In the village where I grew up there is a custom associated with New Year, the custom of the First Foot.
This custom at least partially explains why I’m ruining a £300 pair of hand-stitched brogues wading through the ankle-deep snow in the lane outside my parents’ cottage. It also partially explains the lump of coal and packet of salt in the pockets of my Armani overcoat, and why I’m clutching a £50 bottle of Glenfarclas 105 cask strength single malt whisky in my calfskin-gloved hands.
It does not however, explain why this is the first time I’ve been home in five years. That part of my story is best illustrated by the circumstances of my ignominious departure when I found I could no longer stand the regular beatings metered out to me by my loving father for any little misdemeanour, real or imagined.
At the age of sixteen I left, or more accurately, I threw a few things in a bag and ran, fled all the way to the bright lights of London where, as I soon discovered, the streets are not paved with gold.
Living rough in a big city must be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, even when you’ve learned a few of the tricks it’s still neither an easy nor a pleasant experience.
I spent the next two years living mostly on my wits and managed somehow to keep body and soul largely intact. I’m not saying there weren’t occasions when I resorted to less than legal methods of self-preservation, which was how I came to meet Lucien as I attempted to rob him behind the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
My story could well have been a short one had Lucien not seen something more than desperation in my eyes. He took me in, fed and clothed me and, as the saying goes, turned my life around. Soon I was to all intents and purposes a member of his family with a steady job and, for the first time in my life, money in my pocket. Within a year I was working behind the bar of one of his clubs, the same club I have been managing for the past six months, and managing it well, even if I do say so myself.
So that explains the clothes, the Rolex watch on which I have just checked that it is in fact two minutes past midnight – officially New Year’s Day, and the Aston Martin parked at the end of the narrow lane to my parent’s cottage.
It does not however, explain what I’m doing here, but I’ll get to that shortly.
My parent’s cottage is in darkness apart from a welcoming glow coming from the living room window. My parents are creatures of habit at New Year’s I think as I gently push open the garden gate - see the New Year in with a drink, whisky for my father and a gin and tonic for my mother, then off to bed at half past twelve. The lack of footprints in the virgin snow lying deep, and crisp and even I laugh to myself, on the path reassures me that I will be their first caller of the New Year – their First Foot.
It takes my arthritic mother a few moments to reach the front door after I ring the bell. I use the time to run over in my head the script I’ve been practicing all the way up from London, and then the door is open and there’s my mother, peering out into the darkness, looking right at me.
I take a tentative step forward into the light and hear my mother gasp as the hall light illuminates my dark hair, blue eyes, the same youthfully chiselled, I like to think, features that she last laid eyes on five years ago.
I hold out the coal, salt and the whisky, which my mother takes with shaking hands and a tear in her eye, the reverie of the moment broken only when my father yells through from the living room to ask who’s at the door at this time of night.
The sound of his voice brings it all rushing back as though the past five years never existed. My mother steps back and beckons me inside, but I remain rooted to the spot until finally, a note of exasperation in her voice, she says, ‘Well, come on in then. I’m sure your father will be pleased to see you.’
With that I step over the threshold, pushing the door closed with my foot. As I hang my coat on the end of the banister and my fangs slide into place, I think that I don’t really know whether my father will be pleased to see me, but that I am very much looking forward to seeing him again.