Tag Archives: Christmas stories

Out Of Time, Out Of Place

Photo taken in our sitting room yesterday morning, January 11th…

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The last light went out in the last bedroom. The house was silent.

In the sitting-room the Crib Dwellers woke and stretched. The First Wise Man looked idly around the room, then his mouth opened in horror.

“Jesus Mary and Joseph!” he gasped.

“Yes?” said Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

“No, not you,” said the First Wise Man. “It’s just an expression of surprise.”

“Is it indeed?” said Mary icily.

“Never mind that,” said the Second Wise Man. “Look around.” They all did so.

The room was empty.

Well, not empty. It still had furniture, a TV, and clutter, but the massive tree that had dominated the room for almost a month was gone. So too had its lights and baubles, so too had the tinsel, so too had the plastic mistletoe pinned above the door, a tribute to the classiness of the house’s owners.

It was as if Christmas had never happened.

“Sweet Mother of God,” breathed Mary, then stopped in confusion.

“See?” said the First Wise Man. “It’s what comes from years living in an Irish household.”

“But this is terrible,” said Jesus. “We’ve missed the Attic Trip.”

The Attic Trip was an annual event. Every year the Christmas paraphernalia was gathered from around the house and stuffed into a huge plastic bag, then carried up a stepladder and put into the attic. Every year something got left behind, and spent the next eleven months sitting in incongruous isolation like a camel in the Antarctic.

This year it looked as if it would be the turn of the Crib Dwellers to be the house’s version of the unicorns missing the Ark.

“Are we sure?” asked Jesus. “Maybe they’ve just taken down the tree.”

“I’ll check the Snowmen,” said Joseph.

He ran to the other end of the room. The slow tread of his return spoke more eloquently than he could.

Safely packed away

“They’re gone,” he mumbled.

Jesus shook his head sadly.”It says a lot about the status of religion in this household,” he said, “when they remember to pack that collection of home-made weirdos while we’re treated like Kevin from Home Alone.”

“Maybe there’ll be a second Attic Trip,” said the Third Wise Man.

“There won’t,” said the Second Wise Man. “The Attic Trip is strictly a once-a-year event, like your birthday, or, um, er -”

“Christmas?” suggested Mary helpfully.

“Exactly,” said the Second Wise Man. “So we’re stuck here.”

“We could make it to the attic ourselves.” said the First Wise Man. “I saw a film once where some toys moved house after they got left behind.”

Mary sighed. “In the first place,” she said, “that film was not a documentary. In the second place, we would literally have to move house, bringing the whole stable with us. Sooner or later the dim-wits that live here are going to notice it’s still here, and even they will think it a bit odd if we’re not in it when they do.”

“But I want to go back to the attic,” said the Third Wise Man plaintively. “It’s our home.”

That was true. While they had to spend December downstairs, for the rest of the year the Crib Dwellers lived contentedly in the attic among the discard of the now-grown family. They had friends – the complete set of Harry Potter action figures, two Bratz dolls and a bobble-head David Beckham. Joseph was building a plant garden in an old Croc. Jesus played Snake on a Nokia phone. Mary was working her way, turning each huge page one at a time, through the Twilight books.

Now they stared gloomily around the sitting-room. There was very little there that was going to entertain them, unless they tried getting tunes out of blowing across the top of empty wine bottles.

Morning came, their time for sleep, so in their uneasy slumber they didn’t hear the phone ring. All they knew was that their house was suddenly lifted, like Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz. They were stuffed into a smaller than usual plastic bag.

“They’re throwing us out!” whispered Joseph.

They were carried, then heard the scrape of the step-ladder on the bathroom floor, then felt themselves lifted, swung and dropped. They scrambled to the mouth of the bag and looked out.

They were in the attic. Impossible as it seemed, like Halley’s Comet appearing back into view because it had forgotten something, there had been a second Attic Trip.

“What happened?” asked the Third Wise Man.

“I heard the woman yelling in panic at the man,” said Mary. “Apparently her cousin had rung from the UK and announced he was coming to stay for a few days.”

“What?” said the First Wise Man. “No-one ever comes to stay.”

“Looking at the empty wine bottles, that’s no surprise,” said the Second Wise Man.

“Well, he is,” said Mary.

Jesus smiled. “It’s a Christmas miracle,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Things Go Better

This advert is on a billboard near where we live:

The Original taste? I never knew that…

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…. the Third Wise Man approached. “I bring you Coke,” he said.

The other two stared at him. “I thought you were bringing myrrh,” said the First Wise Man.

“Couldn’t get it,” said the Third Wise Man. “None of the shops had ever heard of it.”

Joseph took the bottle from him. “What are we supposed to do with it?” he asked.

“If he needs to be winded,” said the Third Wise Man, “give him some of this first. You have no idea how loudly it will make him burp.”

-oo0oo-

…. Mary put her hands over her ears. “Please make him stop,” she said.

The Little Drummer Boy sat on a stool, his drum in front of him. Arranged around it were two upturned earthenware pots, the cow’s milking-bucket and, serving as the world’s first cymbals, the hub-caps from a chariot parked ouside the inn.

The Little Drummer Boy had drunk fourteen Cokes, and was now enthusiastically beating out the drum solo from Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick.

-oo0oo-

…. Samson, stripped to the waist, pushed against the pillars, biceps bulging. After a while he stopped, and took a drink of Coke.

One of the onlooking Philistine women turned to another. “See you tomorrow?”

Her friend nodded. “Eleven Thirty,” she said.

-oo0oo-

— the shepherds were awe-struck.

A long convoy of ox-and-carts was snaking slowly along the winding road at the bottom of their hill, each cart laden with crates. A heavenly choir had begun to sing “holidays are comin'”, over and over again. An Angel of the Lord had appeared unto them.

“I bring glad tidings of great joy,” said the Angel, “and also this.”

He put a crate of Coke in front of them.

“This is great,” said the First Shepherd. “we’ll be rightly sloshed after drinking all that.”

“Oh, it’s not alcoholic,” said the Angel, and vanished.

The shepherds gazed at one another. The First Shepherd shrugged.

“We’ll use it to wash the sheep,” he said.

-oo0oo-

…. he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then jumped back with a jerk,
for the bottle of Coke he had placed in each sock
had compelled them to crash to the ground like a rock.
The floor was all covered with glass and with bubbles
and the air smelled like diesel, to add to my troubles.
And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
“I’d clean it up quick, that stuff’s sticky as shite.”

 

 

 

 

It’s A Surprise

“It’s called what?”

“Secret Santa,” said Adam.

“Why is it called that?” asked Eve.

“Well,” said Adam. “because it’s a secret.”

“And Santa?”

“I’m not sure, really” admitted Adam, “though whenever I hear the word I get an image in my head of a man with a beard, giving you stuff.”

“God, you mean,” said Eve.

“Not quite,” said Adam doubtfully. “Anyway, do you want to do it?”

“Guess so,” said Eve. “How does it work?”

“Well, you draw a name out of a hat -”

“What’s a hat?” asked Eve.

“It’s something you wear on cold days,” said Adam.

“What are cold days?” asked Eve.

Adam sighed. The perfection of the Garden of Eden very occasionally had its drawbacks.

“Forget that part,” said Adam, holding out one closed fist. “You can draw the name out of my hand.”

He opened the fist and Eve looked into his palm. “There’s only one piece of paper,” she said.

“Well, of course,” said Adam. “You can’t get yourself.”

Eve picked up the paper and opened it. “It’s you,” she said.

“You’re not supposed to tell,” said Adam. Eve glared at him. “This is a stupid idea,” she said.

“It’s tradition,” said Adam.

“Tradition?” snorted Eve. “This is year nought.”

“Well, traditions have to start somewhere,” said Adam. He picked up another piece of paper, and studied the name written there.

“Why, honey, whoever did you get?” asked Eve sweetly. Adam ignored her. “Meet you back here in an hour,” he said.

They met an hour later. “You go first,” said Eve, excitedly.

Adam handed her a fig-leaf.

“Seriously?” she said. “in a garden that has absolutely everything, including roses, diamonds, adorable kittens, and everything that you would need to build an iPhone 8, and I don’t even know what that last thing is, I just know that I want one, you decided to get me a leaf?” She sat it on the top of her head. “Perhaps I could wear it as a hat,” she said scornfully.

“I’m sorry,” said Adam. “For some reason I thought you’d really want it.”

Eve raised her eyes to heaven. “Look what I got you,” she said, handing him an apple. “It’s the only one of its kind.”

“Oh, wow.” said Adam, impressed. “You shouldn’t have.”

“You’re not wrong there,” muttered God, looking down unnoticed from above.

Adam and Eve sat in silence for a few moments. Then Eve spoke. “It’s strange,” she said, “but I suddenly feel that this fig-leaf is the best present anyone’s ever been given, ever.”

“Me too,” said Adam, surprised. “In fact, will you get me one for Christmas?”

 

Of Things That May Be

*

… that Scrooge saw in the knocker, without it’s undergoing any immediate process of change – not a knocker, but Marley’s face .

“Scroooooge,” moaned the apparition.

Scrooge stared at it in horror, then did what most of us would have done.

He ran.

Marley’s mouthed dropped open in astonishment, which when you’re Jacob Marley isn’t just a turn of phrase. He went back into Scrooge’s house, and the other three looked at him.

“Where is he?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“He ran off,” said Marley.

The Ghost of Christmas Present laughed. He had a big, uproarious laugh, the kind that is usually accompanied by a hearty slap on your back just as you are taking a mouthful of beer.

His laugh drove the others mad.

“So he ran off, did he?” he boomed. “Good for him.”

“Where did he go?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

One bony hand appeared from the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come’s robe, and a long finger pointed.

“I think he’s saying he went to the pub,” said Marley. “Honestly, I wish he’d learn to speak, it’s like trying to have a conversation with Lassie.”

“What’ll we do?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“We’d better find him,” said Marley. He hurled his chain around his neck like a scarf, and headed towards the door.

“Hang on,” said the Ghost of Christmas Present, “isn’t the chain supposed to be heavy?”

“It’s the ghost of a chain,” said Marley. “How heavy can it be?”

They headed off on an unintended Christmas pub crawl. Scrooge wasn’t in the King’s Head, the Queen’s Arms or the Prince’s Bowel. He wasn’t in the Cat and Canary, The Fox and Hound or the Baboon and Hamster. In each pub they visited, the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkled good cheer upon the occupants, which in most cases wasn’t necessary, though it did stop three bar brawls and one drunken rendition of Mistletoe and Wine.

They eventually found Scrooge in the Poor and Workhouses, where he was sitting at the bar and warning the innkeeper, repeatedly, about the hallucinogenic properties of undigested beef.  The innkeeper turned away from him in relief when he heard new customers approaching, though he blanched a little when he saw them.

“Ah, fancy dress,” he said. He looked at the Ghost of Christmas Present, who seemed to be wearing two small children as shoes. “Er, very festive,” he went on.

“We’ll have four pints of your best ale,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“Four pints of Thunderbelch coming right up,” said the Innkeeper. “Possibly literally, later,” he muttered.

“How do you know what we will have?” Marley asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“Yes, well I looked back to what we wanted when we came in, then guessed that we’ll still want it now. It’s not rocket-science.”

“What’s rocket-science?”

“Don’t ask me,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past. “It’s something in the future.”

They went over to Scrooge. “Ah, there you are,” boomed the Ghost of Christmas Present, laughing uproariously and thumping him merrily on the back.

“Please,” whimpered Scrooge, after he had wiped the beer off his face, “leave me alone.”

“Hoy,” said the innkeeper, picking up the cudgel that he kept under the counter in case customers asked for credit, “are you harassing this gentleman?”

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come looked at him and pointed a ghostly finger towards the cellar. “Er, I think I’ll just go down and check the barrels,” said the innkeeper.

“Come, Scrooge,” said Marley. They lifted him off his bar-stool. Visions appeared at the end of the bar – men singing in lighthouses, a girl breaking off an engagement, a crutch propped up in a corner, carefully preserved. They were moving toward the visions when suddenly they heard a voice.

“Leave him alone,” said Bob Cratchit, walking across the pub toward them.

Scrooge and the others stared at him in amazement. “Bob?” said Scrooge, “you’d stand up for me?”

“Christmas Day, Mr Scrooge,” said Bob simply. “Christmas Day.”

Scrooge stared at him for a long time, then defiantly sat back on his stool. “If you all don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like this man to join me in a bowl of steaming bishop.”

The Spirits turned to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, who seemed, as far as they could tell, to be thinking. Eventually he nodded, and the five of them left. Bob sat down beside Scrooge, who called for the innkeeper.

At the end of the bar, the crutch slowly faded away.

But Inside It’s Quite Delightful

Sidey‘s Weekend Theme is “decorate”….

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The Christmas tree had arrived tightly tied and even more tightly shrink-wrapped so getting it in had been no problem. It was now two weeks later and, just as the clothes that you bring on holiday expand until they will not fit into the suitcase for the trip home, the tree had stretched its limbs and was now far too wide for them to get it back out. They couldn’t get it up the spiral steps and in any case it would never fit through the hatch at the top.

There was no way of getting the tree out of the submarine.

The idea of having a Christmas tree on the USS Regardless (there’s been a documentary, Carry On Regardless, made about it) came from Seaman Webb, a new and young recruit whose love of the sea was bettered only by his love of all things Christmas. If’d he’d had his way, snorted Petty Officer Crowe, he’d have had lights all over the outside of the hull and Santa climbing the conning tower on a ladder. The word Petty described Officer Crowe fairly well.

Commander Craig, always anxious to improve crew morale, had agreed to Webb’s request, and so for a fortnight there had been tinsel draped over every computer, fake snow in the galley and some badly placed holly in the toilet.

Craig had drawn the line at mistletoe. Sailors get enough slagging as it is.

All in all the decorations had been a success, apart from the time that the submarine had banked sideways to avoid an outcrop of rock causing a load of balls, in the polite sense of that phrase, to fall from the tree and bounce noisily about the floors, and the time that Webb, in an attempt to keep the pine needles moist, had sprayed the tree lightly with water from an after-shave bottle while the lights were plugged in and give a short electric shock to every crew member standing on the metal floor, as well as causing a glitch on every screen which made them seem to show that the sub was about to be attacked by a giant mackerel.

But now Christmas was over, the decorations had come down and all that remained was the indisposable tree. There may be those of you thinking that all they had to do was saw it up, but they did not in fact have a saw, since in a small tin tube made entirely of metal there is surprisingly little use for one. The tree remained for a week after the rest of the decorations, getting in the way and causing the crunch of underfoot pine-needles to echo eerily around the enclosed space. Eventually Craig sighed.

“Put in into a torpedo-tube,” he said.

The tree was loaded base first into the tube in a spray of needles and snapping twigs. It needed to be forced right to the end of the tube and Commander Craig was horrified to find Webb doing this with an actual torpedo. Eventually the tube was loaded, the button was pressed and the tree sped through the sea. With no target there was nothing stop it and eventually it bounced at speed up a beach, causing a flock to cormorants to flee in a flurry of wings and involuntary guano. It hit and demolished a statue (leaving just two vast and trunkless legs of stone) and eventually slammed into another statue against which it propped itself, its base sinking into the soil.

Mother Nature intends all things to grow, so roots eventually snaked from the bottom of the tree, the pine needles returned and the tree once again stood proud and alive.

And that is why there is a Christmas Tree on Easter Island.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

It is one of the famous of all images of the First World War – the football match played between the Germans and the English on Christmas Day 1914. There has never, however, been a report on the actual game.
Until now.

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No-one knows who did it first, but the Germans sent sauerkraut to the English, who sent mince pies in the opposite direction. After both sides had feasted Oberleutnant Meier from the German side produced one of those old, leaden-grey, leaden-weighted leather footballs and proposed a football match. English leader Major Smythe (a stereotype in twirly-moustaches) accepted, chose an eleven and appointed himself as captain, effectively demoting himself by one rank. Two goals were marked out by sticking four rifles bayonet-first into the field of mud. An old tin-mug was taken from a backpack and was christened the World Cup.

There was then a discussion as to who would referee. Smythe proposed an Irishman, Paddy, from among his own ranks. German scepticism about this was countered by Smythe on the basis that Ireland was neutral in the war and that therefore Paddy, despite the contradictory evidence that he had a rifle and had until this morning been firing it out of the English trenches at the Germans, must logically be neutral too. Throwing logic at the Germans was a mean trick, they had no real answer to it, so they agreed. This turned out to be a wise choice.

The game kicked off and one of the Germans toed the ball down the field towards Smythe, who controlled it with his chest.

The referee awarded a free-kick for handball.

“But why, Paddy?” blustered Smythe.

“Because my name is Maurice,” said the referee. “You’ve never bothered your arse to find that out, you’ve been calling me Paddy for months simply because I’m Irish, and I’m bloody sick of it.”

“Well, that’s a bit unfair,” said Smythe. He turned to Sergeant McDonald, his team’s Centre-Half. “Isn’t it, Jock?”

The game continued on a pitch that got muddier and muddier with a ball that got heavier and heavier. The two sets of spectators shouted, cheered, sang withering songs at each other (“no World Wars and no World Cups, doo-dah, doo-dah”) and slated the referee (“who’s the bastard in the uniform?”).

Just before half-time the ball arrived at height into the English penalty-box and a young German, Schmidt, unwisely met it with his head. This caused him to fall backwards unconscious, the lace of the football leaving a mark like the stitches on Frankenstein’s monster’s head, but the ball rebounded into the English goal.

The German fans went wild and celebrated, as Pathé News footage from the time suggests was customary, by throwing their hats in the air. The upshot of this was that a shower of tin helmets dropped onto a collection of heads that weren’t wearing tin helmets and Maurice had to play four minutes of injury-time while the crowd got treatment.

The second-half was virtually one-way traffic as the English fought for an equaliser, but by sound defence, some great goalkeeping (their keeper, Müller, had played Water Polo for Germany in the 1912 Olympics) and sheer luck the Germans clung onto their lead.

There were only seconds remaining when the ball made its way out to the wing to young Private Higgins. Just four months earlier Higgins had been playing for Tranmere Rovers in League Division Three North and was the nearest thing to a real footballer that either side had. He had never before played on a pitch such as this, but sheer skill and grit carried him past tackle after tackle, the ball stuck to his foot as if it had been stuck to his foot. One boot came off and sat in the mud, and still he carried on down the wing. He vaulted over an attempted sliding tackle, an unwise move by the German defender concerned who continued to slide until his progress was squelchily halted by a recently-dug latrine.

Higgins reached the by-line, bent his foot around and under a football that now had the density of a black hole and somehow lifted it into the German penalty area, where Corporal Adams launched himself acrobatically and overhead-kicked it at unstoppable speed into the goal. The English team leapt in celebration and then rushed to help Adams, whose two legs were the only parts of him visible above the mud.

Seconds later Maurice blew the final whistle. The game had ended in a draw.

“We’ll decide it with a penalty shoot-out,” said Smythe promptly, believing that England, as the inventors of football, would be far better at penalties than anyone else. He had no way of knowing that evidence from years yet to come, quite a lot of evidence in fact, would not back up this theory.

It began well for them, though. Schmidt took the first penalty for Germany and, as the books always recommend, went for placement rather than power, side-footing the ball towards the corner of the goal.

It stopped three feet short.

Adams was first up for England. Having seen the previous attempt he went for sheer power, putting all the might of his seventeen stones and his hob-nailed size-16 regulation army boot behind the ball. It cleared the goalkeeper by about five feet and sped over the heads of the crowd, over the trenches and into a minefield, where it exploded.

“Well, that’s the end of that,” said Müller. “We’ve only got one ball.”

“So we’ve heard,” said Adams. ”In fact, we’ve got a song about it.”

************

It was two hours later. A campfire had been lit by setting fire to a pot of porridge (it smouldered for days afterwards). Someone had produced a guitar. The Germans were teaching the English the German words to Silent Night.

Meier and Smythe sat side by side, taking it in turns to drink what they refereed to as “Chateau Trench” (a mixture of diesel and the bromide that they put in soldiers’ tea) from the World Cup. Eventually Meier stood up to go. Smythe got to his feet too, holding out the mug.

“There’s still a mouthful left,” he said, “want to finish it?”

Their eyes met, eyes filled with mutual respect and deep, deep sadness.

“I’d better not,” said Meier quietly. “I have to work in the morning.”

He’s Leaving Home

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “A Christmas Story”. I do a story each Christmas Day (and am currently struggling my way through this year’s), but here is a short one…

He had never seen his Dad so nervous, fussing over him as he prepared to leave.
“Make sure to wrap up warm,” said Dad.
“Dad, it’s near the equator down there,” he said, “I won’t even need a coat.”
“No, I suppose not,” said Dad. “It’s just because it’s December, I wasn’t really thinking. What are you going to do for money?”
“Oh, I’ll find a job,” he said. “Some sort of trade, perhaps.”
“And, er, about girls…” began Dad.
He smiled. His Dad knew pretty well everything about everything, except women. He was not alone among Dads in this. “Are you seriously going to give me the “birds and the bees” speech?”
Dad grinned too, his old, old face wrinkling as he did so. “I suppose you reckon you know it all. The younger generation always do.”
“Don’t worry, Dad,” he said. “I’ll behave myself.”
Dad smiled again. “That’s my boy,” he said.
They heard a blaring sound, like a fanfare of trumpets, or a taxi with a really tacky car-horn. “Guess I’d better be off, then,” he said.
They hugged, in the awkward way that men have.
“Look after your mother,” said Dad.
“Of course I will,” said Jesus. He shrunk to the size of a tiny baby, yet with a look of infinite wisdom in his eyes, then vanished.
“Goodbye, Son,” said God softly. “Christmas won’t be the same here without you.”

Twaz the Night After…


Good old Tinceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay all about
Deep and crisp and even
He swore words like “poot” and “darn” and
even “sticks of fiddle”
When he saw to his delight
Rain began to pi-hid-le.
He saw snowmen melt away
In the local par-ark
Like those Nazis melted
in “The Raiders of the Lost Ark”
He went out and brought some bread
Milk and and sparkling water
Till today the shops had seemed
As far away as Mor-hor-dor.
He went to his local pub
Once he’d stocked his larder
Cos he’s hadn’t been outside
So he needed lager.
Well, Guinness really, but that rhymes,
And that seems to matter
When you write a post that’s
in Iambic penta-ma-hat-er.
A game was on the TV set,
Tottenham versus Villa
Lots of chances, lots of goals,
Really was a thriller.
Spurs’goals came through Van Der Vaart
Godsend to a blogger
Coz the jokes are far too much
I just didn’t boh-hoh-ther.
Though it still may freeze again
And the ice might harden
I’m just thrilled that that I have seen
Green grass in my garden.
Every day is one day more
Closer to the summer.
Never will we moan again
If it’s fairly duh-hell-er.

Pipe and Slippers

It was silent in the sitting-room apart from the ticking of the old grandfather clock that had stood there virtually since time itself began. The woman rocking gently in the rocking-chair by the fireplace looked up at the clock, put down her knitting and smiled. Her husband would be home from work soon.

He would be cranky, he would be chilled to the bone, and he would be very,very tired.

And with good reason. In the space of just one night he would have visited every child on the planet, distributing gifts. And if you think that’s tough, keep in mind that he’d have been shot at by jet-fighters as a UFO. He’d have had to swerve around that bloody flying snowman singing “Walking in the Air” in a high falsetto (his voice wasn’t surprising really, Santa himself always felt especially cold around the groinal area at that altitude, and he didn’t even have snowballs).

Worst of all he’d have been forcibly reminded yet again that if your preferred mode of transport is to ride on a sleigh behind eight reindeer travelling at terrifying speed, you’re going to end up spending a lot of time wiping shit off your face.

It had been a tough year. The news that Tiger Woods had feet of clay but other, firmer parts had meant that Santa had been left with four million copies of the “Tiger Woods PGA 2011” video game. Always a man able to spot a craze in its earliest days he’d had his elves make fifty million vuvuzelas, but then every sports venue on the planet had banned them. And even his staple stocking-filler, the game of Monopoly, had died in popularity, since in every house the winner would be turned on by the other players, who would refer to him as “a greedy, crooked money-grabbing developer bollocks”, even if the winner was the four-year old baby of the family.

But they had found replacements, just as they always had in the past. The invention of the X-Box Kinect, the fact that Take That had re-formed and released an album, the new “Mary Byrne” Barbie (essentially, Barbie in a Tesco uniform) meant that Santa had left with a selection of toys that would satisfy every child.

Mrs Claus put his dinner in the oven to heat (since they did live at the North Pole, their dinner was venison, but they managed to keep this very, very quiet) and moved his pipe and slippers nearer to the fire. She had already gone carefully through the TV schedules to make sure they didn’t end up watching one of those films that suggested that her husband didn’t exist, since they depressed him, or one of those ones where someone accidentally knocks him out and has to do his job for him, since they just made him snort in derision.

She still had occasional nightmares about the year when he sat staring in open-mouthed horror at Bad Santa. If you’re reading this, Billy Bob Thornton, well, that’s why you’ve got coal in your stocking ever since (I don’t just mean for Christmas, either, every morning when Billy Bob puts on his socks he finds coal in them).

She glanced again at the clock. Nearly time now. It wasn’t always easy being Mrs Claus. She’d abandoned her own career plans at be a Fairy Godmother to live with him in a place so miles from anywhere that there were no poor scullery-maids to help, and no pumpkins or mice to transform (she did once win the TransSiberia Sled Race with an entry she made from a Christmas pudding and four penguins, but that was just to prove to herself that she still could). Her husband’s job meant he travelled a lot. Some of the girl-elves were really hot. She had to lie to all her friends about what he worked at (she told them he sold timeshare in igloos). And although they’d been married and shared a bedroom for literally centuries now she still found something vaguely creepy about the fact that he could see her when she was sleeping, and knew when she was awake.

And any second now he’d fall in the front door, drop soot-covered clothing onto their white polar-bear skin rug, and slump grumpily onto the couch.  But she would bring those pipe and slippers, she’d listen sympathetically to his grumblings about narrow chimneys, the loudness of church-bells if they ring just as you happen to be passing at steeple level, and about how the traditional bottle of Guinness had been replaced in many houses this year by a glass of Lidl sherry.

And in time he’d calm down. He’d tell her of the smile that would spread across the face of some sleeping child as her arm reached around the doll she’d asked for. He’d tell her of the heartwarming letters from children asking him to make sure he gave them less and poorer children more this year. He’d grin as he related how he crept into the house of the person who wrote the Mr Blobby Christmas No 1 and filled his turkey with Marmite. Soon the first “ho, ho, ho” would escape from his lips, soon his little round belly would shake when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. Soon he’d be her own, wonderful man again.

Her husband brought joy all around the world. She loved him very much.

Bearing Gifts We Travel Afar

It was quiet in the stable.

Mary was still exhausted following the long journey and the travails of a child-birth conducted without even hot water and towels, which (as everyone who’s ever seen The Waltons knows) are the very minimum requirements at such an event. 

The shepherds had long fallen silent. There are only so many times you can make coo-ee noises at a baby. 

The Little Drummer Boy slouched moodily in the corner, a hole the size of a Josephly fist in the front of his drum. In fairness to Joseph, who was a real saint in so many ways, there is a limit to how long you can listen to a small boy with a new drum.

And this was the twelfth day. 

Suddenly they heard camels pulling up outside…

***************************************

….”Damascus!” snorted Melchior. “That’s where we ended up. Just because you had the map upside down.” 

“Ok, o-kay,” said Balthasar, in the tone of one who has heard that sentence many times over the past few days. “It’s a map of a desert, for God’s sake, it looked the same no matter which way I held it. Anyway, if you remember, I had to try and read the map because the original plan, which I believe was yours, didn’t quite go to, well, plan. Remind us again what that was?”

“Er, well,” said Melchior, suddenly a bit more defensively, “I was going to, er, follow the star.”

“Indeed,” said Balthasar, “THE star. It turns out, though, doesn’t it, that although the desert lacks many things, such as, for example, food, drink or a good services area, stars in its night sky are, in fact, quite plentiful.”

“Oh, shut up, the pair of you,” said Caspar (who’s reputation as the friendly one would haunt him through the ages, though no-one can figure out why). “The main thing is we’re here now. Mind you, we’re twelve days late, so unless it’s been the greatest birthday party of all time, it’s probably over now.”

And, so saying, he…

***************************************

…. pushed open the stable door.

“Gosh,” said Caspar, “everyone’s still here.”

“Must be a great party, eh?” said Balthasar, nudging the First Shepherd.

“It’s a bit quiet now,” said the First Shepherd. “Started well, though. A heavenly chorus, an Angel …”

“….music…” muttered the Little Drummer Boy.

“Well, don’t worry, we’ll liven it up again,” said Melchior.

“Great,” said the Second Shepherd. “Who are you?”

“We’re the Three Wise Men,” said Balthasar.

“Seriously?” said the Third Shepherd, who had overheard most of the conversation outside.

“Believe me,” whispered Caspar to him, “when you grow up in a tiny collection of tents in the middle of nowhere, standards are a little lower. Where we come from, anyone who can eat his kebab without skewering himself to the tent-pole through the back of his throat is a wise man.”

“Anyway,” said Melchior, “where’s the man of the hour?”

“Over here,” said Mary softly.

The three approached the manger, and stared in with the look of any single man the world over confronted by a baby, i.e., complete indifference. Eventually, to break the silence, Caspar looked at Mary, then at the baby. “He has his mother’s eyes,” he said.

Balthasar looked from Mary to the baby as well. “And her nose,” he added.

Melchior looked at Joseph, then at the baby, then at Joseph again, only harder. “Er, I’m sure he’ll grow up tall like his dad,” he said eventually.

The shepherds, who regarded themselves as experts on silences after the last twelve days, felt that this one was the deepest yet.

“Well,” said Caspar, just a little too brightly, “we’ve brought presents. Here, I bring you Gold.”

“Lick-arse,” muttered Melchior.

“I bring you Frankincense,” said Balthasar. “Nice scents for when you, well, need your botty changed.”

“I bring you Myrhh,” said Melchior.

“What’s Myrhh?” asked the First Shepherd.

Melchior looked at the side of the tin. “It says it’s oil, from the sap of the myrhh tree.”

“Huh,” said Balthasar, “someone did their Christmas shopping at a camel-stop forecourt.”

“They’re not great presents for a baby, are they?” said the Second Shepherd.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mary with a grin, “he seems quite happy with them.”

Everyone stared. Where the three gifts had been there was now a blue blanket, a baby’s soother and a small stuffed teddy-bear.

****************************************************

Baby Jesus sucked softly on his soother, cuddled Mr Fuzzy more tightly in his arms, snuggled deeper into his blanky, and smiled to himself.

At a wedding in Cana, many years from now, he would use his power to help others for the very first time, but today’s little miracle was just for him.

After all, it was his birthday.