“Bloody carollers,” Reginald Crump muttered as he trudged through the brown slush that coated the high street. “Clogging up the streets… and don’t get me started on that screeching they think is singing. Used to be folk knew how to hold a tune.”
He entered Martin’s News and picked up a copy of the Daily Mail from about half way down the pile to avoid the tatty, blown-about copies at the top. He added a copy of the local rag and approached the counter to pay.
“A festive good morning to you Mr Crump,” said Sendip the over-cheerful newsagent. Don’t think I’d be so bloody chirpy if I had a big new Smith’s opening up over the road thought Crump, placing an assortment of silver and bronze shrapnel on top of his papers.
“What’s so bloody good about it?” Reg said, not looking at the gurning idiot behind the counter lest his mood be soured any further.
“It is Christmas Eve Mr Crump; surely even you can raise a smile at this time of year? Is that lovely daughter of yours not visiting this year?”
“Nope. Silly cow refuses to come ’round ’til I apologise for telling that husband of hers that Jasper sounds like a poof’s name. Dunno where she gets her stubbornness from.” Reg picked up his papers and turned to leave before the shopkeeper rambled on any longer.
On exiting the shop his mood was compounded by some lout in a hoody stomping through a particularly deep pile of wet slush in his bovver boots and splashing icy water up to the knees of Reg’s corduroy trousers.
“Oi you bloody eejit, look what you’ve done.”
The boy didn’t spare him a second glance and lobbed over his shoulder, “Whatever Granddad.” Reg was left to cast a furtive glance around the high street in order to catch the eye of a fellow shopper he could share his woes with. No one caught his glare or for that matter seemed at all aware of his tribulations. Reg trudged on.
Twenty minutes later he emerged from Tesco Express with a carrier bag containing his intended Christmas lunch, plus a couple of bottles of Fursty Ferret and a Jameson’s miniature as a little treat to toast the day. He always walked the mile to town and back again, still several years away from his bus pass he was buggered if he was going to pay over a quid to go that short distance on a cramped, smelly bus. Bloody scandal it was. As he approached the entrance to the small park, which was a favourite Friday-night haunt for the local feral youth, his way was blocked by a group of fifteen or so idiots in bulky coats, woollen jumpers in primary colours and an assorted selection of vile polyester Santa hats with bells on. As he got closer he could hear the same out-of-tune, paint-peeling, warble as in the town centre and realised it was the same interminable group of tone-death carollers he had encountered before.
“Any bloody chance you can stop that bloody cat-calling till I’m past and out of earshot?”
He received no response, not even a turn of the head in acknowledgment. Reg was so riled by the sheer bloody rudeness of it that he steamed towards the two broad-shouldered carollers directly in his path. They didn’t seem to be paying him any mind so he braced for impact and readied his usual brand of irritable indignation. However no collision came, the two men simply glided apart and Reg stumbled into the middle of the group.
Reg took a moment to regain his composure and then sought to make eye contact with whichever of the rabble looked to be in charge of the tuneless tossers. A dozen or more blank faces stared towards him in the centre of the makeshift circle but none made eye contact with him and no one said a word.
“’Ere, what’s going on? Let me through,” Reg yelled, indignation boiling up from deep within. “Some of us have got stuff to do, can’t stand about all day doing a disservice to beautiful songs.”
Not a single caroler gave even the slightest reaction. Reg went up to one of the ones blocking his route and said ‘excuse me’ as forcibly as he could muster. The middle-aged lady didn’t even blink. In frustration Reg swiped a hand out to knock her songbook from her held out hands. Neither the book nor the woman’s hands moved, not so much as a tremble. Reg turned to remonstrate with another of the group but was stopped mid rant by the realisation that his bag of shopping was no longer clutched in his fist. It had been replaced instead with a slim book of carols.
“Hey what’s the big idea? Give me back my shopping. That’s theft that is!” His protest was met by yet more stony silence and unmoving faces. He looked down and to his astonishment his grey Mackintosh had changed in to a blue, padded Berghaus coat. Beneath this his grey cardigan had been replaced with a bright red knitted jumper with a picture of a Christmas pudding complete with icing and a sprig of holly.
“What the hell…” His complaints were drowned out as the group began to sing. He found himself joining in without having made any conscious decision to do so.
Two of the singers in front of him dropped back and flanked him on either side. Through the gap they had vacated he saw not the park entrance he expected but a white uPVC door with a beautiful wreath about the size of a dustbin lid hanging just below an ornate brass doorknocker shaped like a fox. The door, and the knocker, looked very familiar and it took just a moment’s pause to realise whose house it was. The door opened.
* * *
Valerie Fox was sat on the stairs taking off her Ugg boots when the door knocker sounded. She stood quickly to unlock the door. Faint singing seeped through the draught excluder removing any anxiousness at who might be knocking their door after dark.
“Honey, come to the door. We’ve got carollers.” Excitement was evident in her voice; Valerie loved Christmas, particularly traditional things like caroling and nativity scenes. Her husband joined her just as she opened the door.
It was a good sized group and the rendition of Silent Night they were half way through seemed very well rehearsed. As the song finished she opened her mouth to greet the carollers but before she could they launched into another. One she knew better than all the others.
Valerie burst into tears at the first line of Come all ye faithful and her husband stepped forward and embraced his wife.
“What’s the matter honey?”
“This was Dad’s favourite,” she began before unleashing another raking sob. “He used to serenade mom with it every Christmas Day evening.” The sobs eased to sniffles and she carried on once more. “He had such a beautiful singing voice. Why didn’t we spend more time together before he died? All those Christmases missed because we were both so bloody stubborn. I don’t even remember what started it off.” Composed once more Valerie bade the carollers good night and closed the door. Jasper Fox put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and tenderly kissed the tears from her cheeks.
* * *
Reg felt tears of his own course down his cheeks and turned away to look behind him. The carollers that had been behind him had gone. He turned back and those that had been before him were also gone. In front of him now was his own front door. On the step was his shopping. It was getting dark and it took him a couple of attempts to get his key in the door. He left his front door open and switched the hall light on. The telephone sat upon a table just next to the door, he picked up the receiver and dialled from memory. A familiar voice answered.
“”ello love, it’s Dad. Could you put Jasper on? I’ve got something I’d like to apologise for.”
WRITTEN BY ROSS WARREN
ILLUSTRATED BY MONTY BORROR