Albert Square at Holiday Time

By Michael McCarthy

.I sat very still, and listened to the evening grow quiet outside the open windows. And very slowly I grew quiet with it.. . Raymond Chandler

In every season, Albert Square does its best to dress itself in the colours that mark the passage of time in the lives of the people who lives and work in Walford.

While each hour of every day passes like the revolution of a carousel, lots of the wooden horses go by without a rider and the music is lost in the whirlwind of the day.

A character on the television series The A Team had a favourite saying, .I love it when a plan comes together..

Well, when a story arc comes together we get a Chistmas episode to end all shows on EastEnders. Only those writers could giv us a nativity pageant where Ian Beale plays the angel Gabriel, the ridiculous to the sublime, anda baby borne out of wedlock stands in for the baby Jesus. Perhaps at no other time but Christmas and New Year.s, the routines of everyday living take on a special grace, a nod to a time past but not altogether forgotten.

The year 2004 can be looked back on with a smile. As usual, Christmas trees decorate the Square. I have nothing against a summer day. However, given a choice, I much prefer the night, a crisp, cold slap of wind in the face and a sky filled with millions of spotlights, a necklace that sets off the moon, the Hope diamond just out of reach.

For Alfie Moon, 2004 can.t go fast enough. All at once, he, Spencer and their Nana are homeless. Alfie walks the cold of Bridge Street, wrapped in his trademark black leather jacket, soliciting work from all the local merchants he happily served at the Queen Vic.

Sorry, Alfie, I guess for you it doesn.t feel like season.s greetings. Something will turn up. He might as well be all alone, standing hip-deep in snow at the bloody South Pole.

The night carries on, indifferent to the foibles we humans seem to cultivate.

There.s Patrick Trueman and Yolande, proud owners of the Mini Mart, champagne waiting for the first day of customers. A New Year.s wish for the happy couple comes true: a surprise visit from Paul and Anthony. Why is so much of life bittersweet?

Sam Mitchell, self-exiled, in Minty.s flat, unable to shake the dark cloud that sucks out all signs of her life and spirit. Sam.s running on a treadmill as fast as her high heels will carry her, liquidation of Phil.s mini empire all because her brother is on the run, and he needs cash now, according to trusted family solicitor Marcus Christie, who gives Sam a song and dance about her big brother is depending on her to get all the cash she can muster by divesting all the family-owned businesses.

Ian, trying to get the café readyfor the first customers of 2005, his son and daughter refusing to give him a hand. He.s here in body, but his mind ¬. really his heart . is out wandering Bridge Street, yearning for Jane, who can.t forget this past year either. She found work at the café and also developed fond thoughts for Ian, a boss she loved to keep off balance, a friend with whom she finally shared her terrible secret about her husband David, who.s inflicted with a permanently twisted body. Jane takes her marriage vows seriously . to love, honour and obey in sickness and in health. In her case, virtue is a two-edged sword hanging over her head every hour of every day. It holds her in suspended animation as it cuts to her guilty conscience about sleeping with Ian the night before New Year.s Eve, which she spent guilt-ridden lying next to David in his hospital room as he succumbed to the horrible disease.

Meanwhile, Sam sells the Arches to Ian, Albert Square.s answer to Donald Trump, and subsequently .Beale.s Wheels. is born.

The crown jewel of Phil.s empire, the Queen Vic, sales done behind the back of her husband, Andy Hunter (see sidebar, page 10).

An who buys the Vic at a bargain basement price? The dirtiest character on Albert Square: Dirty Den Watts himself.

Sam delivers a suitcase full of cash to Marcus, the loyal family lawyer, who is assisting Phil to get on a plane for an unknown destination, only Phil isn.t at the the airport. She was apparently double-crossed by Den, who.s in cahoots with Marcus. Why would Marcus turn on one of his best clients?

Tired of being a dirty lawyer representing guilty criminals? Or is Den blackmailing Marcus, who senses an opportunity to cash out? In any case, he.s appeared headed for an all-expenses-paid retirement, leaving poor Sam on her way to a 19th nervous breakdown, completely destitute.

Sam is between a rock and a very hard place. Does she tell the truth to Andy, beg for his forgiveness, or tell him nothing and play dumb? She decides to tell Andy the truth. He is her husband who loves her, and she needs his strong shoulder to lean on. She tells herself, he.ll understand and put things right.

Not surprisingly, Andy doesn.t see things Sam.s way, rejects her completely and throws her out of his house. He tells her he never loved her, and admits it was Phil.s eal estate that he craved. She is of no use to him. through. It.s the worst day of her life; she.s falling apart. She.s broke and homeless in one swoop.

The misery index, like the moving finger, plays no favourites. In an odd way, Andy is having a miserable day of his own. First, the empire he had eyed to pilfer away from the Mitchells since getting involved with Sam, no longer is in striking distance, and then a drug deal has gone south. The Old Bill is on his tail. Andy escapes by the skin of his teeth. There.s a rat in Andy.s crew.

The only way Andy can save face is find the informer, which he deduces is Paul (see sidebar, page 9). Andy will have the opportunity to lick his wounds; Paul is all out of time.

All these seeming random events have one common thread, a mind that never sleeps, he neither forgives nor forgets. He is the most dangerous man on Albert Square: Dirty Den.

Ever since he reemerged on the Square as a latterday Lazarus, he had two goals in mind: protect his family, and get back the Vic.

Phil.s on the run, thanks to Den. Andy.s unfinished business, a thorn in his side no doubt, but not in his league. Den drops a shilling on Andy. The Old Bill sets up shop on the Square, and pinches Paul before the drug deal ever goes down.

Paul meets his maker, an unintended consequence of Den.s schemes, not even an afterthought.

Den informs Alfie on Christmas Eve that he now owns the Vic, and he wants him, Spencer and Nana out of the Vic immediately. Meanwhile, over at the Vic, Den arranges a New Year.s party, while Chrissie entertains the punters wearing a dress that leaves nothing to the imagination. Chrissie is a sharp, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners girl who has seen it all, especially where her roving, randy reptile of a husband is concerned.

The word love will never pass her lips, but actions speaking louder than words, don.t count either Den or Chrissie out. The rumble of the elevated train is all but lost in a stiff wind that rolls down the Square, reminding revellers and stall managers alike that a change of time is as much a state of mind as a jumble of tumbling days.

Den got what he wished for: he, Chrissie, Vicki, Sharon and Dennis are all at the Vic. His family.s finally home, all that.s missing is a traditional Christmas Day dinner. Once again that old cliché . be careful what you wish for . has rained all over Den.s homecoming.

Then all hell breaks lose at Chez Watts. Sharon and Dennis declare their love and plan to go to New York. Zoe is an emotional mess for apparently losing Dennis to Sharon, his step-sister, albeit not by blood. Den concocts a plan to break up the couple by imploring Zoe to make up a story that she.s pregnant with Dennis.s child, and that a baby is something Sharon can.t give the love of her life.

Sharon.s had enough, and gives up Dennis, instead goes to New York with Vicki. Den.s happy family is a total cock-up. He can have his cake, but can.t eat it.

The rest of the Square must fend for themselves. Den cancelled their Christmas. Alfie and Spencer spend the night in Ian.s fish & chips truck, and a bewildered Nana with the Slaters. Sam spends the night in misery at Minty.s. Alfie is contemplating to make his exit, and Spencer urges him to not run away. Alfie will be damned if he doesn.t give them the Christmas dinner he promised, talking Ian into opening his home and heart for all the castaways, including Sam and Minty, who works with Gary at the Arches. Jane turns up for the party; she and Ian are going to spend the night together.

I wonder if Den alone in the Vic can hear the Square.s celebration with its rebuke of selfishness and lies. And Paul Trueman is a dead man walking.

I never saw Den.s master scheme coming. Only he could pul off such a coup on Chrtistmas Eve.

These EastEnders holiday episodes go down in the book as truly memorable. They are the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, virtue and duty, twin flames devouring love and desire. She walks Bridge Street taking orders, keeping up a brave front.

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