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Like all kingly babies, I imagined myself to have a Divine Right; it was as if, by ruining Christmas for myself I could somehow ruin it for everyone else.If I weren't going to have gifts, treats and sweetmeats, I would dash them from the hands of all. Christmas Day dawned satisfyingly bleak and gloomy: there was no snow to make the dull suburban street look anything but bare and uninviting.I squatted in my tumbledown bed re-enacting Iwo Jima .002-scale.

There was something immensely satisfying about the juxtaposition between Land of the Pharaohs, and that upended shoebox of a room in Jericho.

You get the picture: I was a regulation scrofulous and disaffected student, in those happily miserable times before higher education became fixated by the ridiculous – and mercenary – idea that it was part of a career path, and that pliant youths should be forcibly moulded into productive units for use in the burgeoning economy.

All my dog-eared paperbacks were piled up in a nook, and the only decoration on the walls were the Rorschach blots of moist plaster and a tiny picture of Kleist, the German Romantic writer who killed himself in a suicide pact at the age of 34.

In this unprepossessing environment I smoked a water pipe made from a large mayonnaise jar and a length of shower fitment; when I drew on this, the .002-scale plastic soldiers I'd put inside the bong – US Marines as I recall – would roil and moil in a vortex of hash smoke and fluid, looking like the doomed in John Martin's apocalyptic painting The Fall of Babylon.

Will Self's latest novel, 'The Butt', is published by Bloomsbury The great stocking swindle by Kate Mosse Memories shift, crack, slide over time.

Some become more colourful, distinctive, significant. Others retain the power to sting, to undermine, to wound, even decades after.Because the truth was that Christmas had never been that great in my family of origin.To paraphrase Tolstoy, all unhappy families may be different, but there's something about festivals, celebrations and anniversaries that makes them behave in the same way: badly.When I swung open the front door there was my girlfriend, together with her parents and her younger brother.I had requested, then pleaded, and finally insisted that she leave me alone – I wanted no part of her cheerful, cosy, loving family.Early the following year Russian tanks would roll into Poland.