A Christmas Story – Week 51 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

little-women

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

― Louisa May AlcottLittle Women

 

When I came across ‘Little Women’ at the age of seven years old (I was an advanced reader) I found it difficult to understand the situation that Jo and the other March girls found themselves in. We always had presents at Christmas; we weren’t rich but neither were we poor. We weren’t particularly vain – especially not my older brother – and we too had a Mum and a Dad.  The thought of taking breakfast to a poor family confused me. Did we know any poor families? We lived on a council estate but everyone on our street, everyone at school, on our estate. They all seemed quite comfortably off – except perhaps one woman who lived in the flats and got quite cross when my friend and I babysat for her and didn’t eat all of the shop bought scampi and chips she left for us – she was only gone for an hour and in those days young girls often babysat babies for an hour or so.

As for breakfast – would a poor family really appreciate my bowl of Shreddies or  Ricicles? My brother’s Cocopops or the porridge my Mum sometimes made (until the advent of Readybrek – but more of that later).

I was aware of the fact that not only did the March family live in another country, they also lived in a different time. A time when long frocks and white gloves were the accepted mode of dress. A contrast to my own – tee-shirt and shorts in the summer, jumper and cord jeans in the winter. I was only ever dragged into a posh frock on special occasions. Ah, but Jo and I did have something in common – we were both tomboys.

My Christmases as a child were much of a muchness; although a couple of occasions stick in my mind. The year when I still believed in Father Christmas – especially after he brought me a shiny blue scooter. I must have been at school then because my Mum kept the diary entry I wrote for school – complete with a reasonably good drawing of said scooter.

The year when everything went wrong. It started with my Dad having problems with the Christmas tree (not a real one) lights malfunctioning. Whilst he muttered at the lights, twisting each bulb in an effort to find the dead culprit. The rest of us kept quiet as we hung up paper streamers and dusted off the Chinese lanterns that came out of the special box every year. On the day itself things went VERY wrong. My Mum cooked the turkey without removing the giblets; she melted the plastic colander with the Brussels Sprouts, too much brandy was put on the Christmas pudding and it ignited rather too well. Mum cried, Dad shouted, the dog got excited and bit Mum because she was hitting Dad with a rolled up newspaper.

Another memorable Christmas was the one when Dad brought home a bottle of Advocaat and a cocktail mixer. This was a large glass container with a battery-powered whisk in its silver metal lid. We had Snowballs that Christmas – and not the cold and wet ones that you chuck at each other either. After Christmas when Mum and Dad had returned to work and I was left to the not so tender ministrations of my older brother and sister, I decided to utilise the cocktail mixer and make my own Snowball. I hadn’t actually seen what my Dad put in the glass container – so I worked my way through our depleted alcohol stocks and put a bit of everything in. Then I whizzed it. Then I drank it. Then I felt a bit funny – and hungry.

This is where the Readybrek comes in. I wasn’t usually allowed to make my own because of the  kettle (not electric but the whistling type that sits on the hob – our house must have been a health and safety nightmare) but my brother and sister were still asleep. I was too impatient to wait for the kettle to whistle so my Readybrek was rather stodgy but a spoonful of honey helped.

I put the empty bowl in the sink and went back to playing with my new Christmas toys. There was a knock at the door and despite having been told NEVER to answer the door on my own – I did. It was only the milkman. As I bent forward to pick up the milk bottles I was very, very sick  – all over his shoes. His cries of disgust brought my siblings running. My brother cleaned the milkman up and my sister cleaned me up.

My cocktail experiment was discovered and I was banned from the alcohol cupboard. We swore each other to secrecy but the milkman grassed us up. I never liked him. We used to take it in turns to go out to his milk float and pick some nice biscuits for tea. My brother and sister always seemed to come back with chocolate digestives or custard creams but I came back carrying a packet of plain-looking sugary biscuits that I wouldn’t eat. My Mum was puzzled by this and accompanied me to the milk float, standing by as I asked for a packet of nice biscuits. Without a thought the milky picked up a pack of the hated biscuits and handed them to me. I looked at my Mum sadly. She laughed and handed them back.

‘Those are NEECE biscuits. Not nice biscuits. Which ones do you want really?’

I pointed at the milk chocolate digestives. Success.

I wonder what the March family equivalent would have been?

ceri-ann-steve-and-dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Creation Myth – Week 50 of the 52 week short story challenge

Harry sat in the middle of a grassy lawn.  He was surrounded by beautiful flowers and fantastic insects.

He frowned with concentration as he picked out the colours and shapes.

Every object had to be different, and he smiled as he placed them on the grass and watched them come to life.

Other small gods occupied the lawn, each intent on their own marvellous creations.

The Big Benevolent One smiled as he wandered past looking at their labours.

His fingertips touched Harry’s head.

Harry looked up and smiled back.  He was very happy.

“Good job Harry.  You can move on to something bigger now.  Some animals and birds perhaps?”

Flushed with pride at such a compliment, Harry collected more materials and set to work.

He started small; a mouse and then a brightly coloured lizard.

Placed carefully on the grass, the mouse shook his whiskers and scurried off to make a home.

The lizard took his time. He stretched and let the sunshine warm his shimmering skin.

“Time for something bigger now.  I shall call it Dog and it will be my friend.” Harry said to himself and was just putting together the items he needed when he heard an unfamiliar sound.

The Big Benevolent One was standing in the corner of the lawn staring down at Milo; a slightly larger god who had put together some especially clumsy-looking cactus plants.

There was an ominous rumbling.

“You can do better than this Milo.  Look around you. Look at the colours and the shapes. Move on to something beautiful or you’ll have to spend time making rocks.”

Milo frowned. He hated making rocks. It was boring, hot and the other larger gods shouted at him.  They had only a few more days to finish the Earth after all. and everyone was working as hard as they could.

Except Milo, who just wanted to lie under the trees and watch everyone else working.

The Big Benevolent One moved on to admire someone else’s work and Milo sulkily picked up some brown clay.

He rolled it idly between his hands, then on a piece of flat stone until it grew longer and thinner.

He started another, and another until the stone was covered with a number of long thin brown snakes of varying sizes.

Harry glanced over at the snakes; all blind and hungry and dull.

He got to his feet, picked up a handful of pieces left over from the lizard and walked over to Milo who felt that he had done enough and had fallen asleep.

The snakes were given jewel-bright eyes and long forked tongues.  Harry striped their brown skin with green and white, red  and blue for the big ones, and for the last he covered the brown with yellow and white stripes.

Stroking the warm skin as it came to life, Harry smiled.

“You will be a corn snake and your name will be Dave.'”

Hearing the sound of the Big Benevolent One approaching, Harry got up and returned to creating Dog.

Milo woke and looked at the fabulous snakes slithering around happily in front of him.

“Well done Milo!  Take a little break now.  Usually only lazy gods make snakes but you have done well. ” The Big Benevolent One patted Milo’s head but looked across at Harry and winked.

Harry was happy, especially when Dog came to life, wagged his tail and licked Harry’s face.

Milo snored in the sunshine.

corn snake

Justice Being Done – Week 49 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

dilemma

‘Is this going to be another one of ‘those’ conversations?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Go on then. What’s the problem?’

‘Justice isn’t being done is it? Politicians, the rich people and big businesses get away with doing bad things – that isn’t justice is it?’

‘Not to us. But then we don’t make the rules and hold the power do we?’

‘Surely there are more of us ordinary people than there are politicians and rich people? Why do they have so much power and we have so little?’

‘Are you sure about that? That we don’t have any power?’

‘Huh, this is another of your trick questions isn’t it.’

‘Maybe.’

‘I hate it when you say that. It means that you are going to turn out right and I’ll be wrong – again.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Stop it! You always make me work so hard when you’re like this.’

‘Just making your brain tick over a bit. There are far too many people sitting around and complaining about how unjust their lives are. Do you really want to be one of them?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Really?’

‘Okay then. What do I do to see that justice is being done?’

‘You make sure that you understand what justice is and what it isn’t. Justice is fair and reasonable; it isn’t about taking revenge, killing or persecuting people because of their race, religion or opinions. It isn’t about getting your own back. Sometimes though, it can be blind.’

‘So the people that say its justice when something bad happens to a horrible person  – they’ve got it wrong have they?’

‘They might be getting it confused with karma – things happening as a consequence of their own actions.’

‘Karma is a bad thing then?’

‘More good than bad really. It has roots in ancient Indian religion – Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism – more isms than you can chuck a stick at really. The important thing to remember is that good acts should have a positive effect – like paying it forward.’

‘I saw that film. It made me cry. I hate films with sad endings.’

‘Everything makes you cry. So karma can be good or bad – in the words of John Lennon; ‘Instant Karma’s gonna get you…’

‘I remember that song as well. That was about bad karma.’

‘It was.’

‘What about that other thing then? That German thing?’

‘Schadenfreude?’

‘Get you!’

‘Is that what you meant?’

‘Yeah. What’s the difference between justice, karma and schaden-thingy?

‘Schadenfreude is more to do with how you feel about the consequences of other peoples’ actions.

‘Do what?’

‘Say you asked me for my last fiver, I refused to give it to you and then we found out that it was a forgery. You would be laughing your socks off at me wouldn’t you?’

‘You bet.’

‘Well that’s schadenfreude.’

‘Isn’t that a bit mean though?’

‘You can’t have good schadenfreude; though when famous people set themselves up as paragons of virtue and then get caught out drink driving, or taking drugs or beating up their partners, I think it’s okay to feel a bit of schadenfreude without feeling too guilty.’

‘That seems like justice to me.’

‘Erm – we-ell.’

‘Go on. You have to admit it.’

‘It can be seen as justice, karma and schadenfreude, I suppose. Justice is supposed to be objective whereas the other two are more subjective – it depends on how you feel about the person its happening too.’

‘This has got too heavy for me. Lend us a fiver?’

 

 

Justice

just behaviour or treatment.

“a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people”

fairness, justness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, equitableness, even-handedness, egalitarianism, impartiality, impartialness, lack of bias, objectivityneutrality, disinterestedness, lack of prejudice, open-mindedness, non-partisanship”

Karma (car-ma) is a word meaning the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions themselves. It is a term about the cycle of cause and effect. According to the theory of Karma, what happens to a person, happens because they caused it with their actions.

 

Schadenfreude lit. ‘harm-joy’) is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures.

 

Instant Karma

by John Lennon

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin’ to do
It’s up to you, yeah you

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me
Who in the hell d’you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Ev’ryone come on

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev’ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you’re ev’rywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

4528637898

It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

barry-peckham-keyhaven215-1

Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

david-hughes-lighthouse-at-hurst-castle-keyhaven-hampshire-england-united-kingdom-europe

A Magic Spell – Week 47 of the 52 week short story challenge

monsanto01-1024x683

I am your one magic spell – and you have one only.

You cannot hurt or kill anyone,

Nor profit financially.

History cannot be undone,

Mankind’s basic physiology must remain unchanged.

Me: So, I can’t get rid of mass murderers or dictators or those who ruin people’s lives?

Spell: Definitely not.

Me: And I can’t change history so I can’t undo the referenDumb.

Spell: The country spoke – apparently.

Me: When you say ‘physiology’? Can you clarify?

Spell: Race, colour, creed, preference, appearance – nothing can change.

Me: I wouldn’t change that anyway but…

Spell: Yes?

Me: Can I change attitudes?

Spell: Perhaps…

Me: Then I can ask for a world where people can live peacefully; where wealth is distributed more evenly, where education is available for all, where we look after the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable and the young?

Spell: You can ask.

Me: You said I had one magic spell. How do I make the spell work?

Spell: Abracadabra doesn’t work, neither does clicking your fingers I’m afraid. You can put those sparkly red shoes away as well.

Me: It was worth a try.

Spell: That’s a part of the spell.

Me: Trying?

Spell: You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try.

Me: It won’t be easy will it?

Spell: Nope.

Me: Persistent.

Spell: Yes.

Me: No matter what?

Spell: No matter what.

Me: On my own?

Spell: Oh no. There are many of you, but you have to find each other and work together.

Me: Are you absolutely sure we can’t get rid of the really nasty people?

Spell: Why stoop to their level?

Me: So nothing unpleasant then?

Spell: Nope.

Me: But we can do it?

Spell: Jez. We. Can.

black-magic-spells