Vikings

I began writing a short story about Vikings last year, which took a totally unexpected turning and ended up as a different story that I had not foreseen at all.

But what was left over, also unexpectedly, became this poem.

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forest dawn detail

 

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It is going to be a busy couple of weeks, now, so I probably won’t be able to post or reply to comments as much as I’d like, but I’ll check in whenever I can.

All the best to you all!

Progress Report

Yes, I know. Could do better. *sigh*

But this is just about the writing…eh? What do you mean, that’s what you were talking about? Do you, by any chance, mean my tendency to skip from one writing project to another before finishing the first? Yes? You do? Well, okay, guilty as charged.

Perhaps I’d better explain.

I’ve got two novels on the go at once. I get a bit stuck on one, so I go and work on the other for a while. I’m making progress with both of them, but…just…not…very…quickly…

At the moment, I am back working on the follow-up novel to ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile.’ It’s not a sequel, since I regard MFWTC as a stand-alone work, so to speak. The new work, which I do not have a title for yet, is set in a fictitious Himalaya Hill Station, takes place in the 1980s (mainly), and is about the remaining British and the Anglo-Indians in this particular small corner of India, although the story naturally references a good deal more than that.

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Steam engine…yes, at a hill station in India. But, relevant to this post? No, not really.

It’s a little difficult to say much about the plot without risking spoilers, but the story is about relationships of various kinds – people with other people, with the land, with ideas and ideals. I’m probably about a third of the way through the first draft at around 30,000 words, and currently going strong.

Of course, this could be a really good reason for a trip to a hill station in the not too distant future. Purely for research, of course! Perhaps I could apply for some sort of grant?

In Which Bob’s Wife Goes on Holiday for a Week.

Bob phoned me up.

‘Gina’s gone off on holiday and left me to look after Duncan.’ Duncan is not their pet, although you might assume that from the way he said it, but their son. Now, when I heard that, several questions popped up in my mind. Namely, why had Gina gone off without Bob? Why had she left Duncan with Bob? But mainly, how on earth was Bob going to survive a week looking after himself and Duncan?

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Some celeriac. Very nice but totally irrelevant.

There are husbands who are less capable than Bob, but there are not many of them. At least, I think there are.

‘That’s fine, Bob,’ I said, my voice oozing false conviction. ‘You two can have a great time bonding over boy things.’

‘Bonding?’ he wailed. ‘He’s already said he wants me to take him to the football! And he’s hungry!’

Well, Bob does not like football. Basically, he does not understand football. But rather than pursue that line at that point, I said ‘Uh, hungry? When did Gina go?’

‘Monday morning.’ It was now Wednesday.

‘Monday?’ I asked, in genuine surprise. ‘What have you been eating?’

‘Well, we found enough stuff in the larder for lunch – you know, bread and stuff – and we ordered pizzas for supper. I had cereal this morning for breakfast, Duncan wouldn’t eat anything.’

‘Why not? What’s wrong with toast?’ There was a brief silence.

‘Well, actually, the toaster…um…you know…caught fire.’

‘Oh.’ A thought struck me. ‘And yesterday?’

‘Er, cereal, and, er, sandwiches…’

‘And supper?’

‘Oh, we both fancied pizza again, you know. Really fancied it. Um, they’re very good, those ones…’

‘Bob…’

‘Yes?’

‘Would you like one of us to go shopping with you?’

In the end, we both went round. The kitchen looked as though it belonged in a student squat. The draining board was temporary home to four pizza boxes, several bowls and plates and a host of dirty knives, forks and spoons. There were also three pieces of burnt toast and two pieces of very burnt toast.

The toaster was sticking out of the top of the bin, and the air was perfumed with the delicate scent of smoke.

There was no sign of Duncan.

For some reason, my wife never really seems to have taken to Bob. She narrowed her eyes and fixed him with what I can only describe as displeasure, and suggested that if he would like any help at all with the bloody shopping list, then he might clear up his bloody kitchen immediately, a tactic that actually proved most effective.

He had finished that, and the shopping list had been compiled (No, you can’t possibly live on pizza for a week!), when Duncan walked into the kitchen.

‘Oh, hi!’ he said to us, in a friendly, distracted way, before looking at Bob. Duncan is a perfectly affable fifteen year old, who unfortunately takes more after his father than his mother. He had an instruction book in his hand.

‘I’ve got it Dad, look!’ he said, pointing to the open page. ‘You can do toast under the grill – it’s that thing at the top. I’ve seen Mum using it for something or other – cheese on toast, I think.’

‘Well done!’ said Bob. ‘How does it work?’

‘Um…’ Duncan stared at the page for a moment, turned it over and looked at the other side, and then turned back. ‘Not sure. You’d better take a look.’

We slipped silently out of the house while they studied the booklet.

That week, Bob seemed to drop by our house an unusual amount, generally just for a chat – just to pass the time of day – but there was always an odd question somewhere in the conversation.

‘Where has Gina gone, Bob?’

‘She’s staying in Oxford. Wants to see lots of the churches around there, apparently.’

‘Pity about the weather.’ Outside it was bucketing down. ‘The forecast is for more of this all week.’

‘I know. I’m surprised she didn’t take her waterproofs. They’re still hanging up under the stairs.’

‘Perhaps she forgot.’

‘I expect so. Er, if you were Gina, where would you put spare batteries?’

The day before Gina was due to return, Bob decided to clear up the house. To be fair to him, we didn’t prompt him this time. I think it might have had a little more to do with fear of what Gina might say when she returned to something that resembled a municipal rubbish tip under her own roof. But it all seemed to go well and when he nervously asked us to have a look, clearly worried he might have missed something, we were surprised to see the house had even been vacuumed.

‘That was Duncan.’ The boy went up in my estimation.

‘The only thing that didn’t go right was the washing,’ Bob said reluctantly.

‘In what way?’

‘Well, I put the wash on (he seemed proud of having mastered the terminology), but something went wrong.’ There was a washing basket in the corner, the floor was covered in water, and the clothes it contained were clearly still soaking wet. My wife picked out a shirt and held it up.

Not only was it still dripping with water, but appeared to be for a small child.

‘How did you manage that? Those clothes are completely ruined!’ He looked hurt.

‘Don’t blame me, it was the damned washing machine! I left it on whatever setting it was that Gina last used, put the clothes and a washing tablet inside, and just switched it on.’ He pointed at the offending appliance.

‘Even I know that’s the dishwasher, Bob.’ I said. Inexplicably, he looked relieved.

‘Oh, that’s okay, then. I was worried it might have been on the wrong setting.’

Gina came back in the evening. Despite the week of heavy rain, it must be said that she had somehow managed to pick up a most impressive suntan.

An Author Page, a Relaunch, and, well, Other Things.

…what’s not to like?

Um, I meant that as a rhetorical question, and I’m rather hoping I won’t get any answers to that!

But, as promised a few weeks back, I have got around to creating my Author Page on Facebook. You can find it here and if you are on Facebook, please feel free to nip over and follow it.

I was going to put up a screenshot of the page, but I really can’t work out how to do it and almost lost the will to live trying.

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Totally irrelevant picture of wild boar hoof prints in Portugal instead

The point of creating an Author Page is so that I can separate out my writing and blogging posts from my personal ones on Facebook. I shall still send posts from this blog to both accounts, but the Author Page will also get a number of updates on my writing progress and other posts that my personal one won’t.

I will probably put up an album of my paintings.

It is even possible that Bob might be persuaded to make a guest appearance, just so long as he can find his way there.

The relaunch? I have put together extracts from a few of the very kind reviews I have received for my novel Making Friends with the Crocodile, which is available on Amazon by clicking on the picture below. Since I have taken the rather huge liberty of writing the novel in the first person, as an Indian woman, I am especially delighted with some very complimentary reviews which have come from Indian women.

The extracts read:

‘Mick Canning depicts quiet lives of ordinary desperation, in an Indian context. Although the “million mutinies” of which Naipaul writes have rescued India from famine and penury, it now needs a million more to deliver it from social, sexual and religious prejudices like those which bedevil the life of the narrator and her family.

Canning is an acute observer of nature as well as human nature, and his prose flows.’

 

‘This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page. We see the household through the eyes of Siddiqa, wife of Maajid, mother of two school-age girls and her son Tariq, who is married to Naira. We are drawn into the rivalry between Siddiqa and Naira, in a society where the men are the only wage earners and the women’s lives must, by tradition, revolve around their wishes. Small incidents pile up, one after another, as the underlying harmony of the household is fractured by the resentment and self-loathing of Naira. The family is Moslem, the village is a mix of Moslem and Hindu, and one incident threatens the uneasy cohabitation of the two communities. The police, seen as a hostile force in the village, get involved with an unpredictable outcome to the novel.’

 

‘In his debut novel Mick Canning weaves a brilliant story of the tragic life of a young bride in rural India – a story that is synonymous with many women, who continue to suffer oppression and victimization at the hands of men.

The characters are depicted with obvious respect for a culture that is both beautiful and at times shocking. By the novels finale, though tragic, we are left with a very thought provoking and memorable story.’
‘In an understated tone, the story presents the lives of people in an average Indian village in Bihar, and highlights the conditions that not only dissuade a woman from reporting an assault but also subjugate her further by holding her responsible for it.

Mick has delved into the mind of a middle- aged woman living in rural Bihar and has beautifully sketched the love – hate relationship she shares with her daughter in law. The book gives a lot of perspective on the mind-set and predispositions that prevail in the rural north Indian society (which apply, at large to many other parts as well).

Siddiqa, the protagonist character gets as real as she can be. The manner in which, the author connects the social issue with the system and institutions is very authentic and shows his deep understanding of the culture and milieu.
Go for it, if you like to read serious stuff that deals with real thought provoking issues.’

 And how is the writing going? I’m so glad you asked. I’m working hard on the new novel, and occasionally putting in some time on the older one that just seems to keep changing its mind on what it wants to be. *sigh* It’s like living with teenagers.

I’ll put up a proper update on all that soon.

The Admirable Jim Webster Presents…

I am delighted to host a guest post from Jim Webster today, since he…well, perhaps I’ll let him explain.

photo of Jim Oct 2015

Hi everybody, Mick kindly allowed me to drop in as part of a ‘blog tour.’
Given that Mick discovered my writing at Tallis Steelyard’s blog, I thought
I’d let Tallis, poet and raconteur from the city of Port Naain, tell you why
I’m here. Over to you Tallis.

I assume you are aware of the situation. You are summoned to the office of
some petty functionary and on arriving you find you are expected to join the
queue.
Or you need to visit a physician or tooth puller and arrive to discover that
even the city’s most glamorous courtesans cannot hope to find themselves as
sort after as the practitioners of these professions.
To be trapped in a queue is one thing, but in all these places where one has
to wait in line, they employ one whose task is to act as guardian of the
queue. These people are the ones who, with attitudes of supreme disinterest,
ignore the fact that you have an appointment for a certain hour and merely
gesture to the back of the line. So there you sit, secure in the knowledge
that to the minor functionary in charge, your time is of no value. They sit
there, blithely apathetic to the fact that there are people you need to see,
places you have to go, work that has to be done.
So what to do? How do I, Tallis Steelyard, cope?
It is an interesting question. I have tried using the time profitably.
Unfortunately the troll lurking behind the reception desk took umbrage at me
spreading my papers across her desk and borrowing her ink to make a fine
copy of some of my poems. I felt this was extremely petty of her. After all,
not only had she not paid for the ink herself, but I could not see why she
could not merely glare contemptuously at us from a different chair. There
was nothing that she was doing which demanded her sole unrestricted access
to the desk.
On the other hand, one of my finest hours came when I was faced with a room
full of dour and miserable people for whom time appeared to have stopped,
leaving us trapped in some grim limbo from which there was no escape. I
recalled a comic tale that had amused me when I heard it and decided to tell
it. I stood up, faced my audience, and started to recount it to the best of
my ability. I gave a fine performance. Any of my patrons would have
considered that Tallis was pulling his weight to get their party going with
a swing. I was especially pleased when one man at the head of the queue
voluntarily gave up his place to another, so that he could catch the ending.
The monster in charge of us was most put out. She tutted audibly, she even
tried to interrupt with the words, “Really Master Steelyard.” To my delight
she was shushed into silence by a young woman nursing a baby.
But normally, in all candour, I just take a good book with me. I take my
place without protest, make myself comfortable and start to read. Between
ourselves I feel that bursting into spontaneous laughter as you read is well
worth doing. It cuts your tormentor to the quick, forcing them to admit to
themselves that they are no longer in charge. They can no longer deny you
life’s pleasures.
To be really successful, you have to adopt the correct mental attitude. It
is rare that one has a legitimate reason for sitting and reading during the
working day. Far too often you are left feeling that you are indulging
yourself in a guilty pleasure. But in a queue you can indulge to your hearts
desire.
So remember, when you take your seat, wear that expression which tells the
world that you are not some put-upon victim, trapped against your will. This
is not an imposition, it is a window of liberty to be seized and enjoyed to
the full.
Trusting you all keep well.
Tallis

Ah well, Jim here. That went as well as can be expected I suppose.
Basically, what Tallis was supposed to tell you but somehow forgot was that
I have just published the sixth in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
(They’re a collection because you can read them in any order.) This one is
called ‘Keeping body and soul together,’ These novellas chronicle the antics
of Benor the Cartographer when he was staying in Port Naain. They do feature
Tallis, just not perhaps as much as he’d like.

Cover Keeping Body and Soul together

Rescuing random strangers on a whim may be the good deed for the day, but
will Benor survive the blood feud he has unwittingly become part of. More
importantly can he buy back the victim’s soul?

And me? I’m married with a wife and three daughters, dabbling in farming,
writing and journalism. I lead a quiet life in the north of England.
My blog is at

https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/

The blog of Tallis Steelyard can be seen at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

I am on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/jim.webster.10297

And there is even a facebook page for the books!

https://www.facebook.com/Land-of-the-Three-Seas-426394067386022/

If the few kind words Tallis did write have stirred your compassion and you
feel the urge to support a starving artist, (me not him) then a quick look
at Amazon will let you see what I’ve written

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

There is a lot of it, all reasonably priced.

Oh yes, and the book,
It’s at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XRKQBLQ/

The Christmas Story! 3rd and Final Part.

They could see at once that something was very wrong.

There was no movement from the child in the bed of course, since they were within TimeShift, but the agonised rictus on his face, the distorted jaw and neck, and the twisted body lying half in and half out of the bed, immediately made them freeze and stare in horror.

A snapshot…a cruel statue…tiny hands caught in time, clawing desperately at a heaving chest…bulging eyes…

Henderson actually thought he could hear a terrified scream, somewhere in the air in that suddenly awful room.

‘Shee-it!’ Said Edwards, softly and slowly.

Nobody moved.

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After a minute or so, as if by comment consent, they opened the door and slowly went out to the landing, each of them reluctant to leave the child – it felt like they were abandoning him.

‘Try that door.’

Lesley was the nearest. Raising his fist he began to tap gently at the door, then realised what he was doing and shrugged, pushing the door slowly open.

They faced a woman frozen in the act of throwing a dressing gown around her shoulders as she stepped towards them, the dressing gown caught billowing like a hero’s cape, although her face was frightened and staring. Instinctively, they all took a step back.

‘She’s heard him,’ muttered Edwards. ‘She’ll make sure he’s okay.’

But none of them believed it.

‘She’ll get an ambulance, for sure.’

‘But what about all that fucking snow? How will they get through that?’

‘What can we do?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Seems blindingly obvious,’ said Edwards, after a couple of moments. ‘We just pop him in the sleigh and take him to hospital ourselves.’ Henderson looked grim.

‘It’s really not that easy, I’m afraid. We’re in TimeShift, but he’s not.’

‘So? Just bung him in the sleigh anyway, and off we go.’

‘No, we can’t. When you’re inside TimeShift you can’t move any other bodies that are outside. It’s impossible. And even if we could, what about his mum? She’d just find him gone.’

‘So to get him to the hospital, we have to do it outside of this TimeShift thing?’

‘I think we’ll have to do everything outside of that. First we need to find out what’s wrong, which means we have to get outside of TimeShift straight away. Talk to his mother….’

‘…won’t she sort of just freak out when she sees us?’

‘We can’t worry about that. We just need to work out how to do it.’

‘Don’t you know, then?’

‘Er, no. When it happened last time, I don’t know how it worked.’

‘Can you call the office and ask them?’

‘Only in real time. But there is one way I can think of. One or both of you will need to stay here, whilst I take the sleigh and come back in…what, one minute? Will that give you long enough to speak to her and find out what’s happening?’ They both looked doubtful.

‘I’m not sure that the sight of us appearing in her house at the dead of night will really help. Ain’t there any way you can stay here? At least she’ll know who you are.’

‘I don’t think so. Neither of you know how to operate it.’

‘No, we don’t. Okay, come back in a minute or two, and we’ll tell you how we’re getting on.’

***

There were four figures on the landing when he returned.

Lesley and Edwards were standing either side of the woman they had seen in the bedroom, who had her hands to her mouth in shock, whilst the fourth was a man in pyjamas who was lying stretched out on the floor A cricket bat was lying a short distance from his outstretched right arm.

‘What the…

‘Sorry, I had to biff ‘im.’

‘Why?’

‘He was attacking us.’

‘Oh, for…

‘But the boy’s having a fit, and needs to get to hospital. And, shit, that was weird.’

‘What was?’

‘The way she stopped moving the moment you appeared.’ Henderson looked at him, and then went back into the child’s bedroom. He was still lying in that awful, contorted, position, but now there was just a hint of dark blue in his lips. He returned to the landing.

‘I think he’s dying. We don’t have much time.’

‘Have you got a plan, then?’

‘Just to get him to hospital as fast as possible. If I go and get that programmed into the SatNav, then we just have to come out of TimeShift and get him on board as quickly as we can and…’

‘Oh, bugger it! It’s obvious!’ shrieked Lesley suddenly.

‘Eh? What are you talking about?’

‘Well, instead of pratting about here, why don’t we just go and get a doctor and bring ‘im here? We can stay inside this TimeShift bastard thing until the last moment, then.’

‘Yeeess…that might be the answer. It’d probably be quicker. Although, we might have a problem if they don’t believe us. We can’t afford to spend too long trying to persuade them; the boy mightn’t last that long.’ Edwards narrowed his eyes.

‘Don’t you worry about that. The doc’ll come with us!’

***

Finding the hospital proved to be the easy part.

It was a small hospital, and at that time of night there were a mixture of sleeping and wakeful patients, nurses doing rounds and writing in folders and dealing with a number of minor crises, but it seemed impossible to find a doctor. They stood at a doorway staring into a restroom where a nurse was sitting with a half empty mug of something and a pile of papers. She looked tired.

‘Don’t they have doctors here at night?’ asked Edwards.

‘I suppose they must have, but I don’t know where we’ll find them.’ They looked at each other.

‘Well, why don’t we just take a nurse?’

‘Well, why not? Come on.’

They hurried back to the sleigh, and as soon as they were aboard, Henderson switched off the TimeShift.

‘Right! Let’s go!’

They ran through the entrance and down the corridor, ignoring the shout from the desk porter, and burst into the restroom.

‘We’ve got a boy dying out there!’

‘What? Who are you? Where?’

‘I don’t know the address; you just need to come with us. He’s having a fit.’

‘I can’t just go…’ Her voice faded away as she took a proper look at the elves.

‘You’ll come with us,’ said Lesley, in a voice that said very clearly that she was going with them. ‘You need to bring anything?’

‘Er, yes…a couple of things…I’ll need a hand.’

‘Right, come on. We’re in a hurry!’

There was plenty of room on the sleigh, with most of the sacks now lying empty on the floor at the back. It took a couple of seconds to deploy the new ramp and push the trolley of equipment on board, and then they were up in the sky again, the nurse in the front seat beside Henderson. As soon as the reindeer started up and they were back in TimeShift, he felt himself relax.

‘Right. Sorry about this, but there’s a boy having a fit, and the ambulance would never get through this snow.’ She nodded.

‘Okay, I get that. I understand that you’re Santa Claus…I suppose. But,’ she lowered her voice and jerked her thumb backwards, ‘who on earth are they?

‘Elves.’

‘They look a bit rough for elves!’

‘I’ve had worse.’

‘You want a beer, love?’

‘What? I…’

‘We’re here!’ said Henderson, hurriedly. This time he managed to bring the sleigh down in the road, squeezing in between a couple of parked cars.

‘Let’s get the trolley off first.’

They pushed it through the snow up to the front door, and then Henderson switched off the TimeShift.

‘Okay. Hurry!’

They hammered on the front door.

***

It was two hours later.

At least, in some ways it was, but just at that moment it was really a hundred and eighty-nine and a bit years earlier.

‘And you’re sure the little feller’s alright, now?’

‘The nurse said he’ll be fine. And we’ve only got two more drops, then we can go home.’

‘Right, I think we need some more beers, then.’

‘Hey, these are good ones!’ Henderson said in surprise. Edwards looked hurt.

‘What was wrong with my lagers? You seemed happy enough with them earlier.’

‘Oh, nothing. No, they were great. I mean, these are pretty expensive ones. Where on Earth did they come from?’

‘Oh, they were in the lounge in that house. I’m sure no one will mind.’

‘No,’ Henderson agreed, ‘under the circumstances, I’m sure they won’t.’

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

The Christmas Story! Part 2

‘Right,’ said Henderson, ‘here we go.’ He pressed the big green button and the reindeer burst into life. Less than ten seconds later, they were cruising through the sky just below the clouds. The TimeShift had kicked in, and, looking down, they could see they were passing over what appeared to be a small town, nearly every chimney of every house belching smoke, and the few roads between them devoid of traffic. Then the air around them crackled slightly, and instantly they landed on a rooftop in a modern day housing development. It was night time.

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Henderson glanced at the elves and nodded. ‘Okay?’

‘Nah, you’re the Big S. Best you do it.’

‘You know the rules!’ he said, in a passable imitation of Nicol’s voice. To his surprise, they looked at each other, grinned, and then got out.

They all stepped forward together, and found themselves in the middle of a darkened room, although each of them was able to see as clearly as if it were daytime. There was a single bed on either side of the room, each containing a sleeping child. On the end of each bed lay a large bag shaped like a sock, made from red material and embroidered in white with ‘Merry Christmas.’ A card table had been set up at the foot of one of the beds, covered with a small white cloth on which there was a small glass of sherry, and a plate with two mince pies and a carrot. He popped the mince pies and carrot into a small bag he was carrying, and poured the sherry into a flask. While he did that, the ‘elves’ put the regulation number of presents into each bag.

‘Dunnit.’ Said one of them. Henderson nodded, put a tick against the first name on his list, did that thing with his fingers he had to do, and then they were back in the sleigh. He turned around and put the bag and the flask on the floor behind the seat, and pressed the button.

‘Mind if we have these?’ said a voice behind him.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Cheers. Saves on lunch, anyway.’ He paused. ‘They don’t mind you eating one or two, do they?’

‘No, eat as much as you want. They don’t much care what happens to them anyway.’

‘What do they do with them when we get back, then? Do they just throw them away?’

‘They used to, but it goes to a food bank, now.’

‘What about the carrot? Can I give it to the reindeer?’

‘No, these ones can’t eat carrots. Don’t try it, whatever you do.’

‘Oh. Right.’ There was silence for a moment, then he heard a fsshh followed rapidly by two others, and then a hand suddenly appeared over his shoulder holding a tin of lager.

‘There you go, Big S. There’s a spot of Christmas cheer. It’s a bloody long day, this.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ he said in surprise. He took a sip, and then shivered slightly. It tasted pretty strong. ‘Better than that bloody sherry, anyday. Cheers!’

‘What happens to that?’

‘The sherry? Biofuel. That’s all it’s good for.’

A couple of hours into the shift, Henderson found he was beginning to relax. He was beginning to relax quite a lot, actually. He took his hands off the controls and turned around, leaning one elbow on the back of his seat.

‘I know one of you guys is called Edwards,’ he said, conversationally, ‘what about the other?’

‘It’s Lesley,’ the bigger of the two said grimly, clenching his fists belligerently. Henderson smiled.

‘Oh, right. Lesley, then, pass me another of those tins, would you?’

He reckoned they must be about halfway through the shift. It was always difficult to tell, what with their bobbing backwards and forwards randomly through the last two hundred years or more, and because of that it seemed somehow ridiculous to start worrying about whether it was two o’clock or three o’clock.

And at the moment, it didn’t seem to matter anyway.

But gradually they were working their way through the list; each name was ticked off in order, and the sacks that held the presents in the back of the sleigh were slowly emptying.

He thought he’d drunk three of those lagers, although there was a little voice somewhere inside him insisting it was four, and was just thinking it was a jolly good job that he didn’t actually have to drive the sleigh, when…

Crunch! Sssssssccccrrrrrsssshhhhhhh! Whump!

It took a lot to get reindeer to crash, but it seemed he’d managed it.

‘Where are we?’ Henderson slowly wriggled up from the foot well and got back onto his seat. He pulled his list out from his pocket and stared down at it.

‘Err, just outside Huddersfield. Probably.’ They had landed, but for some reason instead of coming down gently onto the roof of the house they were to visit, the sleigh had rushed down through the falling snow until it had collided with a hedge of conifers. The impetus had taken them through the trees, although they seemed to have a fair amount of snow and twigs over them and on the floor of the sleigh, then they had bounced a couple of times on the ground and come to rest against a low stone wall that formed part of the rear boundary of quite a large house.

He felt a little shaken, but nothing worse than that. He looked round at the others.

‘There’s a fair bit o’ the white stuff here, ain’t there?’ said Edwards, rubbing the back of his head,

‘Yes. Are you both okay?’

‘Yeah. Let’s get on with it.’ They all stood up, and Lesley picked up one of the sacks.

‘Right.’ They stepped forwards, but all that happened was that they found themselves standing ankle deep in fresh snow. ‘Oh.’

‘That’s not meant to happen,’ put in Lesley.

‘No,’ Henderson looked up into the sky, where the clouds were continuing to release a fair amount of snow, ‘and nor is that.’

‘What?’

‘Somehow, we’re in real time. Get back in the sleigh.’ They jumped in, and Henderson sat staring at the SatNav with its large red over-ride button, wondering what he should do now. He had a feeling that he’d been told about this the previous year, but the alcohol had made his thoughts rather woolly. As he hesitated, though, he heard a shout and looked up to see a couple of figures running towards them.

‘Oh, shit!’ Quickly he pressed the start button, and the reindeer roared into life. Seconds later they were up in the clouds again, and then they were down and sitting on a snow-covered roof. He looked at his list, then looked suspiciously at the co-ordinates showing on the SatNav. It seemed the program had reset itself automatically and they were now at the correct house.

Inside, he checked the list again. One child, boy, aged eight. Name of Dylan. On top of a chest of drawers was a hand-written note beside a mince pie and a couple of chocolates that read ‘For Santa, love from Dylan.’

That seemed okay then. He put a tick next to the name and they returned to the sleigh.

It was another short hop to the next call; the sleigh had barely risen to the clouds before it was down on a roof again. This time, the snow was seriously thick, and the flakes hanging silently around them were very big and very fluffy. It was remarkable, he thought, that the reindeer didn’t feel the cold.

But they wouldn’t, of course. Not these ones.

‘Right, come on. Only a few more to do, now.’ They stepped forward into the snow and materialised in a small bedroom.

And froze in horror at what they saw.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

The Christmas Story!

 

Well, it’s now December, so I suppose it can’t be too long before we begin to see the first of the Christmas decorations going up in the shops, and then, ooh, another week or so and we’ll start seeing some Christmas adverts on TV.

I said I definitely would not do another Christmas short story this year, so here it is. Part one of three. Probably.

In a way, this continues on from last year’s Christmas stories; I’ve put the links to them at the bottom of the page if you’d like to refresh your memories!

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It was almost the end of another tough year, another year of scrimping and scraping and just getting by. It didn’t seem right, somehow, that Santa should be on the breadline for most of the year, for that was how Henderson thought of himself now; Santa.

He didn’t really think they would take him on again this year, though. Not after what had happened the previous year, that is. But to his surprise, Nicol had smiled at him and said ‘Yes, it’ll be great to have you back on board again,’ without the slightest trace of sarcasm in his voice.

‘How have you been?’

‘Well, my back’s a bit stiffer than it was last year.’

‘You’ll welcome the new changes, then,’ he said, bitterly.

‘Changes?’

‘Yes. I’m afraid the government has taken an interest in us this year. That could spell real trouble in the future – if you come back next year, I expect you’ll find we’ve been privatised. They’re already making noises about cutting the number of presents.

‘It started last year. The Equality Commission visited us with a long list of what they called ‘positive changes’ that we needed to make.

‘Every single household with children needs to be visited, they said.

‘We do that already.

Each child needs to receive gifts of equal value, so that no one can think themselves disadvantaged.

‘We do. We always have done.

And you need to log each visit.

‘We do, it’s computerised. Has been for years. We have records going back to Victorian times.

‘And more crap like that. It feels like the writings on the wall, now.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, this year they were back again. So if your back’s a problem, you’ll be pleased to know that all the sleighs are wheelchair accessible now; or they will be,’ he corrected himself, ‘just as soon as we finish making the changes.

‘It was sprung on us at the end of November. Some twat with a clipboard and one of those stupid plastic ID cards hanging on a chain around his neck turned up unannounced in the office. He had come to find out whether our employment record reflected the government’s ‘investment in diversity’ – whatever the frick that means. Had we heard that a shopping mall in the USA had a black Santa this year? Yes, I said, we had. And over the years we’ve had sled-loads of black Santas. And brown ones. Pink ones. One year we even had a yellow Santa. Real yellow, I mean. Jaundice, it turned out to be.’ He sighed. ‘That one didn’t turn out well.

That’s good, he said, and ticked something on his clipboard. Then: What about disabled? You’re Joking, I said. How’s a disabled Santa going to get up and down chimneys?’

‘But I didn’t have to…’ Henderson began.

‘Yes, but he wasn’t to know that. That’s for you to facilitate was his reply, though. Bloody hell, can’t these jerks even speak English? Oh, well, that won’t be a problem, I told him, I’ll just put ramps and a ladder in each sleigh.’ Nicol ground his teeth together and looked really angry. ‘I was trying to wind him up, but the bloody idiot just smiled and said oh, well done. I’ll tick that one off too, then.’

‘If I haven’t met that bloke, I’ve certainly met one or two like him.’

‘Oh, there’s more. I’ll need to come and take a look at your sleighs, now. He said. And I should have seen what was coming, then.

‘What?’

‘Now they’ve all had to go back to the workshops to be made wheelchair accessible. We’ve only got two available at the moment, which means things are a bit hectic.’

‘Does that mean you really have to take on Santas who are…well…in wheelchairs?’

‘Fortunately, not.’

‘I’ll bet that’s a relief.’

‘Just elves.’

‘Elves?’

‘Uh-huh. Elves.’ He shrugged. ‘No reason why not, I guess. You know how it works, it’s just a bit slower than usual. It means I put in a requisition for two more sleighs and teams to cover the timings. Probably the biggest pain is the changes to the delivery program.

‘Anyway, that doesn’t affect your team. Here’s your schedule.’

 

They were both rather thickly built, unshaven men. One was smoking a roll-up.

‘They don’t look much like elves’

‘You don’t look much Santa Claus.’

‘I look more like Santa Claus than they look like elves, though.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s your team. They are fully trained and know what they’re doing.’

‘Are these guys from the same agency as me?’

‘No, they’re long-term unemployed. From the Job Centre. Another government stipulation, I’m afraid. Forty-two percent of our intake this year have to be candidates who have been out of work for a year or more. But they’re okay. I did a trial shift with these two yesterday and they were, er, just fine.’ Henderson stared at him. His experience with elves the previous year had made the subject a rather sensitive one. Then he looked at the elves, who stared back at him in what seemed a rather unfriendly manner.

‘No need to gawp,’ said one. ‘Ain’t you never seen a bloke in a pixy hat before?’

‘Not for a while,’ he conceded. ‘I’m Henderson, by the way.’

‘Come on then, Henderson, let’s get in,’ said the other. ‘Let’s get this crap over with, so we can go home.’

‘Put that cigarette out first, Edwards,’ said Nicol, sharply. ‘You know the rules!’ Edwards glared at him, then threw the cigarette across the yard.

‘Bastard!’ he muttered, under his breath. Henderson took his seat at the front of the sleigh and waited for the ‘elves’ to get in.

‘This will be fun,’ he thought, gloomily.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

I have some news!

I have some news.

I’m sure some of you (especially the writers) will remember that I reported here a week or two back the disturbing news that fictitious characters now have the legal right to sue their creators for defamation of character, or any other hurt (real or perceived) caused through those said creators’ thoughtless and heartless actions.

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In case you want to have a look, the link is below.

https://mickcanning.co/2016/10/22/sue-me-and-ill-have-you-killed/

Well, news reaches me this morning of a new grouping of characters, namely sidekicks in detective stories, who have come together under the name of Sidekicks Of Detectives (or ‘Sods’) to challenge their positions as The Most Stupid Person In A Detective Story.

Initially, the group was to have been organised by Captain Hastings, sidekick to the famous Poirot, but after some heated discussion it was agreed that, actually, he couldn’t organise his way out of his own front door without help, and the task was then delegated to Doctor Watson, who arranged a meeting at a coffee shop, one of a well-known chain, in Central London. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention either which branch it was, or the time of the meeting, and so there has only been limited progress on that front, so far.

But, further cases have already come to court.

A number of characters from ‘Three men in a boat’, by Jerome K Jerome, Bertie Wooster and others created by P G Wodehouse, and various characters from books by Spike Milligan began a collective case, but were laughed out of court.

Dan Brown is being sued by every single character he invented.

And there is some confusion in America, where Donald Trump has apparently filed a case against himself on the grounds that he has irreversibly blackened his own character.

I’m told he is confident of winning the case, since the stories he has spread about himself are scarcely believable, and that it is generally held that he must be a fictitious character, since the majority of observers and commentators say they ‘can’t believe this guy is for real!’

The trouble is, all this is symptomatic of our legislative culture. It was the retrospective case brought by Big Ears and Mr Plod against the estate of Enid Blyton that, I think, I found most distressing. By all accounts, they cooked it up over an evening of heavy drinking, after being taunted by the Tubby Bear family, and it is strongly suspected (although it cannot be proved) that much of the impetus came from a third character – possibly one of the Fluffy Cats, since they are known to be bad through and through (it’s okay, I can say that. It was proved in a recent court case of character assassination that the Fluffy Cats brought, and lost, against the estate).

But Big Ears and Mr Plod did win their case, and now not only is it a legal requirement that in future they both be referred to as intelligent, but Big Ears must henceforth be renamed as ‘Graham’. And his ears are officially ‘of normal dimensions’. Or else.

Which brings me to my own characters.

I have decided that I am not going to be dictated to, or browbeaten by, some miserable little…hang on, there’s someone at the door. I’d better just get that. Hello? What? A writ? about what? Oh…

I’m sorry, I have to stop there.

Wow, What a Book #3, #4, #whatever

Well, Saturday already. Seems only yesterday it was Friday *sigh* I suppose I’d better get on with it.

I don’t think I’ll do ten of these after all, because I rather run the risk of listing books just because I like them, rather than because they have had a real and measurable influence on me. So today I present the final three.

1. Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson.

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I read this book when I was in my mid twenties, and it really did open my eyes to what we as a species were doing to the planet. Up until that point, I had not really understood the impact that we were having on the environment. Shocked, I became interested in learning more, and then even more shocked as I learned what food and drink manufacturers put in their products for us to consume. At that time, one of them was the nasty compound dropped by the Americans on Vietnam during the Vietnamese War; a defoliant that was known to be carcinogenic.

It was used as orange food colouring.

I got hold of a list of all the ‘E’ numbers that were permitted additives, and which the industry certainly didn’t want us to know about. Certain ones were very nasty indeed. It was at this point that I became very keen on reading the labels on food and drink packaging.

I became involved with various pressure groups, such as Greenpeace.

That book changed my life.

2. The Razor’s Edge by W Somerset Maugham.

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In some ways, this could lay claim to be the book that has had the greatest influence on my adult life, but in a different way to Silent Spring.

I’d always tried to be a reasonably decent human being, but reading this made me rethink the way that I wanted my life to be. It is the story of a man who returns from the first world war and begins to question his place in society. He finds the trappings of modern western life, and its values, empty and meaningless – its focus on making money, selfishness and greed. He then searches for something meaningful in his own life, through education, religion and travel, and explores his relationships to others.

The message in this book immediately resonated with me; that there is much more to life than the pursuit of money, essential though some of it it might be to my survival. Other people mattered. Helping others was important. What is called the spiritual life, whether or not you believe in a god or not, was an important part of us all.

5. The War of the Worlds by H G Wells.

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Are you serious? you ask. How could this book be an influence on your life? One of the first science fiction books, and admirable for that, but an influence?

Well, it is easily told, and the answer will probably surprise you. This book provided the initial impetus for me to become a vegetarian.

Yes, a vegetarian. There is a passage in the book where the narrator recoils with disgust as the Martians take the blood from still-living humans for their nutrition, but then comments that it was probably the same reaction as an intelligent rabbit would feel observing our own eating habits. That made me consider whether it was necessary for me to eat meat, and I came to the conclusion that no, it was not.