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Christmas Tales Seasonal stories, poems and greetings from the Coventry Writers’ Group


Greenstream Publishing 12 Poplar Grove Ryton on Dunsmore Warwickshire CV8 3QE United Kingdom www.greenstreampublishing.com Published by Greenstream Publishing 2011 Copyright for the individual pieces is retained by the original authors and they assert the moral right to be identified as the authors of their work. Smashwords: ISBN 978-1-907670-16-9 Kindle: ISBN 978-1-907670-17-6 Copyright for this book edition is held by Coventry Writers’ Group. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.


Contents A Merry Christmas ............................................................... 3 Supporting Santa! ................................................................. 6  Snowflakes ............................................................................ 8  A Christmas Wish ............................................................... 10  Carol: A Ghost Story for Christmas 2012........................... 11  Christmas Break.................................................................. 34  The Beginning .................................................................... 36  When Santa got stuck up the Chimney ............................... 39  Making a Meal of It ............................................................ 42  Letters to Santa ................................................................... 44  I’m Just Going Out ............................................................. 47  Last Chance ........................................................................ 49  Santa ................................................................................... 50  About the Authors............................................................... 53  Also from Coventry Writers’ Group ................................... 58 

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A Merry Christmas Michael Boxwell I’ve been an hotelier all my life. It’s a funny old job – and not for everyone. You get to meet all sorts of people and, all too often, the customers treat the place like a dump. Bedclothes strewn over the floor, rubbish everywhere, petty thieving... I’ve seen the lot. There’s plenty of tales I could tell you. The worst of all happened a few years back now. During the census – a great time for us hoteliers. The inn was packed, and at three times the usual room rate too. Anyway, along comes this shifty-looking couple, turning up without a booking. I didn’t like the look of them and was all for sending them on their way with a flea in their ear, but it turns out the woman was in the family way and the missus felt sorry for them, so she let them stay in the stables for a bit to dry off. I didn’t like it. There was something about them I didn’t like. I reckoned they were trouble. You get to know them after a while. You get a group of disreputable travellers. They get the young, vulnerable-looking ones to come and get booked in, with 3


some sob story about long journeys, the donkey breaking down, dressing up the woman so she looks heavily pregnant – the next thing you know there’s a dozen or more of them, ripping the joint apart and pinching everything that isn’t bolted down. Anyway, it gets to midnight, it’s all quietened down and I’m beginning to admit that, well, maybe I was wrong. The missus and I are in bed, all the guests are settled and then it all kicks off. There’s this right ruckus out in the barn. This couple have invited in the whole neighbourhood and are having a party. There are about a dozen dirty, drunken shepherds down here shouting, singing and making an awful racket. They’ve even brought sheep with them, upsetting the other animals and causing a terrible din. I goes down there and tells them all to belt up, but they’ve all had too much to drink. They won’t stop singing at the tops of their voices and shouting about angels and kings. I’m all for kicking them all out, but when there’s only one of me and a dozen of them... well... you’ve got to know when to cut your losses. I go back in, triple-lock the doors, apologise to all the other guests and open up a free bar by way of compensation.

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Anyway, it all calms down eventually and we all get off to sleep. Then at five o’clock there’s another banging on the door and these three blokes with camels turn up. There’s me all bleary-eyed and trying to wake up and they’re talking about stars in their eyes and asking where the king is. I’ve no idea what they’re smoking, but by the sweet smell, it certainly isn’t legal. I slams the door and go back to bed. Next thing I know, they’ve gone into the barn as well and are shouting and cheering and it all kicks off again. Next morning, I have an inn full of irate guests all demanding their money back and leaving me with an empty hotel. I boot the couple out sharpish. Flippin’ troublemakers. It turns out the woman hadn’t been kidding about being pregnant though. In amongst all the noise and the partying, she had given birth that night. Poor kid. What a start in life. Wonder what became of him?

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Supporting Santa! Martin Brown

This Christmas will be different, For Santa’s out on strike. The government’s cut his pension, So he’s told them, “Take a hike!” For years he’s worked for peanuts, Including Christmas Eve, Delivering lots of presents To all those who believe. He’s ready for retirement, But the government says, “Get lost! Your pension’s too expensive, We can’t afford the cost!”

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So Santa is protesting, He’s put away his sleigh, And plans to march on Parliament At dawn, on Christmas Day. So please show your support For Santa and his plight, By filling up those stockings Yourselves on Christmas night.

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Snowflakes Elinor Reid

Snowflakes dance through the shattered ruins. I stare, wondering what happened here, Stumbling numbly from one charred stub of a building to the next. It almost seems like screams still linger but it is only the cold, cold wind.

Running my fingers over one shattered scar blending into the next, My throat closes up with upwelling tears. I bleed tears for hope abandoned, Dreams shattered and wishes cruelly tossed away like so much chaff.

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A snowflake kisses my face and I smile painfully, suddenly glad they are here. Fall faster, cover these ruins, let them never see light again! In the precious perfection of each tiny unique snowflake I find solace And know that even ruins can be made beautiful...

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A Christmas Wish Mary Ogilvie

Christmas wishes can be special, Christmas wishes can come true, And if you wish a Christmas wish That is specially for you, Make sure you keep it secret For it's then that you will find, That the wish you made for Christmas Will be a lasting kind.

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Carol: A Ghost Story for Christmas 2012 Rosalie Warren Carol Gentle studied the classifieds in the back of Private Eye and thoughtfully composed her own.

Conscience for sale, £750. Surplus to requirements. Can you make use of it? Bank details follow...

She didn’t really expect a reply. Anyone who wanted a conscience would presumably already have one. Still, you never knew. Christmas was approaching and perhaps one of the Eye’s wealthy readers would happen upon her advertisement and transfer the money to her account. Just how she would deliver her conscience to him (or her, though she somehow saw her respondent as male) was another question. But she had no doubt that, between them, they would find a way. 11


Carol’s house was cold. A fierce wind battered the windows and seeped in round the edges of the panes. It would be good to have new windows or even to turn up the heating by a few degrees, but the former was a pipedream and the latter was too risky. Stevie, Carol’s sister, was in trouble again and any spare money Carol could find would have to go on making sure her small nephews had some presents around their tree. She shivered and ran upstairs to get herself another jumper, which she pulled on over the first two.

A week or so later and a hundred miles away, Hogworth Shreddie hurried out of his workplace in London’s financial district, pushed his way through the crowds and headed for the tube station. A postal delivery van turned the corner just as Hogworth stepped into the road. The scream of brakes rent the frosty evening air and a hand – the hand of a stranger – grabbed Hogworth’s arm and pulled him out of the path of the red van, just in time. Hogworth lay sprawled on the pavement for several seconds – dazed, confused and rather surprised still to be alive. No one 12


seemed to be aware of him, though he heard the distant sound of an ambulance siren as he picked himself up and resumed his tracks to the station. Later, sitting in First Class and still feeling rather shaken, Hogworth took out his new copy of Private Eye and turned straight to his favourite section, the classifieds.

As always, Hogworth glanced over the mature, middle-aged women declaring their love of fun and their desire to travel, eat well and go to the theatre. Hogworth had never been able to imagine sharing his life with a woman. Or with a man, come to that. His sexual stirrings were amply satisfied by the internet. Less frequently, he’d noticed, of late. He must be getting old. Carol’s offer caught his eye. This was a first in his experience – someone offering their conscience up for sale. Why would anyone do that, he wondered. Hogworth had never been troubled by a conscience of his own, though he’d heard they could be tricky things to manage. Just some gimmick on this woman’s part, no doubt. Perhaps it was a scam.

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He dismissed the classifieds and turned instead to Pseud’s Corner, his second favourite section of the magazine.

Hogworth did not sleep well that night. He woke in the early hours, shaking all over, heart thumping fit to raise the dead. Vague memories of a nightmare clung like wisps of fog – a man crossing a road? Of course – his near miss in the city yesterday. Who can the person have been who’d pulled him out of the way of the red van? Someone quick-witted, no doubt of that. Strong, too. A young man of some description. Perhaps even an employee of Hogworth’s own bank. Would have been nice to be able to thank him – but by the time Hogworth had gathered his wits, his saviour had disappeared. Lying there in the dark, Hogworth became slowly aware of a kind of glimmer – a ‘sheen’ was how he put it to himself – at the end of his bed. Silvery, gently luminous, perfectly still. What the hell? He shut his eyes and opened them again. The sheen had gone. Hogworth turned onto his side and settled down to sleep. 14


It happened again the next night. This time the sheen was more in focus and had a vaguely human shape. Hogworth sensed that it was waiting, in some way, for him. Feeling idiotic but unable to help himself, he said: ‘Hello?’ His voice emerged hesitant and unassertive – wholly unlike his usual tones. “Hello.” The reply was quick and uttered in exactly Hogworth’s voice. It could almost have been an echo. “Can I help you at all?” Hogworth’s heart was thudding again. Not, he told himself, that he was in any way afraid of ghosts. He couldn’t be, seeing as he didn't believe in them. This creature was either a nightmare or, just possibly, a hallucination of some kind brought on by an unwise combination of painkillers (he suffered from mild arthritis) and whisky. “No,” the sheen replied. “You can't help me. There is nothing you can do for me.” “In that case,” said Hogworth, “Would you kindly remove yourself from my bedroom and let me go to sleep.” He closed his eyes and opened them again. 15


The sheen had gone.

On the third night, he awoke, as was becoming a habit, at five past four. This time, the sheen had a face. A face that was familiar to Hogworth but brought him no pleasure at all. It was his uncle – the man who’d brought him up. Uncle Stafford. Brother of Hogworth’s single-parent mother, who had walked out on him at the age of two, or so Hogworth had always been told. He didn't remember her at all. Except – he had a memory of long dark eyelashes, accompanied by a warm glow, a sense of being held. But they could have belonged to almost anyone. A number of women had helped care for Hogworth as a child. He preferred not to think of his life before the age of twenty-two, when he’d graduated with a II.1 in economics, ready to take on the world. “Stafford?” Hogworth hadn’t seen his uncle for years, but decided he was old enough to drop his title now. “Is that you?” “My identity is of no concern.” “Really? Then would you kindly tell me what you’re doing here? Are you some kind of ghost?” “Not a ghost.” 16


“Then why – or how...?” Those bloody pills. “Look, I don't know why I'm trying to talk to a hallucination. Please go away.” “I’m here to warn you.” Hogworth couldn't restrain the little shudder that crept over him. He’d heard too many ghost stories in the past. “Warn me of what?” “It’s time. You've lived without one for many years. But this really can't go on. It’s time you got yourself one. Man cannot live by money alone.” Hogworth knew that the quotation was wrong – but he couldn't think what the correct word was. It wasn’t ‘money’, that was all he knew. “I’m doing pretty well,” he said. “Not for much longer,” said Uncle Stafford – if that’s who he was. “You've not got long. Find the woman in the eye and give her the money.” “The woman in the eye?” “The Eye, stupid. Private Eye.” “Oh.” Hogworth felt himself blush, in a way he hadn't done for years. Uncle Stafford always used to call him ‘stupid’, he

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remembered now. That was one reason Hogworth had been so proud of his degree. “Man can’t live without a conscience,” Stafford said, a note of solemn coldness in his voice. “Or it’s very dangerous to try.”

Hogworth woke to late-morning Saturday sunshine streaming between his curtains. He allowed himself a small chuckle at the idiocies of his dream last night. Uncle Stafford indeed, come to warn him of the perils of not having a conscience... As far as he knew, Uncle Stafford wasn't even dead. Hogworth fried himself a hearty breakfast involving bacon, eggs, sausages and other unhealthy things. He was overweight and knew he should have his cholesterol levels checked. But food was such a comfort, such wonderful companionship, such a delightful way to spend the first part of his weekend. Radio 4 was brimming with news about the credit crunch, the European economy falling apart, the benefits cuts – all the people who wouldn't be able to afford a good Christmas. “It’s their own stupid fault,” Hogworth said aloud, between mouthfuls of bacon rasher. “If people would only learn to save. If they

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weren’t afraid of hard work. If they didn't overspend on their credit cards and get into ridiculous amounts of debt...” But the sentiments didn't comfort him quite as much as usual, and his next mouthful had an unpleasant taste. Maybe the egg was off? He got up, scraped the remains of his breakfast into the bin and pressed the button of his radio. He’d been thinking about other people’s money all week – why should he have to do it at weekends, too?

Carol Gentle spent the morning on the internet, trying to buy the toys her nephews wanted at a price she could afford. It simply wasn't possible, she soon discovered. Not since the loan she’d taken out on behalf of her sister and was now struggling each month to pay back. If only, she thought, sipping her cuppa soup, she could just let go of Stevie. Not let go in the sense of no longer being her sister; just let go of feeling she had to rescue her from every single mess. It was all the fault of that blasted conscience of hers, which wouldn't allow her a moment’s peace. 19


Carol wondered what day Private Eye came out and whether her advertisement would appear this week.

Hogworth Shreddie found himself dreading bedtime. He watched BBC4 until very late, but couldn't remember anything he’d seen. In his pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers, he helped himself to a glass of whisky before going upstairs. He caught sight of himself in the mirror in the hall. He was turning into Uncle Stafford, no doubt about that. Another five years and he’d be the spit of him. Except that he was a couple of million pounds richer, of course, and could afford a better cut of dressing gown.

4am, as always, the sheen appeared, except that this time it wasn't a sheen at all but Uncle Stafford with his red face and tobacco smell. “You done anything about it yet?” Stafford asked him. “About what?” “You know perfectly well. The woman in the Eye. She’s not asking much – not in your reckoning, anyway. A wellfunctioning, carefully-maintained conscience – bargain at the price.” 20


“How do you know it's been well-maintained?” “Course it has. Single lady owner and all that. It’ll be in fine working order, mark my words.” “This is a conscience we’re talking about, Uncle Staffy, not a car.” Oh crikey. He’d reverted to his childhood name for his uncle. Things were getting bad. Stafford smiled. “Just get on with it. Tomorrow – you’ve got all day. Not got any other commitments, let’s face it, have you?” How did Uncle Stafford know his business? “Can’t remember. Possibly not.” “Get on with it then. Transfer the dosh to the lady’s bank account. Or better still, get in touch with her.” “How can I do that?” “Twitterbook or whatever it’s called. One of these idiotic social wotsit sites. I’m sure you’ve played around on them – you must know how they work. See if you can find her. She might even be a looker.” “Uncle Staffy, I don't want a looker. I don't want a woman at all. And I certainly don't want a consc...”

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He was not sure why he stopped. Something was getting in the way. He had a feeling he wasn't telling the truth... not that that would normally have held him back. What the hell was going on? “Can’t do any harm,” Stafford went on. “See if you can track her down. Offer to meet up.” “She might live anywhere. The Shetland Isles. Overseas...” “A trip abroad would do you good.” “I’ll think about it, Uncle Staff, if you’ll promise to leave me alone. I need to sleep.” “OK. I’ll go. For now...” This time, Hogworth didn't close his eyes. He watched, while his uncle’s outline became blurry – became, once again, the vague, glimmering silver sheen he’d seen at the end of his bed on that first night. “Goodbye, Uncle,” he said, but the sheen did not reply.

Hogworth didn't have a Facebook account – not any more. He’d started one, but then, as time went on and he still had only two friends, began to feel embarrassed about his lack of popularity. He knew that having lots of friends on Facebook didn't 22


necessarily mean you had them in real life, but still... He couldn't help remembering the way he used to feel at school, when he was always last to be picked for the basketball team. He did tweet, however – under an assumed name. For some reason, he pretended to be a young woman; he even had her picture as his icon. Other young women began to follow her. She developed a voice of her own – a good line in self-deprecating humour and chocolate fetishes. Hogworth rather liked Romolina Puddleton, as he called her. He could almost imagine the two of them being in love. It was all pathetically sad, of course, and he’d have died of shame if anyone found out.

Discovering the identity of the person selling the conscience in Private Eye took Hogworth a fair bit of time and required the exploitation of some of his banking connections. Had he had any moral scruples, he would have been obliged to discard them, but seeing as he didn't, this did not trouble him. Once he had discovered Carol Gentle’s name, it didn't take him long to find her on Twitter – where she used something close to her real identity. A tweet in her direction – and within a 23


couple of hours she was following him. A few direct messages later, and they were discussing the possibility of meeting up. Carol confirmed that she was the person who had placed the advert in Private Eye. He assured her he wasn't a murderer or about to cheat her out of anything, but she sensibly refused to believe him and insisted they meet up in a public place. That suited him fine, especially when he discovered he would only have to travel 100 miles on the train up to Coventry. Not his favourite city, but still... Carol’s icon showed a youngish woman with long dark hair and lovely curling eyelashes – not so different from the memory he had of that person who’d just possibly been his mother. Of course, the eyelashes weren’t the reason he wanted to meet her, he told himself. It was mainly a way of getting the phantom who looked like Uncle Stafford to shut up and disappear. If it cost him £750, then so be it. He’d paid more than that in the past for a good night’s sleep.

They agreed to meet the following Saturday, in a café five minutes’ walk from the railway station. Hogworth’s train arrived on time and he found himself twenty minutes early, in a shoddy 24


little place with dim lighting, sticky tabletops and coffee that tasted of nothing but the cardboard cup. The place was busy, though, and Hogworth found himself looking up every time someone opened the door, to see if Carol Gentle had arrived. The clock moved on to half past three. Carol was half an hour late now – it was beginning to look as though she’d chickened out. He could hardly blame her. He had her bank details, of course, and made up his mind to transfer the money anyway. Perhaps her conscience would be magically transmitted to him as the money became hers. Idiot, he told himself. Then the door swung open again and a beautiful young woman with untidy dark brown hair and the longest, curliest eyelashes he’d ever seen (except on a model) came in. “Carol?” She smiled and made for his table. Her face had a mischievous grin. It was a long time since anyone had smiled at him like that.

“Is your name really Hogworth?” she asked. 25


He felt himself smirk. “I’m afraid so. Can I get you a coffee or tea?” “Yes please. Coffee, black, half a sugar.” As he stood up, he said: “I think my mother was trying for Hogarth and fell slightly short.” “Not Hogwarts?” She smiled again. That smile was magical. “No, no. Long before the time of Harry what’s-his-name.” He put her coffee on the table, together with a triple chocolate muffin he’d ordered on impulse, perhaps thinking of his alter ego, Romolina. “Thanks. That’s lovely, though I shouldn't really be eating this.” “Of course you should.” “OK.” She took a bite. “Look, this is really generous of you.” “Is it? I thought it was a business transaction. Are you saying now that you’re charging me too much?” Her cheeks flushed, just a little. “No. Well – I don't know. How much is a conscience worth?” He took a sip of his own coffee, now almost cold. “Don’t ask me. I've never had one, so I've no idea.” 26


She frowned. “Are you sure you’ve never had a conscience? It sounds... a bit weird.” “I don't think I have,” He felt he could open up to this young woman with the broad smile. “I’ve never felt any sign of having one. A conscience makes you do good things for other people – is that right?” “Of course it is. Stop teasing me. Everyone knows what a conscience does. Makes you feel bad if you don't do good things. So you do them, to stop yourself feeling bad. Like me with my sister and her kids.” “Tell me about your sister and her kids.” She told him. He heard about Stevie’s descent into poverty. Her promising start, her success at university, her failure to get work, her pregnancy, her second pregnancy... her troubles with the DWP, her involvement with drugs (though she was clean now, Carol assured him). He heard about Stevie’s two adorable but difficult boys, and of how Carol was struggling to help them out. He didn't say much.

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When Carol had finished, she crumbled the remainder of her muffin between her fingers, looked into his eyes and said: “You’re probably thinking what an awful family we are.” “Why would I be thinking that?” Actually, that was exactly the kind of thing he would normally have thought. But he wasn't thinking it. He didn't really know what to think. Carol’s eyelashes made it difficult to concentrate. “Anyway,” she concluded. “That’s why I've finally decided – I can’t do it anymore. Look after Stevie and her kids, I mean. I just can’t. I've got to start thinking of myself a bit or I'll slide down after her. I've got to start saying “no” to her – at least some of the time.” “That sounds very sensible to me.” She sighed. “But I can’t – my conscience won't let me – which is why I want to get rid of it. To someone who can give it a good home. And the money – it would let me pay off my debt and start again.” “Is that all you need?”

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Her eyebrows went up. He saw they were unplucked – really quite thick, the way he liked women’s eyebrows, though he hadn't realised it till now. “What d’you mean?” she asked. “I mean, would a bit more money be useful, on top of the £750?” She laughed – a rather appealing snort. “Of course it would. But I could hardly expect...” “What would you do, if you had it? Say an extra twenty thousand pounds?” “Twenty thousand? Now we’re in fairyland. Let me think. I'd start my business, of course.” “You have plans for a business?” Her children’s clothing company. All her designs. The way she would involve her workforce, be kind to them, pay them a decent wage. But still make a good profit. Toys, perhaps, as well. Baby and toddler equipment. She had plenty of ideas. He smiled. “You have plenty of ideas.” “More ideas than sense, my sister always says.” “And you believe her – the feckless Stevie?” “Stevie’s not feckless.” 29


He looked at her. Then he pulled out his chequebook and pen and scribbled on a cheque, which he tore out and pushed across the table. She picked it up and stared. “No!” “Please accept. It's my pleasure.” “I couldn't possibly...” She could hardly contain her excitement. She was like a five-year-old in front of the Christmas tree. “Are you really... really... sure?” He nodded. “I’m sure. It’s actually... I mean, I'm not saying this to boast, but I don't want you to think...” He felt himself blush. “It’s really not such a large amount of money to me.” “It is to me.” “Well then. Please accept.” It’s her turn to blush. “No strings?” What the hell did she mean? Did she really think...? “Of course not. You need never see me again. I’ll destroy your details. And... I’m sorry. I shouldn't have dug around to find out who you were. It was unforgivable of me.” “Don't worry.” “Are you sure?” “Of course.” 30


“I'd like to let you know how I get on.” He passed her his business card. “Email me in a year’s time. I’ll be interested to know how the business is progressing.” She beamed at him. “I will!” Then she gave him a hug. He said: “Remember, you don't have a conscience now. You sold it to me. So if your sister asks for help...” Carol smiled. “Don't worry. I know what to do.”

Carol did indeed set up her children’s clothing company. She turned out to have a practical mind and a great deal of business sense. Once Stevie realised she wasn't getting any more freebies, she started to help out – and by the end of the year, sales were taking off and they were employing three other people. Carol had thought once or twice of contacting Hogworth during the year, but had not got round to it – there’d been so little time. But as she wrote her Christmas cards, she remembered him. A quick email – with thanks, greetings and a balance sheet, just to show him how well they were doing.

The reply was in her mailbox next day. 31


Dear Ms Gentle I’m so sorry to tell you, but Mr Hogworth Shreddie passed away just before Christmas last year. He died on December 6th 2011, crossing a road in the City of London, where he was hit by a postal delivery van. I’m very sorry to have to tell you this sad news. I thought I had informed all Hogworth’s friends and contacts, but clearly you were missed out and I can only apologise for this. With kind regards

Hollerton Juniper Camtropp Banking Services plc

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Carol’s first thought, as she read the message and started to shake, was that Mr Juniper had got the year wrong. Hogworth must have died this December, 2012, not last... She’d made a copy of his cheque to keep for posterity. It was clearly dated 17th December 2011, the day she’d met him in the bleak little café near Coventry station. She stared at the cheque in its frame on the wall beside her desk – then back at the email on her screen. Then at the cheque again. Hogworth had mentioned, she remembered, almost being knocked down by a mail van on his way home from work. An unknown arm had pulled him out of danger, just in time. He’d joked about how the experience had made him realise he was mortal – and had perhaps set off the strange nightmares about his Uncle Stafford. He’d dismissed all that, of course, with his rather creaky laugh – the one she guessed he hadn't used for a while. She’d joined in. He’d told her how much he liked her snorting giggle. They’d parted friends.

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Christmas Break Margaret Mather

It was a fairytale scene, lights twinkly and bright, Ice shining, inviting, I thought that I might Take a spin around the rink, feel the wind in my face, Exciting, dangerous, I accelerated my pace.

My confidence picked up, I quickened my speed, I felt invincible, alive, in control and in the lead. Eyes watched in envy as I flew round and round, Disbelief that I could skate to the sixties’ sound.

I was flying now, confidence oozed from every pore. People were clapping and shouting – more, more, more. I skated and sang with my hands shoved in my pockets, My skating boots felt as if they were attached to rockets.

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A sweet wrapper on the ice was the ruin of me. My skates stopped dead, I fell on one knee. Throwing my arms out, I tried to prevent the crash, Into the railings I went with a terrible smash.

I broke an arm, grazed a knee, hurt my pride, Felt as if pins were sticking right into my side. Maybe at sixty I should slow down a bit. But where’s the fun in that? A girl’s got to keep fit.

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The Beginning Dianne Sweet

When the Son of God, just a swaddled babe, In a straw-filled manger his virgin mother laid No trumpet sound, no bells did ring Just a diamond star proclaimed a king. An angel whispered on eastern breeze To drift o’er mountains, plains and endless seas. Desert ships, sages aboard, rode shifting sands a journey long Only precious gifts they brought, no choir, no song. For they knew some who feared this power To disarm armies, topple their tower.

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Within midnight sky hung that blinding light Cascading down on shepherds awed by the sight. Their flocks they left in a greater care For morning light their aim to be there. Bringing no fanfare glory or crown Their only burden a furrowed frown. Before dawn had risen all mankind would know The beginning of the end of the status quo. A greater love was born that day A single lesson of all we need this Christmas Day.

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When Santa got stuck up the Chimney Calvin Hedley “U-u-g-h!” he said, and then tried again. “U-u-u-g-g-h-h! It’s no good, I can’t budge.” “Oh, not again.” “I can’t help it.” “You can help it, Santa, you’re fat.” “They make chimneys narrower these days.” Silence. “And if you must know, I’ve a medical complaint.” “Ah, I see. What do they call it? Mince-pie-oholism? You attend meetings, I suppose. ‘My name’s Santa and I’m a pieoholic’.” “Rudolf, I have water retention.” “Hmmm, it probably can’t seep through all that pastry. That great black belt of yours isn’t supposed to serve as a gastric band.” “Ho! Ho! Ho! Very funny.” “Too many pies, Santa, I’ve always said it.” 39


“Yeah, don’t I just know it?” Giving another convulsive writhe: “I could do with some help here.” Rudolf sniffed. “I’m not putting my back out, not on Christmas Day.” Santa mused for a while. “What’s up, Rudolf? I don’t hear the others complaining.” “Ah, well, let’s see. Donner and Blitzen think they’re superior to everyone, Cupid’s too meek, Comet too drunk, Dasher, Dancer and Prancer neither dash, dance nor prance any longer and Vixen only ever complains to me.” Rudolf warmed to his theme. “It’s no fun for me, guiding everyone, having to find everywhere, and when was the last time we just delivered an orange and a penny whistle? Computers and bloody great plasma TVs now.” A brooding pause. “And your little helpers don’t exactly help. Pause for breath and they’re piling on more stuff. And now you’re bigger than ever and I’ve simply had enough.” “Why didn’t you say?” Drawing a deep breath: “I am saying.” “But don’t nag, Rudolf; you’re not a nag, you’re a reindeer… and think of the children.”

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“Huh, children! This is absolutely the last time, Santa. I’m getting bucktoothed, hauling you out.” “Thanks, Rudolf.”

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Making a Meal of It Margaret Egrot

He laughed when I said there would be no Christmas dinner if he hadn’t finished decorating the dining room. Laughed, and joshed me playfully on the shoulder. So like him – cheerful and carefree – but so careless about what really matters. I said nothing more. Just waited. And noted the lack of progress. And shopped accordingly.

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On Christmas Day the step ladder and buckets were still in the dining room, and the wallpaper still in its wrapper. We had tinned ham, mash and frozen peas for lunch. No pudding. Nothing was said. But I felt I’d made my point.

He left me in the New Year and I finished the decorating myself It took me two days. This year I haven’t done any Christmas shopping yet. What’s the point when there is only one of you?

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Letters to Santa Ann Evans

Dear Santa, I’m sure you get lots of letters from kiddies aged three. But if you could – and I have been good! Bring a teddy bear for me. With golden fur and shiny eyes and a growl in his tummy. Oh yes, and please, could we have a baby boy for Mummy?

Dear Santa, Do you like my drawing of mistletoe and holly? Sorry – it’s me again – and I’m almost ten! Please will you bring me a dolly? And lots of games for us all to play so we can have some fun. Oh yes, and my sweet little brother would like a plastic gun.

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Dear Santa, How time flies, I’m sixteen now and can you guess? I don't want toys – more into boys! So please bring that gorgeous red dress. And make-up and CDs and a pair of knee-length boots. Oh yes, my annoying brother wants a different gun, the sort that actually shoots.

Dear Santa, I’m 22 and so in love and what I hope you'll bring Is a solitaire stone on a band of gold – Oh please an engagement ring! And bring peace to the world and love in our home. Oh yes, and protection for my brave brother fighting in a war zone.

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Dear Santa, My Wedding Day is almost here, on Christmas Eve I’ll be a bride. Mother’s iced and baked a wedding cake! And on that day I shall glow with pride. So Santa, bring me happiness and wedding gifts galore. Oh yes, for my brother, safe journey back from the war.

Dear Santa, Christmas is cancelled, my wedding’s on hold. How can we celebrate after what we’ve been told? So we’re waiting and praying that my brother is alive. Dear Santa, grant me just one wish. Let my brother survive.

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I’m Just Going Out Ian Collier

Cold stretches to the horizons. The explorers stumble on. Icicle daggers on beards. Hope and rations all but gone.

Jack Frost bites, cuts and wounds, in lethal virgin whiteness. Tent flaps withstand the blizzard’s frigid sharpness.

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“I may be some time.� There was little else he could do. The good of the many, over that of the few.

A howling dirge whistles for Captain Oates, in grief. Futile self sacrifice, buried under a snowflake wreath.

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Last Chance Mary Ogilvie

If you see Father Christmas Please give him my regards, And ask him if he ever did Receive my Christmas card.

For I'm not getting any younger And need to know this time, That the Santa I've known and loved Is the one I've had in mind.

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Santa Martin Brown When Santa was a little boy No gifts would come his way He never had a present, At all, on Christmas Day.

Christmas time was still such fun With halls festooned with holly. A Christmas feast with Christmas pud, And everyone was jolly.

People loved the singing, Such a festive noise! But no one thought of giving Children little toys.

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As Santa grew, he changed all this: He built a busy shed, Made toys for all the girls and boys Delivered on a sled.

Soon children were expecting him, Along with Mum and Dad, Who thought it such a good idea To make their children glad.

Then everyone demanded gifts, Grown-ups, rich and poor. The shops all think it’s brilliant – But Santa’s not so sure.

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About the Authors Ann Evans Ann was born and bred in Coventry, working at some of the companies that make up part of the industrial heritage of the region – Wickman Machine Tools and British Leyland. She then moved into journalism and worked with the Coventry Telegraph for a number of years. “I began writing as a hobby when my three children were little. Now with grandchildren of my own, writing has turned into a full time career and a way of life,” explains Ann. She has become a prolific author with ten children’s books and two adult novels published so far. She also writes for a number of national magazines and runs classes on creative writing. Michael Boxwell Michael Boxwell is best known for his articles and books on the environment and technology and often appears on radio and television, talking on subjects such as solar energy and electric cars. A Merry Christmas shows a more light-hearted and mischievous side to Michael’s writing, one that he is keen to expand on in the future. 53


“I enjoy writing factual books and articles, but I also enjoy the creativity of short stories,” says Michael. “Up until now, most of my mischievous writing appears on Facebook and Twitter, but my next New Year’s resolution is to write more fun short stories for general circulation.” Rosalie Warren Rosalie Warren has had two novels for adults and one for young teens published in the last few years. A former university lecturer in AI and cognitive science, she now mainly reads, writes, edits, proofreads, collects, dusts and occasionally recycles books, but hasn't yet been reduced to eating one. She is currently working on a science fiction novel for adults. Her website is at http://www.rosalie-warren.co.uk and she blogs at http://rosalie-warren.blogspot.com/. Martin Brown Martin Brown is a Coventry kid, a regular contributor to Poets’ Corner in the Coventry Telegraph, and author of two poetry books – A Thousand Scary Cabbages and Shake Rattle and Custard – both available in local bookshops and on t' internet. He claims to have once played ‘Spin the Bottle’ with Lady 54


Godiva, during which she lost all her clothes and afterwards rode off in a huff – and little else. Mary Ogilvie Mary has been writing for over thirty years, working as a grassroots reporter on the Coventry Telegraph for a number of years as well as writing numerous articles for various publications. “I have always looked on writing as a pastime rather than a way of earning a living,” says Mary. “My greatest love is writing poetry. I hope you enjoy my work.” Margaret Egrot Margaret started writing fiction in 2008 and joined the Coventry Writers’ Group shortly afterwards. She has since written a novel for older teenagers, a number of short stories and won the Coventry Tales competition for her entry Living with Lady G in 2011. Margaret Mather Margaret grew up in Scotland and moved to Coventry in 1971. She started to write 30 years ago, but work commitments meant that her writing fell by the wayside and she only took it up again 55


recently. She joined the Coventry Writers’ Group in 2011 and has since had a short story published and won an award for her work. Ian Collier Ian has been writing for many years. As well as co-authoring several scientific works and reviews, Ian has recently had two of his short stories published in the Coventry Tales anthology. Elinor Reid Elinor is best known for trying alternative therapies such as shopping, in the firm belief that retail therapy is a holistic approach to solving the global economic crisis... and even better known for a slightly wacky sense of humour! She is convinced that life is a journey to be experienced first hand; avoiding participation is far more detrimental to our well-being than any hurts life might dish out. "While facing down some ancient personal demons from being abused, I was surprised by this poem eagerly jumping onto a clean crisp page. Emotions are very powerful but not to be feared after all, which is what inspired this outpouring."

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Calvin Hedley Calvin was brought up in Coventry as one of eleven children and graduated from Warwick University having studied history and politics. Registered blind since 1983, Calvin has been writing for a number of years. “I’ve been interested in creative writing for many years,” says Calvin. “I enjoy the discipline of short story writing and have had some success in creative story competitions.” Calvin is currently working on two novels.

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Also from Coventry Writers’ Group

Coventry Tales Our city, past and present, brought to life by some of Coventry’s best-known authors and most exciting up-and-coming writers

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step back in time and live in the Coventry of yesteryear? Or yearned to discover the mystic power of the Coventry Ring? Want to know what Lady Godiva was like to live with, or see the wild zebra’s of Binley? Here, you will find all these stories and more. Written by some of Coventry’s finest writers, Coventry Tales explores the fabric of our city, reminding us that Coventry is both unique and special. If you love Coventry and appreciate storytelling and poetry at their very best, you will love this book. So sit back, relax and enjoy a good read. Coventry Tales is available in both printed and eBook form. It is available online and at all good bookshops, priced at £4.99: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Coventry-Talesebook/dp/B0064BC82C/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1323343235 &sr=8-2

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Christmas Tales Seasonal stories, poems and greetings from the Coventry Writers’ Group This is a delightful book of short stories and poems, written by some of Coventry’s best-known storytellers and poets, along with some highly talented up-and-coming writers. The perfect antidote to excessive Christmas Pud, Christmas Tales is a short collection of short stories and poems to amuse, contemplate and delight.

Smashwords: ISBN 978-1-907670-16-9 Kindle: ISBN 978-1-907670-17-6 Also available on ISSUU and Google Books

Profile for Greenstream Publishing

Christmas Tales - Seasonal stories, poems and greetings from the Coventry Writers' Group  

This is a delightful book of short stories and poems, written by some of Coventry’s best-known storytellers and poets, along with some highl...

Christmas Tales - Seasonal stories, poems and greetings from the Coventry Writers' Group  

This is a delightful book of short stories and poems, written by some of Coventry’s best-known storytellers and poets, along with some highl...

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