterday was Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, when daylight hours sharpen to a pinpoint before slowly widening again, the time of year when local wags think it amusing to say “the nights are fair stretchin’” every other sentence.

Not that I noticed. I’ve had Covid since testing positive on Sunday. The one positive result no-one wants. Any festive oomph I may have had has since evaporated, drained from my body like the juice in a Duracell battery come Boxing Day. My muscles feel as if they’ve been put through some sort of gym session when, obviously, they haven’t, and my head thumps harder than the hangover after Mark and Amanda’s wedding in 1994. I’m drifting in and out of sleep continually. I’ve had to rewind and rewatch the last couple of episodes of Succession as I missed half of them. Squid Game came and went in a slo-mo ‘what was all that about?‘ fug. The days have been both short – is it 4 o’clock already?! – and long – is it still only Tuesday?! etc. I was most disappointed to find that Marc Riley wouldn’t be doing his usual evening show on 6 Music. The one time I’d get complete, uninterrupted time with him and he’s off. Seems he has Covid too. His replacement, Ezra Furman, has been pretty good, mind you.

I’m blaming my place of work. Covid was rampant in the week leading up to last weekend. Classes were being sent home as both learners and teachers tested positive. One class. Three classes, An entire year group. My job is not wholly classroom-based, but there was a certain inevitability that it would find me and at some point – Thursday, most likely – I caught it.

Not that I knew. I coughed a bit on Friday, but nothing more than normal for an asthmatic who uses his inhaler less than he really should. Despite the fog, I was going to the football on Saturday, so as is usual before going to a game, I took a LFT. Negative result confirmed, I duly went and very likely infected those around me. Or perhaps they infected me. Who knows?

By Saturday night I was shivery and I was beginning to think that I *might* want to get tested in the morning, just to be safe. We woke up on Sunday morning and stuck on the telly, to be met with Professor Jason Leitch, the most straight-talking expert on the box, explaining that the new variant presented itself with aching limbs, runny nose and sore head. Shit. That was me. The test was booked and taken. Driving there and back was a bit of a chore, if I was to be honest with myself, but still, surely not? I took another LFT that afternoon, ‘just to check’, and promptly forgot about it until an hour or so later when I happened to glance at the wee white plastic tray. Two lines. Two lines. It was heart-sinking and inevitable. The confirmatory results were back by 7 the next morning, Positive.

Normally at this time of year, I’ll cede to the times and offer up a bit of music with a loose connection to Christmas. Being imprisoned away from my music collection for the next week or so means that frustratingly, I can’t upload any music, so I’ve poked around the dustier corners of YouTube to find this diamond in the rough.

Tom Waits finds everlasting beauty in the bums, broads and bourbon bars of backstreet, smallville USA. His songs – Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis perhaps the nadir of it all – are film noir set to song, the dirty fingernailed and whiskey-soaked flipside of the American Dream. But you knew that already.

Waits bookends his own tale of loss, regret and loneliness with a Christmas song (carol?) as old as time itself and the whole performance, filmed for the Paul Hogan Show would you believe, in 1979 is as unpretentious, honest and artful as you could wish for at this time of year. Waits, eyes closed and lost in song, his long eyelashes and clear skin the envy of everyone, his lupine features, all chiselled chin and high cheekbones, topped of with a sculpted mess of greased curls, is on splendid form.

All Waitsisms are present and correct. His voice, rising from a phlegmy whisper via bluesy rasp to gutteral growl, is sensational. He half talks, half sings, dragging on a blue-curling Marlboro, slipping into full-on ess oh yoo ell blue-eyed soul singer when he namechecks Little Anthony and The Imperials. The story is simple; a hooker is pregnant, hitched to a good man who promises to look after them all ‘even though it’s not his bay-bugh‘. She’s in a good place and she wants ‘Charlie’ to know. As the song continues its scuffed and scrappy barroom blues, you start to pick up on the idea that the hooker really misses Charlie, to the point that by the song’s surprising twist at the end, you might find yourself misty eyed, sentimental and nostalgic. It gets me every time, It’s that time of year after all. From one incarcerated outcast to another…