Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Christmas Thoughts

by Dawn Knox

mulled wine

Is she going to buy me something? 

She didn’t last year but we’ve seen more of each other during the last few months and become closer. 

Suppose she buys me something and I don’t have anything for her? 

I’ll buy a gift for her. 

But suppose she doesn’t buy me anything and I give her a present? 

She’ll be embarrassed and I’ll feel awkward. 

Which is worse? 

If I buy for her and she doesn’t buy for me? 

Or the other way around? 

It’ll be awkward whatever happens. 

I thought this was supposed to be a joyous time of year?  

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Tallest Girl on the English Stage

by  Robin Wrigley,

gin and tonic


Christmas week at school was always the most exciting not the least the thought of being home with our families but also the knowledge that we were halfway through the period of short days and dark mornings.
       In that week was the excitement of the annual cross-country run which every boy with two legs was obliged to enter and on the last night the Christmas pantomime. For me the run was simply something one endured. Not being particularly good at distance running and being the kind of boy who felt that if I couldn’t win there was little point exhausting one’s self when having fun mucking around with the tail-enders was available.
     The ‘panto’ was different thing altogether and I and several other boys coached by Mr Mays one of the three house masters, spent many a long evening learning lines and painting the flats for the show. Mrs Clarke the matron also helped in the advice and sewing of various costumes and make-up.
     Mr Mays always provided the script and then everyone in the Drama Group spent time editing it to be topical for our school, in particular lines which would poke fun of various teachers and staff. These lines would always bring the house down, our headmaster Mr G.A.F.Clarke naturally nicknamed ‘Gaffer’ and no relation to matron, came in for considerable ‘Mick-taking’ as did the youngest housemaster Mr.Basil Smith Bart.
     For the group that last afternoon was a complete buzz of activity. Getting the scenery in place; swotting on lines and eventually make up and then dressing into our costumes. Charlie Woollard and I were cast as the ‘ugly sisters’
     First on stage was Ronald Blick cast as the Fairy Godmother who acted as narrator in between scenes. Poor lad, when the whole show was over he discovered the lipstick kindly donated by matron was the ‘kiss-proof’ type which no amount of rubbing would remove it. The next day he was forced to travel home with these lovely bright red lips and take enormous of amounts of ribbing that morning at breakfast, particularly from the ‘first-years.’
     The opening scene was designed to set the mood of the audience and ensure that everyone was in for an evening of belly laughs. It did not fail. It was a beach scene and Charlie and I would enter from stage left wearing bikinis. The pair of us was pretty skinny and being dressed in fairly skimpy bikinis did much to emphasise this. No doubt we looked more like camp entertainers in a prisoner of war camp than a school panto. The audience were delighted and the laughter and applause almost shattered the windows. I think we both found it quite difficult not to react to our reception and keep a straight face.
     But the next couple of steps we made are what really brought the house down and very nearly stopped the entire show. Charlie accidentally stepped on a drawing-pin that sent him howling and clutching his foot nearly knocking over the nearest scenery flat.
     The house loved it mistakenly thinking it was all part of the show. But just like true professionals we quickly recovered. The offending tack was removed from Charlie’s heel a quick wipe with a hankie and we were back on to the script and the audience were totally ignorant of the mishap.
 It was my part in that last pantomime before I left school that caused the Deputy Head to write in my final report later that summer, ‘The tallest girl on the English stage?’ He followed it up by dubbing me ‘A charming flâneur’ which sent me rushing to the library and a dictionary. Mr Boyd-Roberts knew a thing or two.

Monday, 9 December 2019

They Want

by Hannah Retallick


Dave wants turkey breasts. Carl wants chicken thighs. Jane wants carrots. Steve wants parsnips. Dave wants napkins. Carl wants crackers. Jane wants mince pies. Steve wants pudding. Dave wants bells. Carl wants whistles. Jane wants music. Steve wants silence. Dave wants Queen’s Speech. Carl wants Monopoly. Jane wants talking. Steve wants tele. Dave wants. Carl wants. Jane wants. Steve wants. Dave wa, Carl wa, Jane wa. Steve wa. Dave, Carl, Jane, Steve. Dave Carl Jane Steve. DaveCarlJaneSteve. Davecarljanesteve. Dacajast.
Will my family ever shut up? I step onto the mountain of discarded wrapping paper, sticking to scrunched up Sellotape, and raise my glass of Baileys high. They keep talking. Cough cough. They keep grumbling. Cough cough. Oh, for goodness sake!
This’ll show 'em: ‘Good King Wenceslas la la. See amid the la la la. Hark the Herald la la la la. Oh, come all ye la la. Deck the halls with la la la la. Away in a la la. Silent night la la la la. Joy to world LA LAAA LAAAAA LAAAAAAA!
They look at me like I’m an idiot.
‘It’s my turn,’ I say.

About the author
Hannah Retallick is a twenty-five-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She is working on her second novel and writes short stories and a blog. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, and the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

A Christmas Present

by Phyllis Souza


After coming home from Mid-night Mass, remembering fifty years earlier, Betty dressed herself in a long flannel nightgown.

Crimson lingerie, sheer as a veil. A neckline that plunged.  Her husband had given her a Christmas present.

"Sweet Pea, go try it on," Harold said. "Beautiful isn't it. He smiled, showing the slight space between his front teeth.

"I'll wait. You don't mind... do you?" Betty asked.

"Don't you like it? The saleslady said I could take it back. Exchange it for something else. A purse, maybe." Betty could see the sad expression in his pale blue eyes. She knew that he knew how she felt. He deserved better.

Betty didn't love Harold. Wanted to. She prayed to the Virgin Mary to make her love him. 
She couldn't and wouldn't ever wear the crimson nightgown. 

Later that night, after putting on her flannel gown, Betty crawled onto her side of the bed. And Harold knelt and prayed next to his. Then, he got under the duvet and snuggled close to her.

Pretending to be fast asleep, she sighed.

Rolling over, facing the wall, Harold whispered, "Goodnight, Sweet Pea. It's okay that you don't like it. I'll return it."

"Thank you, Harold. I'm so sorry," Betty softly said.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

The Palace of Dreams

by David Gower

a small gin but see also the cocktails listed in the story

The builders had been working a long shift in their effort to avoid penalty clauses. Bad weather, sickness and unforeseen structural problems had contributed to delay and the deadline for completion drew ever nearer. Everyone, other than Tom, had left the Palace of Dreams for the beginning of the Christmas break. 

This derelict picture palace could wait until they returned after the holiday to complete the transformation into a bingo hall. The 1960s meant progress and that was evidenced by sweeping away the old in favour of the new. Soon clouds of cigarette smoke would fill the auditorium again and bodies would hunch over bingo cards in the race to shout ‘House’ before anybody else. 

As he packed his tools he realised he had left his Screwdriver on the bar counter.  The bar area felt cold – colder than even a winter day. He could see his quarry amid the detritus of glasses and empty bottles. The sign San Francisco Bar hung by a thread. This was all that remained apart from photographs of stars from the past hung on the walls. As his hand reached for the missing tool a woman’s voice behind him said; ‘Welcome to our Christmas party’. It had a warm and gentle quality that went some way to dull the shock. He was sure he had been alone. As he turned the woman before him was resplendent in a vermillion, satin evening gown slashed dramatically and cut on the bias to emphasise curves yet respect decency. A spectacular sight indeed.

‘Christmas party? Here? What…?’ His words died as her cold fingers touched his lips to quiet him.
‘Do you recognise me? I’m Mary. You can see me in the picture behind the bar.’

The picture behind the bar showed the woman in the same dress she wore now. The caption read Mary Pickford. The dress imprinted the phrase Bloody Mary in his thoughts.

Her voice continued ‘It is never a party until After Eight, I do so hope you agree.’

‘I agree, though some younger people might think it a bit Old Fashioned.’ ‘Time is an abstract concept here. We are in a sense immortal. As long as those alive remember us is some way we have life. Our pictures give us life. More than most other mortals can wish for. Don’t be alarmed. You are quite safe and in a sense you have asked to be here with us.’

‘Asked to be here? I don’t know what you mean.’

Mary smiled knowingly. ‘All of us here have seen you in your favourite seat when the Palace was showing our films. We know you enjoyed them and that is why we make ourselves visible to you now at our party. How rude. I should introduce you to our guests and tell you something about how they came to be – how can I describe it –frozen in time. Our costumes, in a sense, represent our most memorable roles. I wore this dress at a Manhattan soiree in a film. You must be hungry after your work, would you like a Jammie Dodger or a Garibaldi? Jack the barman makes them so well.’

By now the bar was filled with characters from the silver screen. Mary pointed to a soldier still in battledress and whose face was smeared with black and green face paint. For all the world he could have been in the Asian jungle moments earlier. 

Mary continued ‘That’s Jack’s Godfather who was killed by a Hand Grenade thrown into the bedroom when he was enjoying Hanky Panky with Juicy Lucy. Delicacy prevents me going into unnecessary detail. He says he would rather that than suffer the after effects of Agent Orange or poison from a Rusty Nail in the jungle. Penicillin was hard to come by. We  never showed such things in the days of the Hays Commission. One foot on the floor in the love scenes.’  

Standing at the end of the bar was a tall, moustachioed man in a dark blue military style jacket with gold braid. He was engaged in an unheard discussion with a strange figure who had a very odd skin tone, reminiscent of a Zombie in an Old Cuban scenario. 

‘That is Alexander, our White Russian. He came to grief when he was hit by a Snowball and fell out of a Sidecar. They found him lying in the road, all Blood and Sand. The gentleman he is talking to responded very well to a Corpse Reviver. He is quite adjusted to life with us now.’

Tom was caught between fascination at the spectacle in front of him and a desire to escape to some place where sanity and normality reigned. 

His host continued ‘Here comes Father Edgar. Such a sad story. What was that film now? He was doing good works in South America and as he rode his Mexican Mule it suffered a Bee Sting.  That was the Missionary’s Downfall. His saddle broke. They found him with a Gimlet in his hand. He had died in the sun trying to fix his girth strap. The heatstroke made him take off his clothes so in addition to misfortune he was Naked and Famous in the clerical press.‘

‘Sad. Very sad.’ Tom replied but was unsure what he should say other than how sad it was. 

‘Here come Jane and Jean, look out for action.’ They are always such fun at our gatherings. Jean always likes the Last Word. They had an argument last year as to what was nicer, an English Garden or a Blue Lagoon.’ 

Turning, he saw Jean Harlow, her platinum blonde hair and startling white floor length gown made her every inch the White Lady

‘They always argue over the best looking males at this party and I am sure you will be the subject of their squabbling this time.’ Mary laughed as she spoke.

Jane, her companion, was Jane Russell famed for her links to Aviator Howard Hughes. He had made her a Paper Plane as a souvenir of their first meeting. Then they had gone to the Casino to meet Scott Fitzgerald.  The chatter fascinated him. It was such a Cosmopolitan crowd.

‘Should you be here mate? Building is closed. Everyone should be somewhere safe.’ A night watchman stood in the doorway and the spell was broken. He was in an empty bar again.. ‘You should go ‘ome. Are you all right, guv? What’s your name? Let me get you some fresh air.’ 

‘Tom. Tom Collins’ answered the builder.

George, the night watchman guided Tom to the main entrance. The night was Dark and Stormy as the builder turned to thank the man. Only an empty foyer presented itself. By the box office a plaque read In Memory of George Potter killed by enemy action 1942. He saved many lives.

It was time to go home and lie Between the Sheets of his Bramble Road house. Then a Christmas watching black and white films. A gangster B film set in the Bronx or Southside or a ghost story?

In Tom’s hand was the picture of Mary Pickford. A memento from the Palace of Dreams.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Two Christmas Trees

by Sheila Barclay

Mulled Wine

Spruce fir tree
dark glossy green
stands stately in the forest scene,
dreaming of what might have been.
Snowy tips glisten in the starry night,
silver dollar moon bestowing winter light.
A Frosty breeze blows through the sky, and all the branches gently sigh.
They whisper, they murmur, then shake the snow free; a snowstorm of white in the cold arctic breeze.
Their roots sleep on
 frozen but still alive,
dreaming of new life
when Spring arrives

Spruce fir tree
drops his resin tears:
in this warm house he is so alone,
and sadly sobs for his lost forest home.
His roots cruelly chopped, his branches droop low,
needles heavy with baubles, flashing fairy lights aglow.
Small children adore his beauty so much, and smile as their fingers gently touch,
sweet faces reflected in the bright hanging balls that twirl and dance as more pine needles fall
Oh tinselled tawdriness
of this sad Christmas tree
who dreams of the forest
and what might have been

Thursday, 5 December 2019

An Apple for Christmas

by Penny Rogeers

 glass of milk and two ginger biscuits

Father Christmas was worried. It was obvious to him that Cupid was expecting. She looked at him with her beautiful eyes and sort of grunted.  Her expanding tummy told him that there was no way she could fit into the sleigh harness while her demeanour told him she just was not up to the exhausting journey that lay ahead for the whole team. He had three weeks to go before they set off to make sure every child had the right present at the right time.
            He went indoors, scratching his head as he always did when he had a problem. Mother Christmas poured him a cup of tea ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
            ‘Cupid’s pregnant. I thought that old whatsit Rudolph was looking even more smug than usual, now I know why. There’s no way she can work on Christmas Eve, I reckon the calf’ll arrive about then. That means I’m one short for the sleigh.’ He took a sip of the scalding tea. ‘It’ll be lovely to have a calf, they’re so pretty, but now of all times.’ He gave up scratching his head and stroked his beard instead.  ‘I could talk to the International Space Station, see if they can help. They were very good a few years ago when one of the runners on the sleigh came loose. That nice man Tim Peake fixed it in a jiffy.’
            His wife refilled his cup. ‘Well you can ask, but I don’t expect that their orbit is flexible enough to deliver a plush thylacine to Tasmania, an Xbox to Cape Town and a Nerf Gun to Blackpool without anyone knowing, all within the space of three hours.’
            Father Christmas finished his cup of tea and went out to the workshop. He needed a reindeer badly, and not just any reindeer, one that was able to fit in with the team and do exactly what was needed without damaging property, frightening children or causing road traffic accidents simultaneously in six continents. He rang a few people; contacts in Lapland, Siberia and Harrods but no one had anything close to what he needed.
            Three hours later he went back into the house to see what was for dinner. It was strangely silent, and worryingly there was no aroma of cooking wafting around. All was quiet, then he heard a series of clicks, whirrs and thuds from his wife’s workroom. Too intrigued to even consider scratching his head, Father Christmas opened the workroom door.  He was met by a reindeer.
            ‘What IS going on? What are you doing?’ The new reindeer trotted over to Mother Christmas who was putting something back into a large box.
            ‘Just tidying up. I’ll put your dinner on in a minute. Will a frozen pizza be OK? I’ve been a bit busy. What do you think?’
            ‘What the --?’ Father Christmas was rarely lost for words.
            ‘It’s a reindeer. What do you think of it?’
            ‘I can see it’s a reindeer. Where did it come from?’
            ‘I made it.’
            Father Christmas sat down on the only chair that wasn’t covered in stuff; it was more than he could take in.
            ‘I looked in the store amongst last year’s presents that were either returned or not delivered. I found this addressed to 10 Downing Street, England. On it was a note from someone called Theresa to say that she’d asked for it because she needed to make something work.  But it was all too difficult so she had decided to send it back.’ Mother Christmas allowed herself a smile of self-satisfaction. ‘It’s a 3-D printer. You can use it to make anything.  Anyway, I read the instruction manual and made you a reindeer.’
            The animal in question padded over to Father Christmas and peered up at the bemused old gentleman.
            ‘Er… is it a boy or a girl.’ He asked, struggling for something to say.
            ‘I didn’t press the SELECT button.  I didn’t feel I knew enough about it to make the decision.’
            ‘Oh, I see, very modern.’ Does it, sorry they, have a name?
            Mother Christmas hadn’t thought of this. She turned round for inspiration and saw the printer box.
            ‘Apple’ she replied, her voice brimming with confidence.
            ‘It’s got funny fur.’
            Mother Christmas’s face fell. All her happiness evaporated, he didn’t like his new reindeer.
            ‘I must’ve got that bit wrong’ she said in a small voice. I’ll go and put the dinner on.’
            Apple pushed past their new owner and followed Mother Christmas into the kitchen. She noticed one of their antlers was a bit wonky, and yes the fur was a funny texture and a bit too orange. But their legs were strong and they had kind eyes. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose and opened the freezer (or back door as we call it in Dorset).
            Her husband came into the kitchen. ‘I’m sorry love. I was just so surprised. And amazed. You are so clever. I was gobsmacked to be honest. Apple is the best Christmas present ever. Tell you what, you sit down, put your feet up and I’ll do the cooking. Now, where’s the oven?’

On Christmas Eve the deliveries were going well. Apple fitted into the team, in spite of some unkind comments from Vixen about the colour of their coat and their wonky antler, and proved to be a strong and biddable reindeer. Somewhere over the Isle of Wight, Father Christmas got a text from his wife.
            ‘~~pid inour and ont blong%’
            It was difficult to reply to a text when the only word that made sense was ‘and’, so he just responded with a thumbs-up emoji, one of the elves had shown him how to do this, and kept going, carefully avoiding the Needles as he sped towards Wimborne Minster. He had several parcels of books, paper, printer ink and gin to deliver there.
            Mother Christmas was waiting for him when he got home. She had his usual glass of sherry ready and she’d prepared the barn for the tired animals.
            ‘I see you got my message. It’s happened.’ She grinned at her husband, unable to keep the surprise to herself any longer. ‘It’s a little girl. She’s lovely and Cupid’s fine.’
            Father Christmas went to the stall where the mother and baby were dozing. He was quiet and careful, reindeer mothers are very protective, but Cupid allowed him to see her calf before pushing her into the corner and turning to face her owner.
            ‘Don’t worry old girl. I’ll leave you alone. Thank you for letting me see her. I notice she’s got a lovely pink nose; that’ll be bright red one day.’
            He went back in doors, took off his boots and poured another glass of sherry.
            ‘What was that text you sent me?’
            Mother Christmas sighed. ‘I wondered why you didn’t seem interested. She showed him her phone and the message
            ‘Cupid in labour and it won’t be long.’
            ‘Gotta think of a name’ muttered Father Christmas before he dropped off to sleep in his armchair.