© Lionel Beck - North Yorkshire - UK Andrew Ailes Andrew and I lived on the same housing estate in south west London as boys, and were at Kingston Grammar School together, though not in the same “year”. We stumbled across each other again via the Web 50 years later. Enjoy his ability to tell stories in verse. Lionel Beck.   The Christmas Box Depression stalked the silent street. Recession gripped it in defeat. The factory closed. The shutters down Christmas had gone out of town. The children saw the evidence. Sadly parents said: “No presents. Times are hard. They will get better. We’ll still write our Christmas letter.” “And tomorrow let’s pretend We got our presents in the end. Everyone must have a wish. We’ll write a most expensive list.” Fingers crossed inside her pocket, Erin hissed ‘a golden locket’. Darcy, much more resolute, Said she would like a silver flute. Mother sighed: ”Well dreams are free, So I shall choose some jewellery. I’ve seen a necklace, gold and green, The loveliest I’ve ever seen.” Father said, the thing he missed, Was a watch since he’d lost his. And could he have a good job too? “No,” they cried, “you can’t have two.” “Then there’s Bustle. She’ll want treats - Put down a box of choc-drop sweets.” The dog agreed, waving her paws, So Erin began: ‘ Dear Santa Claus I should have sent this note before, But this year, we are very poor. And so I thought it impolite, To ask for things on Christmas night. When this note comes up in smoke, Please just treat it as a joke. Imagined presents are as good As things we’d buy if we only could. We’re off to church where we will pray For all poor children on Christmas Day. We shall have a good time here. And give our love to your reindeer.’ They went to church that Christmas night, Singing the carols by candle light, When they got back, holding their torch, They found a sack inside the porch. “Santa has been,” the children said. There was a card, which Father read: ‘This is for you on Christmas Day. I got your letter, by the way.’ Father carried the sack inside “It’s Mum,” he said, “Not me,” she cried. “If it’s not you, I haven’t a clue.” The dog said woof, as if she knew. On Christmas Day, around the table, They felt the sack and read the label. Was it for them? They could only guess. But how had it got to their address? Inside the sack, inside a box, They found a chest, with tiny locks, Of shining wood, with inlaid gold, Beautifully made and very old. From the box came a muffled shout: “Undo my locks, to let me out. And when you’ve done that turn the key. It’s Christmas Day, so set me free.” There was a key, which Erin wound, Father Christmas shot out in a bound - A jack-in-the-box, attached to a spring. He said: “Do it again. I’ve presents to bring.” Dad closed the lid. Erin wound the socket. Santa came back with a golden locket. “Come on,” said Santa, “ its Darcy’s turn, I’ve got that flute she wants to learn.” Father said: “You’re very kind. I see you clearly in my mind” “No,” he’s real they all agreed. “Thank you very much indeed!” Mum had a turn, and a velvet case Lit up the smile across her face. It was the necklace, of gold and jade, The one she’d seen in the arcade. She knew that it had cost too much, And said she was afraid to touch. But Santa said it would be tragic, Not to wear his Christmas magic. She put it on. They closed the lid. Dad turned the key, as he was bid. He’d put a new watch on the list Now Santa put it on his wrist. “Bustle,” said Santa, “don’t forget her. She was in your Christmas letter.” Bustle got her chocolate drops The very best one in the shops Santa said: ”Now put me away And keep me safe for another day. This time next year, on Christmas Eve, Give me to children who play make-believe.” Happy Christmas! (2008) © Andrew Ailes 2008  The Tale of Tom and Winnie If you find yourself on Exmoor, And walk on a moonless night. Or on the tors at Ilfracombe, You may see a spectral sight. You may see a man on horseback, They cut a most handsome pair, It’s the highwayman, Tom Faggus, On his magical strawberry mare. You may hear rhythmic drumming, As steady as a heartbeat, And feel the cantering hooves Shake the ground beneath your feet. There is something supernatural: You might offer up a prayer, For the highwayman, Tom Faggus, And his magical strawberry mare. Tom Faggus was a Molton man, North Molton born and bred. He prospered working at the forge, And his reputation spread. Between Barnstaple and Taunton, At every village fair, They hoped they’d see Tom Faggus, On his magical strawberry mare. He could ride a stallion home, That no other man could ride. He could fit the finest horseshoes, After many men had tried. He won a golden Jacobus, For his gifts were truly rare. The blacksmith from North Molton, And his magical strawberry mare. One cruel November afternoon, He found the orphaned foal, Wet and shivering in the marsh, Trapped in a treacherous hole. The kindest thing was to shoot her, But that he could not bear. Tom Faggus put his life at risk, To rescue the strawberry mare. He laid his coat across the bog, And roped his horse’s tail. He gently eased her to safety, As the light began to fail. He fetched a cart from a farmer, With all the hay he could spare, Tom Faggus took the long way home, For the little strawberry mare. The villagers were leaving church, It was St, Winifred’s Day. When Tom got home he lit the forge, And laid the foal in the hay. “I shall call you Winnie,” he said, Sitting in the firelight’s glare. Tom never left her side that night, As he prayed for his strawberry mare. He bought some rolling pasture land, And he had in mind a wife. But now jealous men of letters, Prepared to wield the knife. The law’s a stealthy instrument, It never has been fair, They tied Tom Faggus up in knots, And he fled on his strawberry mare. A young man still, embittered now, Who had even lost his love, Rode the desolate windswept moor, As the buzzards wheeled above. The law, he vowed, was worthless,. The country in disrepair, So Tom would live outside the law, With his magical strawberry mare. And so a page of history tuned, A blacksmith, ruined by lies, Every inch a gentleman, And a master of disguise, A gifted man turned highwayman, For his fate he did not care. Tom Faggus was a dangerous man, On his magical strawberry mare. A man who lives by a furnace, Catches a terrible curse. Working the anvil and bellows, Gives him an unquenchable thirst. So Tom knew all the inn-keepers, Who’d find him a table and chair, And set a place for an outlaw, With some oats for his strawberry mare. A highwayman may pick and choose, Who will meet his modest needs. Tom freed the rich from their ‘sorrows,’ And others for their misdeeds. Woe betide the grasping lawyers, Their purses he liked to share, With those who befriended Tom Faggus, And his magical strawberry mare. Tom never lacked for company, And was never short of a bed. Many a widow welcomed him, The better the less is said. He had such good intelligence, When danger was in the air, Tom Faggus was thirty miles away. On his galloping strawberry mare.   King Charles charged the excise men. To make import duties pay. So people all along the coast, Grew richer every day. The high tide brought the brandy in, Although nobody knew where. Tom Faggus might be seen in Lee. With his muffled strawberry mare. They say Tom Faggus never killed, But soon there was killing enough. The Civil War and regicide, Made life in the country rough. Men who’d never carried a gun, Were driven to despair, And kept an eye for a highwayman, With a magical strawberry mare. They set a trap in Simonsbath, To catch him dead or alive. Tom saw the odds were against him, For he was one against five. He whistled for Winne to help him, She flew through the door four square. She floored them all in a moment, Tom escaped on his strawberry mare. More sinned against than sinning, Tom had a price on his head.   Unpaid discharged militia men, Were prepared to shoot him dead. For thirty pieces of silver, They would shoot him anywhere. But first they had to find the man, On his magical strawberry mare. They ambushed him in Barnstaple, On the bridge that spans the town. With constables at either side, He must either die or drown. Tom weighed up his situation,            They had sealed the thoroughfare, But Tom jumped over the parapet, On his magical strawberry mare. A moment followed of silence, Then some began to cheer, As forty foot below the bridge, They did not disappear. They swam with the tide to safety, Though bullets were in the air. Tom Faggus became a legend, On his magical strawberry mare. They tell this tale in Exford, Once, when Tom was on the run, On one wet and windy morning, Six men, each armed with a gun, Concealed themselves by a tavern, Since Tom was a regular there, They thought that day he’d end in chains, And they’d sell his strawberry mare. Tom welcomed the bounty hunters, Wearing the robes of a friar, He said on such a wet morning, Their guns were too damp to fire. When they had discharged their pistols, Tom said:” Put thine hands in the air.” He swept up their guns and their money, And made off on his strawberry mare. With the King restored to England, People began to relax. Theatre, dancing and drinking, Made Tom a little too lax. He thought he might get a pardon, But drink he couldn’t forswear. Tom Faggus’s fatal weakness, Was to kill his strawberry mare. They caught up with him in Braunton, Out of his mind with the drink. They had him bound from head to foot, Before he had time to think. He did not offer resistance, He was much the worse for wear. Tom did not even hear the shot, That slaughtered his strawberry mare. Tom faced the bench in Barnstaple, Some crimes he’d not committed, But there was evidence enough, For proof to be admitted. One guilty verdict sealed his fate. And the noose he’d have to wear. A broken man, Tom Faggus now, Was mourning his strawberry mare. No Devon man would tie the rope, In sixteen seventy-one. Tom had too many friends around, And was only sixty-one. He was a legend on the moors, He had never been unfair. The blacksmith who’d turned highwayman, And had loved a strawberry mare. They shipped him off to Taunton, To be hanged outside the jail. No records show he wore the rope. And records rarely fail. Did he escape along the way, As many people swear? For no one doubts Tom Faggus today, Rides his magical strawberry mare. If you find yourself on Exmoor, And walk on a moonless night. Or on the tors at Ilfracombe, You may see a spectral sight. You may see a man on horseback, They cut a most handsome pair, It’s the highwayman, Tom Faggus, On his magical strawberry mare. You may hear rhythmic drumming, As steady as a heartbeat, And feel the cantering hooves Shake the ground beneath your feet. There is something supernatural: You might offer up a prayer, For the highwayman, Tom Faggus, And his magical strawberry mare. © Andrew Ailes 2008  Cogito ergo sum inter ASDA (For non-UK readers, ASDA is a Supermarket owned by Walmart) Sometimes I wonder who I am, And wish I were Omar Khayyam: A man who loved his ruby wine, And blessed the prophet for the vine. He stood outside the tavern door, Filled his cup, then asked for more, And yet he thought of higher things, Like why the planets move in rings. So I trudge my way round ASDA, Dreaming of the ancient Kasbah; No need for a shopping trolley, Just a slave to hold my brolly. Aggressive ladies of great age, Would not indulge in trolley rage. And would not dare to block my view. Of special offers: three for two. I’d rather cope with barking dogs, Than babies dropping clockwork frogs. What I need is  someone bidden. Who knows where the mincemeat’s hidden I don’t care what we’ll have for tea. I slip back in my reverie, Of taverns all along the lane, Where nothing’s wrapped in cellophane. In the sun, I’d cast a shadow, Smell the charcoal baking dough; Watch the blacksmith forge the steel; See the clay spun on the wheel. Sunshine never enters ASDA. Sell-by dates are all that matters. There’s no summer, winter, spring, And birds are not allowed to sing. The bird of time’s the only thing, That’s constantly upon the wing, A human tide that ebbs and flows, Where they come from nobody knows. The muezzin on his minaret, Sounds sweeter than the store cassette, Each calls the faithful in his way: For some to spend and some to pray. So under those fluorescent lights, I conjure up Arabian nights, An alabaster screen confines Caressing silken concubines  The paradise Omar revealed: A lovely girl, a place concealed, A loaf of bread, a glass of wine, A book of verse. It sounds divine. A secret court where fountains play, And perfumed roses greet the day, At night the musky scent of myrrh, And music from the dulcimer. I wonder if my lemon trees, Trembling in the evening breeze, Will bring the nightingale tonight, Amid the fireflies dancing light? I blink, and read my shopping list, Washing up liquid has been missed, No peanuts, either, that’s a pain, They’ve moved the Marmite yet again. As I let out a heavy sigh, A bejewelled midriff passes by, I fasten on the sparkling stone, She won’t see me, she’s on the phone. I move on to the Cabernet, Then through the crisps to Nescafe, Now down the aisle where children scream, For pink and brown and green ice-cream. I settle back inside my head, To sunlit canopies instead, Where camels walked a thousand miles, Where there were no plastic aisles. Perhaps I’d have a Turkish bath, Where a golden osteopath, Would wash away my daily toil, Anoint me with rose-scented oil. Turkish coffee, sweet with honey; Silver coins, not plastic money; I could smoke a hubble-bubble, Nothing would be too much trouble. Just as my mind the daydream fills, I find I’ve reached the check-out tills. A slab of plastic hits my knees, The legend reads: ‘Next Victim Please’. © Andrew Ailes  The Christmas Present She was eight years old, and very bright,  A lonely child, who could read and write, And old enough, her parents believed, For Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. He was no more than twelve weeks old, Soaked to the skin, and terribly cold, Unloved, unwanted, born on the moor, Unnoticed he slipped through the vestry door. She took her place to triumphant Purcell. She liked the carols and sang them well. She loved the candles. They had one each. But the prayers were a bit beyond her reach. Starving, he chewed an old cassock hem, During ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’. Then into the church, by the tomb of a knight, Where the choir sang solo ‘Silent Night’. Now, at the moment for silent prayer, She knelt and wondered if Santa were there. She had no faith in her Christmas letter: No one she knew had got a red setter. He gnawed a hassock and licked a pew, In the dark side-aisle, out of view. Then slumped in the shadows on weary feet, Where a radiator glowed with heat. “Ho! Ho!” said the Vicar, holding a sack,  “Gifts for the children that they can take back”. She went to the altar, and took out her present: A milk chocolate moon, in the shape pf a crescent.  He watched her return from the altar rail. She didn’t see him, but he wagged his tail. The people moved up, so she sat on the end, And suddenly felt the warmth of a friend. When everyone stood for ‘Adeste Fideles’, She knelt on her hassock, as if in a daze. She opened her chocolate, not to be greedy, But to feed it all to the poor and needy. “God bless you all,” the Vicar cried out. “Happy Christmas to you,” came the cheerful shout. The worshippers made their way to the door, But one little girl stayed glued to the floor. Her parents, concerned, came back to the pew. The Vicar had joined the search party too. She hadn’t moved. She was under her chair. She said “Baby Jesus has answered my prayer.” She stood in the candles’ flickering light, And clasped in her arms the most wonderful sight - A puppy, whose coat was an utter disgrace, Joyfully licking the tears from her face. © Andrew Ailes  Made with Xara Web Designer