The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas — Part I

The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas
An Exercise in Amateurish Writing

(Note to the reader: This is a passion project which I thought of doing in the bored days that occupied my Christmas holidays in 2015 [further notes about my thoughts two years on will be made AFTER the story]. The writer is not a native of England, nor has he gone time-travelling just for the sake of this story. As a result, there may be severe discrepancies between what Britain was really like in around Christmas 1968 and the incidents described. Please accept any apologies for historical anomalies, and note that any resemblance to any person or event, from both present and past, is entirely coincidental. Now get on with reading the damn story.)

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a somewhat catchy Christmas carol that has been passed on from generation to generation for over two hundred years, and with minor variations, it has survived the ravages of time. However, its enduring popularity has also sadly given rise to endless incidents in which the male, obsessed by the idea of sending gifts to his loved one and making her happy, decides to send her all the gifts mentioned in the song, without considering the abject misery it will cause her, and the subsequent mental illness she will suffer.

Well, that’s one way of looking at the entire affair. But what about the presents? Would this idea be plausible in the society nowadays? It seems that the idea has not completely died, and the modern era still sports one or two of these maniacs who are so deluded by the prospect of love that he is willing to go to any length to please his lady.

The following entries were written in my Uncle Michael’s diary. He was an Oxford student between the years of 1967 and 1971. In what seemed like a good idea on paper, he also worked a part-time job in Hastings and Shelby, an eminent department store of its time. After some weeks of hard toil, one of the partner’s nephews, John, was given permission by his uncle to invite my Uncle Michael and his friend to “reside” in London for three weeks, and to “soak up some of the city life” (John’s words). His three weeks in the heart of the city turned out to be an experience which has given him nightmares for the past 50 years, as well as a phobia for birds and other zoo animals.

This ridiculous but true story has been told in our family since he came back, but out of respect for Uncle Michael, I have decided to let his diary tell it exactly as it occurred, with some changes in language. Most of the irrelevant parts, as well as the foul language, have been omitted out of consideration for the reader, who may not for instance wish to know about his pet tortoise Alan.

21 December 1968
Saturday

First trip to London in more than 10 years, and it’s much bigger than I remember it. Graham has been kind enough to give me the room with a view of Leicester Square Gardens, and I can see all the people going to and fro in and around the Square… Graham says I’m lucky to get the one with the street view, all he can see is the other side of the narrow courtyard and the back of the Odeon Leicester. But John’s bedroom tops it all really, he’s got the view of Charing Cross Road and he can see the river from his window… something to die for if you ask me. Graham and I have not been slow to point this out, but John brushes it off as something trivial, and that he even feels sad upon looking on it. Can’t blame him really… he can’t have had much fun looking at any water since that boating accident his parents had three years ago. Becoming an orphan at 16… it’s no fun for anyone. So I asked if I could have that bedroom instead, and he glared at me as if I’d just asked for both his kidneys. Well, it’s not like I asked him the moon or anything.

I phoned Judy first thing after moving into the bedroom. She’s calmed down a lot since Wednesday’s prank, and I think she’s recovered from the pigswill (stupid Neil Sutton — does that man even have ears), but she still won’t join us for Christmas. Something about calming down for a few weeks. There was a slight numbness in my stomach as I put down the phone.

But anyway, it looks like it’ll just be us three men romping around London and seeing what luck we’ll have in the bars. (Specially John… Carol broke up with him first thing Thursday, and she’s not as forgiving as Judy, so he’s very much single right now.)

22 December 1968
Sunday

The reunions they just keep on coming. We met Eric in the Odeon Leicester this afternoon when we went over to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Personally I didn’t like the film, and I think Ian Fleming should have stuck to writing James Bond, but the annoying child behind was so wracked with laughter that he kept kicking my chair. I kept quiet and just glared at him from time to time. Honestly, you would have thought he was having a seizure every two minutes.

Later, halfway through my haddock and chips at a bar nearby, John suddenly gave a shout and dashed across to a bunch of rowdy kids. We saw John conversing to a rather pretty girl and making excited jabs, and then writing on slips of paper. He came back looking very happy and telling that it was Susie somebody, his secondary schoolmate from his Vauxhall days, and they hadn’t seen each other for 18 months, and he was really happy to see her, and her him, and so on and so forth. We congratulated him on reuniting with an old friend and made fun behind his back of the fact that he had totally ignored her politely bored face as she listened to him. Well we did try to tell John, but I could tell he was quite over the moon just by meeting this girl, cause I know John, and he for one thing is a very persistent person. Last time we collaborated on that chemistry project he dyed half the lab purple…

He was very quiet on the walk home. Must be coming up with another of his plans. To impress his girl? Last week’s prank has already gotten us into enough trouble already…

23 December 1968
Monday

The eye of wisdom that is my sixth sense has proven right! John has indeed cooked up some plan to wow his lady. And I hate it.

So we’d just visited the Tower and the Bridge nearby, and were walking across to the South Bank for lunch. He was watching the pigeons fly by as we walked, and Graham and I tried to interest him in some conversation, and how Oliver was better than that dreadful car film we saw yesterday, but he didn’t respond. Then, just as we had given up hope and were arguing about my relationship with Judy when he suddenly cut in: “Do you two want to participate in this amazing, never-before-seen plan?” He had this wild glare in his eyes that one usually associates with narcotics.

Before I could say no, Graham emphatically declared his veto of whatever lunacy John was thinking of.

“But come on, it’s a plan to woo the girl I love! Haven’t you all done it before? I mean, Michael, you’ve done crazy stuff for Judy, correct?”

“As far as I’m concerned, none of it has involved dumping pigswill over a bunch of showering girls, nor have they involved damaging public property. Thanks to your so-called airtight plans, I still have three months left in my ban from the Botanical Gardens. And on second thoughts, you haven’t seen her for a long time, so I think the time’s hardly right to start any… new stuff.”

“Well, this one I’m sure is going to work.” This is a line he has said at least twenty times. “This is what I’m going to do: you know the Twelve Days of Christmas, right?”

I told him I was vaguely aware of the Christmas carol. “If you’re planning on recruiting a bunch of carol singers…”

“No, no, it’s a hell lot bigger than that!”

My heart sank. In John’s vernacular this was a sentence which usually meant “the chances of you two being prosecuted are higher than my other plans”. But he was still talking. “I’m planning to get all the things listed in the song! I mean, it’s the 1960s! Those things in the song are much easier to get now that we can do things with phones and speed mail, right?”

“Perhaps, John, but that doesn’t mean that you should go around collecting them just to impress a girl. I mean, I know you’re loaded, and you’re still getting over Carol dumping you, but surely there are better ways to impress a lady? Why not buy her that new album from the Beatles? Or a nice movie?”

“She’s probably done all that, she’s just as rich as I am! Besides, all these things are so bloody NORMAL. How can I express my love to Susie if she’s got all that?”

Graham was by now visibly annoyed. “Let me put it this way to you, John, no sane man in the world would ever do such a thing for his love. NO. SANE. MAN.”

But he insisted, and because we’ve been friends for so many years, and partially because he has enough of our secrets to subject us to eternal degradation and humiliation at Oxford, and finally because he offered to persuade his uncle to give me and Graham better jobs in Hastings and Shelby come the New Year, we agreed.

“Oh, and guys…?” He asked.

“YES?” Graham struggled to speak through clenched teeth.

“Mind if I make this official? Like… so that I can pay you afterwards…”

Our greed had made a surprise attack on our reason and before I knew it, we’d signed contracts that he’d produced from nowhere. He wouldn’t keep his eyes off us until we’d signed it. Twice.

Graham was in my room just now. We’re already beginning to regret this and we don’t know what John wants. We’re just hoping that he’ll come out of his senses soon enough that he finally realizes that this is a project of madness and self-destruction, and that we will definitely put our foot down if he ever makes us spend the Christmas holidays catching geese and recruiting milkmaids.

Phoned Judy when we got back home, but she wasn’t there. Who IS there to talk to?

24 December 1968
Tuesday

Went out to buy a pear tree today, as per John’s request, while Graham went out to source partridges. Apparently pears are not in season, and I’d no idea where to find pear trees. Went to the Ministry of Agriculture to ask where I could get a nice pear tree which was A. alive and B. full-grown. The assistant looked at me as if I had just asked for just one of her kidneys.

After a lot of cajoling, the assistant sent me to Kew Gardens where I had to convince the person I was put in touch with that no, I was not going to use them for any malevolent purpose, nor was I a businessman seeking to reap profit from the trees. Tried my best to smile and seem polite during this, but I’m not sure he didn’t catch me rolling my eyes.

Having lugged the bloody thing back into Westminster with one of John’s cars, I discovered that it was quite difficult to lug anything that was 10 feet long into a lift. The tree just took up every single inch of space in that lift, and I had to apologize to the lift operator and ask him to kindly step out. Then a few branches got caught in the space between the shaft and the door, so I had to ask him to get a pair of gardening scissors to trim off those loose bits. Finish the job, put the trees in my bedroom, then remember I have to do it twice more as I’m leaving for Aylesbury tomorrow morning and can’t bring back trees then. The trees take up a lot of space in my room, but they do look nice next to the (fake) fireplace.

Meanwhile, Graham just went to a butcher’s and bought a (dead) partridge. When I asked him why he had not bought a live one at a pet shop or gone to the trouble of catching one at the local park, he looked at me and said, “You really take him seriously? For crying out loud, I’ve done him a favour by plucking it myself. By the way, where is that bloody idiot?”

“I believe he spent the entire morning writing a love letter to Susie. He’s smitten with that girl, you know, and he really wants to impress her.”

“Well I don’t know what girls think nowadays, but I’m quite sure that they don’t fancy large birds, and John can put that in his pipe and smoke it.”

Instead of a slowly smoking pipe, we received an explosion when John saw the partridge. He gave vent to quite an interesting choice of epithets, telling us that this was a gift of love, and that we had to show some respect for the plan. He then went out to catch a partridge, while we shrugged it off and went up the road to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, where to our chagrin there was a visiting exhibition of Audubon’s paintings of birds.

The tricky part was arranging for their delivery. Obviously you can’t fit a bird and a pear tree, roots and all, into the mail, and also John wanted to send her the surprise himself, so he put the partridge in a cage, the cage on the branches of the pear tree, and the tree in his car. He drove off to Vauxhall in the middle of the night and didn’t come back until much later (for “maximum secrecy”, he claims). I should know. I was woken by the sound of his Mustang roaring up Charing Cross Road at three thirty.

Never really got back to sleep after that. So much for a “silent night”, much less a holy one.

25 December 1968
Wednesday

Received: A partridge in a pear tree

The phone rang quite early, much too early for Christmas morning. John had rushed to the phone in a flash (his eyes were suspiciously black, as if he’d been up all night just waiting for a call). The moment he picked up the phone he began spouting a thousand inanities in a quiet tone that still somehow managed to invade the sanctity of my earlobes. I infinitely preferred that to when he put down the receiver, though, because he then bounced about the house crowing about his success and shouting “YES! YES! OH YEAH BABY! OH YEAH!” over and over again until Graham got up and slapped him for being an alarm clock.

When we had sedated calmed John down, we finally managed to get her response verbatim from him. Apparently Susie was quite happy with John’s present. Her family had been quite unhappy with the Christmas tree they had gotten and had been looking for a replacement, and thanks to my trimming work in the lift yesterday it was “just the right height and width” as a stand-in for a Christmas tree. I know it’s all very nice for him, but perhaps I should have gotten the credit here, and not John.

John asked that we bring in the turtle doves before we left. We tried to evade, told him that our train was going to leave in half an hour, only for him to tell us that “trains to Aylesbury leave so often, you can get another one every fifteen minutes”. I don’t know what possessed us to say yes in the end, but long story short we arrived at Club Row Market half an hour later feeling extremely depressed. Tried to source four turtle doves from the Market, and got offered a variety of less pleasant fowl instead. The few vendors there were very cheerful, and in fact seemed quite anxious to sell us many additional birds along with our turtle doves. We decided to advance our plan a little and also bought four cuckoo birds just so that we didn’t have to rush out to buy four calling birds come Friday.

The vendors looked on in wonder as we piled up four turtle doves and four cuckoos. Just then one of the cages in which we’d put in two turtle doves slipped from my hand and fell to the ground, where it burst open. Faster than I could swear, the two doves had escaped from the cage and were beginning to circle upwards. Luckily the closest vendor, who must have had superhuman reflexes, quickly netted them back down. But as Graham and I were withdrawing these extremely obedient birds from the net, they decided to show us their disapproval of their captivity by unanimously crapping onto their captors.

This is why I have spent the entire trip from Marylebone to Aylesbury feeling extremely filthy. I have cleaned myself time and time again in the large cathedral of a bathroom in John’s apartment, and still the memory of that projectile, a brown seed of horror encased in a liquid of deathly white, sailing through the stuffy air of East London and landing directly on the leg of my brand new jeans, is WITH ME. I will never forget Graham’s yelp of horror, easily the loudest sound in that crowded market. That sound, to me, epitomized our madness in continuing with the so-called plan. We made it clear to John that he was utterly delirious, and left the house. For God’s sake, I have a normal life to lead without having turtle doves discharging faecal matter on me.

I mean, I would gladly assist John in wooing a woman, but it’s one thing to send people oozy love letters, and another to have doves, or whatever poultry he wants, pooing down the side of my trousers. This just will not do, and I would have left had it not been for that stupid no-pull-out clause.

Over dinner we discussed John’s insane plan. All my family decided that John was besotted with Susie, and that I should not have signed the damn contract in the first place, but now there was no going back. It’s my first lesson in the world of business and law: don’t sign contracts if you don’t know what you’re in for.

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