Saturday, 31 December 2011


I have been thinking about New Year Resolutions. Not the usual ones to lose some weight and do better in work, which let's face it, just annoy me, and I don't follow through on. Seems like follow-through is my main weakness. Which makes this blog nothing short of amazing, don't you think? You don't have to agree with me. I'm popping the champagne all by myself. Yay!

So I was thinking of what resolutions to have for the big 2012, end of an era, or life on earth as we know it. And here's what I came up with.

1. Go for a silent retreat.

I talk too much. If not out loud, then in my head. Or on my blog. Or on Facebook. (OK I don't talk much on Twitter because that one hasn't really gripped me by the short and curlies) So some time next year, I need to schedule some time to disappear, all by myself. I only want to go on a silent retreat because at least there, them's the rules. Otherwise, short of holing myself in some cul-de-sac with provisions, I am forced to talk. Mostly answer questions. This being the most popular:

"Miss, what are you doing here alone?"

Enough already.

So quiet time. Next year. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Not talking.

2. Learn to suffer fools gladly.

I don't. I have the patience of a mosquito with issues. And as my annoyance level increases, so do my reactions. Delete and block. Email block. Slam down the phone. That sort of thing. 2011 has been a relinquishing of too many relationships I once thought important. The thing about discarding relationships is that without knowing it, my life gets poorer, more poverty-stricken. Richness and colour go out of the palette and everything fades to sepia. And I've always thought sepia is such a sad sort of of colour.

3. Disappoint a salesman.

I let salesmen bully me into making (big) purchases that I did not originally want to go with. And when they don't deliver on whatever they were promising (when eager to make the sale), and I apply some pressure, they react pretty badly. Suddenly, I'm the bad guy. Unreasonable. Demanding. But hey, that's my hard-earned money you're busy counting. Why didn't I cancel when I could have?

So this year, I will. No thank you. I have changed my mind. Thank you for your time.
Let's not send each other Christmas cards. See you in the funny papers.

4. Figure out something (it may be a small thing, but still) that I really, really want to do. And do it, without reference to anyone else, or any feeling of guilt.

5. Write a book. Publish it on lulu. Give it out as a Christmas present.

I actually went to the extent of laying out the pages this year. And then, somehow, I didn't feel like completing the purchase. Something was missing.

6. Make the Creole Christmas cake.

From what I remember I would need brandy, cherry brandy and maybe port. Also that other liquor whose name I can't remember but which I have. And I'd need to make it about three months before Christmas. Or is it 4 months? Give out as Christmas gifts. Lucky people. You're gonna get a book written by moi as well as a Christmas cake drenched in all sorts of mind blowing things.

7. Appoint Feb 29 the new amazing Valentine's Day and send people Feb 29 Valentine Cards. Make my own of course. Oh you lucky people you!

8. Go watch at least one movie a week. I didn't watch no movies this year. Or if I did, I can't remember. So yeah, movies. Lickety split.

9. Keep updating this till May 16. And then we'll see.

It's been a challenge cos like I say, I tend to be famous for sticking to nothing. I'm so teflon about things, it isn't funny. Which is why it's amazing that I've come this far without missing a beat. Or a day. I meant a day.

10. Wake up early. Or at least earlier. Yeah, earlier.

Noon just isn't cutting it for me, y'know?

Friday, 30 December 2011

The Perfect Year

When you're slowly stripped of everything that used to define you, you walk forward unencumbered. And you get to invent yourself all over again.

Nothing lasts.

And that's OK.

Despite it all, it can still be the perfect year.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

My Kingdom for a Unicorn

Are you looking for something, he asked.

Yes, I replied, my eyes raking his merchandise. Unicorns.

He smiled in that embarrassed way one does, when dealing with strange and awkward people who make outlandish requests like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Unicorns are hard to find, he offered.

I know, I said. But your shop says 'whimsical articles'. And you have to admit, unicorns are whimsical.

He smiled again as we backed away from each other politely, the way people do, when they have nothing left to say to each other.

I still want a unicorn. I want to put it in my new car and let it hang there and guard my journey. A beautiful crystal unicorn with its horn gleaming in the sunlight. Or moonlight.

My own unicorn.

My precious.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

20 Questions That Could Change Your Life

So I drove back from JB yesterday. Early morning drives, with Arnold curled up at the back are nice (as long as I don't fall asleep at the wheel). Traffic was clear all the way through, so I averaged 110-120kph. It was a relatively quick journey, which is how I like 'em.

Back to work, back to work, so I decided to be a good little veggie mite and trawl the net looking for story ideas. I found some. But also...see, the thing about trawling the net is that you get attracted to what you get attracted. Which will not necessarily fit into the paper.

Like this article, I stumbled across, for instance. It was in the February issue of the O magazine this year. And it seems like one of those marvelous "take stock" types.

Also, I love Martha Beck.

I really, really do.

1. What questions should I be asking myself?
At first I thought asking yourself what you should be asking yourself was redundant. It isn't. Without this question, you wouldn't ask any others, so it gets top billing. It creates an alert, thoughtful mind state, ideal for ferreting out the information you most need in every situation. Ask it frequently.

2. Is this what I want to be doing?
This very moment is, always, the only moment in which you can make changes. Knowing which changes are best for you comes, always, from assessing what you feel. Ask yourself many times every day if you like what you're doing. If the answer is no, start noticing what you'd prefer. Thus begins the revolution.

3. Why worry?
These two words, considered sincerely, can radically reconfigure the landscape of your mind. Worry rarely leads to positive action; it's just painful, useless fear about hypothetical events, which scuttles happiness rather than ensuring it. Some psychologists say that by focusing on gratitude, we can shut down the part of the brain that worries. It actually works!

4. Why do I like {cupcakes} more than I like {people}?
Feel free to switch out the words in brackets: You may like TV more than exercise, or bad boys more than nice guys, or burglary more than reading. Whatever the particulars, every woman has something she likes more than the somethings she's supposed to like. But forcing "virtues"—trying to like people more than cupcakes—drives us to vices that offer false freedom from oppression. Stop trying to like the things you don't like, and many vices will disappear on their own.

5. How do I want the world to be different because I lived in it?
Your existence is already a factor in world history—now, what sort of factor do you want it to be? Maybe you know you're here to create worldwide prosperity, a beautiful family, or one really excellent bagel. If your impressions are more vague, keep asking this question. Eventually you'll glimpse clearer outlines of your destiny. Live by design, not by accident.

6. How do I want to be different because I lived in this world?
In small ways or large, your life will change the world—and in small ways or large, the world will change you. What experiences do you want to have during your brief sojourn here? Make a list. Make a vision board. Make a promise. This won't control your future, but it will shape it.

7. Are {vegans} better people?
Again, it doesn't have to be vegans; the brackets are for you to fill in. Substitute the virtue squad that makes you feel worst about yourself, the one you'll never have the discipline to join, whether it's ultra-marathoners or mothers who never raise their voices. Whatever group you're asking about, the answer to this question is no.

8. What is my body telling me?
As I often say, my mind is a two-bit whore—by which I mean that my self-justifying brain, like any self-justifying brain, will happily absorb beliefs based on biases, ego gratification, magical thinking, or just plain error. The body knows better. It's a wise, capable creature. It recoils from what's bad for us, and leans into what's good. Let it.

9. How much junk could a chic chick chuck if a chic chick could chuck junk?
I believe this question was originally posed by Lao Tzu, who also wrote, "To become learned, each day add something. To become enlightened, each day drop something." Face it: You'd be better off without some of your relationships, many of your possessions, and most of your thoughts. Chuck your chic-chick junk, chic chick. Enlightenment awaits.

10. What's so funny?
Adults tend to put this question to children in a homicidal-sounding snarl, which is probably why as you grew up, your laughter rate dropped from 400 times a day (for toddlers) to the grown-up daily average of 15. Regain your youth by laughing at every possible situation. Then, please, tell us what's funny—about everyday life, about human nature, even about pain and fear. We'll pay you anything.

11. Where am I wrong?
This might well be the most powerful question on our list—as Socrates believed, we gain our first measure of intelligence when we first admit our own ignorance. Your ego wants you to avoid noticing where you may have bad information or unworkable ideas. But you'll gain far more capability and respect by asking where you're wrong than by insisting you're right.

12. What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?
I once read a story about a world where people sold memories the way we can sell plasma. The protagonist was an addict who'd pawned many memories for drugs but had sworn never to sell his memory of falling in love. His addiction won. Afterward he was unaware of his loss, lacking the memory he'd sold. But for the reader, the trade-off was ghastly to contemplate. Every time you choose social acceptance over your heart's desires, or financial gain over ethics, or your comfort zone over the adventure you were born to experience, you're making a similar deal. Don't.

13. Am I the only one struggling not to {fart} during {yoga}?
I felt profoundly liberated when this issue was raised on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update." Not everyone does yoga, but SNL reminded me that everyone dreads committing some sort of gaffe. Substitute your greatest shame-fear: crying at work, belching in church, throwing up on the prime minister of Japan. Then know you aren't alone. Everyone worries about such faux pas, and many have committed them (well, maybe not the throwing up on PMs). Accepting this is a bold step toward mental health and a just society.

14. What do I love to practice?
Some psychologists believe that no one is born with any particular talent and that all skill is gained through practice. Studies have shown that masters are simply people who've practiced a skill intensely for 10,000 hours or more. That requires loving—not liking, loving—what you do. If you really want to excel, go where you're passionate enough to practice.

15. Where could I work less and achieve more?
To maximize time spent practicing your passions, minimize everything else. These days you can find machines or human helpers to assist with almost anything. Author Timothy Ferriss "batches" job tasks into his famous "four-hour workweek." My client Cindy has an e-mail ghostwriter. Another client, Angela, hired an assistant in the Philippines who flawlessly tracks her schedule and her investments. Get creative with available resources to find more time in your life and life in your time.

16. How can I keep myself absolutely safe?
Ask this question just to remind yourself of the answer: You can't. Life is inherently uncertain. The way to cope with that reality is not to control and avoid your way into a rigid little demi-life, but to develop courage. Doing what you long to do, despite fear, will accomplish this.

17. Where should I break the rules?
If everyone kept all the rules, we'd still be practicing cherished traditions like child marriage, slavery, and public hangings. The way humans become humane is by assessing from the heart, rather than the rule book, where the justice of a situation lies. Sometimes you have to break the rules around you to keep the rules within you.

18. So say I lived in that fabulous house in Tuscany, with untold wealth, a gorgeous, adoring mate, and a full staff of servants...then what?
We can get so obsessed with acquiring fabulous lives that we forget to live. When my clients ask themselves this question, they almost always discover that their "perfect life" pastimes are already available. Sharing joy with loved ones, spending time in nature, finding inner peace, writing your novel, plotting revenge—you can do all these things right now. Begin!

19. Are my thoughts hurting or healing?
Your situation may endanger your life and limbs, but only your thoughts can endanger your happiness. Telling yourself a miserable mental story about your circumstances creates suffering. Telling yourself a more positive and grateful story, studies show, increases happiness. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, choose thoughts that knit your heart together, rather than tear it apart.

20. Really truly: Is this what I want to be doing?
It's been several seconds since you asked this. Ask it again. Not to make yourself petulant or frustrated—just to see if it's possible to choose anything, and I mean any little thing, that would make your present experience more delightful. Thus continues the revolution.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Thank You

Dear friends and family,

Thank you for the gifts. I loved them all.

And thank you for the givers.



Monday, 26 December 2011

The Work Of Christmas Begins

When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost; to heal the
broken; to feed the hungry;
To release the prisoner;
to rebuild the nations;
To bring peace among
brothers and sisters—
To make music in the heart.

—Howard Thurman

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas from The Jacobs

Everyone's asleep, tired out from the day. I took a nap after I arrived from KL. So this is what happens, when all alone downstairs, and the Christmas movie on Channel 5, Holiday, is over.

A close-up of the stash.

Enough already! What's a dog to do to get some sleep around here. (Answer? Curl up in the dining room without those nasty clicking things)

Give Love On Christmas Day

It was 1987 and our Guidance (cathecism) class was in charge of the Christmas pageant. We had to write a play. We had to manage the Christmas programme. We wrote our own version of A Christmas Carol. And when Tiny Tim sang for his family, after saying 'God Bless Us, Everyone!' was this. So it holds special memories.

And these words:

Even the man who has everything
Would be so happy if you could bring
Why don't you give love on Christmas Day..

seemed particularly apposite, when it came to Scrooge, who had everything. And nothing.

Merry Christmas, my dears.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Gentle Art of Blessing

Frequently, the things I feature here, are the things I need to be reminded of, more so than you, gentle reader. I did not bless as I woke up today. And then I read this in Heather O'Hara's 'Touch of Grace' newsletter for December and it softened something inside.

May it do the same for you.

And may you be blessed!

On awakening, bless this day, for it is already full of unseen good which your blessings will call forth; for to bless is to acknowledge the unlimited good that is embedded in the very texture of the universe and awaiting each and all.

On passing people in the street, on the bus, in places of work and play, bless them. The peace of your blessing will accompany them on their way and the aura of its gentle fragrance will be a light to their path.

On meeting and talking to people, bless them in their health, their work, their joy, their relationships to God, themselves, and others. Bless them in their abundance, their finances… bless them in every conceivable way, for such blessings not only sow seeds of healing but one day will spring forth as flowers of joy in the waste places of your own life.

As you walk, bless the city in which you live, its government and teachers, its nurses and streetsweepers, its children and bankers, its priests and prostitutes. The minute anyone expresses the least aggression or unkindness to you, respond with a blessing: bless them totally, sincerely, joyfully, for such blessings are a shield which protects them from the ignorance of their misdeed, and deflects the arrow that was aimed at you.

To bless means to wish, unconditionally, total, unrestricted good for others and events from the deepest wellspring in the innermost chamber of your heart: it means to hallow, to hold in reverence, to behold with utter awe that which is always a gift from the Creator. He who is hallowed by your blessing is set aside, consecrated, holy, whole. To bless is yet to invoke divine care upon, to think or speak gratefully for, to confer happiness upon—although we ourselves are never the bestower, but simply the joyful witnesses of Life's abundance.

To bless all without discrimination of any sort is the ultimate form of giving, because those you bless will never know from whence came the sudden ray of sun that burst through the clouds of their skies, and you will rarely be a witness to the sunlight in their lives.

When something goes completely askew in your day, some unexpected event knocks down your plans and you too also, burst into blessing: for life is teaching you a lesson, and the very event you believe to be unwanted, you yourself called forth, so as to learn the lesson you might balk against were you not to bless it. Trials are blessings in disguise, and hosts of angels follow in their path.

To bless is to acknowledge the omnipresent, universal beauty hidden to material eyes; it is to activate that law of attraction which, from the furthest reaches of the universe, will bring into your life exactly what you need to experience and enjoy.

When you pass a prison, mentally bless its inmates in their innocence and freedom, their gentleness, pure essence and unconditional forgiveness; for one can only be prisoner of one's self-image, and a free man can walk unshackled in the courtyard of a jail, just as citizens of countries where freedom reigns can be prisoners when fear lurks in their thoughts.

When you pass a hospital, bless its patients in their present wholeness, for even in their suffering, this wholeness awaits in them to be discovered. When your eyes behold a man in tears, or seemingly broken by life, bless him in his vitality and joy: for the material senses present but the inverted image of the ultimate splendor and perfection which only the inner eye beholds.

It is impossible to bless and to judge at the same time. So hold constantly as a deep, hallowed, intoned thought that desire to bless, for truly then shall you become a peacemaker, and one day you shall, everywhere, behold the very face of God.

—Pierre Pradervand

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Rebecca's Christmas Cut-Out Cookies

I love this story from the Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook. And I know you will, too.

For 20 years, my daughter-in-law, Rebecca Russell Cannon, birth mother of seven, stepmother of three, grandmother to several, has been affectionately crowned Mother Christmas because of her annual Christmas Cookie Party. As early as October people begin asking for the date - they would never want to miss their favourite party of the season. To an assortment of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends, she sets the tone for a joyous holiday.

Rebecca has a large well-appointed kitchen with a huge round table that seats 12, plus a breakfast bar with extra stools and plenty of standing room too.

At her Christmas gathering, Becky happily mixes, cuts, bakes, cools, stacks and dispenses sugar cookies in the shapes of Christmas. Delighted guests of all ages are encouraged to dig into the frosting pots, the candy sprinkles, and the shredded coconut to design their own creations.

Cookie frostings are not limited to primary colours like holly green and berry red - paper plate palettes cover the spectrum: mauve, sage green and blue for bulging socks; silvery pearl for shining stars; chimney grey for Santa's boots; brick red for his suit; yellow for an angel's hair. And there is pure white and skin pink for the Baby Jesus cookies.

Her party is wonderful fun. The level of conversation between preschoolers, teenagers and grandparents is charming and civil. Everyone is a child in such a setting. Everyone is an artist. Everyone is a success as inevitable exclamations of approval erupt over every finished cookie.

Everyone is a bit of a philosopher about The Season, too. People eat as they go, sip cider or milk and take home their own prized plateful. Oh, yes, the annual cookie party is an enormous nuisance. Yes, it's an incredible mess! Certainly Becky is exhausted...but she's exhilarated by love, too.

How can one measure the worth of this kind of mothering? It bonds not only one family, but in-laws, neighbours, first cousins once removed and near-strangers seeking heart-shelter in such a home. As a pebble falling in a pool, the ripples from her devotion travel farther than Becky will ever know. As the grandmother (and her proud mother-in-law), I do so testify.

Rebecca's Christmas Cut-Out Cookies

(Makes approximately four dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond flavouring
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together thoroughly the powdered sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and almond flavouring.

2. Add the flour, soda and cream of tartar and mix thoroughly. Form into 2 large patties, wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out the dough on a floured cloth to 1/2 inch thickness. Bake 7 to 10 minutes. When cool, frost with butter frosting.

Butter Frosting
4 cups powdered sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Milk, as needed to make a spreading consistency
Food colouring, as desired.

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat together, adding enough milk to make a spreadable consistency.

2. Place frosting in different bowls and add food colouring as desired.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sweet Dreams

The miracle of Christmas is the gift of love.

Sometimes, I look around me and just feel grateful. Sometimes the best presents are not found neatly wrapped under the Christmas tree. Sometime the lights flicker and glow and each pulses with love.

I am a man dying of thirst next to a stream of sparkling water, bubbling, light, frothy, delicious. I turned away for so long, that now I think the singing it makes rushing forward so joyfully is just the sussurus through the leaves above me.

But it's not. It's water. It's cool. It's real. And there's enough for me to drink to quench the deepest thirst.

The lights continue to flicker. The leaves to glow. And the leave to rustle. Angel wings brush against my cheek. It's a lovely fragrance. Sometimes I close my eyes, and I go to heaven.

My stomach slowly unclenches. I lean back, chewing on a blade of grass. I close my eyes.

And fall asleep.

Sweet dreams.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Still, Still, Still

I was wondering through my favourite music shop, getting a few Christmas CDs for Chubs as part of his Christmas present when the shop guy asked me to listen to Libera. I loved it. And I went back to the office and listened to it, while I tried to work. But it took me to another dimension.

No matter, for the first time, I felt my soul soaring and the cares and vexations of the day pass away. This was Christmas with a vengeance.

The next day, I got me some chocolate, the latter half of Modern Family second season (OK I finally watched the Boys Night Out, Nits...but I was laughing out loud for most of the was so good). Also I munched on chocolate and felt happy.

Modern Family episodes, Celebrations chocolate, Arnold at my feet (or was it Maggot) presents wrapped, chestnuts roasting by an open...OK maybe not the chestnuts.

Joy to the world!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Esther, Me and the Bears

I went out with Esther yesterday. We painted the town all shades of orange. Well, actually, we decided, or rather I decided, to do something different. Go somewhere we had not gone together before. Enjoy the Christmas lights of Bukit Bintang. Instead, we enjoyed the lights of the cars in front of us. And the cars at the back of us.

To say we were packed in like sardines would make me guilty. Of understatement. The irony was I found an untraffic-clogged shortcut to the Pavilion. Once we got there, it said that all the carparks were full. Did we heed that? No!

Esther would ask God for a parking place. I would ask the patron saint of hopeless cases. All in all, bases covered and that sort of thing. So we rounded the basement 1, with the increasingly irate drivers all fighting for the no parking places or carving out one where none existed.

And then, we went to Basement 2. Rounded again. To no avail. Chatting to while away the voluptuous hours spent in the car. Esther remained calm. But Carol is my middle name. Not calm. And sorry, Boh, but your tea just won't do it, despite your claims of zen in a cup.

They closed the way to Basement 3. Then opened it. And Esther kept praying. And me, I was silently cursing. So much for showing my friend a good time, the buddy bears, the BB lights, the magnificence of Pavilion.

And then a slight miracle opened up in the space between breaths. A car pulled out. And the car that appeared to be waiting there for the parking place, didn't pull in. So I did. And it was close to one of the entrances. Joyfully we made our way out of the car. Only to go back several times because I had forgotten this, that or the other.

So, dinner first.

Pepper lunch?

My Pavilion favourite.

This the beef pepper rice. It arrives steaming, and you're supposed to mix it up, with a generous helping of either the sweet or salty sauce. It's so yum I finished every last grain.

And then we went to see the bears.

The bears are from 140 countries. A local artist from each country painted it to represent the country. When I was rushing for an interview sometime about two weeks ago, I saw the following bear. I had to stop and, it couldn't be, not in Malaysia. But yes, it was.

So of course, when I came back with Esther, both of us had to take pictures with it.

The Israel bear.

And then we each took pictures with some of our personal favourites:

Esther quite liked the "respect for ALL life" bear.

Viva la France!

When I picked her up, Esther had been listening to Korean songs. So this seemed particularly, apposite.

Quick! What is Moldova famous for? Give up? Well, you've obviously not read the Geography of Bliss! It's the saddest country in the world. Can you believe it? Now look at that bear and tell me it's not one of the most cheerful ones you have ever seen!

Anyway, it was coming on 11, and we decided against a nearly midnight gelato. Instead, we would go to Backyard for the dregs of its Christmas party.


The carpark was so jammed, the traffic was unmoving. I lost my temper a couple of times with idiots who didn't want to cue but went around to cut in. Esther, serene as always, asked me to calm down.

Cue gasp, smoke streaming through my nose.

We spent about an hour getting out of that carpark (in hindsight, should have had that gelati instead, and waited.

And then it was too late to go to Backyard...but it was bliss driving on the highways, unhemmed in by traffic, thinking of the bears...

I wanted to do something different. This sure was different.

Cards are done done. Kat received my present and posted pictures on the FB for me to see...glory be! Most of the office presents done.

And now...just three stories to go (and maybe one Coffee Break) and I am home free, free, free!

Goodnight my angel, now it's time to sleep...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of "Peace on earth, good will to men!"

And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of "Peace on earth, good will to men."

Till ringing, singing on its way,
Their world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of "Peace on earth, good will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!"
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"

Friday, 16 December 2011

Trouble At The Inn

For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally's performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well-liked bu the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.

Most often they'd find a way to keep him out but Wally would hang around anyway - not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who'd say, "Can't they stay? They're no bother."

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play's director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, beards, crowns, halos and a stage filled with squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

"We seek lodging."

"Seek it elsewhere." Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."

"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and we are very weary."

"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.

"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."

Now, for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance, and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

"No! Begone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.

"No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Begone!"

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary who laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

"Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back."

And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others - many, many others - who considered it the truest of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

(by Dina Donohue)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

William's Christmas Eve

So, have you read the William books? I loved the early ones and the following story was from one of the earliest - More William - by Richmal Crompton. If you never read a William story, this is as good an introduction as any. But more, than that, it just makes a jolly good Christmas story. Hence it's presence in these pages, in the month of December. It's peace on earth, goodwill to men. William-style.

It was Christmas. The air was full of excitement and secrecy. William, whose old-time faith in notes to Father Christmas sent up the chimney had died a natural death as the result of bitter experience, had thoughtfully presented each of his friends and relations with a list of his immediate requirements.

He had a vague and not unfounded misgiving that his family would begin at the bottom of the list instead of the top. He was not surprised, therefore, when he saw his father come home rather later than usual carrying a parcel of books under his arm. A few days afterwards he announced casually at breakfast:

"Well, I only hope no one gives me 'The Great Chief,' or 'The Pirate Ship,' or 'The Land of Danger' for Christmas."

His father started.

"Why?" he said sharply.

"Jus' 'cause I've read them, that's all," explained William with a bland look of innocence.

The glance that Mr. Brown threw at his offspring was not altogether devoid of suspicion, but he said nothing. He set off after breakfast with the same parcel of books under his arm and returned with another. This time, however, he did not put them in the library cupboard, and William searched in vain.

The question of Christmas festivities loomed large upon the social horizon.

"Robert and Ethel can have their party on the day before Christmas Eve," decided Mrs. Brown, "and then William can have his on Christmas Eve."

William surveyed his elder brother and sister gloomily.

"Yes, an' us eat up jus' what they've left," he said with bitterness. "I know!"

Mrs. Brown changed the subject hastily.

"Now let's see whom we'll have for your party, William," she said, taking out pencil and paper. "You say whom you'd like and I'll make a list."

"Ginger an' Douglas an' Henry and Joan," said William promptly.

"Yes? Who else?"

"I'd like the milkman."

"You can't have the milkman, William. Don't be so foolish."

"Well, I'd like to have Fisty Green. He can whistle with his fingers in his mouth."

"He's a butcher's boy, William! You can't have him?"

"Well, who can I have?"

"Johnnie Brent?"

"I don't like him."

"But you must invite him. He asked you to his."

"Well, I didn't want to go," irritably, "you made me."

"But if he asks you to his you must ask him back."

"You don't want me to invite folks I don't want?" William said in the voice of one goaded against his will into exasperation.

"You must invite people who invite you," said Mrs. Brown firmly, "that's what we always do in parties."

"Then they've got to invite you again and it goes on and on and on," argued William. "Where's the sense of it? I don't like Johnnie Brent an' he don't like me, an' if we go on inviting each other an' our mothers go on making us go, it'll go on and on and on. Where's the sense of it? I only jus' want to know where's the sense of it?"

His logic was unanswerable.

"Well, anyway, William, I'll draw up the list. You can go and play."

William walked away, frowning, with his hands in his pockets.

"Where's the sense of it?" he muttered as he went.

He began to wend his way towards the spot where he, and Douglas, and Ginger, and Henry met daily in order to wile away the hours of the Christmas holidays. At present they lived and moved and had their being in the characters of Indian Chiefs.

As William walked down the back street, which led by a short cut to their meeting-place, he unconsciously assumed an arrogant strut, suggestive of some warrior prince surrounded by his gallant braves.

"Garn! Swank!"

He turned with a dark scowl.

On a doorstep sat a little girl, gazing up at him with blue eyes beneath a tousled mop of auburn hair.

William's eye travelled sternly from her Titian curls to her bare feet. He assumed a threatening attitude and scowled fiercely.

"You better not say that again," he said darkly.

"Why not?" she said with a jeering laugh.

"Well, you'd just better not," he said with a still more ferocious scowl.

"What'd you do?" she persisted.

He considered for a moment in silence. Then: "You'd see what I'd do!" he said ominously.

"Garn! Swank!" she repeated. "Now do it! Go on, do it!"

"I'll—let you off this time," he said judicially.

"Garn! Softie. You can't do anything, you can't! You're a softie!"

"I could cut your head off an' scalp you an' leave you hanging on a tree, I could," he said fiercely, "an' I will, too, if you go on calling me names."

"Softie! Swank! Now cut it off! Go on!"

He looked down at her mocking blue eyes.

"You're jolly lucky I don't start on you," he said threateningly. "Folks I do start on soon get sorry, I can tell you."

"What you do to them?"

He changed the subject abruptly.

"What's your name?" he said.

"Sheila. What's yours?"

"Red Hand—I mean, William."

"I'll tell you sumpthin' if you'll come an' sit down by me."

"What'll you tell me?"

"Sumpthin' I bet you don't know."

"I bet I do."

"Well, come here an' I'll tell you."

He advanced towards her suspiciously. Through the open door he could see a bed in a corner of the dark, dirty room and a woman's white face upon the pillow.

"Oh, come on!" said the little girl impatiently.

He came on and sat down beside her.

"Well?" he said condescendingly, "I bet I knew all the time."

"No, you didn't! D'you know," she sank her voice to a confidential whisper, "there's a chap called Father Christmas wot comes down chimneys Christmas Eve and leaves presents in people's houses?"

He gave a scornful laugh.

"Oh, that rot! You don't believe that rot, do you?"

"Rot?" she repeated indignantly. "Why, it's truetrue as true! A boy told me wot had hanged his stocking up by the chimney an' in the morning it was full of things an' they was jus' the things wot he'd wrote on a bit of paper an' thrown up the chimney to this 'ere Christmas chap."

"Only kids believe that rot," persisted William. "I left off believin' it years and years ago!"

Her face grew pink with the effort of convincing him.

"But the boy told me, the boy wot got things from this 'ere chap wot comes down chimneys. An' I've wrote wot I want an' sent it up the chimney. Don't you think I'll get it?"

William looked down at her. Her blue eyes, big with apprehension, were fixed on him, her little rosy lips were parted. William's heart softened.

"I dunno," he said doubtfully. "You might, I s'pose. What d'you want for Christmas?"

"You won't tell if I tell you?"


"Not to no one?"


"Say, 'Cross me throat.'"

William complied with much interest and stored up the phrase for future use.

"Well," she sank her voice very low and spoke into his ear.

"Dad's comin' out Christmas Eve!"

She leant back and watched him, anxious to see the effect of this stupendous piece of news. Her face expressed pride and delight, William's merely bewilderment.

"Comin' out?" he repeated. "Comin' out of where?"

"Prison, of course! Silly!"

William was half offended, half thrilled.

"Well, I couldn't know it was prison, could I? How could I know it was prison without bein' told? It might of been out of anything. What—" in hushed curiosity and awe—"what was he in prison for?"


Her pride was unmistakable. William looked at her in disapproval.

"Stealin's wicked," he said virtuously.

"Huh!" she jeered, "you can't steal! You're too soft! Softie! You can't steal without bein' copped fust go, you can't."

"I could!" he said indignantly. "And, any way, he got copped di'n't he? or he'd not of been in prison, so there!"

"He di'n't get copped fust go. It was jus' a sorter mistake, he said. He said it wun't happen again. He's a jolly good stealer. The cops said he was and they oughter know."

"Well," said William changing the conversation, "what d'you want for Christmas?"

"I wrote it on a bit of paper an' sent it up the chimney," she said confidingly. "I said I di'n't want no toys nor sweeties nor nuffin'. I said I only wanted a nice supper for Dad when he comes out Christmas Eve. We ain't got much money, me an' Mother, an' we carn't get 'im much of a spread, but if this 'ere Christmas chap sends one fer 'im, it'll be—fine!"

Her eyes were dreamy with ecstasy. William stirred uneasily on his seat.

"I tol' you it was rot," he said. "There isn't any Father Christmas. It's jus' an' ole tale folks tell you when you're a kid, an' you find out it's not true. He won't send no supper jus' cause he isn't anythin'. He's jus' nothin'—jus' an ole tale——"

"Oh, shut up!" William turned sharply at the sound of the shrill voice from the bed within the room. "Let the kid 'ave a bit of pleasure lookin' forward to it, can't yer? It's little enough she 'as, anyway."

William arose with dignity.

"All right," he said. "Go'-bye."

He strolled away down the street.


It was a malicious sweet little voice.


William flushed but forbore to turn round.

That evening he met the little girl from next door in the road outside her house.

"Hello, Joan!"

"Hello, William!"

In these blue eyes there was no malice or mockery. To Joan William was a god-like hero. His very wickedness partook of the divine.

"Would you—would you like to come an' make a snow man in our garden, William?" she said tentatively.

William knit his brows.

"I dunno," he said ungraciously. "I was jus' kinder thinkin'."

She looked at him silently, hoping that he would deign to tell her his thoughts, but not daring to ask. Joan held no modern views on the subject of the equality of the sexes.

"Do you remember that ole tale 'bout Father Christmas, Joan?" he said at last.

She nodded.

"Well, s'pose you wanted somethin' very bad, an' you believed that ole tale and sent a bit of paper up the chimney 'bout what you wanted very bad and then you never got it, you'd feel kind of rotten, wouldn't you?"

She nodded again.

"I did one time," she said. "I sent a lovely list up the chimney and I never told anyone about it and I got lots of things for Christmas and not one of the things I'd written for!"

"Did you feel awful rotten?"

"Yes, I did. Awful."

"I say, Joan," importantly, "I've gotter secret."

"Do tell me, William!" she pleaded.

"Can't. It's a crorse-me-throat secret!"

She was mystified and impressed.

"How lovely, William! Is it something you're going to do?"

He considered.

"It might be," he said.

"I'd love to help." She fixed adoring blue eyes upon him.

"Well, I'll see," said the lord of creation. "I say, Joan, you comin' to my party?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, there's an awful lot comin'. Johnny Brent an' all that lot. I'm jolly well not lookin' forward to it, I can tell you."

"Oh, I'm so sorry! Why did you ask them, William?"

William laughed bitterly.

"Why did I invite them?" he said. "I don't invite people to my parties. They do that."

In William's vocabulary "they" always signified his immediate family circle.

William had a strong imagination. When an idea took hold upon his mind, it was almost impossible for him to let it go. He was quite accustomed to Joan's adoring homage. The scornful mockery of his auburn-haired friend was something quite new, and in some strange fashion it intrigued and fascinated him. Mentally he recalled her excited little face, flushed with eagerness as she described the expected spread. Mentally also he conceived a vivid picture of the long waiting on Christmas Eve, the slowly fading hope, the final bitter disappointment. While engaging in furious snowball fights with Ginger, Douglas, and Henry, while annoying peaceful passers-by with well-aimed snow missiles, while bruising himself and most of his family black and blue on long and glassy slides along the garden paths, while purloining his family's clothes to adorn various unshapely snowmen, while walking across all the ice (preferably cracked) in the neighbourhood and being several times narrowly rescued from a watery grave—while following all these light holiday pursuits, the picture of the little auburn-haired girl's disappointment was ever vividly present in his mind.

The day of his party drew near.

"My party," he would echo bitterly when anyone of his family mentioned it. "I don't want it. I don't want ole Johnnie Brent an' all that lot. I'd just like to un-invite 'em all."

"But you want Ginger and Douglas and Henry," coaxed his Mother.

"I can have them any time an' I don't like 'em at parties. They're not the same. I don't like anyone at parties. I don't want a party!"

"But you must have a party, William, to ask back people who ask you."

William took up his previous attitude.

"Well, where's the sense of it?" he groaned.

As usual he had the last word, but left his audience unconvinced. They began on him a full hour before his guests were due. He was brushed and scrubbed and scoured and cleaned. He was compressed into an Eton suit and patent leather pumps and finally deposited in the drawing-room, cowed and despondent, his noble spirit all but broken.

The guests began to arrive. William shook hands politely with three strangers shining with soap, brushed to excess, and clothed in ceremonial Eton suits—who in ordinary life were Ginger, Douglas, and Henry. They then sat down and gazed at each other in strained and unnatural silence. They could find nothing to say to each other. Ordinary topics seemed to be precluded by their festive appearance and the formal nature of the occasion. Their informal meetings were usually celebrated by impromptu wrestling matches. This being debarred, a stiff, unnatural atmosphere descended upon them. William was a "host," they were "guests"; they had all listened to final maternal admonitions in which the word "manners" and "politeness" recurred at frequent intervals. They were, in fact, for the time being, complete strangers.

Then Joan arrived and broke the constrained silence.

"Hullo, William! Oh, William, you do look nice!"

William smiled with distant politeness, but his heart warmed to her. It is always some comfort to learn that one has not suffered in vain.

"How d'you do?" he said with a stiff bow.

Then Johnnie Brent came and after him a host of small boys and girls.

William greeted friends and foes alike with the same icy courtesy.

Then the conjurer arrived.

Mrs. Brown had planned the arrangement most carefully. The supper was laid on the big dining room table. There was to be conjuring for an hour before supper to "break the ice." In the meantime, while the conjuring was going on, the grown-ups who were officiating at the party were to have their meal in peace in the library.

William had met the conjurer at various parties and despised him utterly. He despised his futile jokes and high-pitched laugh and he knew his tricks by heart. They sat in rows in front of him—shining-faced, well-brushed little boys in dark Eton suits and gleaming collars, and dainty white-dressed little girls with gay hair ribbons. William sat in the back row near the window, and next him sat Joan. She gazed at his set, expressionless face in mute sympathy. He listened to the monotonous voice of the conjurer.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will proceed to swallow these three needles and these three strands of cotton and shortly to bring out each needle threaded with a strand of cotton. Will any lady step forward and examine the needles? Ladies ought to know all about needles, oughtn't they? You young gentlemen don't learn to sew at school, do you? Ha! Ha! Perhaps some of you young gentlemen don't know what a needle is? Ha! Ha!"

William scowled, and his thoughts flew off to the little house in the dirty back street. It was Christmas Eve. Her father was "comin' out." She would be waiting, watching with bright, expectant eyes for the "spread" she had demanded from Father Christmas to welcome her returning parent. It was a beastly shame. She was a silly little ass, anyway, not to believe him. He'd told her there wasn't any Father Christmas.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will bring out the three needles threaded with the three strands of cotton. Watch carefully, ladies and gentlemen. There! One! Two! Three! Now, I don't advise you young ladies and gentlemen to try this trick. Needles are very indigestible to some people. Ha! Ha! Not to me, of course! I can digest anything—needles, or marbles, or matches, or glass bowls—as you will soon see. Ha! Ha! Now to proceed, ladies and gentlemen."

William looked at the clock and sighed. Anyway, there'd be supper soon, and that was a jolly good one, 'cause he'd had a look at it.

Suddenly the inscrutable look left his countenance. He gave a sudden gasp and his whole face lit up. Joan turned to him.

"Come on!" he whispered, rising stealthily from his seat.

The room was in half darkness and the conjurer was just producing a white rabbit from his left toe, so that few noticed William's quiet exit by the window followed by that of the blindly obedient Joan.

"You wait!" he whispered in the darkness of the garden. She waited, shivering in her little white muslin dress, till he returned from the stable wheeling a hand-cart, consisting of a large packing case on wheels and finished with a handle. He wheeled it round to the open French window that led into the dining-room. "Come on!" he whispered again.

Following his example, she began to carry the plates of sandwiches, sausage rolls, meat pies, bread and butter, cakes and biscuits of every variety from the table to the hand-cart. On the top they balanced carefully the plates of jelly and blanc-mange and dishes of trifle, and round the sides they packed armfuls of crackers.

At the end she whispered softly, "What's it for, William?"

"It's the secret," he said. "The crorse-me-throat secret I told you."

"Am I going to help?" she said in delight.

He nodded.

"Jus' wait a minute," he added, and crept from the dining-room to the hall and upstairs.

He returned with a bundle of clothing which he proceeded to arrange in the garden. He first donned his own red dressing gown and then wound a white scarf round his head, tying it under his chin so that the ends hung down.

"I'm makin' believe I'm Father Christmas," he deigned to explain. "An' I'm makin' believe this white stuff is hair an' beard. An' this is for you to wear so's you won't get cold."

He held out a little white satin cloak edged with swansdown.

"Oh, how lovely, William! But it's not my cloak! It's Sadie Murford's!"

"Never mind! you can wear it," said William generously.

Then, taking the handles of the cart, he set off down the drive. From the drawing-room came the sound of a chorus of delight as the conjurer produced a goldfish in a glass bowl from his head. From the kitchen came the sound of the hilarious laughter of the maids. Only in the dining-room, with its horrible expanse of empty table, was silence.

They walked down the road without speaking till Joan gave a little excited laugh.

"This is fun, William! I do wonder what we're going to do."

"You'll see," said William. "I'd better not tell you yet. I promised a crorse-me-throat promise I wouldn't tell anyone."

"All right, William," she said sweetly. "I don't mind a bit."

The evening was dark and rather foggy, so that the strange couple attracted little attention, except when passing beneath the street lamps. Then certainly people stood still and looked at William and his cart in open-mouthed amazement.

At last they turned down a back street towards a door that stood open to the dark, foggy night. Inside the room was a bare table at which sat a little girl, her blue, anxious eyes fixed on the open door.

"I hope he gets here before Dad," she said. "I wouldn't like Dad to come and find it not ready!"

The woman on the bed closed her eyes wearily.

"I don't think he'll come now, dearie. We must just get on without it."

The little girl sprang up, her pale cheek suddenly flushed.

"Oh, listen!" she cried; "something's coming!"

They listened in breathless silence, while the sound of wheels came down the street towards the empty door. Then—an old hand-cart appeared in the doorway and behind it William in his strange attire, and Joan in her fairy-like white—white cloak, white dress, white socks and shoes—her bright curls clustered with gleaming fog jewels.

The little girl clasped her hands. Her face broke into a rapt smile. Her blue eyes were like stars.

"Oh, oh!" she cried. "It's Father Christmas and a fairy!"

Without a word William pushed the cart through the doorway into the room and began to remove its contents and place them on the table. First the jellies and trifles and blanc-manges, then the meat pies, pastries, sausage rolls, sandwiches, biscuits, and cakes—sugar-coated, cream-interlayered, full of plums and nuts and fruit. William's mother had had wide experience and knew well what food most appealed to small boys and girls. Moreover she had provided plentifully for her twenty guests.

The little girl was past speech. The woman looked at them in dumb wonder. Then:

"Why, you're the boy she was talkin' to," she said at last. "It's real kind of you. She was gettin' that upset. It 'ud have broke her heart if nothin' had come an' I couldn't do nothin'. It's real kind of yer, sir!" Her eyes were misty.

Joan placed the last cake on the table, and William, who was rather warm after his exertions, removed his scarf.

The child gave a little sobbing laugh.

"Oh, isn't it lovely? I'm so happy! You're the funny boy, aren't you, dressed up as Father Christmas? Or did Father Christmas send you? Or were you Father Christmas all the time? May I kiss the fairy? Would she mind? She's so beautiful!"

Joan came forward and kissed her shyly, and the woman on the bed smiled unsteadily.

"It's real kind of you both," she murmured again.

Then the door opened, and the lord and master of the house entered after his six months' absence. He came in no sheepish hang-dog fashion. He entered cheerily and boisterously as any parent might on returning from a hard-earned holiday.

"'Ello, Missus! 'Ello, Kid! 'Ello! Wot's all this 'ere?" His eyes fell upon William. "'Ello young gent!"

"Happy Christmas," William murmured politely.

"Sime to you an' many of them. 'Ow are you, Missus? Kid looked arter you all right? That's right. Oh, I sye! Where's the grub come from? Fair mikes me mouth water. I 'aven't seen nuffin' like this—not fer some time!"

There was a torrent of explanations, everyone talking at once. He gave a loud guffaw at the end.

"Well, we're much obliged to this young gent and this little lady, and now we'll 'ave a good ole supper. This is all right, this is! Now, Missus, you 'ave a good feed. Now, 'fore we begin, I sye three cheers fer the young gent and little lady. Come on, now, 'Ip, 'ip, 'ip, 'ooray! Now, little lady, you come 'ere. That's fine, that is! Now 'oo'll 'ave a meat pie? 'Oo's fer a meat pie? Come on, Missus! That's right. We'll all 'ave meat pies! This 'ere's sumfin like Christmas, eh? We've not 'ad a Christmas like this—not for many a long year. Now, 'urry up, Kid. Don't spend all yer time larfin'. Now, ladies an' gents, 'oo's fer a sausage roll? All of us? Come on, then! I mustn't eat too 'eavy or I won't be able to sing to yer aterwards, will I? I've got some fine songs, young gent. And Kid 'ere 'll dance fer yer. She's a fine little dancer, she is! Now, come on, ladies an' gents, sandwiches? More pies? Come on!"

They laughed and chattered merrily. The woman sat up in bed, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed. To William and Joan it was like some strange and wonderful dream.

And at that precise moment Mrs. Brown had sunk down upon the nearest dining-room chair on the verge of tears, and twenty pairs of hungry horrified eyes in twenty clean, staring, open-mouthed little faces surveyed the bare expanse of the dining-room table. And the cry that went up all round was:—

"Where's William?"

And then:—

"Where's Joan?"

They searched the house and garden and stable for them in vain. They sent the twenty enraged guests home supperless and aggrieved.

"Has William eaten all our suppers?" they said.

"Where is he? Is he dead?"

"People will never forget," wailed Mrs. Brown. "It's simply dreadful. And where is William?"

They rang up police-stations for miles around.

"If they've eaten all that food—the two of them," said Mrs. Brown almost distraught, "they'll die! They may be dying in some hospital now! And I do wish Mrs. Murford would stop ringing up about Sadie's cloak. I've told her it's not here!"

Meantime there was dancing, and singing, and games, and cracker-pulling in a small house in a back street not very far away.

"I've never had such a lovely time in my life," gasped the Kid breathlessly at the end of one of the many games into which William had initiated them. "I've never, never, never——"

"We won't ferget you in a 'urry, young man," her father added, "nor the little lady neither. We'll 'ave many talks about this 'ere!"

Joan was sitting on the bed, laughing and panting, her curls all disordered.

"I wish," said William wistfully, "I wish you'd let me come with you when you go stealin' some day!"

"I'm not goin' stealin' no more, young gent," said his friend solemnly. "I got a job—a real steady job—brick-layin', an' I'm goin' to stick to it."

All good things must come to an end, and soon William donned his red dressing-gown again and Joan her borrowed cloak, and they helped to store the remnants of the feast in the larder—the remnants of the feast would provide the ex-burglar and his family with food for many days to come. Then they took the empty hand-cart and, after many fond farewells, set off homeward through the dark.

Mr. Brown had come home and assumed charge of operations.

Ethel was weeping on the sofa in the library.

"Oh, dear little William!" she sobbed. "I do wish I'd always been kind to him!"

Mrs. Brown was reclining, pale and haggard, in the arm-chair.

"There's the Roughborough Canal, John!" she was saying weakly. "And Joan's mother will always say it was our fault. Oh, poor little William!"

"It's a good ten miles away," said her husband drily. "I don't think even William——" He rang up fiercely. "Confound these brainless police! Hallo! Any news? A boy and girl and supper for twenty can't disappear off the face of the earth. No, there had been no trouble at home. There probably will be when he turns up, but there was none before! If he wanted to run away, why would he burden himself with a supper for twenty? Why—one minute!"

The front door opened and Mrs. Brown ran into the hall.

A well-known voice was heard speaking quickly and irritably.

"I jus' went away, that's all! I jus' thought of something I wanted to do, that's all! Yes, I did take the supper. I jus' wanted it for something. It's a secret what I wanted it for, I——"

"William!" said Mr. Brown.

Through the scenes that followed William preserved a dignified silence, even to the point of refusing any explanation. Such explanation as there was filtered through from Joan's mother by means of the telephone.

"It was all William's idea," Joan's mother said plaintively. "Joan would never have done anything if William hadn't practically made her. I expect she's caught her death of cold. She's in bed now——"

"Yes, so is William. I can't think what they wanted to take all the food for. And he was just a common man straight from prison. It's dreadful. I do hope they haven't picked up any awful language. Have you given Joan some quinine? Oh, Mrs. Murford's just rung up to see if Sadie's cloak has turned up. Will you send it round? I feel so upset by it all. If it wasn't Christmas Eve——"

The houses occupied by William's and Joan's families respectively were semi-detached, but William's and Joan's bedroom windows faced each other, and there was only about five yards between them.

There came to William's ears as he lay drowsily in bed the sound of a gentle rattle at the window. He got up and opened it. At the opposite window a little white-robed figure leant out, whose golden curls shone in the starlight.

"William," she whispered, "I threw some beads to see if you were awake. Were your folks mad?"

"Awful," said William laconically.

"Mine were too. I di'n't care, did you?"

"No, I di'n't. Not a bit!"

"William, wasn't it fun? I wish it was just beginning again, don't you?"

"Yes, I jus' do. I say, Joan, wasn't she a jolly little kid and di'n't she dance fine?"

"Yes,"—a pause—then, "William, you don't like her better'n me, do you?"

William considered.

"No, I don't," he said at last.

A soft sigh of relief came through the darkness.

"I'm so glad! Go'-night, William."

"Go'-night," said William sleepily, drawing down his window as he spoke.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas at Plum Creek

If you feel like getting all warm and fuzzy here's a Christmas episode from the past. It never fails to cheer me up. Or get me in the mood. Especially in July. Watch it in sequence. If you have about 50 minutes to kill and a really good connection.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

In the Mood

So I've mailed out the last of my Christmas cards. Two further trips to the post office because when grabbing the bunch of cards in my capacious bag, I left out two. Which I found later much to my chagrin. So it was a trip to Bangsar to mail the offending envelopes and a gatecrashing of Sue-Ann's tete-a-tete with her friend to get away from work.

I actually bought one of those chick-lit mildly romantic Christmas novels...just because the cover looked so inviting and it was supposed to be about childhood favourites...but somehow, although I didn't put it down until I had made it through all 500 or so pages, it did not leave me with that carbonated glow this kind of fiction is supposed to. No, not even the childhood favourite parts. And she didn't mention Wind in the Willows. I mean to say, what?

If I had not already featured the Dulce Domum chapter in these pages, I so would do that now. But as it'll have to content yourself with the Christmas chapter from What Katy Did.

My room is a mess. It's littered with scraps of presents, wrapped, unwrapped and I still don't think I've covered everyone. So far, I've given out about five. I've got labels for the rest, which is a good thing because by now, I've forgotten who gets what. And I don't remember what I wrapped so I would have to open them up and see.

Are you in the mood for the season?

Because despite all my preparations. I'm not. Not yet. It's like I'm tired all the time and just going through the motions, trying to force myself into the mood.

So far, no good.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Dickensian Holiday

The famous Christmas chapter from Pickwick Papers. You didn't think I'd leave it out in all this Christmas fare, did you? Jolly, jolly, jolly!

All three repaired to the large kitchen, in which the family were by this time assembled, according to annual custom on Christmas Eve, observed by old
Wardle's forefathers from time immemorial.

From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended, with his own hands, a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would
have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum.

The old lady submitted to this piece of practical politeness with all the dignity
which befitted so important and serious a solemnity, but the younger ladies, not being so thoroughly imbued with a superstitious veneration for the custom, or imagining that the value of a salute is very much enhanced if it cost a little trouble to obtain it, screamed and struggled, and ran into corners, and threatened and remonstrated, and did everything but leave the room, until some of the less adventurous gentlemen were on the point of desisting, when they all at once found it useless to resist any longer, and submitted to be kissed with a good grace.

Mr. Winkle kissed the young lady with the black eyes, and Mr. Snodgrass kissed Emily; and Mr. Weller, not being particular about the form of being under the mistletoe, kissed Emma and the other female servants, just as he caught them. As to the poor relations, they kissed everybody, not even excepting the plainer portions of
the young lady visitors, who, in their excessive confusion, ran right under the mistletoe, as soon as it was hung up, without knowing it! Wardle stood with his back to the fire, surveying the whole scene, with the utmost satisfaction; and the fat boy took the opportunity of appropriating to his own use, and summarily devouring, a particularly fine mince-pie, that had been carefully put by, for somebody else.

Now, the screaming had subsided, and faces were in a glow, and curls in a tangle, and Mr. Pickwick, after kissing the old lady as before mentioned, was standing under the mistletoe, looking with a very pleased countenance on all that was passing around
him, when the young lady with the black eyes, after a little whispering with the other young ladies, made a sudden dart forward, and, putting her arm round Mr. Pickwick's neck, saluted him affectionately on the left cheek; and before Mr. Pickwick distinctly knew what was the matter, he was surrounded by the whole body, and kissed by every one of them.

It was a pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick in the centre of the group, now pulled this way, and then that, and first kissed on the chin, and then on the nose, and then on the spectacles, and to hear the peals of laughter which were raised on every side; but it was a still more pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick, blinded shortly afterwards with a silk handkerchief, falling up against the wall, and scrambling into corners, and going through all the mysteries of blind-man's buff, with the utmost relish for the game, until at last he caught one of the poor relations, and then had to evade the blind-man himself, which he did with a nimbleness and agility that elicited the admiration and applause of all beholders. The poor relations caught the people who they thought would like it, and, when the game flagged, got caught themselves. When they all tired of blind-man's buff, there was a great game at snap-dragon, and when fingers enough were burned with that, and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mighty bowl of wassail, something smaller than an ordinary wash-house copper, in which the hot apples were hissing and bubbling with a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly irresistible.

'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is, indeed, comfort.'

'Our invariable custom,' replied Mr. Wardle. 'Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now--servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.'

Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred. The deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated into the farthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint on every face.

'Come,' said Wardle, 'a song--a Christmas song! I'll give you one, in default of a better.'

'Bravo!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Fill up,' cried Wardle. 'It will be two hours, good, before you see the bottom of the bowl through the deep rich colour of the wassail; fill up all round, and now for the song.'

Thus saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round, sturdy voice, commenced without more ado--


'I care not for Spring; on his fickle wing
Let the blossoms and buds be borne;
He woos them amain with his treacherous rain,
And he scatters them ere the morn.
An inconstant elf, he knows not himself,
Nor his own changing mind an hour,
He'll smile in your face, and, with wry grimace,
He'll wither your youngest flower.

'Let the Summer sun to his bright home run,
He shall never be sought by me;
When he's dimmed by a cloud I can laugh aloud
And care not how sulky he be!
For his darling child is the madness wild
That sports in fierce fever's train;
And when love is too strong, it don't last long,
As many have found to their pain.

'A mild harvest night, by the tranquil light
Of the modest and gentle moon,
Has a far sweeter sheen for me, I ween,
Than the broad and unblushing noon.
But every leaf awakens my grief,
As it lieth beneath the tree;
So let Autumn air be never so fair,
It by no means agrees with me.

'But my song I troll out, for CHRISTMAS Stout,
The hearty, the true, and the bold;
A bumper I drain, and with might and main
Give three cheers for this Christmas old!
We'll usher him in with a merry din
That shall gladden his joyous heart,
And we'll keep him up, while there's bite or sup,
And in fellowship good, we'll part.
'In his fine honest pride, he scorns to hide
One jot of his hard-weather scars;
They're no disgrace, for there's much the same trace
On the cheeks of our bravest tars.
Then again I sing till the roof doth ring
And it echoes from wall to wall--
To the stout old wight, fair welcome to-night,
As the King of the Seasons all!'

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Cards

This year I have been behind. I can blame it on the job but I guess it's more to do with a lack of organisation. Usually I spread the Christmas cards over November and send them off post-haste on December 1.

This time around, I only started writing them out on December 4. Can you believe it? I wrote out Christmas cards late into the night until I fell asleep and then I was at it again, the next day in the office, in between calling analysts to ask about a company, whose CEO I was supposed to be writing about. You couldn't think of two more dissimilar activities.

Anyway, then I stood in line for hours at the Post Office (what I call the December effect) as I tried to post my first batch of Christmas cards and one parcel. The line grew cobwebs as the one guy handling letters and parcels did his best. The problem was that all of us came laden with so many and had all these separate instructions - this one registered, that one no need...these are for Europe, this bunch for Australia, this bunch for the US...and this for Asean...some more...for Malaysia.

Then when I finally got the stamps...handed the parcel back to the post office...there was the licking and sticking to go...and I thought...this is why people don't send Christmas cards anymore. It is such a production! But then, what is Christmas without those cheerful cards full of robins and geese arriving in the post?

I used to love it as a kid. And I guess I desperately try to hold on to some remnants of the Christmas spirit now. But sometimes, despite the tinsel and fake holly and snow around me, it's hard.

So I posted off the one batch and came back to the office to see all the names I hadn't addressed yet. Some of them, I didn't have current addresses for. I had sent off Facebook messages reply.

I think there should be a cut off time.

But then I think off Mum who cheerfully sends off her cards on December 19, if she does at all. And think...maybe it's all right. I'll cut myself some slack and do what I can.

Even if I'm late and you don't get your cards in time, remember...I'm sending you good wishes in my head.

Bonne Noel Et Joyeux Fetes!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Fezziwig's Ball

This is my favourite Christmas book of all time. My favourite characters in the book are the Cratchits, especially Tiny Tim. Years later, I read that Dickens had written the book for the Cratchits who were the Dickenses in disguise. Here is one of my favourite scenes - it does not have to do with the Cratchits but goes back into time when Scrooge was a young apprentice and before he had let the world make him so hard and relentless.

Happy Advent.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

“Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here!”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement:

“Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:

“Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”

Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-’prentice.

“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick! Dear, dear!”

“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’s have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, “before a man can say Jack Robinson!”

You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it! They charged into the street with the shutters—one, two, three—had ’em up in their places—four, five, six—barred ’em and pinned ’em—seven, eight, nine—and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.

“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!”

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life for evermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon a winter’s night.

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.

But if they had been twice as many—ah, four times—old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that’s not high praise, tell me higher, and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig “cut”—cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two ’prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.

During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon its head burnt very clear.

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.

“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.

“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.

“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”

His former self turned down the lamps as he gave utterance to the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.