British writer and journalist Paul V Harrington amuses us with his first person narrative of a charming family Christmas short story.
Janey can’t spell, properly. And it bothers her. A lot. Maybe it bothers everyone who can’t spell but they’re not my little sister.
One of the main reasons it bothers Janey that she can’t spell is Christmas lists. She thinks that if Santa sees all the misspelled words on her list he’ll think she’s been a naughty girl, not paying attention at school and not reading enough books, aaand he’ll tell his little elves to wrap fewer presents for her, or maybe even none at all.
Now some of you might be wondering why I’m talking about Christmas when it’s still far away. Well in my house we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” all year round, so there. We’ve only got it on an old videotape, in fact that’s probably the only reason we still have the old video tape player, just to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is the best Christmas film of all.
According to Dad it is anyway, even if he does pretend it isn’t.
He always says something like “Oh no, not this old thing again,” then he’ll squeeze between me and Janey and watch it. All. And often he’ll pause and rewind the bit when the old man jumps in the swimming pool with all his clothes on, and we all laugh again.
Janey says her favorite bit is when the bells ring and angels get their wings, you know.
And if you dare say something like, “Nevertheless, it’s a long time till Christmas, and I don’t want to be reminded of it now, thank you very much.”
Then I’ll say “It’s not that long until Christmas, and if you had a time-machine you wouldn’t have to go forward very far for it to be Christmas. And I bet you’d like a time-machine, thank you very much!”
That’s something children and grown-ups all have in common. We’d all like a time-machine. The funny thing is most grown-ups would go back in time and most children would go forwards. Though I wouldn’t want to be as old as Dad, obviously! Mind you, if I was older than him then I could tell him not to drag his dirty, old boots round the house, like Mum used to tell him.
The other odd thing is that the grown-ups have already been children, but children haven’t been grown-ups. So why is it that we understand them so much better than they understand us?
One reason I’d want to go forwards in time is to find out why nearly every grown-up thinks they know loads and we know nothing.
The trouble with grown-ups is that they tell you in boring detail about things that you already know about, and they get it all wrong; like what it’s like at school, what the best songs are or how to play football.
And then they won’t tell you about things you want to find out more about, like detectives and prison and beer and where babies come from.
Actually I already know quite a lot about where babies come from and, spoiler alert, it’s not some stork that flies to your house and delivers your baby. Oh no. Babies, as big brothers know, are delivered by hospitals, and because that doesn’t seem always a very safe way, lots of mothers go into the hospitals to pick them up.
Anyway, I digress (had to check the spelling on that one myself!). The point here is that
a) Janey’s not good at spelling,
b) it worries her, and
c) it’s closer to Christmas than you think, even without a time machine.
Anyway, I told Janey that I’d write her Christmas list for her, so did Daddy I think. So would you have done I hope.
But no, she replied, that wouldn’t work because Santa would recognize my writing and he’d definitely recognize Dad’s writing as Dad must have been writing to him for about a hundred years. Then she asked how old Santa was.
Dad replied “Old Santa fine, how you?” and we both just stared at him. He often says stupid things and then laughs at himself. Don’t blame him.
Then he said that Santa was probably about 2,000 years old but looked younger because the cold Arctic weather sort of froze his face, something like that, only he explained it better. Dads do know some stuff.
Then Daddy said that maybe Janey didn’t need to write a Christmas list at all. and she started crying and hitting a cushion. Dad just managed to say: “only joking” before she ran upstairs.
So there was nothing else for it, Janey would write her own Christmas list. But first we’d coach her.
I should probably say that I’m one of the best spellers in my class. In fact only one boy gets better marks for spelling. One boy and about five girls.
Janey pretty quickly learnt some key words like ‘puppy’ and ‘kitten.’ But no matter what we did, she couldn’t spell Pokemon or guinea pig. Well sometimes she’d get one of them right. She already knew how to spell ‘hat,’ ‘paint’ and ‘sweats,’ sorry ‘sweets,’ so that helped.
The main thing we did was try to stop her worrying about it. Dad said that Santa received (i before e except after c) all kinds of letters in all kinds of languages, then he kind of stopped talking as if he’d forgotten what he was going to say.
I had a much better idea. I reminded her that Santa even gave presents to babies and they couldn’t write at all. She didn’t fully understand what a brilliant example this was and started crying again and shouting that she was NOT a baby.
Luckily Dad laughed then and snorted some tea out of his nose, and we all started laughing. Janey was laughing and crying and hitting me at the same time, which made Dad snort again. When I grow up I’m going to snort like him.
Finally we could leave it no longer, Christmas lists had to be written. Mine was easy. Golden rules: keep it short so Santa doesn’t forget stuff, and don’t ask for anything you’d only half want because if you do that’s definitely what you’ll get. Also don’t ask for clothes because you’ll get those from your parents anyway, and always wish Santa a happy Christmas – even though you know he won’t have one because he’s so busy.
When my list was finished – Roadster Cabriolet, Fuzion X-3 Pro Scooter and X-Box Design Lab at the top, natch — I looked round at Janey who was also lying on my bedroom floor writing hers. She looked small; I suppose she is really.
I went to look at her list but she put her arm round it, like David Carston does during school tests.
Oh well, I tried, I think–I thought.
The big night finally came. Christmas Eve! We were all happy, especially Dad who had already been cooking with wine (hint! hint!). Janey was also a bit nervous and, so, so was I. But we must have both managed to get to sleep because we woke up on Christmas morning.
I’m relieved to say that Santa had visited BOTH our bedrooms and nearly filled our pillow cases with lovely surprises. I didn’t get an X-box, or a Cabriolet or whatever the other thing was, but Santa did get me some cool stuff I hadn’t even thought of, including a skate board and some interesting-looking books (Father Christmas is amazing. He always gets me good books even though I never ask for them.) I got a quite nice top which Dad said I could wear to school or for playing in the park, and a new, bigger tennis racket.
Janey got quite a few things that were on her list, including some Pokemon stuff and a sort of sparkly painting set. I very much doubt she spelled those properly! Nice presents actually, although some of them are a bit young for me, I might let her lend them to me.
Down in the living room, where there used to be a fireplace, we could see definite signs that Santa had eaten his mince pie and the reindeer’s had eaten their carrots. They even left a few muddy footprints!
Santa had left a little message for me, which just said some rubbish like “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas, you’ve been a good boy,” or something like that.
He left Janey a much more interesting letter which ended with (this is all true and exact because I copied it down); “Thank you so much for your lovely letter, Jane.” He probably doesn’t know that we call her Janey, anyway, then it went on: “I’ll let you into a little secret. I sometimes have trouble with my spelling and even toda I still get some words worng.” That’s how he’d written it, T-O-D-A and W-O-R-N-G, amazing!
Then he wrote:
“I’ve taken the liberty of including a special extra present here especially for you Jane. It is the book I used to help me to improve my spelling and it is the best spelling book in the whole wide world and now you can have my copy. ”
And sure enough he had left this old book for her, which she hadn’t really noticed when she was unwrapping her Doctor Barbie and all the other stuff.
It was a reeeally old book, well I estimated it was probably about more than two thousand years old, and it was kind of old -fashioned with some kind of old-fashioned words in it too.
And right up until now (that’s over two weeks for all you out there setting your time-machine coordinates) she has read that book every day, even when Gran came round.
And I think, fingers crossed, her next year’s Christmas list is going to be a sinch, a cynch, a cinche – oh you know what I mean!
Paul V Harrington is a British writer/journalist and father of two based in Paris, France.
I have had a few short stories published, mainly micro-fiction. My 2013 poetry chapbook ‘Once There Were Moonflowers’ made it on to the Amazon poetry anthologies best sellers list.
I am also an editor with the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
Working in the news and stints as a psychiatric nurse, university lecturer, stand-up comic, magazine columnist, children’s home carer, adventure playground attendant and radio chat show host have provided me with plenty of material.