Here’s Ian McMillan venturing into the world with two of his bright shiny new Christmas presents and he’s nervous because the thing he often does with any Christmas presents is lose them or mucky them very quickly, often by Boxing Day. Not this year: He’s deliberately kept two back, not let them out until they’re ready, like day-old chicks waiting to leave the incubator.
The presents in question are a lovely scarf and a lovely briefcase. The scarf is long and, in certain lights at certain ends of the bohemian quarter of Darfield (that’s the corner by the museum as you go down to The Cross Keys) stylish. The briefcase is a replacement for the old one that gave up the ghost; it had been dropped on trains and dragged down pavements too many times and it just didn’t want to play that game any more. It had reached the end of its briefcase tether so, because there’s no sentimentality in the briefcase world, it was hurled in the bin and a temporary bag was used. Until Christmas morning, that is. Thanks, Father Christmas, you purveyor of classy scarves and briefcases.
Ian wraps his scarf around his neck and picks up the new briefcase, delicately. He walks into the street, aware that he looks a bit like a model about to be photographed for a scarf and briefcase catalogue. Only a bit like a model, of course, because his chin doesn’t jut enough and his hair isn’t dark enough and the faraway look in his eyes is simply caused by lack of sleep.
Ian strolls along, the briefcase comfortable on his shoulder, the scarf comfortable on his neck. He catches a train and puts the scarf on the seat beside him, the briefcase on the floor. The briefcase still looks very, very new; it shines with a factory sheen and there are no marks on it, no scuffs, no stains, no blemishes. Ian makes a silent resolution: he will keep the briefcase pristine for as long as he is the proud owner of it. He raises his cup of tea in silent salute.
The train goes over some points and bumps a little and the tea leaps from Ian’s hand and spills all over the briefcase. All over the new and shiny briefcase which gleams with a soggy tea-gleam. It seems to be weeping tea. Ian gets cross: cross with the tea for spilling, cross with the train for going over the points, cross with the briefcase for being in that precise position when the tea cascaded, and cross with himself for thinking that he could ever keep anything clean and nice.
Ian descends into a sulky sulk. For several minutes he does nothing, and then he gets the minute serviette, more of a serviette-ette, that he got with the tea and tries to dab the liquid away from the briefcase. He may as well have tried to mop up the River Calder with a stamp. All that happens is that the serviette falls to bits and the tea appears to be soaking into the briefcase. Ian’s sulk deepens. He mutters to himself: What’s the point of having anything nice? You’ll just spoil it!
It’s his stop. He gets up, dragging the briefcase with him, sulkily. And of course he leaves his scarf on the seat. The train rumbles away.