Wednesday 21 December 2011


A glass of brown ale for Santa

Roger Noons

    “So John, how many times were you Santa?”
    “Both libraries, for six years, that would be a dozen times.”
    “You must have had a few unusual incidents?”
    “Yes Rosie, though it was mainly what you’d expect: a wet trouser leg: being sick over my Wellington boots. The kids were dead keen, until their mothers pushed them forward. Then shyness crept in, once the child was on my knee, it would often become dumbstruck, remain silent, need prompting, or immediately want to return to mum. I did get the odd smack on the nose.”
    “There must have been one event that stood out?”
    “Yes, but it didn’t concern a child: it was one of the mothers.”
    “The librarian always placed a chair for me in the centre of the room, and the parents, occasionally there was a dad, would stand around in a semi circle with the children in front of them. At my side, on the floor, I would put my sack. There was always a small gift for each child.”
    Rosie smiled and nodded.
    “The outfit was borrowed from the local fire station, and it was one size, so it was large: particularly the hood. If I turned my head, the hood stayed where it was, so I could only see what was in front of me. I said goodbye to a small boy and reached down into the sack and felt for a present, but what I located was a woman’s foot. I turned my head and whispered. ‘You’re standing in the sack.’ Either she didn’t hear, or chose to ignore me, as she didn’t move.”
    “Oh my God!”
    “So each time I put my hand in the sack, I ran my fingers up and down her leg, even above her stocking top, but she never budged. After the last child had received it‘s present, I stood up, but parents and children were milling around. I scanned the women’s faces, but saw nothing to indicate which lady‘s leg I had been caressing.”
    “So one of the mums got a gift as well?”
    I smiled.
    “Well, thank you John, I can get a good piece out of that.” We shook hands. “You have very soft skin,” she said. “I wish I’d worn a skirt, you could have given me a demonstration.” 

BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The European Gap Year Traveller

Charlie Britten

From:  George
To:       ‘Auntie Angela’
I'm fine.  Honestly, I'm fine.  I wish you'd stop worrying about me.  Yes, I got your text.  And was it necessary to ring me at 10am?  I mean, you woke up everyone in the place where I was staying, which, btw, is not a Youth Hostel.
Also, would you please stop asking me about what you call ‘my financial situation’?  Everything is about money with you.  I think I'm managing fine.  Okay, my credit card’s maxed out, but so is everybody else’s.  It’s not my fault the bank insisted on giving me credit, is it?  Another thing.  I didn't like that bit in your last email about people here retiring at fifty-four.  Where did you get that from?  The Daily Mail?  You don't appreciate that it’s different out here.   
Having awesome time.  Country really beautiful.  Last night we sat at the bar, watching the red streaks of the sun sink over the horizon.  Then we saw it come up again several hours later as a white ball of light, while we were still sitting there.  Some things are more important than money.
PS Just got your last text, about Uncle Silvio.  He’s well embarrassing.  Tbh, you should be more worried about how he spends his money.
From:  George
To:       ‘Auntie Angela’
P-uh-l-ease, could you not start on about Christmas yet? I don't know when I'm going to arrive.  I suppose it’s going to be the usual crowd.  Can you deal with the present thing and I'll pay you back.  Don't worry about Uncle David saying he won't come this year.  It’s what he always says, but he’s never missed yet, has he?  And he always pays his whack in the end, more than some of the other relatives.  Don't put pressure on him.  He doesn't have to come.  I mean, he’s not part of the immediate family, and he can be very annoying, so right-wing. 
Generally, can you lighten up on this family thing?  You keep saying we should all see more of each other and do more things together, but I don't know. 
I'm fine, Auntie Angela.  Honestly, I'm fine.
From:  George
To:       ‘Auntie Angela’
I'm not fine.  Send me several billion, Auntie Angela, please.  As soon as possible, I beg you.  By Western Union, because the banks are all messed up out here.  And don’t get me on the subject of bankers, p-uh-l-ease.
Look, I know the whole family’s in the shit money-wise, except for you, my favourite Auntie Angela.  But remember that I asked you first, because, from what I hear, you’ll get more requests for money soon.  Hope you kept receipt for Uncle David’s pressie, seeing as he’s now off the Christmas card list.
Can't wait to see you.  Have you made the stollen yet?  Haven’t eaten proper meal in ages.


Charlie Britten lives in southern England with her husband and cat.  She writes because she enjoys it and has had her work published in ‘FictionAtWork’, ‘Mslexia’, ‘Long Short Story’, ‘Linnet’s Wings’ and Radgepacket.  Charlie's blog is Lives to Write. Chalrie would love to write to live.  In real life, she is a lecturer in IT at a college of further education.

Friday 16 December 2011

It's Christmas ... again

Julie-Ann Corrigan
Gin –Mother’s Ruin

It’s early November and already, like a seasonal mythological monster, Christmas begins to loom ominously inside my mind.  I try to blank it out but it’s impossible to escape.
First, the toy adverts begin.  Day and night.  Unremitting.
Then the magazines start with: ‘How to lose weight in three seconds and look like either Madonna or Scarlett Johansson’ depending on which magazine you pick up in your pre-Christmas dental appointment.  And this is only the beginning.  During your weekly supermarket shop you can’t help but wander down the aisles of the Christmas section, buying everything you don’t need; an over-priced Christmas cake, dates, and Brazil nuts.  Items no one in your family will ever eat.  Not to mention the chocolate Santa that your daughter has shoved secretly, beneath the grapes.  It’s only November the second.
The kids, if you’re lucky, are still basking in the fast fading glory of who had the best Halloween outfit; who had the most fireworks.  But this honeymoon period doesn’t last long.  By mid-November you can’t hide your kids from the hype any longer, ‘But Mum, it’s only nine weeks away … that’s only nine Saturdays,’ and you think, my ten year old is right, how am I possibly going to do everything in just nine Saturdays?
And how are you? 
Well, one thing for sure, you won’t be doing it with your partner, will you?  Because no matter how fantastic he is on holiday, at the weekend, and at family funerals, there is something about the Christmas celebrations that alienates the male.
I remember once before marriage and a child, my now husband decided to invite his mum for Christmas lunch.  I was terrified.  I couldn’t cook.  Noticing – too late – the look of sheer terror on my face at the thought of having to produce a turkey with all the trimmings, he proclaimed grandly that he would cook lunch.  I was over the moon.  After opening our presents he set about preparing.  I set about drinking.
Lunch appeared on the table just after six.  I was too drunk to eat it!  After that first Christmas together he never sets foot in the kitchen between the twenty-third of December and New Year’s Eve.
And so; the clock is ticking, the bathroom scales are pulled from their resting place and your child suddenly learns to spell words which were impossible for them in their SATS exams only months before.  Yet, in her enthusiasm to write to Santa, to get what she wants, she suddenly develops the semantic and grammar skills of A.A. Gill.
Buying the presents is the first hurdle to pass, and so you decide to be organised and go for one big shop at Toys r Us. You fall into the same trap as you did last year, buying the ‘must have’ present in good time for the big day; believing the hype that the shop will sell out.  Of course, by the end of November, all people under ten have changed their mind.  They don’t want that ‘must have’ toy – they want another one.  The ‘must have’ one which you’ve already bought has definitely not sold out – there are hundreds of them sitting on the shelf – on offer now.  You’ve mislaid your receipt, so only get back seventy-five per cent of the toy’s original value.
Things are already not looking good.  The husband begins to spend longer at work and your strictness at only allowing ice cream on special occasions is deteriorating rapidly, as you begin – insidiously – to lose your parental nerve.  Anything for an easier life becomes your mantra.
‘How am I going to get to December twenty-fifth?’ you are beginning to ask yourself.  This is before the dreaded phone call around mid-December, when your sister-in-law informs you, for the fourth year in a row, that they are ‘abroad for Christmas’ and ‘can you have Mum?’  Qualifying the request with, ‘You know how she adores being with the kids…’ 
No actually, I don’t know; she hasn’t seen them since last Christmas. But by December fifteenth you’re losing the will to live anyway and your mother-in-law coming to stay is the least of your problems, because your main problem now – mid-December – is THE TREE.
Do we have an artificial, real, fat or thin one; one with dropping or non-dropping needles?  Tree shopping has become like shoe shopping.  Too much choice.  Finally, we pick one and bring it home.  Invariably, everyone including my daughter (who helped me choose it) moans about my choice.  By now I’m anaesthetised to opinion; until my daughter begins to decorate it.  Years of collecting ‘arty’ baubles are wasted as cheerfully, she puts her school-made dough decorations on the tree. 
Opinion begins to manifest itself.  I have to stop myself from yelling, No!  ‘It looks lovely,’ is what I say. 
An earth mother I am not.
Thinking of mothers’, I don’t remember my own mum being this stressed out – she made it look so easy.  I wonder if my own daughter will be thinking the same thing in twenty-odd years’ time?
Julie-Ann writes short stories and articles. She has had short stories published in collections and one of her recent articles was published in Beat Magazine (see her interview with Laura Wilkinson here: )
She has recently completed her first novel and is now working on her second.

Thursday 15 December 2011


Roger Noons

Snow ball
‘Can you smell carrots?’ Stanley asked.
‘No,’ replied Sidney. ‘She’s not used one for my nose, it’s somewhat lower down and it’s developed an icicle.’
‘Sound’s interesting,’ interrupted Rupert, in his soprano-like tone.
Having overheard this conversation between the snowmen last winter, I was determined that this year’s competition would be more respectable. Things had definitely got out of hand, particularly when the temperature rose on the Sunday afternoon. Scarves and hats were cast aside and all manner of unpleasantness ensued.
So well in advance of the snow forecast, I posted the following on the notice board outside the Village Hall.
Rules for the Building of Snowpersons
  1. The maximum height for a snowperson will be 1m (children) and 1.75m (adults).
  2. The body shape must be traditional, ie. slightly rotund and definitely not obese.
  3. The face must not be fashioned in order to represent any known person or celebrity.
  4. In addition to snow, the only other materials allowed will be twigs, small pieces of partially burned solid fuel and shells.
  5. The only clothing additions allowed are 1 scarf and 1 hat, per snowperson.
  6. In sculpting the snowperson, care should be taken to not give any indication of age, sex, race or sexual orientation.
  7. Any entry failing to comply with these rules will be disqualified and destroyed.
  8. The decision of the Judge (Me) will be final. No discussion will be entered into regarding the decision.
Emily Snobtrott, Organiser.
It is the closing date tomorrow and not a single entry has yet been constructed. I am beside myself and cannot imagine what on earth has gone wrong.
BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Lonely this Christmas
Alan Cadman

Tea for One

Marjorie ran her fingers across the handful of Christmas cards displayed on the mantelpiece. She picked up her favourite one and read out loud the spidery inscription, ‘To my dearest wife Marge, Merry Christmas, from your loving husband, Albert.’ The edges of the card had curled a little, but it still looked in good condition; considering it was ten years old.
            ‘He was a good man, my Albert,’ Marjorie said, ‘I miss him terribly. Heart attack . . . so sudden.’ She dabbed her eyes. ‘He was strong as well . . . who could have known?’ She flung open the lounge curtains and looked outside. ‘Rupert,’ she called, ‘I’m afraid there isn’t any snow for us this year.’ Rupert swished his tail by the fireplace, blinked open his feline eyes, and led her to his empty bowl in the kitchen.
            She wagged a finger at him. ‘You’re such a greedy cat. I’ve only just fed you . . . at least I think I have.’ She opened a tin of Felix. ‘I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time.’ She stroked the cat, who purred and rubbed against her hand.
            Marjorie shuffled back to the lounge. Her thoughts drifted to her only surviving relative; her daughter Susan. ‘Well, Australia is a long way from here,’ she shouted over her shoulder, ‘and things do get lost in the post. Susan always phones me every Christmas morning though. All right, I’ll be honest with you, Rupert, it’s me who rings her, but she is a very busy woman and there’s the time difference to consider as well.’
            Rupert joined her by the fireside. Marjorie held up a colourful parcel and tore it open. ‘Anyway, it’s time for our presents. You first.’ She pushed a tin of red salmon in front of the cat who yawned and curled up into a ball.
            ‘You do test my patience, Ruby . . . I mean, Rupert.’ She shook her head. ‘Did I just call you Ruby? Of course I didn’t. I might be old, but I’ve still got all of my faculties. In fact in ten years time,’ Marjorie went on proudly, ‘I’ll receive a birthday card from the Queen.’ She glanced at the mantelpiece. ‘It would be even nicer if she sent me a Christmas card.’
            Marjorie rubbed her hands, ‘I’ll open my gift now.’ She feigned surprise and clutched the shiny black tin to her chest. ‘Earl Grey, my favourite.’
            Her eyes widened at the sound of a vehicle approaching her bungalow. ‘Oh, Rupert, It seems like we’ve got visitors!’ She twitched the net curtains. Her shoulders slumped. ‘It’s for next door. They have their groceries delivered in a van. Wait a moment, surely there aren’t any deliveries on Christmas day?’
            She drummed her fingers on the window sill. ‘Of course, silly old me, today is Christmas Eve . . . well I think it is. I’ll have to wrap those presents up again, just like I did yesterday.’
            Rupert padded along the hallway. The rattle of the cat flap echoed around the room. Marjorie held a new sheet of paper and a roll of Sellotape in her hands. ‘Don’t worry, let’s be positive. We’ve still got it all to look forward to again tomorrow morning.’

Bio: Alan has been writing short stories for three years. His published work has mainly been rewarded with complimentary issues from magazines. His first and only cheque, so far, arrived on Christmas Eve 2009. Before that, he was editor of a civic society newsletter for seven years.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Desperate Measures

Trevor Belshaw

Frothy coffee and  with roasted chesnuts

Michael Keagan stared despondently at the bleak winter sky. The light snow that had started to fall half an hour ago had become heavier and begun to settle.
‘Fabulous,’ he whispered, ‘the first Christmas snow we get in decades and I’m stood around in it, freezing to death.’
Cursing under his breath, he pulled his hood forward, checked his watch for the 20th time and wondered, once again, why he had chosen to wear trainers instead of the warm winter boots that were sitting under the stairs at home.

Christmas Eve wasn’t the best time to do a spot of breaking and entering, he decided.

Keagan looked around, the garden was quiet. His hiding place could not be overlooked by the neighbours, he had chosen well. The laurels were excellent cover and he could see into the drawing room clearly. The occupants, a man in his 40s and a slightly younger woman, were sat together in front of an open fire, drinking and sharing some joke or happy memory.

Keagan willed them to go to bed, it was 11.45. It couldn’t be much longer now surely? There was a child in the house, kids always got up early on Christmas day. Parents usually got up with them.
Five minutes later his patience was rewarded. The couple left their fireside seats and headed for the door leading to the stairs. The man remained for a while, turned off the Christmas tree lights and placed a metal guard in front of the coal fire. He checked his watch as he left the room; closing the door behind him.
Keagan watched as the stair light was turned off. It was replaced by a bedroom light and the duller light of the en suite close by. Not long now. He reached for a cigarette then decided it was too risky. He would have to wait.

Ten minutes later the lights were extinguished. He hoped the pair weren’t feeling amorous.

Keagan waited in the shrubbery for another thirty minutes before he decided it was safe enough to proceed. He took a final glance at the upstairs window and hurried across the lawn, crouching as he ran. The snow was coming down heavier than ever and would quickly cover any footprints he left behind.
Still crouching, he crossed the patio and headed for a set of French doors. A pair of small garden statues guarded them, one either side of the frame. Keagan lifted the right hand statue carefully and groped underneath until he found a key. He grinned and nodded to himself. He knew it would be there; people were so lax about security matters.

With a trembling hand, he turned the key in the lock. The door opened with a low groan, the warm air that greeted his entry, welcome after the freezing two hour reconnaissance. Keagan dipped into his pocket and pulled out a small pencil torch. Sliding a tiny button forward he shone the thin beam around the room. The door he wanted was on the left and with a few quick strides he crossed the timber floor and let himself into the drawing room.

The fire had begun to die down but gave out enough light to enable him to turn off the torch. Keagan wandered over to the Christmas tree, a dozen parcels lay underneath. Picking a couple at random he shook them, guessed the contents then returned them to the pile.

‘Now for the tricky bit,’ he thought.

He walked to the stair door and slowly eased the handle down. He grimaced as it creaked open, didn’t anyone lubricate hinges anymore? Keagan waited for a full minute in case the sound had been heard, but no-one stirred in the rooms above. He decided to leave the door ajar, for his heart as much as anything else. The noise had un-nerved him.
On tip toe and grateful now for his decision to wear the trainers, Keagan crept up the stairs a step at a time, listening intently for any sound of movement.
At the top he halted and waited for a few seconds; all was quiet. He turned to the right, eased open the white painted door in front of him and entered the bedroom. A small night light glowed on the bedside table, he smiled to himself; she never had liked the dark.

Keagan looked toward the small figure curled up under the covers and caught his breath. The girl was asleep, breathing softly, deep in dreams; her golden hair spread over the pillow. He moved slowly to the side of the bed, reached into his pocket and brought out a small package containing a bracelet and a short letter. Holding his breath, he gently lifted her hand and laid the package on the coverlet, then set her hand on top. Instinctively, he leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
He wanted to stay longer, but he daren’t. He wanted to wake her, to tell her he loved her, to tell her he hadn’t forgotten, but that could end in disaster.
Laura’s mother had steadfastly refused him access, despite the court order he had won. She had even refused to pass on gifts and messages. Were she to discover him in this burglar role, her revenge would know no limits

Keagan leaned over her again, whispered, ’Soon, my darling,’ then, wiping away a tear, he turned and left the room as quietly as he had entered it.
Back outside, Keagan replaced the key under the statue and took a last look at the house he knew so well, the house he used to share with Laura before life had become so difficult. His lawyers had insisted that access would be granted in the New Year. It all should have been sorted out much sooner. Had it been left to Laura’s mother and him, it would have been.

Once on the street he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. The snow fell steadily. It was in for the night, there would indeed be a white Christmas; Laura would love that.
Back in the car Keagan lit another cigarette, fired up the engine, turned on the radio and adjusted the dial for the heater. He had a two hour drive ahead of him, but the journey would be shortened by the feeling of a job well done.

As he was about to pull away he heard a beep from his pocket. Keagan checked the phone; a text message was waiting in his inbox.

'Thanks Dad, I love the bracelet. Happy Christmas! Laura.

Through misty eyes, Keagan checked his mirrors, pulled away from the kerb and turned up the radio. As he drove along the deserted High Street he heard the familiar voice of Bing Crosby wishing everyone a merry Christmas.
‘Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow...’
Keagan nodded in agreement and headed toward the motorway.

Bio: Trevor Belshaw , aka Trevor Forest, is a writer of both adult and
children's fiction. Trevor is the creator of Tracy’s Hot Mail and has
just released a book of short stories entitled, Designer Shorts.
Writing asTrevor Forest, he has released four children’s books in
paperback and e-book formats. Trevor’s short stories have been published
in many anthologies including 100 Stories for Haiti, 50 Stories for
Pakistan, 100 Stories for Queensland and Shambelurkling and other
Stories. Many of his short stories have been published by Ether Books.
Trevor is a regular contributor to The Pages e-zine. His latest
children's book, Stanley Stickle HAtes Homework, will be released late 2011.
Facebook Trevor Belshaw and Trevor Forest
Trevor Forest:

Thursday 8 December 2011

A SWEET TOOTH AT CHRISTMAS – a Slice of Paradise

                                              Julie- Ann Corrigan
                                                    sweet sherry

As Halloween, Bonfire Night, and finally November fades into recent history, there is nothing that reminds me more of the passage of time than the onset of Christmas preparations.
    More than looking in the mirror, passing birthdays and children growing outrageously tall; the beginnings of Christmas rudely reminds me of the changes all our lives are subtly undergoing.
    I remember a time when the Festive Season meant dressing up, going out to parties and opening unexpected, luxury presents on Christmas morning.
    I got away with any festive preparations until I was well into my thirties.  Even after having a child of my own we would still pack up the car on Christmas Eve and zoom up to my old home.
 Dropping bags and gear on my mum’s kitchen floor I marvelled at her baking skills.  The house smelled of freshly baked mince pies and her famous Paradise Slice.  Of vanilla essence from the homemade custard she only made at Christmas.
    One thing you have to understand about my mum was her obsessive interest in all things sweet.  The turkey and trimming came a poor second to the massive selection of cakes displayed yearly, on the sideboard in the dining room.  My husband said once that he could feel his cholesterol rising by smelling the air.  I told him not to be paranoid.  My mum looked all right on it didn’t she?  Although sometimes I did wonder how she kept her size eight figure.
    Time passes though.
    The year finally came when it became difficult to spend Christmas in my childhood home.  Mum and Dad couldn’t quite manage the whole Christmas thing.  Our daughter was getting older and it was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade her that Santa knew where we were located on Christmas morning. 
    So there I was – inviting my whole sweet-toothed family to ours for Christmas.
    I had finally grown up.
    I was doing the festive season.

My brother called to make sure I would be carrying on in the family tradition and be making ’Mums Paradise Slice.’  I didn’t know you liked it,’ I said.  I know, but its part of Christmas isn’t it?  he replied.  A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead anticipating what else might be ‘part of Christmas.’  To be as good as my mum was a lot to ask.  It felt like a gargantuan undertaking.
    How could I possibly live up to everyone’s expectations – including my own?
    I decided to be organised.  I would start early.  I adored my mum and I wanted her to have all the best cake and trifle she could possibly eat. I wanted to take over the Olympic flame of Christmas efficiently.  I wanted her and Dad to be proud.   Maybe I would try something different, perhaps Delia’s famous chocolate bread pudding?  A banana and chocolate trifle?  My imagination ran away with itself.
My husband re-named me the Tesco Terminator as I trawled the supermarket aisles like the fictional cyborg character.  I scanned the products and prices as efficiently as Arnie had scanned for human warmth and movement. He told to calm down.  Chill out, I think was his phrase as I passed by the chilled aisle like an automaton. 
  My mum called constantly, telling me not to go to too much trouble.  My brother heard on the family grapevine I was worried about ‘doing’ Christmas. Did I want to cancel?  ‘No’ I shouted into the phone, ‘I can manage.’
    December unfolded.  Invitations dropped through the door with the same consistency as the bills would do in January.  I was a party girl by nature and having a house, child, husband and a Christmas to prepare for was not about to stop me enjoying myself.  I wanted to be super-woman and do everything. 
    My freezer was full.  I made the trifle and pud in advance.  But by Christmas Eve the fridge bulged like a supermarket shelf.  I had to ask my neighbours (who always spent Christmas in a local bistro), if I could use their fridge to store the last of my efforts, including the most impressive chocolate and banana trifle.  While I was round there, I put the turkey in their fridge too.
    As we wrapped the last of Santa’s presents, I couldn’t ignore the dreaded feeling in my throat any longer.  I told myself off for finishing the last of the mulled wine; my head was thumping.
    Christmas had begun and I was steadily beginning to feel worse as my sore throat threatened to turn into something more sinister, but I didn’t care.  I was supremely organised – everyone kept telling me so.

Santa’s visit was prolific.  Toys and people engulfed our house.  I knew I had flu, but kept it to myself.  I only needed to get through the day.  After the usual early Christmas breakfast (four-thirty apparently is okay on Christmas morning), I went to get my neighbours key to retrieve various cakes, trifles and the turkey. 
    It wasn’t where I thought I’d had left it.  It was nowhere to be found.  My daughter was left to her own devices as the whole family searched for the key. 
It had vanished as spectacularly as Santa had done. 
All day it was missing.
The trauma of having a turkey-free Christmas though, seemed to cure my sore throat. 

So we had no turkey, no trifle, and no pudding.   My daughter thought it was a hoot eating chips on Jesus’s birthday.  My mum discovered a love of jaffa cakes, my husband admitted he’d never liked trifle anyway and my dad, well my dad only chuckled at his daughter who he proclaimed loudly, would never truly grow up. 
    It was I believe, the best Christmas ever.
    I think I will though, if you don’t mind, put off growing up for a little while yet.  Next year we’re back at Mum and Dads for Christmas.  Mum can clearly cope better than me – hopefully for some years to come.  Together with our daughter, we have already e-mailed Santa well in advance with our plans and location for next Christmas.
    By the way, the key was nestling snugly in my dressing gown pocket and the neighbours loved the trifle.

Julie-Ann writes short stories and articles. She has had short stories published in collections  and one of her recent articles was published in Beat Magazine (see her interview with Laura Wilkinson here: )
She has recently completed her first novel and is now working on her second.

Wednesday 7 December 2011


Roger Noons

 A glass of milk and a warm mince pie

 ‘What’s this for granddad?’ Oliver asked, pointing to the plane lying on the bench in the shed that Derek Stokes used as his workshop.

    ‘It’s called a plane. It’s a woodworking tool that I use for taking the rough bark off a piece of wood.’

    ‘Can I have a go?’

    ‘No lad, not until you’re a bit older and a lot bigger. But I’ll show you how it works so that when you’re twelve or something like that, you’ll know what to do.’

    Irene smiled as she watched and listened to her two favourite men. Although there was sixty years difference in their ages, they got on like a proverbial house on fire. She often laughed as she listened to their conversation, sometimes it was like two twelve year olds, particularly when they argued. She was still shaking her head when she heard Gillian open the front door.

    ‘It’s only me,’ her daughter called. ‘I’m sorry, I had to stay for a meeting which went on and on.’

    ‘That’s OK, will you have supper with us? There’s plenty to go around’

    ‘Oh thanks Mum, that would be great. I don’t think I could face cooking when we get home.’


 ‘Will we be going to Grandma’s at Christmas?’

    ‘I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. They may not want us,’ Gillian replied, hoping that she could dissuade Oliver from discussing the subject.

    ‘I bet they will, in fact I heard granddad say it would be good if we could all be together.’

    ‘He just wants to play with your games. I heard a whisper that Father Christmas might be bringing you the Gran Turismo series; that’s five separate games.’ She glanced down at him but he merely shrugged. ‘I thought you liked those motor racing games?’

    ‘They’re OK but I’d rather we could all be together.’

    ‘Oliver, that is most ungrateful. Those games will cost over three hundred pounds. That’s a lot of money out of a captain’s pay.’ Her retort was sharply delivered and they drove the rest of the way home in silence.


 ‘I’m sorry I shouted, in the car,’ Gillian said to her son, when she went into his room to say goodnight.

    ‘It’s alright,’ he paused. ‘I do quite like those games.’

    ‘Well, you better write to Santa and tell him, just to make sure he knows.’

    ‘I don’t believe in him. He only exists in big shops and on Christmas cards. The boys at school said...’

    ‘Don’t believe in Santa? Not going to write to him? I think you’d be making a big mistake. Anyway it’s time to turn out the light. Good night Ollie.’

    ‘Night mum,’ he said, after she had gently kissed his cheek.



‘Granddad, does Santa Claus really exist?’

    After not too much thought, Derek replied. ‘I guess he does Ollie. Someone must organize all those presents for children at Christmas time.’ Then he added. ’Come and give me a hand with this job please.’


Oliver thought about Santa and his annual letter, for the next two days. In the end, he decided to give it one last go, but rather than post it at the shopping mall or give it to his mother, he sent it to his father at the BFPO number that was on the top of the letters which came from Iraq. About a week after his grandma had posted it for him, he had forgotten all about it. After all there were lots of things to concentrate on, coming seasonal events and the box he and his granddad were making for his mother to keep all her shoes in.


It was the twentieth of December when Oliver sang a solo in the school’s Christmas concert. Gillian and her parents were in the audience and they had never heard him sing so well. Together with other parents, they were in tears when the First Noel ended, as was a man at the back of the hall. He had managed to slip in through the door just as Oliver arose on stage. He stood to attention, in full dress uniform, his cap gripped by his elbow and tears streamed down his face and cascaded on to his medals. The audience was still moved when the choir sang the final chorus of I Believe in Father Christmas, when Oliver’s voice could be heard above all the other boy sopranos.

BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Frozen in Time
Maureen Vincent-Northam
De Kuyper Crème de Café

He came to the city to make his name and I was simply a contact in London, someone he’d been asked to look up. The doorbell rang at around six one late spring evening and there he stood. It had been years, and at first I didn’t recognise him. Here was a stranger – tall and good looking with the evening sun back-lighting his fair hair.
‘Lizzie?’ he asked. Then he smiled. ‘Of course it is; I’d recognise you anywhere.’
‘I’m not sure–’ I began.
‘Ross,’ he said. ‘Don’t you remember? From when you lived in Cheltenham?’
Cheltenham! I hadn’t been back there for more than fifteen years; time enough to bring about a vast change in him, though by all accounts, less of a change in me.
‘Of course,’ I said at last. ‘Do come in!’
I led him to the kitchen, where I’d been preparing my evening meal, and offered him a cold drink. It was odd to see this young man – the little boy I was beginning to remember – with a beer in his hand.
‘It’s been years since I last saw you,’ I said. ‘You must have been around nine or ten. You’ve changed so much! Well, of course you have.’
I was rambling.
He smiled. ‘Yes, I suppose I have. You haven’t though. I knew you straight away.’
Any awkwardness soon disappeared and of course I asked after his mother.  Mary had been a friend of mine since schooldays. When she’d first married Pete I was often invited to their small flat and Mary and I would spend hours catching up on gossip and generally putting the world to rights.
When a baby came along, Mary and Pete moved to a larger place a little further out of town. This coincided with a job I was offered, which meant travelling regularly up to London and then relocating here, so I saw less of them. But though my visits were infrequent, I recalled Ross as a beautiful child, sociable and inquisitive, funny – a great mimic.
‘I remember sitting in the garden with your parents watching a performance you staged in which you played all the characters,’ I said.
‘I know,’ he said, ‘a precocious brat or what?’
‘Not at all. You were very good!’
I looked at him. He still radiated that same zeal for life – and he was still beautiful.
‘So, you live in London now?’ I asked.
‘I’ve been attending a drama school here,’ he laughed, ‘I’ve had the odd small role and I’m now awaiting the big break – along with a million others!’
He shared my supper and we talked for an hour or two. He hadn’t lost any of his inquisitiveness; he asked about my work, my sculptures, and was interested to hear about my current project.
Later, as I had some letters to post, we walked together to the end of my street. When we reached the busy road, Ross grabbed my hand and we darted across to the post-box, laughing like children as we dodged the traffic.
He pointed to one of the old buildings visible through the trees of the small local park.
‘I live just over there. A bedsit. So I could visit you again sometime – if you don’t mind, that is?’
‘Of course I don’t mind. It would be nice to see you again.’
We said goodnight and I made my way home.  It was ridiculous, but for the rest of the evening I couldn’t stop thinking about the young man who’d come to call.


I wasn’t expecting him to get in touch – at least not so soon. But two days later, there he was.
‘I have a free afternoon; let’s go out some place, Lizzie’. He looked down at my clay-encrusted work shirt. ‘Bet you could do with a break from whatever it is you’re doing.’
He was right, my current assignment wasn’t taking shape the way I wanted it to and I knew from experience that I should leave it a while.
‘You’re on!’ I said. ‘Give me ten minutes to put some damp cloths over the dratted piece and clean myself up.’
He followed me through to the backroom I used as a studio.
‘Hey,’ he said, ‘this is pretty impressive.’ He walked around the half-finished bust on my worktop. ‘And it’s commissioned?’
‘Yes, most of my stuff is these days. It pays the bills.’
We spent the rest of the day window shopping and had coffee and cake on a bench in Hyde Park. Ross told me about his work, the small company he belonged to, the roles he’d understudied and the part he was playing in their latest production. His enthusiasm was infectious and I promised to be there on his opening night.
Over the next few weeks we walked my favourite haunts, sat in pubs listening to bands he enjoyed and talked endlessly of the past.
‘Do you still do that paper folding stuff?’ he asked one evening. ‘I kept that little boat you made me for ages, you know. Then one night I tried sailing it in the bath and it disintegrated!’
‘And you told me how you’d rubbed soap onto an old wooden plank to make a slide.’
‘It didn’t work. Turned out the soap had been a really expensive one Mum had been given, too. She wondered for ages where it had gone. I was so grateful that you never told her!’
Reflecting on all these silly things was fun, and slowly, without noticing it, we became closer.
‘I want to do a sculpture of you, Ross. Would you mind?’
‘I’d be flattered. It isn’t every day that you get the chance to be frozen in time.’
Then he stood and, taking both my hands in his, pulled me to my feet. The kiss was inevitable.
‘I’ve wanted to do that, Lizzie, ever since you opened the door to me that first evening,’ he said.
I knew I’d been falling for him too. Was it wrong? Would I think it sordid if it was another couple?
‘Ross, I’m too old for you.’
He held me to him. ‘Rubbish! You’re beautiful, I love you, and I refuse to discuss your Zimmer frame.’
As he had rehearsals the following day we arranged the first sitting for later in the week. I’d need to do some sketches and take a few pictures of his profile. ‘I love you too,’ I whispered to his back as he walked into the night.
The next month was hectic what with Ross’s rehearsals, his first night and all its accompanying frenzy, and sitting for me. But despite this our relationship deepened and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should occasionally stay overnight.
Then it happened.
‘Lizzie, fantastic news! I’ve been offered a small part in a new mini-series. Zoe has connections and pulled a few strings. Means moving up north for a while, but hey...’
‘You remember her – very talented – we were in Dangerous Butterflies together. She’s to play the daughter in the series and she put in a good word for me.’
I tried to sound pleased for him, after all wasn’t this his dream? He talked about it as though it was a temporary thing, like a weekend away, but I had doubts.
He phoned regularly for the first few weeks to tell me all the news and to say how much he was missing me, but the calls became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether. A couple of months on, I ran into one of his friends and discovered Ross had moved back to London. Was I surprised that he hadn’t been in touch? Not really.


It was early December when I bumped into him loaded down with shopping bags. He seemed pleased to see me and, shifting the carrier bags under one arm, hugged me with the other. I noticed the shop names on his packages.
‘Been Christmas shopping for Zoe?’ I asked.
‘Yes, nightmare!’ he laughed. ‘How are you, Lizzie? Sorry we lost touch – did you ever finish that sculpture of me?’
‘I’m fine, I lied. ‘And yes, the bust is finished. You must come and see it – and Zoe too of course.’
He said he’d love to come, but I knew he wouldn’t and it was probably for the best. How could I bear it if he did?
It was bitterly cold and had just started to snow as I reached home. I let myself in, made a mug of hot chocolate and took it in before the fire. I switched on the blue lights of my small white Christmas tree – the only concession I’d made to the season – and moved to the table that held his image. 
‘I love you,’ I whispered.

Maureen Vincent-Northam has been published in newspapers, international magazines and on the Web, contributing regularly to markets aimed at writers.
She is the author of Trace your Roots and co-authored The Writer’s ABC Checklist. She won The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books 2008 competition and her short stories and poetry have appeared in a number of anthologies.
Maureen has judged online writing contests, tutored writing workshops and consumed much chocolate.

The Writer's ABC Checklist
By Lorraine Mace & Maureen Vincent-Northam

Friday 2 December 2011

Small Ones Are More Juicy

Patsy Collins

 Advertise your beverage here

“You’ve been Tangoed,” I say playfully slapping young Clementine’s
bottom. You'd have thought Miss Jaffer would have heard that one
before, but she just smiles.
I’m really something in the world of advertising, so you’ll understand
why I’m so delighted with Clementine. Got plenty of va va voom, but
she’s really naïve. She actually believes low fat chocolate cake will
help make her slim.
“Murray, it’s 95% fat free, so I can go ahead,” she tells me.
She has a slice each morning with her richer roasted, fuller flavoured
coffee whilst I explain our latest campaign.
‘Our’ such a useful word, it makes dear Clementine think we’re a team.
Mr Bannister offered her another position with a higher salary. That
was close, thought I’d lose her there. Luckily I didn’t lose my head,
explained that with Bannister she’d be nothing but a pretty little
“It’s the business that impressed him, that’s why he bought it. He
doesn’t care about the staff. Go compare the two of us.”
Working for, no with, me was different. I was teaching her all my
skills, with me she’d progress to great things.
“It’s the real thing, sweetheart. The team works, and you’ve got to be
in to win it, you know that.”
Didn’t tell her I’d have to hire two girls to get through all the work
she somehow manages. Organisation she says, that’s what she’s good at.
Learnt it from the Sunday glossies apparently. Reads all them articles
on de-cluttering your life and developing inner potential. They write
that she can improve herself. She reads and believes every word.
That’s not all she reads. She believes those shoes advertised in the
supplements really will be the most comfortable she’s ever worn. Or if
by some unlikely chance she found better, her money would be refunded
in full, no questions asked. She believes that those uncreasable
skirts sold in three different lengths actually are stylish. Not
passion, not fashion if you ask me.
Clemmie turns eagerly to the horoscopes, surely no one but a fool
could swallow the idea that one twelfth the population were about to
be unlucky with money but forget these problems when they fell in love
by midweek.
There she is over by the vending machine. I’ll have a chat with her,
tell her about my new car. She’ll be impressed, a man likes to be
appreciated when he’s doing well. Clementine will understand what a
sound investment it is too, how necessary to my professional image.
Not like that nag of a wife at home. A boost to my ego she said. Even
asked if I wasn’t just slightly too young for a mid life crisis and it
would be difficult to get the baby buggy in. Must be that time of the
month I suppose.
“Nice skirt Clementine love, is it new?”
“Yes Murray, I bought it from a magazine. Do you like it?”
“I'm loving it.” And this is true.
The skirt gives me just the reason I need to take a long lingering
look at Clementine. Maybe she’s not quite the best a man can get, but
she’ll do me. I’d like to let my fingers do some walking there, I can
tell you. I’d thought her a bit of a frump before, had the right
attitude, couldn’t do enough for me of course, but not really worth
much of my attention. Now I see things have changed.
“Go on give us a twirl.”
She spins round, very agile she seems, I like that.
“Nifty on your feet aren’t you?”
“It’s these lovely new shoes, they’re so comfortable. I’ve bought a
pair in every colour, so I’ll hardly ever need to wear ordinary shoes
“Getting a drink were you?”
“I was, but I’ve just lost my last pound in the machine.”
“Please allow me.”
I put in my own money. An investment of a different kind, every little
“What would you like?”
“Diet iron-bru please, someone told me I was looking a bit pale today.”
What a girl, so suggestible that a chance remark convinces her she’s
anaemic and an old ad. campaign still has the power to persuade her a
combination of colouring and flavourings can do her good. Something
she’s eating or drinking must be powerful stuff though. That dumpy
assistant I started with has blossomed into a very attractive young
woman. I put a pound in for the 60p drink and pocket the difference.
Time I explained the benefits of being nice to me I think. She might
not be the brightest, but give the girl her due she is trying hard.
She’s there at every meeting taking it all in. If anything needs to be
checked, she’s there.
“I’ll just ask Jeeves,” before she’s right back with the answer.
She must have bought every product the firm has ever handled. She says
she likes a touch of luxury everday, well that’s fair enough.
She drives the make of car we promote.
“I’m a thinking person and I thought as I’m on my own, I only need a
small car, not a driving machine.”
She wears the clothes, the make-up to good effect, she is every bit
gorgeous. She eats the food that makes life taste better. We all use
some of the brands of course, because of the discounts though. I mean,
why pay more? The rest of us aren’t brainwashed like dear Clementine.
She sounds like an advert too, every phrase she uses is either
currently promoting our clients products or soon will be. She is
sympathetic too, listens when I tell her how little my wife
understands me. I’m sure Clementine could understand me very well.
It’s good to talk and I talk her kind of language don’t I?
Old Bannister’s been chatting to her again. I’d better nip in the bud
any thoughts of moving her loyalty to him. He’s the managing director,
and I don’t want her getting ideas.
“You stick with me Clementine, love. Together we’ll go further.”
“Are you sure you’re not just using me because I love the jobs you hate?”
“Calm down dear, it's just commercials.”
“I don’t want to just be an assistant, can’t you give me more
“At some point in time I will.”
“Why not just do it?”
“Remember, you can’t hurry a Murray.”
I’m just explaining that it's Mr Bannister wants to take advantage of
her not me, when I knock over her silly stuffed toys, a kitten and a
"Cat's know the difference," Clemmie mutters. “Murray, please pick up
that penguin.”
I retrieve the fluffy green object. "Well, that's different, but it's
not a hen."
"Things are going to be different, all right."
I’m still trying to work out what she means when Old Bannister calls
me into his office.
“Murray sit down. I’ve been hearing all about your marriage problems.
I think it would be best if you took a few weeks off to sort things
out. Treat her well, remember mums are heroes.”
“There’s no need, and my work...”
“Don’t worry about that, Clementine will take over your department,
I’m promoting her because she’s worth it. Walking advertisement that
girl. She’ll go far, the future’s Orange.”

Bio - Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the
Isle of Wight. She writes about and photographs the things which
interest her. To learn more about her and her writing, and for loads
of links to free to enter writing competitions, please visit