It was the Christmas just before my sixteenth birthday. And it was still dark outside. Our Roy and I shivered our way into the living room, banging doors and turning on lights. This was the one day of the year we didn’t have to worry about making noise and disturbing Dad. (He drove a taxi on nights so if we knew what was good for us we had to be quiet in the day).
Mom appeared in the living room like a yawning wraith wrapped in a frayed dressing gown. I smiled at our Roy and winked. The new dressing gown we’d got her ought to last her till next year. I finally felt as if I was on the verge of manhood, after all a guitar was not a junior scientist kit or a Beano annual was it. Mom shuffled toward the kitchen.
“Cup of tea?” she teased.
She veered back to the tree and started shuffling garishly wrapped presents into four piles: mine, Roy’s, Dad’s and hers. I squinted round the back of the tree frowning. I couldn’t see anything big enough to be a guitar. My heart sank. Was this to be another Christmas of monogrammed hankies, new sets of underwear, and packets of grey socks? If so, even Christmas dinner would be ashes in my mouth. Then Dad walked in holding before him a vaguely coffin-shaped present. My heart leaped and my mouth watered. This was it. At last!
“Here you go son.” he said handing me the pressie.
I was so elated I didn’t even notice it was suspiciously light – not that I knew how much a guitar weighed – I’d never so much as touched one. Stood in Woolworth’s and stared the varnish off any number, but never had the nerve to try one out. Well, I couldn’t play could I and loads of people already laughed at me because I was foot too tall for my age – that was bad enough on its own.
I set to ripping off the paper. Sure enough there was a cardboard box that said “Jumbo Folk Guitar – made in Japan” And this was back in the days when made in Japan meant something – meant it was a badly-made piece of rubbish. I didn’t give a monkey’s. I had my guitar!
I got the lid of the box off and saw more paper. Packing to protect my beautiful new fragile guitar I thought. Below the paper was more paper, and more, and then a series of ever-smaller cardboard boxes. As I tore my way towards what I knew was now too small to be a guitar I felt a frustration I would have done well to listen to. That feeling of desperate frustration, unwrapping a guitar that wasn’t there, would be nothing compared to the frustrations that learning to play and struggling to become a pro would bring … for the rest of my life. If only I’d known. Nah, probably wouldn’t have made any difference.
Finally I came to a tiny box that held a guitar-shaped badge. Dad was all but falling off the settee laughing and I was struggling to keep the tears in my eyes from overflowing. Still cackling he vaulted of the sofa, dashed out of the room and came back bearing the most beautiful piece of shit Japanese guitar I had ever seen in my life.
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Doctors Without Borders