(A story to loosely orbit Luke 2:25-35)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that any man in possession of even the most modest of fortunes must be in want of a guitar; especially if, as in Len’s case, one already has a wife. The possession and mastery of a guitar, Len had always felt, was the modern equivalent of wielding one’s trusty spear upon the misty and mammoth-ridden plains of yesteryear. He had dreamed of owning one for many years, but it was only on one cold November morning, in his 43rd year, as he examined his reflection in the bathroom mirror, that the lifelong desire finally congealed into concrete resolution. He went to the music shop that very day; strummed his way fervently through an entire gaggle of guitars; until, at last: there it was! According to the long haired assistant with his unseemly piercings, it had been carefully fashioned from cedar wood by an up-and-coming manufacturer called (rather extravagantly) Messiah Guitars, and was able to do several whizzy things Len had never even heard of (although this didn’t stop him from nodding sagely). ‘I felt like Harry Potter picking up his wand in Ollivander’s!’ he told his wife (Maz) afterwards, his face transfigured with excitement. She’d not read the book, but as it turned out, shared his gift for nodding sagely. After a bit of to-and-fro-ing, Len finally persuaded her to make the purchase and go through the farce of wrapping it up for Christmas. He then spent several tortuous weeks almost wetting himself with anticipation.
The big day finally came however, and there, squat beside the twinkling tree sat the beautiful dream. Len almost fancied he could hear its siren strings whistling under the wrapping before he tore it off. He missed the Queen’s speech, a slice of yule log, and several films he’d circled in the TV times, because of his new love; and tinkered away on its frets and strings with the concentration of a saint at prayer. He kept up the strumming for what his neighbour dubbed ‘three blesséd weeks’, and bought no end of gadgets and guidebooks to fuel this ‘new way of life’. But, sadly, as is often the case with these things, and despite his wife’s continued encouragement, his enthusiasm began to wane. He realised the closest he’d got to becoming an acoustic maestro were the calluses that now crowned his fingertips. He couldn’t even do block chords. And – insult to injury – it all finally came to a standstill when his friend Mike popped round in early Feb, presumptuously plucked Len’s guitar from its stand, and deftly knocked out some Eric Clapton number. ‘Didn’t know you played’, Len observed darkly; ‘Yeah. 12 years. Guitars ay?! Five minutes to learn; a lifetime to master!’
Quite a lot of dust settled on the Messiah after that. On the odd occasion he’d pick it up, but the strings were all out of whack from neglect and he didn’t have an ear for tuning. Over time he even came to feel that the thing was quietly judging him from the spare room; accusing him with its polite and infuriating silence. Having said that, he surprised even himself when he smashed the thing to splinters three years later. He’d come back from a high school reunion, where his old classmate Dave Romanov had had the cheek to turn up in a Merc. Len knew he’d had a few too many by the end of the evening, but felt bizarrely sober as he thoroughly annihilated that guitar against the garage wall, before burning the evidence in the metal bin at the end of the garden. As the firelight spluttered over his down turned face, he reflected glumly that he’d have to make up some story to tell Maz about lending it to Mike. She still proudly described him as ‘the musical one’ to friends; it’d pierce her heart like a dagger if she knew. It’s funny, he mused, how you end up hating the very thing you once longed for. He blandly watched the popping blaze for some time. Should have sold it on e-bay, he added to himself, would have got enough to buy that exercise bike. The one from the Argos catalogue.