On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me:
Twelve broken tree lights
Eleven grinning selfies
Ten turkey curries
Nine gastric ulcers
Eight toxic cocktails
Seven drunken uncles
Six yelling children
Five trolled tweets…
Four soggy sprouts
Three wrong texts
Two Facebook likes
… and a cartilage in a sore knee!
Now this is incredibly special! Our deal of the day, a luxurious throw in faux mink, comes in colours of aubergine, teal and alpine sage. Only 59.99 and you won’t find this in the shops. Imagine snuggling down in that. There could not be a more beautiful blanket for Christmas!
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And now we have – Pick of the Day! Oh. Now this is really useful. A multi-function product – you won’t believe the value that you’ll get out of this amazing, er, device. A window vac, ice scraper and snow brush all in one with telescopic pole. What could be more… exciting at this time of year? Only 59.99 free postage and packing, call 0800 131217 now to get your hands on this without delay. With the telescopic pole you can reach those hard-to-reach windows and clear them of ice and condensation. You will see clearer than ever before. An absolutely ideal present for, you know, a mother in law…
Highlight of the Day now and I can’t tell you how excited I am about this! It’s our solitaire gold ring. For that someone special in your life gentlemen, or ladies. Yes – an out of this world solitaire Diamondette stone in a specially designed silver-gilt ring, looks just like gold. Only 59.99 for the up front payment and other payments can be made over the following months. Or years. Almost indistinguishable from diamond and to let you into a little secret I received one of these myself last year and it made me feel so… special.
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Now in the next hour… oh one last item. Just – er – landed. And what could be more iconic than a Christmas snowflake. Each one gorgeously crafted in pure ice by… by who? Look at the workmanship, it’s out of this world. Each one practically unique. Actually. Unique.
And with the whole snowflake collection you will be blanketed in white. Time will stand still. But each flake lasting no time at all…
So get on the phone now, tap the app, see the website! Don’t miss this astonishing offer! And all at only… Actually there’s no price on this snowflake. Have we got the ticket on this?
Oh. There’s no price. It’s priceless.
Yesterday is history
Tomorrow still a mystery
But today’s a present, heaven sent
Unwrap it to find that inner content.
Yesterday is made of ‘Why?’
Why did I kick the cat, or tell that lie?
Or spoil another’s day of fun?
So many things I wish undone.
Self-flagellation is counter-productive,
Although living gloomily is very seductive.
Tomorrow is ‘What? What dire event?
Will it be an accident?
Will the roof cave in, will there be a fire?
Or someone I know about to expire?
Yesterday can be made of praise:
Thanks for friends, joys of holidays.
Thanks for the sunshine, thanks for the rain,
Thanks for the flowers, for fields of grain.
Praise can invade our histories,
Which can then help us face up to life’s mysteries.
And Tomorrow’s mysteries we take on trust,
Resting on faith and hope as we must,
Definitely needing every assistance
To survive in this crazy, mixed up existence.
Remember that heaven-sent present of Today.
Today is the day for making our choice:
Will we choose to travel the gloomy way?
Or find little details to help us rejoice?
Will we choose those options creative and positive,
To make the most of the Present
In which we all live.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas: the crooning tones of Bing Crosby floated across the room to Izzy’s ears. She knelt on the window seat gazing through the leaded panes and absentmindedly drawing doodles in the condensation from her breath. Outside, the sky was a bleak, monochrome grey that reflected her despondent mood. The lowering clouds presaged the early onset of the December evening. Silhouetted trees formed a trellis of eerily distorted skeletons beyond the garden, casting long shadows across the dank grass and lifeless hedgerows. No sign of life apart from the odd, dead leaf fluttering across the lawn in a sudden gust of wind.
The words of the song resonated through Izzy’s head. Everything outside was so dull and lifeless: no colour. Even the holly lacked berries this year. At least a covering of snow might make the scene a little brighter.
Over her shoulder she viewed the disarray of presents, paper, tags and sticky tape scattered across the living room floor; her mother carrying out her annual ritual of wrapping while watching ‘Holiday Inn’. It was one of her favourite films and helped set the festive mood she always said.
‘I wish it would snow,’ Izzy complained. Maggie looked up, scissors in one hand, tape in the other, and smiled at her daughter.
‘Well, you never know, it might…’ She sounded bright and optimistic.
‘When was the last time it snowed at Christmas? I mean, actually on Christmas Day?’
‘Oh, I don’t know - can’t remember,’ Maggie mused. ‘Must be years, probably before you were born. I remember times when we had lots of snow but I think that was after Christmas, not actually on Christmas Day.’ She turned back to her wrapping and Izzy turned back to the window.
‘If it snowed lots, would we get snowed in?’
‘It would have to snow really hard but I suppose we might.’ Maggie looked at her watch. ‘Your Dad will be home soon.’ And humming ‘White Christmas’ to herself, she gathered up the presents and wrapping equipment.
Izzy strained to see through the gathering darkness, hoping to glimpse the first beams of headlights. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day and perhaps, just perhaps if she wished hard enough, it might snow. She closed her eyes and imagined a single, soft flake drifting past her eyeline and landing on the narrow sill outside, followed by another, then another.
Now, standing on the doorstep, Izzy could hear the church bells chiming their Christmas morning call. She opened her eyes and surveyed the crisp, white sheet covering the driveway, gradually becoming aware of the bag of presents in her hand and her husband’s voice urging her to ‘hurry up’. In less than an hour they would be at their daughter’s house watching the grandchildren open their lovingly-wrapped presents and eating mince pies. ‘I’m dreaming,’ she murmured, and smiling, she stepped carefully through the soft inches of snow to the waiting car.
It is today and I am tense because
I love you and I give you a present which I hope you like.
I am continuously in the present as I am giving you a present because I want to show I love you.
Am I a passive voice if I think I am loved because you give me presents too?
The presents are perfect and you continuously give me presents which I love but does this mean that you continuously love me?
I wonder if my presents are conditional? If you give me presents unconditionally, does this mean that your love is unconditional too?
I would give you a present now for no other reason that it makes you happy.
Would you do this for me?
I have given you presents ever since we fell in love all those years ago.
Would you be giving me presents now if you still loved me?
Present-giving makes us happy,
But now I am tense as you are giving me my leaving present,
I do not like this present.
This present is past now, and I have only the future.
So what is now when now is then?
There is time to start but who knows when?
The past has passed and the present is here
But now that’s gone the future is near.
If time is real then the clocks all lie
And life comes first before we die,
If we look back and try to see
What was that point in history
When all the stars were born in space?
And why we have a human race.
It’s called a race ‘cos it happened so fast
Some say it was caused in a big blast.
As the days slip slowly through our fingers
And the nights fall into the abyss,
My thoughts are drifting with the shadows
As I wonder what's the point in all this?’
If you want to know the future
Then maybe we should all start looking at the past.
‘Cos if it is nature that we learn from
Then our time will never last.
One day you will read this poem
Then you'll know the presents here,
Because each and every time you read it
You will see time can be our biggest fear.
There could be a solution to the problem
If you live life with love not hate,
But you better hurry as this time thing
Said he will not wait.
‘And so, this country has voted to overturn the 1974 referendum and has voted to Leave the EU…’
‘What is the majority David?’
‘Oh, one-minute, I’m going to have to look at this piece of paper… 1 vote. 16,525,101 voted leave and let me see…16,525,100 voted to remain…’
‘…And 1 vote is the majority and as this referendum goes to the biggest vote. Every vote you remember counts, so Leave are the winner.’
Boris, privately to Gov : ‘We were only meant to blow the bloody doors off, not actually win.’
Boris looks sad and confused as he thinks of his friend Dave and how he opposed him to settle an old score over a girl at the Bullingdon Club to humiliate him by winning. What was that old score? He struggles to remember and can only remember a pig’s head. Christ, Dave might even resign tomorrow and that would give me a chance to go for PM. Not all bad then. Some bloody Remainer is going to say I had written an article supporting Remain and that I’m a liar for campaigning on both sides at different times. Oh well being a bit of a liar is OK nowadays. Look how I got away with the Big Lie on the bus… well it seems to have worked unless it was old Farage’s whopper on that immigrant poster. Or maybe mine about being flooded with 70 million Turks. Sorry Grandad about that one. I know we wouldn’t be in the UK if there were strict immigration controls in those days.
David’s assistant rushed in and proclaimed, ‘Will Straw just called. Remain want a recount.’
The recount was completed and showed Remain still losing by 1 vote. ‘It’s the will of the people to leave the EU!’ screamed the Daily Fail as their headline shouted more abuse at migrants from the EU. ‘But our fields will be strewn with unpicked fruit,’ moaned the Remainers.
‘It’s the will of one person who truly represents the British nation. We must find him – or her,’ proclaimed Jacob. ‘He – or she – is the saviour of our nation.’
‘It’s me,’ claimed Charlie Jones from Lincolnshire. ‘I couldn’t make up my mind, but I was in the polling booth and as I was putting my cross in the box my hand was moved by an invisible force to the Leave box and it’s as if Rule Britannia was playing in my ears.’
‘No no it’s me,’ said Tracy from Basildon, Essex. ‘I googled to find out what the EU was and then saw in the Sun they were undemocratic, so I thought well stuff them, this is democracy.’
With Remainer Teresa Mayhem in power she quickly switched to Leave and fended off all criticism with great catch phrases just like Bruce Forsyth on a good night at the London Palladium. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ she said, not sure of what Brexit meant. And breakfast means breakfast, but it could be French like a coffee and croissant or a full English?
Nigel proposed that Tracy from Basildon had the best claim to the casting vote and should be honoured with an OBE. The Queen replied by wearing a hat designed by the EU with stars on a blue background at the opening of Parliament. The Sun failed to report this apparent heresy.
‘A mandate for hard Brexit,. Peter Bonehead and Jacob said as they held the PM down in her office, threatening her with a red hot poker made in Sheffield. ‘Yes, yes Jacob, Peter. Hard Brexit, Hard Brexit. But we’ll go over the cliff,’ she wailed.
‘There is no cliff except our glorious White Cliffs which will keep Johnny Foreigner out,’ exclaimed Jacob. ‘If only King Harold had our luck, he would have kept out the French in 1066...’
‘What about the Irish border?’ whimpered Teresa.
‘The DUP will support us on that and even if we have a hard border that seals us off from the EU for good. Couldn’t be better. We don’t want migrants sneaking in with the Guinness do we?’
‘But how much will Brexit cost us?’ simpered the PM.
‘Don’t worry about that we won’t have to pay a membership fee anymore will we? And we shall make such a fortune out of avoiding this new tax law the EU want to bring in I could always chip in what I make on that,’ said Jacob, smiling his most engaging smile as if posing for a photograph in 1830.
Then came the bombshell. A couple found a discarded metal box on Bodmin Moor as they had been having a romantic tryst. ‘Oh, what’s that digging in my back?’ complained Lorna as she lay down on the rug she had had the foresight to bring with her. The box turned out to be a ballot box from Truro containing uncounted votes in the referendum. The box had probably been buried by a Leaver working at the counting of the votes.
When the extra votes were added they turned the tables and gave Remain a resounding victory of 99 votes more than Leave.
‘The best present we have ever had!’ exclaimed the newly ecstatic Remainers as they found their depression turning to joy. No one could understand why the Cornish had voted for Leave as they got all that EU cash. So, it’s a happy Christmas present for Cornwall.
‘And now we can spend the £40bn we don’t have to pay for the divorce on the NHS,’ said a surprised Chancellor.
Thoughts on present, and being present...
2017 has been a very hard year for me, and I’ve spent many nights glued to the news on YouTube. Every time I see ‘Breaking News’ appear on Facebook, it feels as if another piece of the world is breaking.
In the UK, we’ve had terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Borough Market, as well as the Grenfell Tower Fire. Universal credit is already being cut, and all the while Brexit hangs over us all like a shadow – or a shroud.
However the rest of the world has been hit badly too, and everywhere there is fear and tension. There have been terrorist attacks in Barcelona, New York, St. Petersburg, Baghdad, Kabul, Mogadishu, Damascus, Gao in Mali, Sehwan in Pakistan. In Egypt alone there were a number of attacks in the Sinai Peninsula and bombings on Palm Sunday attacked churches in Alexandria and Tanta.
There have been ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
There is major unrest in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and Venezuela.
In Myanmar, the Rohingyas are being persecuted.
In the USA, there’s President Donald Trump, Charlottesville, Roy More, #MeToo and serious threats of nuclear war with North Korea,
The record for the deadliest mass shooting in US history was broken in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 58 people died and hundreds were injured. This broke the record set last year by the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died. Another mass shooting in 2017 happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 27 people died, which currently ranks as the fifth most deadliest mass shooting.
Storms have raged across the Caribbean this year, with multiple category 5 hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria, flattening Dominica, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, the US and British Virgin Islands, parts of the Bahamas, Anguilla and St Barthelemy, and causing major damage to cities in the USA, particularly Houston.
Look at any of these stories and you might feel hopeless and boxed-in...
But there is a hope. A present hope...
This is message of Christmas, a gift of hope
A sign of light in dark times.
The political climate in surrounding the birth of Jesus was tense.
Israelites were living under Roman occupation... hopeless. Many wanted a liberator – a Messiah – who would free them from the yoke of Roman oppression.
Mary was a teenage girl who was engaged, but still unmarried when she became pregnant. She could have easily been accused of adultery and stoned to death as punishment. Only the actions of Joseph, her new husband, saved her from this fate...
Roman bureaucracy forced Mary and her husband Joseph to travel south to Bethlehem, on bumpy roads. As a pregnant woman riding on a donkey, Mary’s progress was slow and she would have been an easy target for bandits...
In Bethlehem, with all the inns full and no close relatives to turn to, Mary and Joseph were forced to stay with the animals in a grotty stable. Even by the standards of the time, this was not a good place to give birth, and childbirth was very dangerous. With no trained midwife around, Joseph may have had to deliver the baby himself...
King Herod was a puppet ruler, propped up by the Romans to enforce order. Paranoid that he would be overthrown, he executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne. When three scholars told him that they had seen a sign that a new, powerful King would be born in Bethlehem, Herod feared for his throne and ordered the massacre of all baby boys under two years old. Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus were able to escape, but they were forced to flee for their lives and live in Egypt until Herod died.
At the time of his birth, Jesus was:
Surrounded by the poor and by foreigners
This story, for all of its darkness, is seen as a good thing. It is a gift; a present for us in the present, the hope of a better future to come, both in this life, and beyond... As such, the Nativity tableau, seen in thousands of different forms, is a moment frozen in time, but it’s a moment of light that blazes in the darkness that surrounds it.
The shepherds, the first people to visit the newborn child, were poor and isolated from society for most of the time, tending to their sheep. They had nothing to give the baby Jesus but themselves. They had no presents, but they were present.
The message of Christmas allows us to break out of the boxes that surround us and be filled with the gift of life...
The gift of a future and a hope, a present hope...
The gift of unconditional, relentless love which knows no bounds, and a peace which passes all understanding, no matter what our struggles are...
To me this, is what Jesus represents in this story – when all around seemed dark and desperate, light came into the world – a Messiah.
I present a hope, a present for the dark days ahead, that this too shall pass. In the darkest part of the year, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, only a few days after Midwinter, when the hours of daylight slowly begin to grow again – and in the far north, light creeps back slowly, slowly, into the darkness that surrounds the North Pole all winter – providing light, burning in the darkness like a candle – its light showing the way forward while the heat drives away the cold.
Sometimes we have nothing to give but ourselves.
The greatest gifts cannot be bought or sold. These are not worthless, but priceless.
Hope can be found in all kinds of places, if you know where to look.
You may also be the hope that someone is looking for. You just need to be present.
Thomas cantered into Wadesmill. He was tired after the long ride from Cambridge and longing for a good drink of ale. But most of all he needed to think. Ever since he had written his prize winning essay, ‘Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?’ on abolishing the slave trade, his mind had been buzzing with questions. What can I do about it? Shall I visit the slaves in the Caribbean? What about finding out more about the conditions on the slave ships? Can I find an MP to put the case for abolition in Parliament? So many questions.
He dismounted at the Feathers, tied his horse to the post and went in to the inn. “Landlord, a pint of your very good ale and some bread and cheese please.”
“Where have you ridden from today sir?” asked the landlord.
“That’s a fine town. I’ve got a niece who lives there. She is servant in one of the Professor’s houses. Reckon she likes it fine. They have grand dinners in the house for the Professor’s friends. Nelly serves it all from the roast beef to the syllabub and coffee where they often fall to talking about politics and such like. She hears some meaty comments sometimes.”
“Have you ever thought about where the sugar we put in our coffee comes from, landlord?” Thomas asked.
“Out west somewhere in the tropics where the weather is hot. Not Yorkshire, sir” he chuckled.
“Yes on the Caribbean islands where the natives work. But do you realise they are slaves to their masters and have no freedom like we enjoy? Is that right for us to hold them as our slaves so we can have cheap sugar?”
“Well, I’ve never thought about it,” answered the landlord as he mopped his brow “but I wouldn’t mind having a slave in my kitchen even if he was black. I guess it’s just the way things are. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“But that’s just it, landlord, I do worry about it and I am going to do something about it!”
As he left the coaching inn, Thomas felt his cheeks burning with indignation and resolution. Maybe nobody cared about the slaves - but he did and he would take on the world to fight for the end of slavery. It would be a hard path persuading all the vested interests who were making a fortune out of this evil trade. He walked up the hill and came to a spot where he sat down on the turf. Holding his horse, Thomas reflected on the evils of slavery and the thought came to him that this had gone on long enough and that someone had to stop these calamities. Then he had the revelation, sent by God, that the someone was him!
Right, I resolve on this spot to dedicate my life to the abolition of the slave trade, he thought. A voice said to him “This is your destiny Thomas, open the gates.”
Excited and inspired, Thomas mounted his horse and patting it on the neck whispered, “Let’s go to Ware and call on Joseph Aldridge – he will help.”
A few miles further on, Thomas stopped outside his friend’s house on Ware High Street. Thomas knew it was the old home of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Thomas’s thoughts raced back three hundred years. If it hadn’t been for her, he mused, we would never have had Henry VIII or Elizabeth to rule us. How history depends on small events! Well if all the wrongs against slaves I have described in my essay are facts, then it’s high time something was done about it. I don’t want to depend on a small event to happen to free the slaves. No - I need to take action.
In this frame of mind Thomas greeted Joseph and poured out his passionate belief in the need to change the fate of the slaves. Joseph didn’t need persuading as he had long thought on the same lines. “Calm down my friend,” said Joseph as he put a comforting arm around Thomas’s shoulder.
Joseph poured out a good red wine and sat down with his friend. Grasping his hand urgently he said, “I have met and talked to some slaves on a slave ship. They are not savages but men, good craftsman who miss their families.” Joseph went to a cupboard and produced a beautiful carved object. “Wonderful work,” marvelled Thomas. “You give me an idea to demonstrate to others their humanity and call them to our cause.”
Two years later in London, Thomas delivered his essay to the MP for Hull, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce wrote to him:
“I congratulate you on your ideas and passion. We must join forces to campaign on this, the biggest issue of our time. If you could gather more evidence about how the slaves are treated I will make an impassioned plea in Parliament. Can you meet me tomorrow at the Cheshire Cheese?”
The two men formed an alliance with a toast of good claret. Thomas was to do the research and William to use his oratorical gifts to convince people of influence and get a bill passed in Parliament.
The result of their pact was a brilliant speech in Parliament in 1789. Clarkson supplied the information on the terrible conditions on the ship Brookes, which he had visited in his incredible journeys of hundreds of miles in search of the truth.
“When surgeons tell you the slaves are stowed so close, that there is not room to tread among them; and when you have it in evidence from Sir George Yonge, that even in a ship which wanted 200 of her complement, the stench was intolerable,” he wrote.
But Parliament resisted and the Bill failed by 163 votes to 88.
Clarkson became more of a threat to the slave merchants and on a visit to Liverpool, that city of iniquity as a headquarters of the slave trade, he was set upon by a group of sailors who tried to throw him in the water at the docks. Clarkson was no physical fighter but he outwitted his attackers and managed to escape. Mopping his brow afterwards over a reviving glass of ale he thought, “do I give up? Is this too dangerous?”
He resolved to continue and not be scared out of his mission. Instead he became energised and gathered more evidence of the cruelties and monstrousness of the slave trade. He started a boycott of West Indian sugar, created a box of African artefacts to demonstrate the humanity of the slaves, travelled to Paris to persuade the Revolutionary government and to Tsar Alexander of Russia. He had some success with the Tsar but met more abuse in France and returned to England disappointed.
Then came another blow when the sons of Wilberforce held a public event praising their father and not even mentioning Thomas Clarkson’s amazing contribution. So disappointment was followed by sadness that his thousands of miles of travelling and gathering the essential information that Wilberforce needed was not acknowledged.
It took several more attempts and was not until July 1833 that Parliament finally banned the slave trade in all British Colonies. Slave merchants were paid huge compensation and the now free men were forced to work as apprentices for six years. Only then was real freedom theirs.
Thomas died in 1846, exhausted by his thousands of miles of travelling and staying up until 3am writing his research for Wilberforce to use. Shortly before the abolition, Thomas was prevailed upon by other abolitionists to return to Hertfordshire and point out the exact spot at Wadesmill where he had had his revelation and dedicated himself to the abolitionist cause.
You can visit this spot today and see the monument erected to Thomas Clarkson - and have a drink afterwards in the Feathers pub where Clarkson may have encountered a dubious landlord in 1785.
Barry had to queue at the Rex to get in to see National Velvet. At least it was only a U film so he didn't have to hang around to ask an adult to take him in or, worse, bunk in at the side door when no-one was looking, as his best friend Maurice used to do when he was out of funds.
He came out of the cinema smitten. He could still see her eyes, dark and velvety themselves, he imagined he was in love but only with an unreachable film star. How stupid I am, just fourteen and I get keen on a girl I can never go out with. Perhaps that’s the point, he mused. I don't know anything about girls, just talk about them a lot with other boys at school and then we stick pictures from Picturegoer of pin-ups such as Lana Turner and Hedy Lamaar on our bedroom walls. “Gosh, my dad doesn't seem to think I should be doing that at my age,” he thought.
Barry wondered about this and felt it was a bit old fashioned of his dad. He concluded that the real problem was that he never met any girls as they were all boys at William Ellis Grammar. Although there was the girls’ school next door at Parliament Hill, they would get detention, or even caned, if they went anywhere near it. Seems daft to me, thought Barry, why don't they let boys and girls study together? He fell to wondering if that could ever happen in this country. Maybe in a hundred years from now! Anyway he was too shy to talk to a girl so why worry about it? Girls were strange creatures anyway. How do adults ever get together, marry and stuff, he wondered.
Flicking through the pages of the latest Picturegoer magazine, Barry was surprised to see a photo of his heroine, Elizabeth Taylor. New Child Star Wins Race was the headline. Interviewed at her home with her mother in Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, Elizabeth Taylor said she was homesick for London and often went to sleep crying at the thought of Hampstead and Parliament Hill where she went to school. “But you might become a real Hollywood star after your performance in National Velvet,” said the journalist. Elizabeth said she didn't really believe this would happen and didn't like the bright lights of Hollywood; she really yearned to go home and live a normal life in London. The reporter wrapped up the interview by saying she'll get over it and see this is her life now, Hollywood. We at Picturegoer think she will go far, even if she doesn't.
Wow, so she came from round here and even went to school next door to me, thought Barry. His best friends at school, Leonard and Neville, had taken up a new hobby: writing fan letters to the stars of the silver screen. Leonard had even received a signed photo from Lana Turner.
Dear Miss Taylor, wrote Barry, I have just seen you in National Velvet and think you were super. I go to school at William Ellis and it is just wizard to think of you being next door. I read that in Picturegoer! When was that exactly? Did you get the bus from the school? Gosh I may have been on your bus. I hope you come back to England. Can I have a signed photograph please? Yours sincerely
To his astonishment, a reply arrived only a few weeks later. That was amazing, especially as his letter probably had to go all the way across the Atlantic in a ship, as he didn't pay for airmail, and then all across America to California, and hers had to do the same in reverse.
He tore excitedly at the envelope but carefully preserved the stamp for his collection.
It was nice to get a letter from you, especially as you live where I lived and go to William Ellis. I remember it well and I did use the bus. Please write to me again and send me something, a picture would be nice, that I can remember North London by? Here is a photo of me which I hope you like.
“What's the matter son? You look hot, haven't got a cold or something have you?”
Barry quickly hid the letter in his homework, and placed his school cap on top of the photo which was half peering out of the envelope. The blue cap with its oak tree emblem reminded him of the school motto: Rather Use than Fame. Perhaps Elizabeth was choosing that herself, rather than the fame she could have if she wanted to stay in Hollywood.
“No, Dad. I ran home from the bus stop because I thought you might be going to work in the pub tonight”. Barry wasn't intending to share his great secret with his father. It was lucky he had got to the post on the mat early this morning so his Dad needn't know the best thing in the world was happening to him.
In his room that night he looked at the picture of Elizabeth. She seemed to gaze at just him with her deep black eyes. She still looked girlish in a dress with puffed sleeves. I wonder, he thought, if......
He searched through the pages of the Hampstead and Highgate Express looking for a good photo he could send. At last on the third week of looking he found it. A great picture of Parliament Hill Fields and a feature on the schools and the area. Perfect! Barry cut out the relevant pages and preserved them as if they were the precious pages of a medieval manuscript.
There was an even bigger surprise at Christmas. Apart from his family, he wasn't expecting any Christmas cards but the one that landed on his mat was from Elizabeth Taylor. And, he excitedly noted, it was hand-made with a photo of her from Lassie Come Home and a message inside “To Barry, Happy Christmas, Elizabeth”. Barry sighed and stuffed it in his satchel to show Neville and Leonard after Christmas.
Barry was even more surprised when a letter arrived.
Mummy and I are coming to Europe next month to promote my new film. We are staying at the Savoy in London and then going on to Paris. Can you come to the Savoy at 6.30 on May 22nd? If you can I'll meet you in the foyer and we can have a cup of tea and talk about London. It would be fun if we could meet.
Barry couldn't believe his luck. He was going to meet her. Was he dreaming? No, this was real and she wanted to meet him. This would be amazing to tell Leonard and Neville and the other boys at school.
They didn't believe him. “Oh yeah, and I'm going to have tea with the King next week” said Leonard with a wry grin.
Counting the days. It seemed like years later that May 22nd arrived. He pulled his best jacket out of the wardrobe and put it on. Looking in the mirror he was immediately worried that it wasn't good enough to meet a film star. But then she would know that no schoolboy would have anything great to wear while the country was still on rationing and using clothing coupons. And his Dad didn't earn enough to buy stylish clothes and certainly not those Spiv jackets in Cecil Gee’s in the Tottenham Court Road. It just would have to do.
Dad had worked as a waiter in West End hotels so he might know where the Savoy was. It turned out he did. “It's in the Strand son. Plush place for posh people. Why do you want to know?”
“I heard this dance band on the radio, Carrol Gibbons and his Savoy Orpheans it was called and I just wondered why it was called that. Do you think they play at the Savoy Dad?”
Dad carried on reminiscing about dance bands. "I met your mum dancing to Ambrose's band at the Lyric Hammersmith before the war.” His father's eyes misted over as Barry was readying himself for his big adventure. Now he knew where the Savoy was, all he had to do was get there on the 134 bus.
Standing outside the Savoy, Barry was overawed. Everyone going in was arriving by taxi or even a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce! Nobody was just walking in off the street. And just look how they were dressed. Didn't seem to have any problem with clothing coupons nor money neither. He looked down at his jacket and thought about turning straight round and getting the bus home.
“Barry - it is you isn't it?” a young girl's voice shouted excitedly. He looked around but couldn't see where the voice had come from. “I'm here, over here”. And then he saw her standing at the entrance bathed in a golden halo of light. Slowly the light dissolved and he saw an ordinary girl standing there, except she wasn't ordinary at all. She was Elizabeth Taylor!
It turned out that Elizabeth didn't want him to go into the Savoy anyway. She wanted to experience a bit of London she had missed and wanted him to take her to Lyons Tea Shop. “I remember they have these waitresses called Nippies and they serve good old English tea in silver teapots. We only get bad coffee in plastic cups on the film set,” she exclaimed. “But won't people recognise you after National Velvet and all that?” “No I'm not that famous and I've got this head scarf.” She smiled as he had always imagined angels smile, as she wrapped the scarf round her head.
Sitting in Lyons everything was as she had said. Though it felt really posh with elegant mirrors and fancy décor, he could see the customers weren't posh at all but more like his own class. Barry looked down as she placed her holdall on the floor and noticed a book peeping out. “Gosh, do you read Virginia Woolf? That's really difficult stuff.” “Oh well, yes, but I like it because she's always writing about Bond Street and Regent Street. That's me and my nostalgia for good old London” she sighed.
At the next table there was a bloke with a girl, probably his girl friend by the way they were looking at each other, all moonstruck. She was a pretty blonde. She might work in Woolies and he had just put his Burton raincoat over the back of the Windsor chair. “Come on Laura - say you'll go to the pictures with me next week. Meet me at the Odeon on Monday night at 7 and I'll get us seats in the three and sixes. Brief Encounter is on. I know you'd love it.”
Barry thought the bloke had won, as the girl gave him a nice smile and squeezed his hand and whispered, “I hope this is not a brief encounter, with us I mean.”
What he hadn't anticipated happened now. His tongue stopped working. Barry didn't know what to say, felt very self-conscious and had apparently had his tongue cut out in payment for this amazing piece of luck. Elizabeth didn't seem to notice much as she was babbling on about her happiness to be in London, her plans for her next film, her Mum's determination that she should become a great film star, her not really wanting this as she would much rather live in London than Hollywood. All this seemed to put him at ease and eventually his command of the English language returned - it was a good school, William Ellis. “But if you become a star won't you be able to get married to a handsome leading man like...you know...like...someone like say Michael Wilding”
“So what, all these stars get divorced in no time flat. I wouldn't want that. And the work too, it's awful. Mummy wants me to do well so I put up with it but you wouldn't believe what these directors expect from you. I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof sometimes, they make you work such long hours and I'm officially still a child so they should give me more time for my school work.”
And soon they were planning to meet again: they would go to Parliament Hill, get some sweets at the tuck shop and go for a walk on Hampstead Heath. “And now I've got to get back to the Savoy. Mummy will be wondering where I am. She was having a rest and I told her I was going to the bookshop in the foyer.” She leant over the table and kissed him quickly on the lips. “I'll write,” she said as she dashed out on to the street leaving Barry in a happy daze, swearing to never wash his lips for a hundred years.
The letter came two days later.
It was so nice to meet you. You are so sweet. I'm so sorry but we won't be able to meet again. Mummy found out from the doorman that I'd walked out of the hotel and met up with a young boy. She didn't like that and has forbidden us to meet again. Mummy and I are off to Paris tomorrow so it's goodbye to lovely London. You know all that bad stuff I said about Hollywood. Well it’s not all bad. I've earned an awful lot of money and I can spend some of it in Paris. I think I’ll buy a Chanel dress and some jewellery with real precious stones, maybe even diamonds. And we are going to go to the Eiffel Tower! I hope you have a nice life.