Monday, February 15, 2010

The Holly Ghost

Title: The Holly Ghost

Author: Ranger

“Hello! Bienvenue, Welcommen, Come in! Step carefully.”
Mindful of the warning, Jo Dickinson pushed open the pink front door of the vicarage and found the Vicar on his hands and knees on the gleaming black and white tiles of the vicarage front hall, a bottle of polish spray and a cloth in his hands. He sat back on his heels and smiled at her, saluting her with a wave of the cloth.
“Good morning!”
“These tiles are immaculate.” Jo said, wiping her feet on the equally pristine doormat just inside the door. “You make me embarrassed Andrew, my house never looks anything LIKE this clean and yet every time I come in here you’re down on your knees again, polishing those tiles.”
”It’s a means for meditation and reflection.” Andrew said, winking at her. “Have you got time to stop for a coffee? I’m more than ready for one.”
”I’d love a coffee.” Jo admitted, following him into the kitchen and stooping to pet the small spaniel who came to say hello to her, wearing a scarlet and perfectly knitted sweater with snowflakes on it. “Hello Pilate… this is my non contact hour, and I’ve been living for it all week at school - the end of term is always a nightmare, but this year it seems worse than usual.”
Andrew, coffee jar in hand in the middle of the kitchen, tipped back his head, lifting his voice to a yell.
“What?” Gideon’s deep voice shouted back from somewhere inside the house.
“Jo’s here! Want a coffee? He’s got a squad of chimney sweeps here.” He added without the slightest pause to Jo. “There’s some sort of Victorian variety show being recorded tomorrow for the BBC Christmas line-up and they’re having a total nervous breakdown about these chimney sweeps, Gideon got a panicked plea for help last night from some director friend and he’s been drilling them since more or less dawn, I haven’t dared go and see yet what the problem actually is. It does leave you with the impression that if you walked through Victorian London you’d be attacked on all sides by tradesmen leaping about with brooms and fish, and small boys singing at you in close harmony, it must have been terrifying. Somewhat like walking through the Welsh mountains and being cornered by choirs of miners, although I wouldn’t mind that quite so much, you HAVE heard the saying ‘I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir’? Hello darling.”
Gideon looked hot, tired, brassed off, and fully prepared to do the wet shirt scene from Pride and Prejudice. His white shirt with its ruffled neck, hung half open and half pulled out of the waist of his close fitting black trousers, which ended as usual in highly polished and soft black riding boots. His dark hair was untidy, his heavy brows were drawn close together in a glower Emily Bronte would have been thrilled with, and he met Jo with a short bow rather than a smile. Andrew handed him a large mug of coffee and a mince pie, kissing his cheek with what Jo felt was admirable bravery from the expression on Gideon’s face.
“How is the chimney sweeping going? I keep hearing the playback, I haven’t recognised the song yet-“
”It’s grim.” Gideon said darkly, knocking back coffee. Andrew handed Jo a mug and pulled out a seat at the table, pushing a jug of cream towards her.
“How white do you like it Jo? I do like PROPER cream for coffee, especially at this time of year and strictly speaking it should be brown sugar too, although Gay then calls me a snob- don’t worry darling, you can always ring the BBC and sack the sweeps, you can choreograph a troupe of vacuum cleaners instead, it’ll give a whole new modern perspective -“
”I need to get on.” Gideon finished the coffee and bowed again shortly to Jo, taking the mince pie with him as he stalked back into the depths of the house.
”I keep wanting to take a tray of coffee and chocolate in there, cheer the poor devils up a bit.” Andrew said serenely to Jo, filling his mug with cream. “But they’re dancers, they don’t eat. They all just knock back water like HGVs at a petrol pump, GALLONS of it. If I took chocolate in there they’d all faint and there’d probably be a riot.”
”Does Gideon dance?” Jo asked, fascinated. Andrew smiled.
“Looking like that? Be still my heart. Yes, he’s dancing. I’d love to go and watch, except he says I distract him totally when he’s rehearsing and he gets nothing done. And HE doesn’t faint about chocolate. It’s taken years but I’ve got him convinced now about chocolate being one of the staple food groups- have a mince pie. You’re quite safe, these are Gideon’s own, he loves making mince meat. It makes the kitchen smell fantastic for days, I could live on them.“
”I needed to talk to you about the nativity.” Jo said, gently interrupting. It was a trick she’d learned from Gideon over the past few months, having gradually picked up on his reasoning that if one didn’t interrupt Andrew occasionally a simple conversation could take most of the morning.
“We’re all set for the dress rehearsal this afternoon, but we’re having real problems with one of the children. If we’re not careful we’re going to have a nativity with the Angel Gabriel hysterical through most of it.”
”Which really is hardly in keeping with the canon.” Andrew said with sympathy. “Gabriel was much more your stiff upper lip type. Who is it?”
Jo sighed.
“Little Kevin Dunkley. That family’s been through a lot this year with the fire and the moving house and all the rest of it, and this is the first Christmas too they’ve had the baby and Kevin hasn’t been an only child which I suspect is also part of it- but he’s developed an absolute terror of Christmas decorations. His mother’s been talking to me, they’re having awful problems at home. He didn’t want a Christmas tree at home, and he won’t go into the room where they’ve put it; he cried his heart out at school when we put Christmas decorations up in the classroom. His mother said they’ve had tears at bedtime every night since they put the tree up at home, and they can’t get to the bottom of why, only that he doesn’t like Christmas.”
“Poor little boy.” Andrew was still, his fingers cupped around his mug, his blue eyes serious and intent. Jo looked up at him and found herself smiling, wondering again how a man who chattered as much as Andrew did could be such a compassionate listener.
”I’ve tried talking to him,” she went on, aware herself that she was sounding tired and exasperated. “He won’t say anything to me. I couldn’t take all the decorations down in the classroom because of the other children but I taught most of yesterday with Kevin on my lap in tears. His father’s getting impatient and saying this is all attention seeking, we shouldn’t give into him.”
“Is he upset about the nativity?” Andrew asked. Jo shook her head, putting a hand down to gently pull Pilate’s ears as he came to lean against her leg.
“Not at all as far so I can see. We’ve been rehearsing in the hall, not in the classroom, and there’s no decorations there. He likes the costumes and dressing up, all the children do. And he likes being an angel, we’ve had a few punch ups between the children about them all wanting to wear the wings and halos.”
”I met one little girl once in London,” Andrew said reflectively, sipping coffee, “Who was terribly upset because she’d made the connection between Christmas and Easter, and was distraught about the baby being born at Christmas and dying at Easter- it took a long time to convince her that it wasn’t actually the baby who died. It’s one of the reasons actually that I’d rather do just Christian customs and traditions with very small children and leave the hard facts until they’re ready to understand them- but it sounds like it’s the decorations themselves bothering Kevin.”
“I’m worried about the church.” Jo confessed. “I did think about just suggesting to Mrs Dunkley that she kept Kevin at home that night and we found someone else to play Gabriel, but Kevin’s enjoying the rehearsals-“
”That doesn’t seem fair.” Andrew agreed. “I can make sure there’s nothing more in the church than flowers and candles, why don’t we move the rehearsal to the church this afternoon and Kevin can tell us himself what he’s happy with and what he wants taken out?”
“Thank you.” Jo said gratefully. “I’d better get back, it’s nearly lunchtime. Can we come over to the church for around one thirty?”
“Absolutely, I’ll meet you there.” Andrew took her empty mug and got up, going with her to the door.
”I do appreciate it.” Jo said as she stepped down onto the still frosty vicarage path. “I know you must be frantically busy at this time of year.”
”Ooh it’s all one mad whirl.” Andrew said cheerfully. “It’s good fun though, lots to do, people to meet, places to be, Gay loves it. He gets the tv all to himself virtually the whole month before Christmas, not one battle for the remote and no wails because I want to watch South Park. See you at one thirty.”

The nativity rehearsal was what you could reasonably expect of fourteen children aged between four and seven, four mothers, one teacher and an elderly pianist.
Mary and Joseph, mostly hand in hand with the occasional moment where Joseph pulled away to suck his thumb, wobbled up the aisle to the inn keeper stood at the foot of the pulpit. Who when asked the crucial question, looked blank until Jo said loudly,
“And there was NO room at the inn.”
The stable, a cardboard cut out painted by Jo’s class over the past few weeks, wobbled dangerously as the holy family took up residence in it, and the Archangel Gabriel, requested by Jo to take the baby Jesus to Mary, burst into tears. Jo, looking resigned, picked him up and somewhat unprecedentedly, the donkey got up from all fours, pushed straggling ears out of his face, hitched up his brown tights with a matter of fact air and came to place the doll in the manger. Two solemn shepherds with tea towels on their heads and a child with large eyes above a mascara blackened nose and white t shirt and tights denoting a sheep to the trained eye, went slowly up the aisle to the stable which would have collapsed under their entrance without hurried assistance from two of the watching mothers. A child carrying a huge and glitter encrusted star led the three Kings down to the stable and hovered while the Kings at Jo’s encouragement, as best she could with a howling Angel Gabriel clinging leech like on one hip, placed their gifts in the small wooden crib representing a manger. The pianist struck up and Jo took a heavy seat on the front pew.
As the last ragged notes of ‘Away in a Manger’ variously collapsed to a halt, Andrew turned up the lights in the church and clapped warmly, smiling at the King who, having watched Gabriel’s opt out, had surreptitiously followed his example and was being cuddled by the pianist.
“Lovely. Beautifully done, there won’t be a dry seat in the house.”
”BEN GREEN.” Jo got to her feet, jostling Gabriel more securely into her arms. “Shepherds NEVER do that.”
“Actually, they probably do.” Andrew said apologetically. Jo gave him quelling glare.
“Well they NEVER did in Bethlehem.”
As the mothers and Jo began to round up children and props and the ocean of dropping glitter from the star, Andrew gave the disconsolate and still sniffling Archangel Gabriel a sympathetic smile and held out his hands.
“Hello Kevin. Come and sit with me a minute while Mrs Dickinson finishes off?”
Kevin, who during the week or so his family had spent with Andrew and Gideon following the fire at his house, had come to regard the vicar as an accepted adult, went without protest to his arms. Jo, who at eight months of pregnancy was starting to find all movement complicated, relinquished him with relief. Andrew sat down with Kevin on his lap, casting one more quick look around the church. They’d removed anything even vaguely like a decoration before Kevin entered this afternoon- nothing more than flowers and candles adorned it, along with the statues of the nativity by the wall near the Lady Chapel.
“Is there anything in here you don’t like, Kevin?” Andrew said gently, trying to watch where the child’s eyes were either resting or avoiding. Right now, in a white nightie of Sarah Vaughan’s, with tinsel and cardboard wings and a lop sided wreath of gold tinsel on his head, he looked very small and pathetic, and his red eyes were tired. Hiccuping, he leaned against Andrew and rubbed tears and snot off on to his sleeve.
“What made you want to cry?”
It was a badly timed question. Kevin’s eyes filled again and Andrew hugged him, rocking, until he could hear Kevin’s voice. Unsteady and trembling, making it painfully clear that this was a child who only three Christmases ago had been a baby.
“I don’t like Christmas.”


“Not a word.” Andrew said, curling up in the window seat. “You should have seen his face.”
”It’s a busy, noisy time of year, everything looks different.” Gideon suggested.
He was lounging in the admiral’s chair behind his desk in the study. The fire was crackling pleasantly in the big, stone hearth and Pilate was blissfully asleep in front of it, all four paws in the air. Candles, holly and red ribbons surrounded the mantel, part of Andrew’s decorations which filled the length and breadth of their house. Simple, colourful, and with armfuls of greenery brought back from Towcester Market. Andrew loved bright colours, textures and scents. He and the Women’s Institute had swept through the church and the church hall in much the same way two weeks earlier, the church carried a faint but distinctive aroma of fresh cinnamon, apples and frankincense, which Mrs Dunwoodie had done her best to track down since in her opinion no church had the right to smell of anything except dust and floor polish, but she’d tried without success. Gideon personally suspected that the statues of the nativity were concealing contraband from her, hidden in the straw they stood in.
“His mother’s probably stressed, the baby’s still quite small and Jo was saying this is the first Christmas he’s not been their only child.“
”He loves the baby.” Andrew said, shaking his head. “I wish I could figure it out.”
”Apart from which, it’s not easy to have a nativity with a sobbing Angel Gabriel.” Gideon said gravely. Andrew gave him something that might have been a smile, still distracted.
“It doesn’t create quite the right impression, no. And it totally buggers up the wording in the carols. ‘We gift this child from heaven, but somewhat unwillingly, and the angels have some serious reservations’- actually, come to think of it, I’ve got every sympathy with them…. how did the sweeps work out?”
“They at least now know the steps and move in time.” Gideon said darkly. “I simplified the routine quite a bit.”
“Are they coming back tomorrow?”
“No. They’ve got one recording slot tomorrow morning, if that doesn’t work I’ll go over in the afternoon.”
”And growl at them until they do it right.” Andrew said sadly. “Poor beggars. Not dancing properly with brooms really doesn’t deserve that, it is Christmas. Although why chimney sweeps are Christmassy anyway totally defeats me, I know they’re supposed to be lucky but you don’t exactly hang them from the tree or think ‘it’s Christmas, I really MUST call the chimney sweep’- although saying that we probably SHOULD think about having our chimneys swept, for all we know they never have been, and then you could check that the real thing dances properly.”
Gideon gave him a long look, unsmiling, then held out a hand.
“Come here.”
Placidly Andrew slid off the windowsill and went to him, settling in Gideon’s lap with his feet on the chair rail to take some of his weight off Gideon’s knees. Gideon ran his hand under the red silk shirt and over his partner’s warm back which arched under the stroking, taking in Andrew’s wide blue eyes and the energy still visible in his face despite the fact that it was nearly eleven pm and his day had started a little after six am this morning. Absolutely nothing tired Andrew out, he had a self charging dynamo. Although that was not the source that Andrew attributed when asked.
“Is your nativity rehearsing again tomorrow?”
“Briefly, before the performance WITH tea towels at four pm. So if you do go to London you need to be back by four and bring your own tea towel. After which, everyone’s assembling here for tea, little pink cakes and vodka and we’re going carol singing as planned.”
“And who exactly is shopping for that?” Gideon said forebodingly. Andrew grinned, turning in his arms to kiss his partner, once and soundly.
“I am, never you fear. Good old Uncle Tescos. It’s twenty four hour, I’ll nip over before breakfast. Then I’ve got the Women’s Institute doing their Christmas carol meeting with mince pies at ten which will be VERY scary, I’ve got a few people to visit, there’s the Christmas concert at the Upper School in Weedon which I promised to go to, and there are STILL people I need to bribe about playing for midnight mass on Christmas Eve-“
”You are going to bed at some point?”
“This is life with a vicar at Christmas, darling, you know all about it.” Andrew gave him a wicked glint and got up, snapping his fingers to Pilate, who rolled over and gave him a hopeful look as Andrew danced on the spot, hips and hands twisting to an inaudible jive beat. “Da da, da da da - we COULD go and shop now if you’d rather, Towcester’s rather pretty by moonlight.”
Gideon got up, watching his partner shoulder into a spectacularly bright pink cashmere sweater which draped artfully over the hips of his black jeans, and went with the equally designer scarf which he wound around his neck over the top of it.
“Just what is this going to involve, Andrew?”
“Nothing much at all, just the occasional vol au vent.” Andrew said reassuringly, opening the front door. “A little caviar. It won’t be traumatic.”
Mr Dickinson, who with his wife in the final stages of pregnancy was becoming used to being sent to Tescos at strange hours for even stranger items of food, met a vision in fluffy pink some time after midnight, arguing the merits of juniper and birch smoked salmon over oak smoked salmon with a fully costumed and red coated Victorian British Army Colonel. One of whom beamed and the other bowed courteously, as Mr Dickinson gave them a slightly glazed nod.
“Evening Vicar.”


The children’s Christmas service, held at four pm in St Michael’s church, was warmly received by the congregation and was standing room only, since the Frog and Bucket didn’t open until six pm, and all the fathers were looking for something to do that didn’t involve being out in the rain. Gideon made it back to Much Magden two minutes before the start of the performance, his cravat immaculate under a black opera cape, and took his place standing amongst them, removing his top hat and gloves and holding them in a suitably church-like manner under one arm.
“Oh my God, it’s the Phantom of the Opera.” Mr Dickinson murmured to Mr Ackwell, sinking down behind his carol sheet.
“What costume IS that?” Jo whispered to Andrew as the heavy church doors were closed to signal the start of the service.
“That’s his ‘escaped from the set of Sherlock Holmes’ outfit.” Andrew whispered back reassuringly. “The poor lamb’s been at the BBC all afternoon, it’s VERY hard on the nerves- Ladies and Gentlemen may I welcome you all to the Much Magden children’s Christmas service! I think we’re ready to begin, with the story of the nativity performed by Mrs Dickson’s class.”
The children performing the nativity were showing signs of it being late afternoon, of being tired and wanting their tea, and of being just a little too close now to the highly stressful excitement of Christmas Eve.
Andrew, reading very short excerpts from the relevant parts of the gospels in between the action and the carols, found himself watching with awful fascination as Mary, tuning out words that had little meaning for her, and the stare of approximately one hundred citizens of Much Magden seated in the aisles, took baby Jesus from her lap by the heel of one foot, leaned over and carefully dunked him head first in the manger.
“And there were shepherds,” Andrew went on, trying not to look at Gideon who was standing at the back with one dark eyebrow raised up under his hairline. Someone tugged at the hem of his vestments, and looking down he found that the Archangel Gabriel had slipped away from the stable and climbed up into the pulpit. Lifting him to sit on the edge of the lectern and holding him securely with one arm under his wings, Andrew found his place and carried on reading.
“….in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their sheep.”
Joseph finally removed his thumb from his mouth, reached out and confiscated baby Jesus from Mary, cuddling him with his head resting on the cold plastic face of the doll. Mary watched for a moment, her round brown eyes astonished. Then just as carefully, she raised a hand and whacked Joseph firmly on the top of the head. Jo crawled awkwardly forward on hands and knees from behind the scenery to intervene, but Joseph had clearly had enough. Taking baby Jesus with him, he got up and started a determined escape across the nave of the church to the sanctuary of his mother’s lap.
“And an angel host appeared to them, and said ‘do not be afraid’.” Andrew went on manfully, as Jo pursued Joseph and could be heard trying to persuade him to come back to the stable. “’For we bring tidings of great joy. A child is born of David’s line, who will be the saviour, Christ, and you shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And then the sky was filled with angels rejoicing and singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people on earth’.”
The mother in charge at the far end of the hall started off the wobbly procession of angels and shepherds up the aisle towards the altar, and Mr Ackwell, anxious to be helpful and hearing his cue, hit the button on the CD player. A choir performance of ‘The First Nowell’ should have come out of the speakers to represent the voice of the angels. As it was, there was a sudden crash from a drum kit and the Heavenly Host burst into ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’. Mrs Dunwoodie, sitting squarely in the middle of the front row, shot a look of outrage at Andrew who shook his head, raising his one free hand in a silent protest of innocence. At the back, a small crowd of about twelve men in scarlet and gold jackets and tight leather trousers, all carrying brass musical instruments, came in through the church door, waved to Andrew and went to join Gideon. It was at about that point that the fathers who had been lounging at the back, stopped looking bored and began to enjoy themselves.
“Three Kings from the East,” Andrew said, as the CD ground to an abrupt halt, cut off by a red faced Mr Ackwell, “Had seen a new star in the skies,”
”That’s my daddy.” The Archangel Gabriel interrupted, pointing out over the rows of people to where his father, flushing purple as the entire congregation turned to look at him, gave a slightly embarrassed wave.
“It is.” Andrew agreed. “And the Kings followed the star to the town of Bethlehem, where it came to rest above the stable where Jesus lay.”
Helen Fox, teacher of the older children at Much Magden’s school and acting as the organist, struck up ‘We Three Kings’, the congregation dutifully rose to their feet rattling carol sheets, and most of them jumped as the brass band at the back found the right key and joined in at a far faster and much more interesting rhythm than Helen had written into her music.
The three children depicting the Kings made their way solemnly to the front and lined up in front of the manger as the congregation, who had thoroughly enjoyed the noise and swing of what was usually a very dirge like carol, somewhat reluctantly stopped singing and sat down again.
“Gold.” One of the children said laconically, plonking a box down in front of the manger.
“I Bring Him Myrrh.” Little Hannah Johnson, pushing a slipping Burger King crown back from her eyes, spoke loudly and clearly in obvious concern that the other Kings weren’t taking this seriously enough, and poked Harry Vaughan, who as the third king stopped picking his nose and gave her a surprised look. Hannah, losing patience, snatched the wrapped parcel from his arms and piled it on top of the others.
“And Frank Sent This.”
She looked indignantly round at the congregation as no few started to laugh, and Andrew cut in hurriedly to defend her dignity.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll ask you now to stand and sing carol number four on your sheet, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, after which I believe the Women’s Institute are serving us tea and mince pies, and may God have mercy on us all.”
Mrs Dunwoodie swelled like a puff adder. The rest of the congregation rose, looking hopefully at the brass band, who didn’t disappoint them. Oh Come All Ye Faithful struck up loudly and vigorously, and a large man whose leather trousers looked somewhat tighter than appeared safe and whose sparkling jacket opened to reveal the legend “Cornet Players Do It With Their Lips” began a competition with the trumpet player as to who could work the most fanfares into the tune.
Andrew lifted Kevin down from the lectern, held his hand firmly and guided the little boy down the steep steps of the pulpit ahead of him.
“Did you enjoy that?”
“I like them.” Kevin said honestly, pointing at the band. Andrew took a seat on the step of the nave on a level with the other children and met Jo with a warm smile as she awkwardly uncurled herself from behind the scenery.
“That was lovely.”
“Apart from the fact that Bethlehem Social Services will be seeking an immediate place of safety order for baby Jesus.” Jo got to her feet with some difficulty and leaned heavily on Andrew as the carol ended and mothers began to come to the front to collect their children. The stable, finally placed under more pressure than it could handle, toppled slowly backwards onto the choir stalls.
“Are you going home?” Andrew asked, with some sympathy, seeing Mr Dickinson trying to make his way through the crowd towards his wife. “You should definitely spend this evening with your feet up.”
”I intend to.” Jo said fervently. Andrew, aware of the crowd swelling closer, stooped and picked up Kevin, scanning through people for either of his parents.
“Kevin wait with me a minute, you’ll get lost in all this.”
“Are we going to sing?” Kevin demanded. Andrew shifted him to one hip, following his gaze to the band.
“No. You can come and see the band, they’ll play for you if we ask them, but it’s time to go home now.”
He saw the look on the little boy’s face change like water running down a window pane, from interest to fear to a sudden well of tears. It was heart breaking to watch. Andrew hugged him, casting another quick look around in search of either of the Dunkleys. Then reaching a decision, he carried Kevin across to the small Lady Chapel that led off the west side of the church. Too out of the way to offer viewing space, it had been left deserted. Andrew sat down on one of the small benches that lined its walls and turned Kevin to face him, smoothing his hair back from the hot little forehead under the tinsel halo.
“Kevin what’s the matter? What’s making you cry?”
“I don’t want to go home for Christmas.” Kevin sobbed out between gulps for air. Andrew waited, still smoothing his hair.
“Why not?”
Kevin didn’t answer, shaking with grief. Andrew watched his face, trying to think like someone only just five.
“Is there something at home that you don’t like?”
Kevin shook his head.
“Is there something going to happen at Christmas that you don’t like?”
Kevin nodded tearfully.
“What?” Andrew asked gently. “Something you’re going to do? Someone’s who’s going to come?”
Another nod and several deep, unsteady sniffs. Andrew dug for his handkerchief and wiped where ever it seemed to be needed.
“Who’s going to come to your house then? Your Gran? Your Uncle?”
Fervent head shaking. Andrew surveyed his face, racking his brains for what he knew of the Dunkley family connections. From what he knew of them, they were a close extended family.
“Who’s coming to your house that you don’t like, Kevin?”


“Father Christmas?” Gideon repeated, keeping hold of Andrew’s hand to prevent them being forcibly separated by the crowds pouring out of the church.
“Father Christmas.” Andrew confirmed, flattening himself against the wall. “Goodbye Helen, thank you SO much for playing for us, you were fabulous - it’s the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard, I can see his point completely. This strange man, who HE doesn’t know, but who knows everything about HIM, including whether or not he’s good, is going to break into his house in the middle of the night and walk around, seeing and doing goodness only knows what. MRS Dunwoodie, how nice to see you, do have a safe journey home-“
“No one,” Mrs Dunwoodie said severely, her large chest heaving with emotion under a straining black raincoat, “Need ask mercy from MY mince pies. My pastry is RENOWNED in this district-“
“Mrs Dunwoodie who ever would ask for mercy from your pastry?” Andrew said, bewildered.
Mrs Dunwoodie glared at him. “YOU Vicar, I heard you distinctly! May God have mercy on us all!”
”Ah.” Andrew patted her arm comfortingly, “No, no, that was a general blessing, I didn’t have anyone’s mince pies specifically in mind. Thank you SO much for organising the tea and refreshments this evening, didn’t the children do well? I think everyone had such a lovely time- do take care on the path Mrs Dunwoodie, it’s very slippery in the dark.”
Gideon watched Mrs Dunwoodie scuttle away and turned a grim glance on his partner. Who took no notice whatever and carried on locking the church doors.
“Yes, Father Christmas, breaking in and walking around and goodness only knows what he’ll do in the house. And his mum and dad are not only absolutely fine with this, they’re going to be asleep when it happens. It’s not surprising he’s terrified!”
“I can see his point.” Gideon watched Andrew turn out the porch lights, and the two of them followed the last of the crowd through the church yard towards the road. “I can see Mrs Dunwoodie’s as well. So what did you do about it?”
“Oh darling don’t worry, I didn’t touch a mince pie all evening. Gay don’t do that, or at least don’t do it here! Oh you meant Kevin? I explained to him and George Dunkley that if they wanted, we could arrange for Father Christmas to make all deliveries to the vicarage on his behalf, and they could collect them from us on Christmas morning. George was a bit bemused but he and Lisa were so glad to have the answer that when they left they were making plans about putting notices on the door about ‘no entry’. Darcy!”
Andrew slipped Gideon’s hand and ran across the road to where the band were mingling with a small crowd on the vicarage lawn in the dark, mostly men of varying ages, all of whom Andrew was hugging in quick rotation. The tallest came quietly to Gideon’s elbow, giving him a courteous nod.
”Julian.” Gideon kissed him warmly. “I didn’t think you did carols?”
“I didn’t either.” Julian said ruefully. “Drew is incredibly persuasive- hello brat.”
”Julian! Joyeux Noël ! Buon Natale! Klopfen Sie nicht über dem Weihnachtsbaum! You look gorgeous!”
Andrew hugged him, swung off his feet for a moment, then towed Julian towards the vicarage.
“I’m SO glad you’ve come, I need a favour from you. Gay, there’s the lanterns in the garage, or all the ones I could beg, borrow or steal anyway, Darcy there ARE drummers coming, Liam and Mike promised me faithfully, go and see if anyone’s driving around the village looking lost?”
“We’re all looking lost, this is the back of beyond!” Darcy called back, heading cautiously across the grass. “It’s like being trapped in a Miss Marple remake.”
Mrs Dunwoodie, passing the vicarage hedge a few moments later and fresh from telling Aggie Ackwell about the iniquities of playing pop songs during Church Services and insulting Perfectly Good Mince Pies, stopped in horror at the sight on the vicarage lawn. Several dancers in most unsuitable costumes were performing tumbling and acrobatics on the grass which involved MOST inappropriate contact considering all the dancers were definitely male. The band were warming up to ‘See Amid the Winter’s Snow’ and enjoying it far more than was at all proper, and in amongst the crowd of people lighting lanterns, the vicar was leading forward a very tall man in a Father Christmas outfit, who was looking ready to bite.
“You’ll be perfect.” The vicar was saying firmly, “Absolutely perfect, it’s a performance you could do with your eyes closed.”
”Ho ho frigging ho.” Father Christmas said bitterly, going where he was led.

The carol singing progressed around the entire village of Much Magden, with several carols performed in each street as most of the street population came outside in sheer fascination to watch. Three drummers had joined the brass band, there was a large crowd of singers, several dancers who in between more appropriate medieval steps during the singing went straight back to acrobatics and enjoying themselves with far more modern and less choreographed dancing at every opportunity, and a fire eater, who teased Andrew until Andrew accepted one of the sticks from him with a quick and extremely delinquent look at Gideon, took a mouthful of the fluid from the flask the man carried and blew out a gale of fire to the shrieks and applause of the children watching. And a Father Christmas, who periodically waltzed with Gideon, or joined the dancers, and crouched to listen to the confidences and questions of the children who came to interrogate him. At one of the houses towards the end of the village, Andrew saw one small boy draw back in absolute terror at the sight of the red costume and took Father Christmas’s arm. Father Christmas followed his glance across the road to the child now clinging to his mother’s neck, and smiled, coming no closer.
“Kevin Dunkley. I’m not allowed in your house, the vicar told me. That’s all right, I can leave everything with the vicar and you can collect it when you want to.”
That seemed to take a minute to sink in. Kevin said something to his mother who gave Father Christmas an apologetic look.
“You really won’t come in the house?”
“I never go in houses where I’m not allowed.” Father Christmas said firmly. “It wouldn’t be polite. Happy Christmas Kevin.”
“You think that’ll do it?” Gideon said in Andrew’s ear, coming to stand behind him. The band struck up ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ in a distinct jazz rhythm, and the crowd began to move towards the next street.
“I can hope it might make him feel a bit safer.” Andrew said, waving to Kevin who was watching with great care from his mother’s arms. “Don’t be jealous darling, you couldn’t possibly be Father Christmas, he knows your voice too well. You’ll just have to be the Holly ghost.”
”Is that some weird local legend?” Gideon said suspiciously, following him, well aware that they were dangerously close to Mrs Dunwoodie’s house and the lace curtains were twitching convulsively behind her parlour window. Andrew pulled him down by the cravat and kissed him sympathetically.
“Oh darling do try to keep up. The Father, the Son and the Holly ghost, Harry Vaughan asked me about him yesterday, apparently he gets into all my services. Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy- Mrs Dunwoodie! Merry Christmas!”


“WHO was the angel who brought pesto?” Andrew demanded, fighting his way out of the kitchen through the crowds of guests drinking and talking in the hallway. “It’s like the western frontier out here, they don’t sell ANY of the essentials of life. I haven’t seen crème fraiche or one solitary oyster since I left London, it’s amazing we’ve survived this long- Darcy you’re a saint.”
“The salmon is fabulous.” Darcy lifted his glass high enough for Andrew to top it off as two band members ducked under their arms and took their saxophones into the kitchen.
“Make sure you say that to Gay,” Andrew ordered, “I TOLD him the juniper and birch smoked salmon had to be more interesting but you know what he’s like, he insisted it wouldn’t make any difference.”
Darcy snorted, nodding at the floor. ”I thought these tiles were phenomenally shiny.”
“I know. It’s Christmas, I can’t keep my mouth under control for two minutes together. I wouldn’t mind but this hall is three times the size of the one in London,” Andrew jived on the spot, grinning at a couple of the dancers who squeezed past. “Da da da - I used to be able to get that one waxed in about half an hour, this takes all evening and yet STILL I haven’t got the hang of shutting up- Pete, darling, get yourself something to eat, you look THIN. Darce can’t possibly be feeding you properly.”
“We brought your post Christmas rescue box, Darcy put it under the tree.” Pete confirmed, accepting a refill of wine. Andrew kissed his cheek as he passed.
“You’re wonderful, thank you- it’s the least I can do for Gay, I charge around before Christmas, he barely sees me at all on Christmas day, and this year Boxing day WOULD be a Sunday so he won’t see me much then either- so we always make up for it the first non church day after Christmas and spend ALL day in bed with wine, chocolate and bad videos, it’s marvellous- who else needs a drink?”
Gideon and Julian were dancing in the lounge to Kalinka on the stereo, Julian now bare-chested and Gideon stripped to a loose white shirt, trousers and boots with a red sash knotted around his waist that gave him a distinctly Russian look. Their boots were ringing on the wood floor and most of the dancers, musicians and assorted guests in a circle around them were clapping the rhythm as it gathered speed.
“If we drink we will die
We will die if we don’t drink
So we may as well say what the hell
And let our glasses clink-“
“Drew, can we set up a game of strip twister in the study?” someone inquired from the hall. Andrew handed the bottle over to the nearest willing hand.
“You’ll be better in the dining room, the floor’s slippier. Who put that tutu on the dog? Pilate come here baby- the dog does NOT do drag- Julian no! I’m dreadful at ballet, I’m really seriously dreadful at Russian ballet-“
“Gideon would refuse to live with a man who didn’t dance Russian ballet properly and you’re the only one here who actually speaks Russian!” Julian grabbed Andrew’s hands, towing him inexorably into the dance. “I have no idea why, a vicar can’t often need Russian.”
”You never know when you might need it and I can just about ask my way to Leningrad,” Andrew protested. “That’s my limit and I don’t even know if I’d LIKE Leningrad when I got there.”
Several other dancers fitted onto the line, arms resting on each other’s shoulders, the steps increasingly fast and complex as the clapping grew louder.

“Kalinka, kalinka, kalinka moya!
V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya!

“Andrew?” Darcy said dryly from the hallway. “I think Frank Sent This?”
A small boy in pyjamas and Wellington boots, with his coat buttoned up wrong, came slowly into the living room, eyes wide as he took in the crowd and the dancing. Andrew extracted himself from the line with difficulty, hurriedly scanning the room for anything in sight that a child really should not be witness to.
“Sebastian, shut the dining room door QUICK for goodness sake- Kevin what are you doing here? Does your Mum know where you are?”
“He’s dancing with a sword.” Kevin pointed out. Andrew put both hands on his shoulders and steered him into the hall.
“Yes, he does that sometimes. Where’s your mum?”
“At home.” Kevin said simply. “Is Father Christmas here?”
“No.” Andrew said apologetically. “He doesn’t live here. Was that who you came to see?”
Waist high on the clusters of men in the hallway, Kevin paused taking in the smiles being directed down at him as the vicar ushered him towards the door.
“Why has your little dog got a skirt on?”
“Because I haven’t had time yet to take it off. Jerry, be a love and tell Gay I’m taking this young man home before his parents have a heart attack.”
The band struck up ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ in the kitchen, in competition with Kalinka in the lounge, and Kevin looked with horrified delight at the jazz procession now circling the kitchen table. The doorbell rang and Andrew eased himself through the crush in the hall to get the door open, seeing with some relief George Dunkley standing on the doorstep.
“George! Kevin’s here, I was about to walk him home- I’m afraid the lure of Father Christmas got too much.”
”They’re dancing on the table.” Kevin called to his father. “And Gideon’s got a sword in the lounge.”
”He’s star struck with the band.” Andrew said apologetically. “Do come in and have a drink.”
George, finding himself being welcomed by a spaniel in a pink tutu, took off his cap and stepped somewhat cautiously into the hall.

It was past two am when the last car drove away, as quietly as was possible. Gideon shut the vicarage door and drew the heavy bolt across, turning to look at his partner, who, dishevelled and cheerful, was carrying glasses into the kitchen, stepping over a small and still tutued spaniel, who was overfed, over petted, exhausted and asleep in the middle of the kitchen floor.
“That went well. Did you see the post Christmas rescue box Pete and Darcy brought us? I think Julian had a hand in it as well. I admit, I had a quick look through. Port, pate, truffles and DREADFUL videos, of the ‘Johann fixes Sven’s Photocopier’ variety, I really must get Darcy to take me shopping in the New Year-”
Gideon snapped off the kitchen lights, waiting. “I want a word with you.”
”About what?” Andrew protested, leaving the glasses in the sink. “I can’t help his taste in videos, and you simply HAVE to watch something that dire on principle. Darling we may have to move house, it’s going to be simpler than dealing with the mess.”
”About praying for mercy from Mrs Dunwoodie’s mince pies. AND fire eating.”
”I keep telling you, fire eating is perfectly harmless.” Andrew said, patting him soothingly on his way past. “Oliver does it for a living and he taught me how for that service I did in Soho with those firemen about the burning bush, remember? Where you stood at the back and nearly had a fit and the fire chief with that huge moustache fancied you? It was a good day actually-“
His wrist was snagged and Gideon pulled him back, resting both hands on his shoulders. Andrew gave him a wide, blameless look out of still wider and more mischievous eyes.
“And I never once specifically mentioned ANYone’s mince pies it was a generalised blessing, you know- Mercy and General Good Vibes to you all, Go And Be Excellent to Each Other. Oh come on, most of the Women’s Institute found that funny. Gay, no. You cannot possibly spank a vicar on Christmas Eve, it’s inhumane. I’ll wriggle all through midnight Mass and probably get excommunicated- GAY!”
A shriek was followed by the crash of Andrew being chased upstairs, giggles as he was captured on the landing and the lights went out upstairs in the vicarage.

~ The End ~
Copyright Rnager 2010


Anonymous said...

*laughs* Oh this is a wonderful series. I am personally blaming you for any trouble I get into (esp since, as the Domme I really *should* know better...)

Ranger said...

LOL You're on your own hon .... glad you're enjoying it!

Anonymous said...

I nearly burst a blood vessel reading the childrens' nativity enactment. It was so well and believably written, I could literally "see" it as it all happened. Absolutely too cute!
Thanks SO much for these stories! Can't wait to see more!

Ranger said...

Thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious! I couldn't stop laughing. I got some really strange looks from my roommate because of all the hysterical giggling.

I hope you post another story soon!

Ranger said...

Thank you, it's nice to hear you enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

God, how I wish this series could be on TV. Love the universe and the characters. The nativity scene was priceless. Bravo!

Ranger said...

Thank you! It would make for a fun sit com with the right actors, I'm definitely up for the royalties from that ;)

Key said...

“And Frank Sent This.” lol I rest my case....So funny, thanks for making me laugh all the way through these stories.

Ranger said...

It's a pleasure, Key! Thank you for all your lovely comments on the blog the last few weeks :)

Sarah Anderson said...

Lovely, made me smile :) I keep collecting favorite characters! All we can all say is 'more please'

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

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