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Friday, 24 December 2010

A Stable Upbringing

This started life as a chapter in my 2005 book, "Steady Past Your Granny's".  It has been updated following some very constructive criticism from my friends on Authonomy and The Book Shed.  I'm delighted to say that it was published in the 2010 Christmas Eve edition of the Derby Telegraph, so I thought I would share it with a wider audience.


The little enclave was rank with the heavy odour of animals and old straw.  Dimly they could see a donkey and a couple of oxen but there was the sense of others in the darkness, pressing closer.  In the centre of the picture the tired mother, agitated father and sleeping infant were lit by a glow that could not easily be attributed to the single candle, guttering in the draught.

They approached closer and one of their number (as always happens) found himself thrust forward, the other two peering over his shoulder and breathing heavily with the excitement of it all.  There was a stirring in the manger, the infant screwed its face and contorted its body in preparation for a good cry, then thought better of it and resumed a peaceful sleep.  The activity dislodged a swaddling band, the three edged closer.

They looked carefully.  They looked at each other in wonderment.  They shook their heads.  Eventually, one spoke.

“It’s a girl!”  The lead spectator cried.

“Leave it out,” the father said a little too quickly, “it’s just cold, that’s all.”

“It is nippy.”  Another member of the party agreed.

“You are joking, I take it?”  The lead spectator snapped.  “I’m a wise man.  Everyone agreed?” He glowered at the assembly until a muffled assent was obtained.  “And I’m telling you, that’s a girl.”  He drew himself up to his full height, the crown grated against one of the roof beams and a shower of dust and dead spiders fell gently around his face, utterly destroying the effect he was trying to achieve by glaring at the sweating father.

“Look, it’s brass monkeys out there, innit?”  The father hastily rearranged the swaddling bands.  “You know how it is.  And he’s only little to start with.” 

“Just what are you trying to pull, eh?”  The lead wise man was face to face now with the father.  “We’ve travelled miles for this.  On flaming camels!  Have you any idea what that’s like?”

“Been a few miles on the donkey,” the father mumbled, “mind you, it’s the missus’s really.  I’ve put me name down for a mule but I’m not holding me breath.” 

“Well, let me tell you, my good man, imagine having your innards removed with a corkscrew, by a drunk, in the middle of a storm at sea, and you’re getting there.  Not to mention what it does for your important little places” he sighed heavily, “‘Except at least I’ve got some important little places to worry about.  Which brings me back to the point at issue.  It’s a girl!”

The father shot a sideways glance at the mother.  She turned away quickly.  He placed his arm as best he could around the towering shoulders of the lead king and manoeuvred him to one side.

“Look, keep your voice down can’t you, you’re upsetting the wife.”

“It is a girl, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s a girl, just don’t go shouting the odds like that, eh?”

“Well, what the…what are you going to do about it?”

“Look, I’m doing my best, right?  The wife’s in a terrible state, she blames herself.  I’ve been trying to get hold of an angel all night but can you get one when you want one?  Oh dear me, no.  All out with the heavenly host singing fit to burst aren’t they?  Plus, I’ve tried to get through to upstairs.”  He raised his eyes toward the dirt encrusted ceiling, “they’re playing hell up there.” He added confidentially.

“I’m not surprised!”  The lead king affirmed, “this isn’t what we were expecting.”

“No, squire, you don’t get my drift, I mean they’re playing Hell up there.  Some kind of celebratory cup match.  Can’t get a bit of sense out of them.”  He sighed.  “Cos, this is what comes of leaving it to angels, if you ask me.  Do you know who they went and told about all this first, eh? Eh?  Bloody shepherds, that’s all.”

“Shepherds?  I thought we were the first to know.”

“No, not by a long chalk mate.  We’ve only just got the place fit to walk in again.  You know what shepherds are like, straight off the fields and in here without a ‘by your leave’, sheep sh*t all over the place, you’ve never seen nothing like it.  Been all the same if we’d had a proper hotel room, which we could have had I might mention.”  He glared at the mother again.

“Oh, I understood….”  The king began.

“Oh, I know what you understood‘No room at the inn’ and all that cobblers.  You don’t think I’d traipse all the way over here, with me missus expecting any minute, and not have a room booked do you?  Got it all sorted hadn’t I.  Nice room with views of the star, en suite garderobe, gaps under the doors for air conditioning, just the ticket.  Only, when we fetches up here and the gaffer comes out to take our luggage, the wife only pipes up ‘Oh, we’d be as comfortable in the stable.’ And here we are.  Fine way to bring a kid into the world, I must say.  She’s got some very funny ideas since she was filled with the Holy Spirit – and don’t get me started on that, I haven’t begun to figure that one out.”

“So our long and arduous journey has been wasted.”  The king looked despondent, his two companions were busy making ‘goo goo goo’ noises at the infant.

“Oh no, squire.”  The father spotted the glittering caskets each was carrying, “I’d stick around for a day or two.  They’re bound to sort it, ain’t they?  Mind you…” he considered for a moment, “you’re a man of the world ain’t you, an educated sort if you get my drift?”

“I am a wise man, yes.  I’ve got a certificate somewhere.”  He rummaged through his robes.

“Course you are, that’s what I’m saying, innit?  Only, I could use a bit of advice.  Come and have a look here, will you?”

The father led the way into the gloom of the rear of the stable.

“Runs in the wife’s family apparently.  You’d think they’d check up on these things but, oh no, it’s all sing hallelujah, bash the tambourine and hang the consequences.  Now then,” he took a deep breath, reached into another manger and pulled back a crude blanket.  “What do you reckon we should do about this?”

“Oh my God!”  The king stared at the father, open-mouthed.  “Twins?”

“Twins.”  The father confirmed.

THE END (probably)


© Philip and Hilary Whiteland, 2010


The new, bumper collection of stories "Crutches For Ducks" is now available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com