Everything is Upside Down…

 

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This year has been a series of difficulties. More downs than ups, to be honest. So it should come as no surprise to anyone to see a Christmas tree, seemingly floating upside down in mid-air in our front room.

Being white, it looks ethereal, the string it is suspended on almost invisible as it moves slightly on invisible air currents.

It wasn’t easy to do, for these trees are not designed to be upside down, and the top part parted company with the base at the most awkward moment, almost resulting in our giving up on the idea and being conventional after all.

Beneath the tree, looking remarkably like Miss Havisham’s abandoned wedding feast from Dicken’s Great Expectations, we have created a display to reflect the dinner we will not be having in our house.

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The idea came to us because this Christmas will be like no other we have ever had or imagined. For the first time in the history of our family, we will not be here on Christmas Day. Relatives will not be arriving, full of Christmas cheer to share our carefully prepared feast of turkey and all the trimmings. There will be no fun and games at the table when we don’t pull the crackers.

There will be no toasting the cook or pulling the wishbone, not in this house, anyway.

We will all be somewhere else…

 

The next generation in our family is now of an age to change things, to take charge of traditional celebrations and create new ones of their own. This is the way with families.

It came as a bit of a shock for me and for a while I didn’t think I welcomed the invitation. For nearly fifty years, I have been cooking the turkey and mince pies, and I suppose I thought it would continue. I mean, what would I do with myself?

I have accepted the idea now, and the notion of someone else manhandling an uncooperative turkey into an equally uncooperative oven is making me smile.

It will seem odd to have nothing to do on Christmas day, but you never know, I might like it so much I will arrange it for next year too!

 

 

 

A Story for Christmas… Two White Mice

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A cold wind rattled the window frame and whistled through the cracks, lifting the faded cotton curtains like a summer skirt. It was dark outside, but Ruth hadn’t noticed, so intent on keeping warm.

The last of the coal was gone, nothing but ebony dust in the scuttle. The embers were nearly cold. Time to go to bed, she thought, at least it would be warmer there.

A loud knock on the front door made her jump, but she made no move to see who was there. It was probably those rotten kids from the Council estate again. They were always knocking on her door and running away.

There was another knock on the door, followed by another. This was unusual, she thought. They didn’t usually knock twice. But who else could it be?

Pulling the old knitted shawl closer around her shoulders, she shuffled in her shabby slippers to the front door. She peered through the peephole, but its field of vision was quite small and distorted. But even in the darkness, she could see there was no one there. She turned and made her way to the kitchen, thinking a nice cup of cocoa would set her up for a good night’s sleep.

As she passed the living room doorway, her mind played the same familiar trick again and she saw Jim, her husband, sitting by a blazing fire. His snow-white hair flopping over his eyes the way it always did. As she opened her mouth to ask if he wanted any cocoa, he slowly vanished; taking the blazing fire with him and her heart sank. She missed him so much, especially at this time of year.

They had never made much of a fuss about Christmas. Something nice for dinner, and maybe some shop bought mince pies. And every year without fail he bought her two white sugar mice. She had confessed her love of them when they were courting and he always managed to find some every year since. This would be her first Christmas without him.  She prayed every night that she would be allowed to go to him, but no one was listening and every morning she woke up in an empty bed.

 

Ruth had no family and no real friends. Days would pass when she wouldn’t see or speak to anyone. One of her neighbours would wave if she saw her at the window, but that hadn’t happened lately.

Sipping the hot milky cocoa in her chair by the dead fire, she listened intently, hoping to hear the carol singers again, but all was silent. Not even any traffic to prove she was not really so alone.

She sighed and struggled to her feet, intent on rinsing her cup in the kitchen. Just as she reached the hall, a muffled sound from outside the front door drew her attention. Two more knocks and she moved slowly to have another look. Again, there was no one there; at least she couldn’t see anything. But someone had to be out there, for she could hear something.

Then a very small voice said, “She must be asleep,” followed by a giggle.

“Knock again, and then we’ll give up…”

From where Ruth stood, she could hear small scrabbling noises, moving up the door to the letterbox.

Up close, the door echoed with another knock, accompanied by several giggles. She looked through the peephole again and saw nothing. Convinced she was losing her mind, she turned towards the stairs. The sound of the gate swinging shut stopped her. Someone was there. What on earth did they want at this time of night? Knowing they were probably gone now, she slowly opened the door.

On the doorstep was a small boy, clutching a small pink paper bag that had reindeer on it. Another child, a girl by the looks of it, was swinging on the gate. “I told you she was in,” she said, and as she smiled, a dimple appeared on her left cheek.

“These are for you…” the boy said. “Me mum made ‘em.”

Ruth reached out and slowly touched the paper bag. It had been used before and was wrinkled and soft. He pushed the bag into her hand and let go. Ruth didn’t know what to say. What should she say? That it was far too late to be banging on her door? Or would a simple thank you be enough?

But it was no good. The emotions racing through her mind had rendered her speechless. That someone had thought of her and brought a gift, overwhelmed and saddened her in equal measure and her eyes filled with tears.

When Ruth looked up, she noticed the mother, standing just a few feet away on the other side of the hedge. She looked thin and worn out, but somehow peaceful, watching her children with a small smile on her face. “Come on now, you two,” she called. “Say goodnight now.”

A chorus of good nights and they were gone, leaving Ruth standing there, suddenly stupid for not saying anything. She should have said something.

As she closed the front door, she wondered what was inside the bag. In the kitchen where the light was better, she opened the crumpled paper and looked inside.

What she saw made her heart leap with unexpected joy.

Inside, lying next to each other, were two white sugar mice…

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My Gentleman and the Stone…

 

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My daughter was weeding her front garden the other day. I was watching and speaking with her when one of our neighbours came along.  I was used to seeing him on his bike, but he was now in a wheelchair.

He stopped to ask if he could have a few pieces of the slate from my front garden, as he liked to paint stones and couldn’t get to the beach anymore.

I was happy to give him as many pieces as he wanted, but before I could bend down to get a few, he asked my name, putting out his hand to shake mine.

Instead of shaking it, he kissed the back of my hand like an olden day gentleman, making me feel like a lady. I could almost feel the crinoline brushing against my legs. He said he would leave a painted piece in my garden when he could.

Two days later, I watched as he tried to maneuver his wheelchair up the small step to my path. Abandoning his efforts, he managed to walk to my front garden.

By now I was on my feet, crossing the room. From my window, I could see a beautifully painted stone lying on the ground. By the time I reached my front door, he had made it back to his wheelchair. Picking up the beautifully painted stone with a lump in my throat, I thanked him and blew him a kiss. He told me that the paint didn’t go well on the slate and had used a stone instead.

I felt overwhelmed by this gift, so much so that I sat on the couch crying my heart out and couldn’t say why.

Jaye said it because it was a wonderful gift, from a wonderful gentleman whose name is Peter…

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Our Cat Merlin…

 

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My daughter and granddaughters gave him to us and he has been a great blessing. Each day he greets you when you rise, very vocally.

He talks a lot and sits on the arm of my chair, his face too close to mine. I have the feeling he wants to get inside my head. I cannot reach for my coffee, so I shoo him away.

My son says he doesn’t know why he loves me so much. I am told that whenever I leave the house, he howls, for he doesn’t like me to go away.

I call him dog because he acts like one. There are times he follows me so closely that I trip over him.

But he is a shadow I cannot do without…

©Anita Dawes

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Another Trip in my Time Machine…

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I am taking another trip in my Time Machine to a time at Clapham Common when we had gas lamps in our square. The man would come with his small ladder to light them every night, and again in the morning to put them out.

Mum would send us out to pick up the coal left in the road after the coal man emptied the sacks down the coalhole. He was always so dirty and so was the small boy that sat on the horse-drawn cart.

The man on his bike with the grinding wheel would call out, and mum would send me down to get her knives and scissors sharpened.

The one bike I looked forward to was the ice cream man. If I was lucky, mum would give me three pence for some of the best icecreams. So much better than what was in the shops.

Mum didn’t often have any rags for the rag and bone man, so I didn’t get a free balloon that often.

All these things seemed every day then. Looking back now, they are magic. All that fun without an Xbox!

The best thing of all was Billy Smarts Circus. They would pitch the tent on Clapham Common and very often, we would get in free under the canvas. Elephants, tigers, the clowns, and best of all, the high wire act. Watching them swing so free across the ring, never dropping one another. With my head tilted back, I could believe I was flying with them.

On my way home, I would stop for a while and watch the men with their model motorboats on the pond where they were allowed to play. I preferred the ones with sails, the old buccaneer kind.

Time to go home for tea, maybe I will take another trip on my Time Machine soon…

Anita’s Time Machine…

 

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Mr Edwards ran the baker shop not far from where we lived, and Mum would often send me for a fresh loaf, warm in my arms, smelling like heaven.

All the way home it was so hard not to take a bite. I did once and that was enough. The best thing for us kids was the fish and chip shop. If we took in an armful of newspapers, we could walk home eating a free bag of chips.

On hot days, we could get a cold drink from Mr Tom’s sweet shop. He offered one-penny drinks or a small one for a halfpenny. When you had been running around, it was better than popping indoors for a drink of water, for Mum would ask why was I so hot, and what had I been doing. Spending that halfpenny was best.

It was always easy to come by a penny or two. Take the rubbish out for Mrs Kindle, or sweep the yard for old Mr Wright. I ran many errands and often earned enough to go swimming and buy a bag of broken biscuits on the way home. For a penny, I could spend all day in the paddling pool.

For five pennies, I could spend an hour in a tin canoe rowing myself around the small island in the middle of the pond. When our time was up the man would call us in by our number and I always wanted canoe number 5.

Oh, for a time machine so I could take my kids back and show them how I lived and how I played…

Anita Dawes

Storm…

Our hopes and prayers go out to everyone in America at this terrifying time!

 

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We had been told the storm would hit us by Friday. Nature’s evil hand was coming.

We had food enough for two weeks and plenty of bottled water. Jim, my husband had covered the windows with the planking set aside for such times. The fire was lit and we were warm.

The wind outside was up to 70 miles an hour now, pounding our house, trying to take it away. I missed the sound of the rain on the glass but this was no time for thinking about that. I wondered how our neighbours were coping. Jim had his old radio working, the wind we were told, had reached more than 90 miles an hour now.

We didn’t need telling, our ears let us know how bad it was out there. I was afraid we wouldn’t hear a knock on the door should someone need help.

There were a dozen knocks on the door that day. Our house was stronger than most, and each of our neighbours brought their own food. We ate together, somehow managing to laugh and it was like being around a campfire. The women cooked and cleaned while the men kept the children entertained.

The storm had turned us into one large family…

Anita Dawes

Sunshine in a Bottle…

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After blowing out my birthday candles, my nine-year-old granddaughter asked. “What did you wish for, Nan?”

I told her I wished I could bottle sunshine and keep it for the grey days. The next day, my granddaughter came round to see me with her mother and they were both smiling. That was sunshine enough for me.

I could see she was hiding something behind her back, so I asked what she had been up to. She handed me a small bottle filled with yellow paint. I could see that she had poured out the excess paint, making it translucent.

“It’s your wish, Nan. Sunshine in a bottle.”

I put it on my kitchen windowsill so whatever light catches it, I am reminded that sunshine comes in strange ways…

By Anita Dawes