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Techniques of Surviving Christmas (No. 47) - The Garbo Method

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I thought of Greta Garbo this week, the beautiful, brooding and reclusive Swedish starlet of yesteryear, as I stood waiting for my morning bus.

The bus queue was growing, or more accurately the scattering of people who position themselves at a respectable distance from each other designed to make social intercourse impossible.

An eager neighbour bounded up to me, standing with body language expectant of communication. I wished him a hearty "Good Morning", hiding from him the punch-like feeling his approach had caused me and the distress wishing him "Good Morning" I was now feeling. I am sure he did it on purpose - I had told him previously that I do not do conversation in the morning.

As I winced in pain, I had had a moment of divine insight. The voice of Ms Garbo came to my mind with the catchphrase she made famous. "I - von't - to - be - alone" she said, spoken huskily, slowly and with Swedish angst pumping through every syllable.

This is not an uncommon feeling in the hurly burly of 21st Century living. But, its arrival in my head in a cold dark bus queue during my morning commute in the middle of Essex did take me by surprise.
During my commuting life of over twenty five years, solitude is something I have pursued with ruthless determination. I have hidden behind newspapers, retreated into shadows and stared intently on the far wall of a platform with a look of such pain on my face that I would be an unpleasant participant in conversation should someone I know chose to make the mistake of trying to talk to me. I developed this last technique from watching David Attenborough explain how the Sea Cucumber, an echinoderm (like the starfish) ejects its organs through its anus when threatened. My most extreme situation was spotting a particularly vile boss in front of me on an empty train platform. I would have gladly ejected my gall bladder at him through my arse to stop him talking about his golfing handicap. Instead, I stood motionless trying not to be noticed with a look of disgust on my face. All because, like Greta, I von'ted to be alone.

Returning to the morning's experience, I had by this stage exhausted every topic of conversation with my neighbour who still sat like a bottomless pit of social interaction wanting more. We talked about the weather, the darkness of the autumnal morning, the fact that he was not wearing a coat and that the bus was late.

Desperation led to inspiration. I closed my eyes, repeated Greta's phrase three times while at the same time tapping my shiny black shoes together. I had been raised with repeated outings of "The Wizard of Oz" at Christmas which led me to buy my first Judy Garland LP at the age of 16 despite not being gay.

I opened my eyes expecting to be in bed at home, being fussed over by Auntie M while Toto, the eager terrier licked my face. Instead, I felt the cold glow of a Scandinavian dawn take over my whole body as the spirit of Greta enveloped me. I was calm.

In my coat pocket, I found salvation in a paper clip which Greta had led me to. As my neighbour and I discussed who took the dog for a walk in our respective houses, I surreptitiously straightened the paper clip. As he told me that his wife takes the dog for a walk during the week and he takes it for a walk at the weekends, I plunged the paper clip into my palm, the surge of pain going through my arm making it appear that I was listening to him by the new found alertness in my expression.

Completing the head-on smash of a pregnant pause which commenced once the dog walking subject had finished its course, there was only one thing I could do. I moved the hidden spear and thrust again it into another softer part of my palm. It felt so good, masking the irritation of having to be sociable and keeping my mind busy managing the pain while trying to contain the blood loss threatening to stain my pocket.

This has been a revelation to me. For I now realise that Greta is not just for the rest of the year, she can be for Christmas as well.

Christmas is a time when prolonged social proximity with ones fellow man can tarnish the achievement of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. I love my extended family dearly as I love the pop group Girls Aloud. But like Girls Aloud, I would prefer to entertain them in ones and twos rather than have them all at the same time. Thus, if Nicola and Kimberley were sitting around table for Christmas dinner entranced with my tales of fear and loathing in financial services, the magic would be ruined if Cheryl, Sarah and Nadine came in unexpectedly. Think of the girls, aloud. The same thing happens with my extended family leading me to utter the standard Garbo intonation "I - von't - to - be - alone" as I am tucking into the third bottle of red wine and they are all speaking at once.

Mrs Pickwick knows she is married to a grump but she is the sociable side of our pairing which aids the pursuit of peace and goodwill coming from the Pickwick family. I on the other hand grow bushy sideburns, turn down the central heating, bellow at passing children and exhibit a strong aversion to Board Games at Christmas. This, I believe makes me quite typical of the male of the species at Christmas.

Now I know that Ms Garbo is in the neighbourhood, she will be my secret weapon when I am incapable of uttering anything coherent at festive gatherings or trying to direct the collective hoards that Mrs Pickwick has invited to our humble abode to go home so I can watch the Top Gear Christmas Special. I will draw myself into a corner of the room quietly and tap my feet together in the same way that gave me salvation in the bus queue with the arrival of Greta. I will repeat the phrase until Greta arrives. In the spirit of marital cooperation, there is a strong likelihood that Mrs Pickwick may insert a plate of stuffed olives in my hand while I am waiting for Greta as we currently are running short of occasional tables and at least I will be useful.

This is to be my recipe for a perfect Christmas.