Dear Nan.

Do I possess the words
And manifest the language
To express my thoughts today?

It’s been ten years and I don’t know
What grace there is in healing.
Time is the guaranteed cure,
But how much time is needed?

Ten years ago we lost you, Nan,
And still, inside, I’m bleeding.
Sometimes, when I’m lost or hurt,
I find it’s you I’m needing.
And when I think about you,
The first thought that springs to mind
Is not from my choice of good memories,
But of the day we said goodbye.
I was younger than I remember,
And I probably didn’t understand
Completely that our last goodbye
Would be the last time I’d hold your hand.

You were somewhere in your seventies,
At the time I thought that old,
But now when I think about old age
Resentment takes it’s hold.

I know it’s selfish of me to say,
And I cherish our fifteen years,
But I’m adamant it was premature,
And it sparked some deep, dense fears.

And I don’t blame you for a second,
When bitterness sweeps around me,
I just find it hard to comprehend,
Losing the heart of our family.

Sometimes when I think about
The reasons people cry
I tell myself to get a grip
We expect grandparents to die.
But I never did. That’s it right there.
The bitter taste on my tongue.
I thought you were invincible, immortal, always here.

Above me sits a dark, grey cloud,
It’s shrunk as time has passed,
Mostly I have sunny spells,
But when it rains, it’s fast.
Today it’s raining heavily,
It always does in June,
Fond memories, though, replace the last,
Finally, I grieve in tune.

IMG_1480

Dear Nan.

Seven Days Of You

On the first day, we were young,
And free to do as we wished.
Our friendship blossomed into fun,
My insecurities vanished.

On day two, we shared a kiss,
A surprise to me and you.
A day apart was one to miss,
As our love for each other grew.

The third day came and we were wed,
In front of all our friends.
That evening we first shared a bed,
Knowing not all that’s good ends.

On the fourth, I held him in my arms,
Our baby, small and weak.
I swore to you he’d see no harm,
As you left me in your sleep.

I don’t recall day number five,
Existence hard to bear.
I could hardly believe I was alive,
Life no longer yours to share.

The sixth day came and our little boy left,
University called his name.
All alone, I felt bereft,
Life is one sick game.

But on day seven something altered,
A light came shining through.
My heart, its beating long since faltered,
Remembered life with you.

Seven Days Of You

Awake. 

It’s dark and you’re alone. The house is quiet as you prepare for bed, only water running as you brush your teeth. 

You turn off the bathroom light and wander through to your bedroom. 

Through the window, a street lamp glows. You shut the door, pull the curtains closed and turn off the light. Darkness permits you to wind down for sleep.

Your mobile phone illuminates you as you scroll through Facebook and Twitter. Holding it before you, one-handed, little finger supporting the bottom and thumb moving over the screen.
You blink in your tiredness, yawning as you see yet another update on a child whose parents are snap-happy.

Twenty days til little Owen has his first birthday. You wonder if any of the 30 people who liked the status actually care or if they’re as bored as you are of the fourth update of the day.

You blink again, eyes refocusing hazily on the small, bright screen. Your eyes drift up and left, away from the screen for a moment. And back again.
The time is eleven thirty. You should probably sleep, but your thumb moves up and down almost automatically.
Yawn.
Blink.
Time to call it a night. You reach down for your charger lead and plug in your phone. Alarm set for work tomorrow, you slide the device onto your nightstand and turn over.
The room is still dimly lit by the glowing screen. Fidget, toss, turn. Sleep comes but you can never tell when.
You wake up. At first, you think you must need a wee. Then you notice the tickling sensation. Circles, drawn delicately on the side of your bare foot.
Tired, your mind takes time to consider the feeling.
You move your feet, kicking the sheets away from your feet. The tickling stops. And starts again.
Slow, soft circles.
You sit up quickly. The circling stops. The room is dark and yours is the only presence. Sleep washes over you again.
Tap.
Tap.
Tap.
What were you dreaming? It’s gone and you’re awake again. Still nighttime, still pitch black.
Tap.
You remember the noise that woke you up.
Tap.
Tap.
You lift your head from the pillow, blinking in the shadowed room.

Tap.

Your wardrobe emits a timid tapping sound. Wood on wood? Fingernail on wood?
Tap.
You sit up fully, reaching to unplug your phone. The screen illuminates and offers a slight torch. Nothing to see.
Tap.
You slip out from under your bedsheets and walk to the source of tapping.
Tap.
The wardrobe is still but the tapping continues. Mind still half-asleep, you vaguely realise that this is unusual.
Your hand reaches for the door. You hold the phone up, aiming the soft light at the solid piece of furniture.
Tap.
Swiftly, you pull open the door. Nothing inside. Nothing moving. Nothing causing a sound.
The tapping.

You wait.

And wait.

But the tapping has stopped.

Relieved yet unsure as to why, you turn around and get back into bed.
Before you have even closed your eyes, you hear it again.
Tap.
You ignore it.
Tap.
You shut your eyes and allow your body to relax again. But not your mind.
Tap.
Tap.
Tap.
Tap tap tap tap.
It grows quicker, more rapid, almost now a solid bang. Fist on wood.
No, it must be from outside.
But you know it’s from the wardrobe.
Bang.
Bang.
Thud.
You sit up quickly. What’s that? That shadow at the end of your bed.
It’s gone.

It was nothing. A trick of the light.

Silence.

Your breathing, erratic, is the only sound.
You stay sitting. Minutes pass by, as you start to consider laying back down. Going to sleep. Ignoring whatever sounds you have been hearing.
And you shudder. Why do you shudder? What was that?
You feel it again. On the nape of your neck.
A blow of wind.

A breath.

Tears fill the corners of your eyes. You can’t move. You can’t look behind you because…
There it is again. A slow, purposeful blow of air focussed on the bare skin of your neck.
You snap your head to the left but nothing is there. You stare at the wall.
Footsteps patter on the floor. Away from you. Towards your bedroom door. And they stop.

You shuffle backwards, your spine pressed against the cool wall. Your mind is playing tricks on you. Noise from outside, a breeze from the window… You rationalise and breathe deeply.

You’re awake now, really awake, and you need a wee. You start to muster courage, before reminding yourself that you’re alone. There’s nothing to be scared of.
Your feet are on the floor, you push yourself up and walk out of the room into the bathroom.
You turn on the light, which calms you. The flush of the toilet fills the house with sound and you turn on the tap to wash your hand.
Your head shoots up. Your face stares back, reflected in the mirror. But you saw something. You’re sure of it.

Something caught your eye in the mirror. But it’s just you.

Alone and afraid.

Afraid of nothing, it seems.

You turn off the tap, drying your hands on the towel.

BANG!

Your eyes go wide. It sounded like a door slamming. Slowly, you step out of the bathroom. You see your bedroom door is shut.

How? A gust of wind?

But there’s no breeze – no draught.

Footsteps. Running this time. On the stairs. Loud at first and then quieter. Going down.

You stand at the top of the stairs and look down. Nothing there.

Panicking, you sweep towards your bedroom, closing the door behind you and diving onto your bed.

And you sigh, relieved. And then you realise that the door had been open.
You pick up your phone and consider texting someone. But who would be awake at… 3am?
You type into Facebook, ‘So creeped out right now, keep hearing things and I’m home alone!’

Hopefully someone is awake, someone will comment and you’ll feel less alone.

Footsteps.

This time, running up the stairs. Unmistakable footsteps. Into the bathroom. The door slams shut.

Water.

The sound of water rushing out of taps, hitting ceramic and eventually water gushing into water.
Your first thought is to call the police. Someone has broken in.

Dialling 999, you lift the phone to your face.

And then you feel it again. That soft blow on your neck. The phone drops out of your hand. You snap your head around but nothing is there.

You pick up your phone and it’s switched off. The power button does nothing.
Breathing heavily, you drop your phone on your bed. Back against the wall, you pick up a heavy book from your bookcase and walk towards the door.
You open it. Step out onto the landing. Walk quietly to the bathroom and open the door. The sink and bath are filling up with water. But it’s empty.

You turn off the taps and perch on the toilet, looking out of the door. Waiting.

Waiting.

You stand up. Decide you’ll go downstairs and watch TV until morning. You’ll never sleep now.

You go to the sink and take out the plug.

Look up.

Reflection in the mirror.
Your face.
And another. Behind you.

Turn around.

Gone.

Back to the mirror. Nothing there.

You run now, down the stairs and into the living room. Turn on a light and switch on the TV, watching from the sofa.

Paranoid. Scared. Alone.
No more sounds. Nothing else happens.
You don’t know when, but you fall back to sleep. Slumped on the sofa.

When you wake up, it’s still dark. Your eyes blink open slowly.

The TV is off. The light is off.

You want to cry, scream, shout.

And you try.
But you can’t.

Something is stopping you. A hand over your mouth, invisible but there. Pressing down. Forcing silence upon you.

Your eyes flit from side to side, landing on the blank television screen. And there you see it.

Reflection.

Yourself, sitting on the sofa, and a woman with her hand over your mouth.
You snap your eyes away and look directly in front of you.
She smiles back.
Awake. 

Coffee. 

I like coffee in my mouth 

The stain on my teeth
The brewing breakfast beverage
Milk is a sin
Sugar forbidden
Alive
Awake
Abandon. 
Coffee from bean
Bean from nature
Nature from God
God from imagination
Imagination from coffee. 
The circle of life
The Nescafé cycle
Costa lot
Or Costa little
Fair Trade or no trade.  
I like coffee on my tongue
Bitter right down to my lungs
Electric tingle down my spine
When I drink coffee
To feel alive. 
Coffee. 

Joshua James

The three of you were sitting there,
A small and humble family.
I saw your head, so full of hair,
From the corner, I sat quietly.

I marvelled at how this came to be;
A baby – honest miracle.
I knew your mother, now you see,
Not one for being responsible.

For nine months we watched you grow
From idea into bump,
We knew and yet we did not know
You’d be real, in our throats a lump.

I cried when your father told me.
I laughed at the birthing tale.
I picked you up, so cuddly.
I missed you, which prevailed.

But baby boy, Joshua James,
Born on August 19th,
The world will never be the same,
Now you’re the centrepiece.

To Kim and Tom, the greatest friends
And parents (can you believe?!)
My pride in you has no end,
It pains me that I’ll leave.

The three of you are wonderful,
I wish you lives of joy.
I can’t wait to hear about it all –
Your story, baby boy.

Joshua James

Time-Machine.

If someone invented a time-travel machine,

And offered adventure to up-ahead or past-seen,

But you had only one chance to jump on and go,

Would it be past or future? Unforeseen or long ago?

 

You could try to stop Hitler, or meet Henry Eight,

Join Chris Columbus, find America the Great,

Sing with the Beatles and rock with Elvis Presley,

Watch Shakespeare at the Globe, or kickbox with Bruce Lee.

 

That old dinner with five people, dead or alive,

Not impossible thanks to this magic device.

But the past is the past, that is true enough said,

Is it wrong to want to visit those that are dead?

 

The future, after all, is a mystical place,

And we’ll never know what worries we’ll have to face.

Glimpsing years ahead may show you another war,

You could find out in advance what we’re fighting for.

 

Unanswerable questions could be already solved,

You come back to present, future problems resolved.

Do we stop being selfish, us human beings?

For the sake of our planet, are we foreseeing?

 

And what of your own life, your friends and family,

Is it all bright and joyous, or should you not see?

Could you return and be happy, or just feel glum,

If you saw that your future was squalor and slum?

 

So what would you opt for, were you given the chance:

Relive happy times or see new ones in advance?

Perhaps the right answer is one not considered,

Stay here contented, your mind thus not untethered.

 

Why visit the past when all is unchangeable?

Why see the future when right now is unstable?

Live for the moment while cherishing memory,

Embrace the next chapters; excitement and mystery.

 

Time-Machine.

Bullied.

Safely tucked under a duvet cocoon
Alarm rings to say that school will start soon
Arm reaches out and hits the snooze button
An act of defiance, fear – not glutton

Breakfast is quiet, chew slowly on toast
Mum stares, looking worried; angry almost
Toothpaste squeezed on brush, glance a reflection
How did you catch this nasty infection?

Walk to school with a friend who is drifting
Afraid they’ll catch the pain that’s inflicting
Criss-crossing fence, buildings, sign on the gate
School bell is ringing, don’t care that you’re late

Swerve round a corner and met with a sneer
A punch, kick, malicious words in your ear
Teacher as your witness turns a blind eye
Kids being kids, no real problem, a sigh

Worse day by day, week by week, let it end
Infinite problem, can’t even pretend
That the abuse will stop, life is consumed
Hoping someone might help, pain be exhumed

Can’t tell an adult, ignored by a mate
Perhaps it’s your fault, or all down to fate
Food goes untouched, body smaller and hunched
Internal trauma ev’ry time you are punched

What will it take, a hospital visit?
Before words explain, so it’s explicit
Because silence is pain, invisible
But not you, a soldier, with your own war

Temporary darkness, an end in sight
Words are the answer, not physical fight
Speak out, shout, find a saviour, finally
Because youth is too fleeting to be wrecked by a bully.

DC

Bullied.

Why I Wrote My Novel

People have been asking me why I decided to write a novel, or where I found inspiration for that particular story. So, I thought I would do what I do best and write a blog post to answer these questions. In my usual manner, I’ll be as honest as I like.

Let me tell you about the last two-and-a-half years of my life.

October 2011. The sun beamed down on a school playground, the children laughing and shouting and generally being kids. I was in my bedroom, which had once been the school’s medical room but had since been hurriedly transformed in order to accommodate a 20 year-old, British student on his third year abroad (i.e. they put curtains up). I had been living and working in a small French village for nigh on a month, teaching teenagers my mother tongue.

I had had a particularly bad day. The pupils didn’t care about learning English (and why should they? Cast your memory back to your own language classes at school – no doubt they were spent smuggling sweets or throwing balls of paper at the back of some other kid’s head). Equally, I did not care about teaching English. I was there because I had to be. It was part of my university course – a course that, at that time, I regretted applying for.

And so, as I listened to the excited buzz of a school playground from my hollow bedroom, staring at the anti-bullying posters pinned to my walls, trapped within four walls with no internet, no television, nobody to talk to – no distraction from self-pity – I broke.

Long story short – I was on the verge of coming home, quitting France, and quitting my degree. I would have booked a flight home there and then… but I had no internet, which I now realise was a good thing. Because I slept on it and a few days later found a room to let in a nearby town. I picked myself up, pulled it together, and decided to stick it out. Of course I did, because that was my only logical option.

And then I remembered something that I had ashamedly allowed myself to forget. I wanted to be an author. I always did, ever since I was a child and used to turn sheets of A4 paper into mini-books. But the thing is, education got in my way. I went to school and sat my GCSEs, AS Levels, A Levels which all permitted me access to university and more learning, exams and essays. Sure, I could have done a course in Creative Writing or something, but my passion for French was fast-fading and I was relieved that my love for literature remained.

That’s when Max was re-born. Max was the character I always wanted to write about but whose story I had never decided. Spider-diagrams and mind-maps and pages and pages of notes later, I finally had a story to write. Well. half a story. I had the fantasy: a made-up world with invented politics, magic and mystery, relationships and history. But I wanted to write something modern, something truly up-to-date that teenagers right now would be able to relate to.

That’s when I invented Light on the Landing. The boyband that I plonked smack bang in the middle of a fantastical tale of good versus not-so-good. And the rest of my time in France I dedicated to these five fictional musicians, running a secret Twitter account that allowed me insight into popular culture, social media, fangirls, fanboys and fanfiction, shipping and otps, parodies and fakes… you name it.

The following year, I wrote dribs and drabs, planning out plot twists and character developments, while preparing to finish my degree for that piece of paper and an extra few lines on my CV (or at least that’s what it felt like, because all I wanted to do was finish my bloody book!). I was almost half-way through, although I didn’t know that at the time, when I graduated.

Since then, I have had two full-time jobs in shops. Which was kind of my plan. I wanted to get any job I could so that I would have time to write and complete my first book, not having to worry about moving away from Salisbury or training for a new career. And I did finish.

A month or two ago, I wrote the final word (Time). A few weeks ago, I edited and formatted and basically did all the stuff that I had been avoiding. Draft 2 became The Lighter That Shone Like A Star. One week and four days ago, whilst really hungover due to me pre-celebrating, I published my novel onto Kindle.

 

lighter cover

 

Best feeling ever. Best day ever. (Hangover aside).

And so, there it is. The inspiration for writing a fantasy novel? Escapism. It was my escape from France, from the pressure of university, from reality. It quickly became the centre of my universe – and it still is. I know my characters better than I know myself, and I could write about them forever. The five lands – Hurburt, Terexe, Salmont, Rysked and Naegis, are like five other homes. I have obsessed over every aspect of the story, because it is one that I have been waiting a long time to tell.

As for the sequel, I have started it and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

My degree felt like an obstacle, but if I had never studied French, I would never have lived in France and I would have never had the time or despair to begin my book.

So, check it out. My Facebook page, Twitter account, and the listing on Amazon.

Thank you,

Dan

 

Lighter Selfie

Why I Wrote My Novel

No Love, No Good, No Better – A poem written in song titles.

Here is a poem, written using song titles from my iTunes.

Full list of artists below, try seeing how many you can get before looking!

***

Hello, Ho Hey, Say Something

Give Me Love, Stand By Me, Sing

My Girl Livin’ On A Prayer

Baby, Fall, I Know You Care

 

All I Got, it’s Sad But True

I Wish, I Want, Only You.

We Are Young, Larger Than Life

You Ain’t The First, Laserlight

 

Chasing Pavements, Chasing Cars

Stay You, Just The Way You Are.

No Matter What I’m Me, I’m Yours

Feel The Love, Hurt, Human – Flaws.

 

Teenage Dream, Climb On Board

Jizz In My Pants, Rock Me, Roar

Pump Up The Jam, Praise You, Shout

Paradise City, Pass Out

 

Wake Me Up, Grow Old With Me

I Will Wait Tik Tok Happy

Without You I’m Half A Heart

Fly Away Encore Une Fois

 

Goodbye To You, Let It Go

I Knew You Were Trouble, Low

 

Internet Friends Under Pressure

No Love, No Good, and No Better.

 

***

LIST OF ARTISTS:

 

Martin Solveig & Dragonette, The Lumineers, Great Big World & Christina Aguilera

Ed Sheeran, Ben. E. King, Travis

The Temptations, Bon Jovi

Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding

 

Newton Faulkner, Metallica

One Direction, One Direction, Ellie Goulding

Fun., Backstreet Boys

Guns n’ Roses, David Guetta feat. Jessie J

 

Adele, Snow Patrol

Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko, Ed Sheeran + Wiley, Bruno Mars

Boyzone, Lil’ Wayne, Jason Mraz

Rudimental, Johnny Cash, The Killers, Bastille

 

Katy Perry, Labrinth

The Lonely Island, One Direction, Katy Perry

Technotronic ft. Felly, Fatboy Slim, Lulu

Guns n’ Roses, Tinie Tempah

 

Avicii, Tom Odell

Mumford & Sons, Ke$ha, Pharell

David Guetta feat. Usher, One Direction,

Lenny Kravitz, Sash!

 

Ed Sheeran + Dot Rotten, Idina Menzel (Frozen OST)

Taylor Swift, Flo Rida

Knife Party, Queen

Eminem feat. Lil’ Wayne, The Prodigy, Lorde

 

(I just wrote what I had on my iTunes so if I’ve missed any featured artists or have listed a cover version well, stop being pedantic.)

No Love, No Good, No Better – A poem written in song titles.

Christmas Lights

The moon gently illuminated the Earth below, accompanied by stars, streetlamps, car headlights, and fairy lights. Carols echoed from churches; the ancient meaning of Christmas filtering through the ears of passers-by. Every window of every house gleamed, each room filled with excitement and tension; children hoping for a visit from Santa while parents frantically finished wrapping stocking fillers in the adjacent bedroom.

Christmas Eve was drawing to a close and Artie was sitting alone in his bedroom, unable to sleep. He no longer believed in Santa Claus, not after last year when he had peeked out of his bedroom door only to see his mother struggling with a bulging stocking. That was the best Christmas he had ever had, because he spent the whole day with his parents and baby sister. They were a family in its most functional form, complete and content.

This Christmas would be different, but Artie had known that for a little while. His perfect family had been torn apart in mid-November. His household was now only three, but his father was doing his best to make sure his children still had a good Christmas. There were no decorations, no lights and no tree, but his father was trying, in his own way. Artie wanted to help, but at twelve years old there was not a great deal he could offer his grieving dad.

Artie had never told his parents that he did not believe in Father Christmas, because they always tried so hard to keep the magic alive. As he struggled to doze into a dreamland, his mind filled with memory and hurt, he heard the sound of Sellotape ripping from its roll and rustling paper. His dad must be wrapping their Christmas presents, playing the role of Santa for the first time. When Artie finally drifted into sleep, his pillow was damp with tears.

***

            Tina left the church hand-in-hand with her young daughter, absentmindedly humming O Holy Night. They turned the corner onto a road covered with Christmas lights. Waving snowmen on one house, flashing icicles on another, and ‘Santa Stop Here’ signs in several gardens. In fact, there was only one house that did not resemble a grotto and Tina did not like it.

‘You’d think he’d have at least put some lights in the window. Brings the whole street’s festive spirit down,’ said Tina. Megan, her daughter, remained silent. She felt sad when she walked past Artie’s house. It must be horrible for someone to not have their mum at Christmas, she thought. She did not blame Artie’s dad for not putting any decorations up. She did not blame him one little bit.

‘Those poor children, not having any Christmas decorations even on Christmas Eve!’ Tina continued to herself. Megan said nothing.

***

Netty was not looking forward to Christmas. She hated it, in fact. Her husband had left her when they were still young, and she had never loved again. For thirty-six years she had been alone, and Christmas was nothing more than a reminder of how little she had. This year was the first year that she had not felt sorry for herself. As she peered through her curtain to the house opposite, she was filled with pity. No decorations and it was the night before Christmas. That whole family were grief-stricken and Christmas would surely feel like just another day without their wife and mother.

The elderly woman had a small light-up Christmas tree on her front door, and twinkling lights around her window frames. She had been pressured into buying them four years ago, when Tina and her troupe of perfect parents expressed their disgust that her house stood alone in darkness through December. She bought a few lights to keep the peace with the ‘Anthea Turner Society’, as she liked to call them.

She saw Tina walk past her neighbour’s house, pausing to look at the unlit exterior through her flared nostrils. Netty knew that she was not thinking about the people inside, only the appearance of her wonderful neighbourhood. She shook her head in disbelief, but then stopped suddenly. Was she any better? She pitied the family inside the house, but had she offered to help them? Had she offered to watch the children so Harold could have some time alone? Had she even bothered to send a sympathy card? Or a Christmas card for that matter?

The answer was a resounding ‘no’, and Netty suddenly felt horrible. She had to do something.

***

‘Love, get the door will you!’ John shouted from his armchair, too engrossed in a repeat of Father Ted to answer the door.

‘Alright, you lazy sod!’ Betty, his wife, called back with a giggle. She opened the door and vaguely recognised the woman as a neighbour.

‘Hi,’ Netty began. ‘I’m doing a collection. Only, I’m not asking for your money.’

‘Then what do want?’

‘A gift,’ she replied.

***

Artie was awake long before he realised, drifting in and out of dreams. His sister finally brought him to a state of consciousness with her loud squeals. The boy rolled over in his duvet and slipped out of the bed, struck by the cold of his bedroom. His dad must still be in bed.

Reaching into the cot, Artie lifted his small sister in his arms and rocked her gently. He heard footsteps and his father had entered the room, smiling sleepily. He took Freya from his son and ushered the boy downstairs, where he was greeted by a small stocking full of presents.

‘Thanks, dad!’ Artie exclaimed, hugging his father’s waist.

‘That’s alright, Art. You might not even like them yet!’

‘I know I will!’

Artie was trying his best to keep up his excitement. Santa is definitely not real, he thought, because this is so different. Normally he has a massive sack of gifts and the floor around the tree is covered with presents. This year, his father forgot to buy a tree.

He began to unwrap his presents while his father gave Freya her breakfast, grateful for the gifts his father had got him. Although they may not be as plentiful or impressive as in previous years, they meant more this year. His father had tried so hard to make Christmas nice for his children, even though he was so busy and distracted, and Artie appreciated it very much.

So far, Artie had unwrapped two books, some Harry Potter slippers, and a set of juggling balls. He had just reached for his fourth present when the doorbell rang.

‘Who on earth could that be at 7 o’clock on Christmas morning?’ Harold wondered aloud, making his way to the door with Freya gripped to his side. He was stunned into complete silence when he opened the door. There was Netty with a Christmas card and a Santa hat and behind her stood several people that Harold had not seen for weeks. Steve and Janet were holding a Christmas tree while their kids each had armfuls of baubles and tinsel. Greg and his girlfriend Lorna had brought a chocolate cake and a tin of biscuits, Sarah was wearing an elf costume, and Katherine was slowly strumming her acoustic guitar.

Artie joined his father at the door and the neighbours standing outside in the cold began to sing Silent Night.

***

As Netty sang the classic carol alongside some of her friends and neighbours, she realised the true meaning of Christmas. Harold and Artie were both smiling, Freya bopped along making nonsensical gargles in her father’s arms. As they came to the end of the song, they all stepped aside. At the back of the carollers stood a big man with a long white beard, dressed all in red with bold black boots.

***

            Artie knew that it was not the real Santa Claus, but it mattered not. He ran up to the man in red and gave him a big hug. His father welcomed their guests inside for a coffee and a mince pie, or some of Greg and Lorna’s cake, while Artie talked to Santa about the Christmas he had received. He already knew what his favourite present was, though – seeing his dad smile as he listened to his neighbours sing Silent Night.

All their friends helped to decorate their Christmas tree as they sang Christmas songs, only knowing the lyrics to every other verse and half the choruses, but it did not matter. Artie was laughing and singing along, and Harold was watching him with a tear in his eye.

As the neighbours bid the family of three goodbye and merry Christmas, Netty said there was just one more surprise. She led them out of the house and when they turned around, their house illuminated in every colour, flashing reds and twinkling yellows, glowing greens and bright blues.

Artie was stunned by the generosity of all those who were around him. He wrapped his arms around Netty and said ‘thank you’ countless times. She smiled down at him, full of joy and Christmas spirit.

The thing is, Artie supposed, nothing really matters. Whether Santa is real or not, whether it really is Jesus’ birthday, it doesn’t matter. Because he had his dad and his sister, and his mother was still with them, in their thoughts and in their hearts, and in the wonderful gestures that some people make at times like Christmas.

 

 

Christmas Lights