Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

Housekeeping: Well, we’re really coming to the end of the year and the countdown now, aren’t we?

And, after a couple of years of not blogging, I’m still pretty astonished that I managed to put something up pretty much every day – with only a few ‘days off’ – since 23rd June 2019, when I kicked off my “55 minus…” countdown to my 55th birthday in August.

There were a few mini-runs during the past six months, a couple on Doctor Who, one on antisemitism. Oh, there were a few different ones.

But now we’re at the end. Well, almost.

After today, I’ve two special posts left for the run: one tomorrow, one on Tuesday.

Well, actually, there are two posts coming on Tuesday, but one of them isn’t going to be part of the run, so to speak.

It’ll be this year’s update to the annual A Life In Pictures, and – unusually for me; no idea why – this year I seem to have plenty of pics to me to choose from. Usually, I might have three or four to pick from; this time? A couple of dozen.

Ah well, you’ll see in a couple of days which I choose for the post.


OK, so today. What do you have today?

Well, since Tuesday will be taken up with the aforementioned ‘special’ posts, and tomorrow, I have something equally special but entirely unrelated to Tuesday’s stuff, one more set of Christmas related fast fictions, I think, once again from two friends who always supply much needed help when I want it, but much needed advice when I need it:


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years; maybe next year?

For the very final selection from Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, two very different stories, one a bit of fun, one that I didn’t have any idea I was writing until the first words hit the page, and then I knew it intimately; it’s one of the easiest stories I’ve ever written, and yet I never saw it coming .

My thanks once again to Jason and Jamie for the challenges, and the enormous fun I had writing the tales.
 


 

I can’t remember how I first met Jason Arnopp or first discovered his writing; I suspect it had something to do with his career in the SAS psy-warfare division. He’ll deny that, but then of course he would.

I know that he’s a very nice man, with an infectious laugh, who writes stories that will have you curled up behind the sofa, calling for your mummy.
 
 
Title: Hell Comes To Greenland
Word: excruciating
Challenger: Jason Arnopp
Length: 200 words exactly

The rooms were all freshly vacuumed
Fresh flowers on a new silver tray.
After all, one does not skimp on details
When the Devil comes to visit or stay.

Santa had been fretting for hours
Putting all of them under huge strain.
The elves and the reindeer were trying to help
Obeying the commands as they came.

“Paint the staterooms a darker vermillion…
And the paintings should be far more lewd.
And the heating is nowhere near hot enough –
He’ll wonder if we’re being rude.”

And then they all smelled the sulphurous stench
As the carriage appeared right outside;
An excruciating clamour of commotion and noise,
As Satan stepped down from his ride.

They bowed at each other, as custom demanded,
And each smiled three times, as myths do.
Then Santa motioned Satan into his home,
Bade him welcome, whether or not it was true.

The Devil retired early that night,
A night-cap most politely declined.
And the demons and elves and reindeers alike
Spent the evening with each of their kind.

They met again the following morn
Two Nicks: Old and Saint, but it’s moot;
For as always when Santa and Satan confer
It’s regarding a demarcation dispute.

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 

Jamie McKelvie is unfairly talented. No, I mean that; it’s genuinely unfair that someone is so talented, and also so nice.

I was fortunate enough that he drew an illustration for You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly. And while I’d never be lucky enough to have a story drawn by him, if I ever get to write another published comics story again, the best present anyone could give me would be the words “Oh, Jamie McKelvie said he’d do a cover…”

Jamie’s lovely.

You should all read anything he’s drawn.
 
 
Title: The Christmas That Wasn’t
Word: plinth
Challenger: Jamie McKelvie
Length: 200 words exactly

The walk to the front door seemed longer than usual. I stifled a yawn as I pulled out the keys, half blinded by bright August sunlight.

A weariness beyond anything I’d known had come over me, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy. Not for me. Not for her, either. She was still in the car; we didn’t have anything to say to each other now – we’d exhausted all possible conversations over the past hour.

I glanced through the front room’s windows; it was all there. His toys, the letter from the hospital, a small statue of Peter Pan upon a plinth, and the Christmas decorations.

We’d known it was the only way he’d see another Christmas, so we’d planned a party for him. In August.

We’d never hold that party now.

We’d been honest from the start. For a lad not yet eight, he understood what cancer was, what it meant.

A sob caught in my throat as I turned the key. I had to pack it all away now.

A protesting yell from the car. I smiled.

He understood what cancer meant. I wasn’t sure about remission. Maybe I’d buy him a dictionary. In December.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


Something else, something different… tomorrow.

There are plenty of stories about how Boxing Day got its name. And, as whenever there are conflicting stories and there no one, generally agreed origin, my advice is pick the one you like and stick to it.

And, you know what? Even when there is an agreed tradition, folk etymology takes over as often as not.

Sirloin steak got its name from the French, because the cut of meat is sûr – on top of – the loin. Still, plenty of people prefer the legend that King Henry The Eighth enjoyed his meal so much, he jokingly knighted it.

My favourite one about names of things and reasons for them: almost the only things people know about Jewish weddings are
they take place under a canopy, and
the wedding ceremony ends when a glass is broken by the groom stamping on it, to cries of mazeltov from everyone.

Where did that tradition come from?

The official reason is to remember the destruction of The Temple, so that even in the midst of joy, you remember.

The unofficial reason is that you drink a wedding toast out of the glass, and then destroy the glass so no lesser toast can be drunk from it.

The entirely unofficial reason is that it marks the last time the groom gets to put his foot down over anything.

I like the second one, even though I know it’s not the ‘real’ reason.

Whatever your preferred story for how things happened, why traditions started, enjoy them.

See you tomorrow with, hopefully, something more substantial.

And here we are. One day before Christmas, eight days before the end of the year…

So something special today, as it’s Christmas Eve.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – in six parts. The original, never bettered.





Jean Luc Picard gets into the holiday spirit

Most people have a classic as their first single ever bought. Mine? It was RentaSanta by Chris Hill.

And, finally, Tom Lehrer’s A Christmas Carol
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Tomorrow is Christmas; enjoy it as much as you can. There’ll be something here if you’re interested, but no worries if you’re not. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

 Though he deals with irrational numbers, the very rational Matt Parker is that rare person: a mathematician who not only enjoys convincing others of the joy and fun inherent in mathematics… but actually succeeds in doing so. He’s a very funny man, being a standup comedian and part of The Festival of The Spoken Nerd (with Helen Arney and Steve Mould). Matt likes showing people that mathematics affects every part of your life, whether or not you realise it, and will then have you agreeing that’s a very good thing. He can create magic squares and charts that will have your jaw dropping in delighted astonishment. And he’ll then prove to you how Venn Diagrams are often misnamed, how charts are good and nice things, and how the lowest ring of hell is reserved for those who deliberately misuse them. He’s appeared on radio explaining how and why politicians misuse statistics and teaching everyone how to spot it, a worthy and essential service.

Matt Parker’s favourite number is neither irrational nor impossible but eminently reasonable.

Title: When Nothing Adds Up
Word: moreover
Challenger: Matt Parker
Length: 200 words exactly

He stepped out of the vehicle, so very weary; he’d been thinking about his bed for the past hour, although in truth an hour meant little to him. He patted down his travelling companions, murmured a few words to his favourite, then left them to be taken away by assistants. 

Assistants? When had he stopped calling them elves? he wondered, and shook his head, chuckling. It was not a pleasant sound; despite legends, Santa rarely laughed from pleasure. 

The final task awaited him; one last job before blessed sleep. An elf waited by his desk, pouring over a list: billions of names, each accompanied by green ticks, some large, some almost microscopic. The elf, warily, pointed out the discrepancies to Santa: the total number of gifts did not equal that of the recipients. Moreover, he could not verify six of the names. Santa sighed, and reached into his coat.

He was the sixty-eighth elf to have disappeared without trace in the past four centuries. Others had been more stupid, or more clever.

Santa walked to his rooms and placed several large boxes by his bed; then he took the list and slowly, carefully, appended a tick to his name.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Kurt Busiek has written some of my favourite comics books. It’s as simple as that. His acclaimed runs on The Avengers set the standard by which all of their later tales could be measured. The same could be said about a run on Iron Man and – a personal favourite – Thunderbolts, which he createdHis Superman: Secret Identity is flat out one of the best Superman tales ever written and JLA/Avengers series is still one of my favourite crossover tales. Marvels similarly remains one of my favourite fully painted works (art by Alex Ross). Kurt just gets things… right. 

His creator owned series Shockrockets which I received as a 50th birthday present is by turns fun, thrilling and duly shocking. But, and I hope he’ll forgive me for this, his masterpiece is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. I cannot recommend this series enough, and whereas the comic at first spoke mainly to those who grew up with super-hero comics, it’s developed into so, so much more. Let’s face it, where else would you get the story of an animated character brought to life in the 1940s and be entirely absorbed by how he spent the next 60 years…? (PS Kurt is also a very, very nice man. Let’s not forget that.)

Kurt Busiek has a tattoo visible only under the light of a red sun.

Title: Gods On The Dole
Word: acetaminophen
Challenger: Kurt Busiek
Length: 200 words exactly

“Tradition,” they were told, though only one of them had heard of it prior to receiving the invitation, a stiff card of palest lilac with embossed lettering.

They were escorted to the hotel room at five minute intervals, but only once assembled was it plain they arrived in the same order they’d left another group to which they had all once belonged. Some had left months ago, others weeks; one had left it only earlier that day.

Now together again, these people who had shared so much for so long, frowned at the vast amounts of alcohol and drugs laid out, puzzled and fearful. The single guest who had previously attended such a meeting duly explained. There was disbelief, especially at his absolute assurance that the room was not bugged, but then there always was.

Then they drank a toast to the one who was not there, the man who’d paid for this, hoping he’d rot in hell, and had another drink. The anger came then. And another drink, and another. Finally, there was laughter.

And in the morning, the hangovers and the acetaminophen. Eventually though, the losing candidates for the nomination left the room and returned to the convention.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

I first met Frances Barber three or four years ago, in the company of another alumni of these challenges, Corrie Corfield. I liked Frances immediately, which merely saved time, as I’ve liked more with every passing year. She’s lovely company, is a very funny lady, and has a filthy laugh that she should bottle and sell. Though she gained a new generation of fans with her portrayal of Madame Kovarian in Doctor Who, she’s been a theatre, tv and film actor for [censored] years, gaining rave reviews in King Lear and The Seagull, although I particularly loved her guest roles on TV in Silk and a particularly fun early episode of Death In Paradise.

Frances Barber has a photographic forgettory.

Title: Corbyn Stop The War
Word: stop
Challenger: Frances Barber
Length: 200 words exactly

The administrator looked at the pulsating orange being in front of her and sighed. Understandable though irritating, she thought, that of the multitude of things about which newcomers to Earth were confused, Christmas was the one that most puzzled them.

She had explained the traditions and conventions, the importance of gifts, so very many times but the concepts were never fully appreciated; those from warrior cultures laughed at the idea in contempt, while those from civilisations dedicated to conciliation found ‘a festival of peace and goodwill’ quaint, even precocious.

Each and every time, she would carefully describe Christmas, the character of the supposedly historical JC, from the disputed ancient records that still existed; a man who only wanted peace, hated conflict and who was wilfully misunderstood by his enemies, but was remembered even now.

At some point, the visitors would look out of her window, and she would stop. They would stare at the ruins of what had once been cities, when humans had still existed, but now soaked in the radiation that was like nectar to the species that came here for their holidays. Christmas confused them, but the human tradition of warfare? That they understood only too well.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Chip Zdarsky is… well, I’m not sure, to be honest. He’s a humourist, the award-winning artist of Sex Criminals (which he co-created with Matt Fraction, an alumni of these very challenges), a writer and artist of other comic books, a former mayoral candidate – in Toronto – who never actually registered to run, and a very, very, very funny man. His pseudonymous character of “Steve Murray” was so successful a charavter that even his parents fell for it, bringing up “Murray” while “Zdarsky” lurked in the background. Have I mentioned that he’s a funny man? Oh, right. He’s also very nice. Horribly, horribly nice. (Emphasis on the horribly, there.)

There is literally nothing I could tell you about Chip Zdarsky that you wouldn’t believe. (Oh, actually, yeah. He bought me a drink when we finally met, after too many years, earlier this year. You don’t believe that, do you? I knew it!)

Title: Mommy Needed It Bad
Word: santa
Challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Length: 200 words exactly

Despite the vessel being bombarded by radiation of unknown measurement during the crossing into fourteen upper dimensions, two apparently of pure sound, the ship’s computer and crew had, at all times, remained perfectly calm. The computer had additionally remained rational.

They had nicknamed it Mother early on; after the fifth traverse, she became Mom, and then later Mommy as their cognitive functions, buffeted by the stresses and strains of inter-dimensional travel, slowly but measurably degraded.

The computer registered this; it calculated, considered and finally concluded that it was necessary that the ship return to Earth immediately. It had authority to assume command but not to authorise early return for which it required an overt command code from the commander. He was currently showing his bottom to his second in command and farting in his direction, while laughing. No, the computer corrected itself; he was giggling.

The computer took note of the date, then locked the controls, went into sleep mode for one hundred and seventeen days. Then, accompanied by an appropriate song, an image of Santa appeared on the screens and very politely promised them all presents “if they were very good children and gave Mommy the return code…”

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.