The dark ages

I'm not happy. I'm in the supermarket and they don't have my favourite soup.

"It had to go to make way for Christmas." "Erm, will it come back in January, then." I ask in a voice that I can barely steady. "Oh, we're not sure... Perhaps it will come back eventually."

Trailing through the slush and cursing the fairy lights on the way home, I wonder where my soup has gone. Like a pagan calling for the sun's return, I am in the dark. But there is nothing I can do to propitiate my soup. All I can do is hope.

Why do these ritual creature comforts matter even more at this time of year? When there is such an excess of food, why does my soup loss hurt? Because I'm so bloody tired, that's why.

My mind is tired of words, paper and shouting. My body is tired of stairs, striplights and germs. And if one more advert tells me that "Christmas is a time for giving" I am going to brain someone with a plastic reindeer.

That's just why Christmas is so tough on teachers, who've been giving for months on end. They're completely knackered and hard-wired to give anyway, so that's what they'll keep doing.

In this stressful season of no-soup, that brings neither peace nor silent nights, what teachers need is to be honoured and pampered by a grateful nation. Instead of marking Great Expectations coursework, they should be slumped and burping in front of "The Muppet Christmas Carol".

But for many teachers, Christmas is just another endless mental list sustaining a greed-soaked cabin fever. They're still trapped indoors with children, their own or other people's, and these kids are high on sugar and paper-chain glue. What we all need is a real break, and we won't get it.

Ah, well. Perhaps this makes what happened to me the other night all the more cheery.

After shivering on the station platform, I jumped on to the wrong train. I would have ended up in a small coastal town after midnight had it not been for a kind lady in a black hat. She knew all the stops along the line, advised me where to get off and even phoned ahead for a taxi.

Ah, yes. You can keep throwing tinsel and money at the darkness, but in the end, nothing lights it up better than when someone just gives you a break.

And who knows? Maybe when the winter solstice is past, my beloved soup will return.

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