Dec 212015

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Polar bears yesterday, pink bears today…


If my first Christmas present hadn’t lasted very long, I wouldn’t remember it.  But Big Ted lived with me and my family for many, many years, and was loved by us all.  He was bought for me some months before I was even born, apparently, by my mum’s dad:  Grandpa Emery was so proud to be about to become a grandfather.

teddy and girlWhy I called it “he”, I couldn’t tell you.  Big Ted is pink, with white bits.  When he was given to me I must have been rather less than half his size.

The name suited him, certainly.  We made various attempts to come up with something better over the years, my siblings and I, but Big Ted was the only name that stuck. Continue reading »

Dec 202015

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Penguin Poetry (- not a division of Penguin Books…)


Not many penguins are poets.

What?! I hear you say to yourself. This story is crazy. How could penguins write poetry? They don’t even have fingers, let alone opposable thumbs. And they just make a strange series of whoops and wails, growls and guffaws.

Well, this story is set long ago, when the world was different. And in any case, penguin poetry is an oral tradition, not a written tradition, in a language as unintelligible to you and me as the poetry of Goethe in its original German might be to a Trobriand Islander, or the Mahabharata in Sanskrit could sound to a Mexican.

auntarcticmicrophoneIn fact, long ago, there were lots of penguin poets. They spent many hours in the winter-long darkness of the South Pole competing with each other, as poets do today, to narrate the longest, fastest, most inspiring pieces of epic poetry and attract the largest audiences. These were mostly odes of great bravery performed by legendary penguin warrior-prophets, who would lead their followers into successful battles against their great enemy, the polar bears. The audiences would roar their approval.

Unfortunately, like many tales of legendary warrior prophets, they weren’t based on reality. Polar bears, which are much bigger and stronger than even Emperors, also lived in those days in Antarctica, on a diet mainly composed of penguins. In the darkest days of winter, when it was overcast and too black for the polar bears to hunt by sight, they would listen for the then familiar sounds of penguin poetry performances, knowing that if they followed their ears there would be a gathering of lovely juicy penguins. Continue reading »

Dec 192015

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A VERY good reason for leaving Santa an extra mince pie or two…


It was Christmas Eve at midnight. The streets were cold and dark
The sky was huge and full of moon and bright with diamond stars.
The children all were sleeping, the Mums and Fathers too
And if the lights were burning they were far-between and few.

The snow had finished falling. The frost was hard and fast
The city lay in a cask of ice as it had for Yuletides past.
The wind had fallen silent and all through every street
A breathless hush descended as though a heart had ceased to beat.

When far, far in the distance, so soft you’d hardly tell
If it was your imagination, came the tinkle of a bell.
And there across the heavens like a kind of shooting star
Came Santa’s sleigh, and Santa. You know how these things are.night b4 christmas Continue reading »

Dec 182015

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There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned family Christmas…


It’s difficult in these days of Mp3 mass storage and unlimited music streaming to comprehend just how desirable a bottom-of-range compact cassette recorder might have been to a twelve-year old cahnsil estate oik in the early 1970s. Imagine today’s average twelve-year old unwrapping their first ever i-phone and multiply it by a factor of around a million, then throw in an X-box1 for good measure and you might be getting somewhere close. But probably not, because twelve-year olds today are already likely to be on their fourth or fifth generation smartphone, and will have regarded ownership of such items as a god-given right rather than a privilege from the time they lost their first milk tooth. Spoilt little buggers.

casseteBut I digress: In 1973 I would have sold my granny to sex-traffickers to get my hands on a cassette recorder, and thrown in my granddad too, had he still been living, for the price of a triple-pack of blank C60s and a set of spare batteries.

My dreams were almost answered in December 1972. I had been pleading miserably (shush!) for a tape-recorder since my birthday in August (when I had received nothing grander than a cheap kite), and had convinced myself that said pleading had “incentivised” mum into borrowing the necessary monies from our tallyman, Mr Pither, to procure it for me. Imagine my shock and dismay, then, on discovering on Christmas morning that the daft old bat had instead invested my present money in a poxy little second-hand reel-to-reel recorder on the advice of a “family friend”. That the “friend” was the person selling the reel-to-reel – probably to fund the purchase of a proper cassette for their own offspring – was an implication lost on my mother, but an oversight she would rue throughout the entire Christmas period and for at least six months of the following year. Continue reading »

Dec 172015

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It’s Political Correctness gone mad. (Oooh no it isn’t, it’s Health & Safety!)



On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree. This is an odd choice of gift for someone who lives in a small second floor apartment in the centre of town. I suppose the tree might just fit on my tiny balcony but partridges are known to be poor at flying; something of an evolutionary oversight. Add to that the fact that these plump tree-averse creatures nest on the ground and I feel from the bird’s perspective it is a rather thoughtless present.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves. Okay so that is quite cute; bit of a romantic gesture but nevertheless again without any consideration for the poor birds who in normal circumstances would have migrated somewhere much warmer than a drafty corner of Tunbridge Wells.

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Three French Hens. Hmmm, I’m seeing a trend here! And he knows I only buy free range. This variety of hen may be well adapted to battery farming but that is no justification for cramming in onto my balcony with a pear tree and its acrophobic inhabitant. Continue reading »

Dec 162015

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You can never go wrong with diamonds…


Yes, we all know ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, but, personally speaking, it is a darn sight less stressful to receive than to give. Receiving a present just requires a quick: ‘Ooh, thank you. It’s just what I wanted’, even if you’ve got two of them already, which was the case at my 6th (or thereabouts) birthday party when I was given yet another copy of “Noddy and the Magic noddyRubber” (which was about hilarious happenings involving an eraser, just to banish any more inappropriate thoughts!). But as for deciding what to give, when Christmas and birthdays come round I am stricken with a debilitating case of “present block”. What to buy? Not a bloody clue!

Linked to this is a psychological affliction so profound I have coined a scientific name for it (with apologies in advance to any Latin scholars who have ventured to this site): donumatychiphobia – the fear of failure when presenting gifts. Is it what was wanted? Is it the right size/colour/logo? If it’s a techie gift, has it got the right number of gigathingies / megawhatsits / ROM / RAM / RUM / TUM / bits-per-pixel / pits-per-bixel? Is it cool? Is it hot? Will it be on eBay this time tomorrow? Oh, the worry, the stress, the humiliation. Continue reading »

Dec 152015

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Grumpy old man… In the story, I mean – not an admission of guilt!


There was once a poor old man who shouted at the sky.

‘God!’ he would cry, shaking his fist. ‘Why do you neglect me so? I have lived a long time and I read fables. I know how God should be!

‘I am the poorest man in the district. My wife is ill from bearing me three children who have grown up and left us. My house crouches in the wet ground like a dog about to be whipped. The cold wind claws at our ragged clothes. My back aches from digging the poor soil to grow a few vegetables. And…’ he continued ‘Christmas will be upon us soon, when all my neighbours will rejoice in their own good fortune and we will shiver by our small fire and eat the same vegetables we eat every day.’

The man cursed, and cursed so loudly that many in the neighbouring fields heard him and, for the most part, they agreed that he was, indeed, the poorest, most unfortunate man they knew.

‘God!’ he cried. ‘It’s about time you showed me how good you are!’

Each day, when the light failed and his backache became too much to tend the garden, the man would walk up the hill to shout again at God.

Then, one evening, as the man began to shout, a strange thing happened. The chill wind which whistled around him suddenly stopped and, from nowhere, and yet from everywhere, a voice spoke. ‘I will give you what you want,’ it said in a low rumbling, like thunder. Continue reading »

Dec 142015

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Letters to Santa…


Advent was announced in our village by the appearance of the model Nativity scene in the window of the post office. The post office itself was the ground floor front room of a modest terraced house which was home to Mrs Sharman, the postmistress.

Mrs Sharman presided over her official duties with austere efficiency. She was a thin woman who wore face powder over what were undeniably wrinkles and her hair was set rigid in a style similar to the Queen, but her hair was still dark brown, which left me unable to decide whether she was properly old. She was certainly not of the frivolous type who colour their hair. Her seriousness made me nervous and I discovered this to be a universal reaction. Visiting friends and family always commented on how dour – sour, even – they found Mrs Sharman.

nativity peppyWe would visit the post office of necessity from time to time to deposit or withdraw small amounts of pocket money or to purchase essentials such as pencils and stamps and big, thick, navy blue gym knickers. I was always intimidated by Mrs Sharman’s stern, unsmiling demeanour and I stayed close to my mother, who would alarm me by engaging the terrifying postmistress in conversation. Continue reading »

Dec 132015

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It’s not about turkey and sprouts…


What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received?
The best one you could have ever believed?
Clothes? A watch? Exotic tea?
That new game for the PS3?
A DVD? A box of chocs?
Me, I’ve always loved socks.
You have to see the shine in my eyes
When I unwrap a pair in my size.
Stripes and dots, some dark, some bright;
Fluffy ones with owls on to wear at night.
But the greatest gift I ever got?
It wasn’t socks or a kitchen pot.
socksMy greatest gift didn’t come with a bow,
But it did change my life many years ago.
I didn’t find it on Google or Firefox
And it didn’t sit under the tree in a box.
It isn’t something I can ever hold
But is far more precious than diamonds or gold.
I never could earn it, the price is too high,
You see I’m not perfect, no matter how hard I try,
So it just wouldn’t help being good for my mum;
If I’d tried to deserve it, it would never have come.
I got it immediately, no need to wait.
And how did I get this gift so great?
I’d read all about it in a very special book;
People had told me and I’d wanted a look.
I just had to choose it, but it also choose me,
I didn’t have to pay for it, for me it was free.
That isn’t to say that this gift had no price:
No, it came with a heavy cost, not to be paid twice.
One night when I asked for it, from then it was mine,
No light show or circus, no miraculous sign.
And it’s not just for me to keep to myself,
To leave in a box or up on a shelf.
This gift is for sharing with everyone
christmas_starCos it’s a light in the dark, as bright as the sun.
‘Just shut up, what is it?!’ I’m hearing from you.
Well this isn’t a “what” or an “it”, but a “who”.
The greatest gift ever was the miracle birth
Of the man called Jesus come to die for the earth.
God sent His own Son as a sacrifice,
Humbly born in a stable with the cattle and mice.
This boy was a King though He grew up lowly.
This is the only man who ever was holy.
nativityAnd the greatest gift He gave to me:
Life with Him for eternity.
This gift took the world, His death on the cross
Paid the punishment for sin, servant saved by the boss.
He’s the greatest love I’ve ever known
By no one has greater love ever been shown.
So my greatest gift ever was not a toy
But the birth and death of a carpenter’s boy.
So remember this Christmas what it’s all about;
Not the tree or the family, the turkey or sprout,
But a time to remember the best gift of all:
God’s only Son Jesus, that boy in the stall.

© Anya Bowker (2015)


Dec 122015

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Ready for that annual traipse around the high street?


It’s only when you have to buy presents for them you realise how little you know your family. What are you even meant to get these people that not only embodies your bond with them, but is also meant to improve, complete, or add joy to their lives? Lives you are becoming less and less aware of.  Do you try and go for something from the heart or just something with surface value; and if you can make that choice, then what? How are you meant to know what your pragmatic older sister you only see three times a year is into now? How are you meant to know every insane, contradictory lifestyle choice every dentist-waiting-room magazine has convinced your Mother to adopt? How can you even be asked to guess what your spiritually rambunctious, yet hippie, father could possible want beyond the usual ounce of green we secretively get each other every year from our respective cities, London and Manchester? Luckily family gift getting only has to happen a handful of times a year, twice for siblings; birthdays (if she’s lucky) and Christmas, and three times for parents; birthdays, Christmas, and the derogatory day to immortalise their parenthood. But today’s mission I think is the hardest simply due to the drastic global scale: Christmas shopping. Continue reading »

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