She did not know why she was here
She didn’t even know how she got here
She had been at home looking for something to eat
She must have blacked out
Which is unusual because
She had been feeling fine
She remembers feeling uncomfortable
She was hot and woozy
She was finding it difficult to breathe
People crowded around her
They were all doing their concerned face
They brought water
Lots of water
She was fading in and out
She did not know how much time had passed
She did not how far they had to travel
She woke up
And she was here
It’s hard to say whose idea it was and I would be lying if I told you that everyone was absolutely on board right from the start. To be honest I’d struggle to tell you if at first the suggestion had even been serious or if it was a joke. It might have been a piece of what certain people within the organisation have certainly been heard to describe as ‘blue sky thinking’.

is this meeting every year, around mid July. Not in the offices. Off-site. Pens. Paper. Laptops. DVDs. Every Christmas film you’ve ever seen. A full drinks cabinet. Cigarettes. Illegals. You name it. And we just go at it. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is taboo. Nothing is dismissed and certainly nothing is ever ridiculed. It’s what we call the ‘yes and’ room. By the end of the day the concept is there. It’s never failed.
It’s always somewhat of a heady atmosphere. I think if even if you spoke to everyone who was there you’d get know two stories the same about who came up with it. And even if someone knew absolutely for sure it was them, I very much doubt they’d tell you.

Based on a true story.

She took a long time to start to feel better again
She couldn’t feel comfortable
Everything felt different
She was well looked after
Almost too well looked after
The attention was disconcerting
She smiled
She tried not to worry them
She kept her anxieties to herself
She knew they were doing the best they could for her
She was grateful
She was bored
She stared through the thick glass of the window
And she saw people walking
Thousands of people

Logistically it was of course a nightmare, but when are these things not these days. I remember a time not so long ago when it really was just for the children. A proper Christmas scene with snow and a red and white pole and some stars in the sky. We always had a few simple mechanics, you know the sort of thing, elves mending shoes, wrapping presents, sticking a teddy bear in a sack. We’d have a grotto with some glowing lights and always a silhouette in the window. That was always my input. Remember Jaws, I’d say. Steven Spielberg. It’s not what they can see it’s what they think they can see. Imagination. Well I mean fuck any of that these days. Absolutely fuck it.

And I’m not being an old nostalgic here, I can tell you exactly when it changed. 1995. That was the first year when the decision was made that the money for the display would be allocated not from the store budget but from the national PR budget. I mean that tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it? It’s for the newspapers. It’s all for the newspapers.

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way?
(Herman Melville)

She stared at the people walking
And the people stared back
She sunk into the oceans of their eyes
She swam in them
And when they cried
As they often did
She felt herself falling
Onto the cold snowy ground

You know, there had been some suggestion, and I’m not proud of this, of putting her in a costume. Can you believe that? I won’t say where that came from. Can you imagine how demeaning, how crass… I mean they would have strung us up from the nearest lamppost. Fortunately reason prevailed on that occasion but I think that’s probably when I first started having serious doubts. Of course it was far too late by that point, hundreds of thousands had already been spent on creating the ‘artificial habitat’ and she was already half way from Tallinn. There was no going back.

Despite all the training and preparation everyone was still a little taken aback when she arrived. It really is, well, you don’t know until you’ve seen it, her, in the flesh, so to speak.

‘Well my trust in you is a dog with a broken leg,
Tendons too torn to beg for you to let me back in.’

She fell in love so many times she lost count
She fell in love and
She kept falling in love
She had never known so much love could exist
She felt sick
She felt her insides all knotted up and flailing like fish hanging in a net
She cried into the salty water
She listened to music from the store and music from the street
At night she watched the busses floating by
People sitting in the harsh light listening to music or checking their phones or just sleeping
She had never been this happy

They say any publicity is good publicity but I don’t think you’ll find a single person at Hamley’s who agrees with that these days. I’m not exactly going ‘off-message’ if I say that it was an unmitigated fucking disaster. Four days is all she lasted. Four days of people crying. Children screaming. Anyone would think they’d never been to a zoo. We were front page of every major daily. The Telegraph of all people neatly summed it up – ‘Is this What Christmas Has Come To?’ Nothing but that and a photograph. And if that’s the Telegraph, you can imagine what PETA and the rest did. Those poor girls on the tills, it’s hardly their fault but some of the things they were called. It’d make you wonder who the monsters are.

Almost immediately the decision was made to send her back, but it took 72 hours to prepare all the equipment. You can’t imagine the costs involved in these things. It was costing us over a ten grand a day to keep the water at the right temperature. Half the year’s profits were wiped out in less than a week. And all because we forgot the golden rule – people don’t want to see everything, they want to think they’ve seen it.

She floated back in familiar water
It was so very quiet

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?

(Herman Melville, Moby Dick)


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