A Very Little Christmas

Christopher Fowler
My family was never big on occasions. My parents forgot my 21st birthday (back when it was the 'key of the door', the key of the door now being 14), we all regularly forgot or failed to mark each other's big birthdays. My brother always actively avoided his and my mother decided that it was 'a Hallmark conspiracy' and refused to accept cards. You don't want to be around scientists when they cut loose. They work so intensely that when they celebrate they fall down and windows get broken.
Consequently Christmas days were often a mopping-up exercise as my mother tried to find out which hospital my father was in.
This year brought a pleasant luncheon, the Queen's speech and geese, who spent the day peering in at our food and knocking their beaks on the glass, a sound you have to learn to live with. At least there were no visiting relatives. Without
children or grandparents, I'm left phoning people to ask if they're all right, as if they might have slipped over in the bath or something.
As the new variant rolled into view, all of our long-term events started to drop from the calendar. The local restaurants, caught in the pincers of Covid and Brexit, failed to find
any chefs and waiters and closed. Every Christmas I treat myself to a Shakespeare play, but this year's, 'The Comedy of Errors', was cancelled.
The Husband came down with Covid and took to his bed. Then I got it. People at extreme risk were supposed to be notified about the availability of a protecting anti-viral drug, but that didn't happen. Omicron proved to be a winter cold - one evening with a temperature and a week of coughing. Now we both await a clear lateral test. Meanwhile, Maggie Armitage announced that she was on her way around to give me Christmas presents. 'No,' I cried, 'Pete and I are self-isolating.' 'Stop being silly,' she said, 'My whole family have Covid and I just spent Christmas with them, and I'm still negative. Our local pub is open but the church is shut. Where is Jesus when you need him?' 'Please protect yourself - where are you?' 'On your landing.' I opened the front door and there she was doing yoga exercises. 'There's a gift in the bag. I can't stop. I have other people to see.' She was wearing jeans, big furry boots and a peculiar hat with giant fluffy pompoms. Before I could stop her she rushed forward and hugged me, then left. Ten minutes later I looked out of the window and she was still in the courtyard taking photographs of our building. It's worth bearing in mind that Maggie is 80. She had stapled money inside a Christmas card for me with twelve razor sharp staples that took half an hour to get out. Someone had given her a staple gun for Christmas. All of which is a good reminder that Christmas is made by people.  


CorneliaAppleyard (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 11:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad to hear you are both recovering well.
We should all have a Maggie Armitage in our lives.

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 11:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I prefer quiet Christmases, after the hullabaloo of buying presents and enough food and chocolate to supply the entire neighbourhood. Your Christmas visitor Maggie obviously possesses the old wartime spirit of 'sod them all, I'm carrying on as normal'. Glad you had someone to brighten your day. All the best (better?) for 2022.

Paul+C (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 11:57

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good to hear you're both on the mend.

Maggie reminds me of a neighbour called Sadie when I was a lad. Sadie was in her early nineties and very frail but looked after her ailing sister who was in her late nineties. My mother told Sadie she could claim a benefit for caring for her sister (they were both desperately poor) but Sadie was horrified and resolutely refused as it would be 'thoroughly immoral'. How times have changed..........

Jo W (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 12:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Bless Maggie, she's lovely. I wish that she could visit me. No I'm not ill, I'd just love to meet her again for one of her slightly rambling chats.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 12:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Formerly sacred Egyption geese and an art installation of stapled money as a gift. What an exotic life you lead! The regeneration of Kings Cross is complete at last.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 12:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As I wrote before - Bless Maggie Armitage!!
And I'm glad to read that it was only a cold - even though anything germ-wise isn't good.

Andrea yang (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 13:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad to hear you are both recovering. Sorry you missed out on you trip to the theater. We masked up and trekked to a Ramses the Great Exhibit in Houston followed by an outdoor Greek lunch . My 90 year old father had more stamina than all the rest of us.

linda+ayres (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 13:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad to hear you are both ok. God Bless Maggie I like her style.
We didn't aspire to Shakespeare heading instead to Southampton where Sooty, of all 'people?', was in Cinderella. Oh what a joy, two hours of laughter. The best medicine there is.
Happy New Year to all.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 14:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Maggie would have done Spike Milligan and the gang proud. And let's hope if we are to have yet another variant it is a mild omega, not the pi which, considering the mis- and dis- information around on treating COVID-19, some might be prompted to attack it with a fork.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 14:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh and yes --- a much better 2022 in every way for all!

Joan (not verified) Wed, 29/12/2021 - 14:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Andrea I also would have liked to go to the Rameses the Great Exhibition, how fabulous. I spent 10 days in Egypt and it was the best holiday of my life! Our Theatres has all been cancelled, I will foray out this evening to see West Side Story, before they close the Cinemas. Chris, I am so glad that you and Pete have had a mild cases of the Virus. The UK (England) seems to be very casual in the approach to this, over here we have been masked unrelentingly for 18 months, and need Vaccine passports to do anything or travel anywhere now. Let's hope that 2022 will be better!

Roger Allen (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 04:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

' Our local pub is open but the church is shut. Where is Jesus when you need him?'

Quote Housman to Maggie: Malt does more than Milton can/ To justify God's ways to man.

Paul+C (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 10:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger - that reminds me of a jingle to remember on pub crawls :

Beer then wine, you'll feel fine
Wine then beer, you'll feel queer.

After a great deal of selfless research I can report that this is completely true.
Don't take my word for it though - you need to do your own extensive research

chazza (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 11:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No exhibitions or Shakespeare for me! Watched "A very British Scandal" - awful - prim and pointless. Had some venison and then really cheered myself up by watching the German film "Melancholie der Engel" (quite awful in a totally different sense) and "Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia" for its sunny disposition...
Now duly fortified to face the horror of 2022...

Roger Allen (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 13:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm not going to check further, Paul C, but I'd be sceptical. If someone's been drinking beer they've probably been drinking big gulps and would follow the same procedure when they moved to wine; starting with wine, small sips followed by small sips, so they'd probably drink less. Of course, there's the further complication of what you eat and when you eat...

Richard (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 16:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In the words of my grandfather, "Never mix the grape with the grain."

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 16:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger and Paul C - In reading your comments I was reminded of the many times reading old mysteries in which the sleuth (Edmund Crispins' Gervase Fen comes to mind) was in a pub consuming more than one pint of ale in pursuit of information. Food usually didn't enter into the picture. I always wondered how anyone could remain standing after that, but I guess a character in a book can do just about anything. On the other hand, my mother once commented about a book she was reading - "They're always drinking tea!".

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 17:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In the category of what could possibly be next - Russia, China & Brazil have bypassed Britain, Germany & the US in the per capta consumption of beer.

Roger Allen (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 18:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

BarbaraBoucke: Someone counted the drinks a Hemingway hero got through in a story where he began on a journey and decided he'd probably have died of alcoholic poisoning before he reached his destination. I expect someone's done the same with James Bond. In real life, if that's the term, David Boon got through at least fifty two cans (size unspecified) of beer (strength unknown) on a flight from Sydney to London in 1989.
But what do Britain, Germany & the US drink instead Stu-I-Am? Remembering Gorbachev's great (and unsuccessful) anti-vodka campaign, it's probably an improvement on the way things were in Russia.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 19:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well, Roger, I'd guess that the beer served would have been Aussie - strength and size standard for that country - unless the Sydney was Canadian in which case they would have been 12 oz. cans of either 5 or 6% unless they were "high test" (my husband's word) in which case they would be 7%. They might have been American beer of course, in which case they would have been the same size but 5% alcohol.
So glad to hear you and Pete are recovering and blessings on Maggie, who is a tremendously powerful positive charge.

Adam (not verified) Thu, 30/12/2021 - 20:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mr. Fowler, this is probably not the space to write this message but I just received "London Bridge is Falling Down" as a Christmas present and of course read the ending. Thank you so much for bringing these characters and London to life for me. The Peculiar Crimes Unit has helped me tremendously over the years.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Fri, 31/12/2021 - 01:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad to here things are improving, and Maggie is her usual self.

I had my booster (jab 3) and at first my right arm, high up hurt, I was jabbed in the left. Today I ached really badly (especially shoulders, arms and thighs), headache, sore throat, the left arm was exceptionally painful, and there was a band of skin that felt extra hot near to were the jab hit. I'm still headachey and tried, I slept most of the day.

My wife kept telling my to cut my toe nails, in the night she kicked me in her sleep on my left leg, it made me jump and I scrapped the toe nail across my right calf, now I have two thick red lines of healed over scabs, it's surprisingly painful. I have now cut my toe nails.

Thanks for the good luck comments about the drive to Brum tomorrow, my wife drives so I just sit there and look pretty.

Here is an odd but good read, re-issue of the 1938 thriller by Mabel Seeley, The Listening House, it builds up a wonderful sense of atmosphere. As recommended by the excellent Pretty Sinister blog page.

Happy Hogmanay and happy any meat free alternatives as well.


Stu-I-Am (not verified) Fri, 31/12/2021 - 01:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Roger Allen Roger: The surveys vary in methodology and beer has been only 'edged out,' but a crisp white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio) seems to be the leading tipple in the UK. A white as well --- the versatile and food-friendly Riesling --- in Germany and spirits --- vodka, whiskey and bourbon --- in the US. Beer, of course, still flows in abundance in each country, just not drunk as much per capita. Apparently in Russia, China and Brazil it has become something of a upscale beverage, especially craft beers, hence a key reason for its ascendency.

Peter T (not verified) Fri, 31/12/2021 - 01:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Traditional ale most often wasn't very strong. Would you believe that we actually drank stuff for the flavour rather than to addle our brains?

Roger Allen (not verified) Fri, 31/12/2021 - 04:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

One of my favourite bitters - Brakspeare's - was/is low in alcohol, Pete T (I haven't come across it for years), and Sheffield steel furnace workers were given unlimited mild ale at work to rehydrate them.
The best strong ales - Thomas Hardy's ale or Imperial Russian Stout, say - came in 1/3 pint "nip" bottles and were supposed to be drunk slowly - the beer equivalent of an after-dinner port. I saw an Imperial Russian Stout in 1/2 litre bottles lately, which seemed to remove the point of it.

There's a common delusion in the UK that dry white wine is non-alcoholic, Stu-I-Am. There is a Russian tradition of craft beer: Imperial Russian Stout was brewed for export from the UK, but the Russians and Finns made good beers inspired by it. Mind you, putting that away in large measures probably wouldn't be much better for you than a load of vodka.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Fri, 31/12/2021 - 16:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Out in the fields they would use a weak beer (don't want to be too tipsy with a scythe, and it was safer than a lot of water) and once the harvest was in they would drink the beer/cider that was in the barn as celebration, since it was stood there it was stronger so it wouldn't go off as quickly as well as to party.

Also you have a session beer so usually not as strong so you can last. I've always been a fan on Mann's Brown Ale (it's about 2.8%.) makes a nice brown bitter, half pint of then Walker's (No longer available) and topped up with a bottle of brown to top it up, I drank this when I lived in Liverpool.


Tim Lees (not verified) Fri, 31/12/2021 - 20:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That warmed my heart. And possibly other places, too.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sat, 01/01/2022 - 02:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wayne, you weren't sampling while writing that, were you? I wonder how much alcohol is necessary to purify water and does the amount vary with the % of contaminant in the water?
I've never thought of beer as a mixed drink.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sat, 01/01/2022 - 22:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wayne, I had a similar experience with my booster shot. It was very strange and that red band lasted for what seemed an inordinately long time.
We had Loxton non-alcoholic fizz for New Year's. Nice fizz but a little too sweet in spite of being labeled as "brut".

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sun, 02/01/2022 - 06:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I keep coming back to look at the geese. They are quite lovely except for the kohl about the eyes. How forward of them to bang on the window. Do you have many visitors like this?