A bright spark. Born in a stall. No kidding

Bill Greenwell and DJ Taylor rewrite seasonal tales as today's authors might have told them

Carol Ann Duffy: Once in Royal David's City

It was in that city. You could see

that David had been there, right royal

except for drizzle on the paving.

Evening like dull pain. Stranger. Manger.

Straw for the mother to deliver

a message from heaven. The poor,

the mean, and the moody. She was Mary,

and the kid arriving at half-seven.

Christ. Jesus. Messiah. His new skin

crinkling in starlight. The local oxen

paddled their tongues by the crib,

dunking their thick heads in shadow.

It was holy all right. You could taste

the dew in his ducts, hear his gurgle

like a broken tap. His maiden mother

was as gentle as Carnation. Or Lux.

Birth was a redemption, a revelation

of good. Ace. Perfect. Brill. Bright.

Love. Faith. The whisper of a child

is like the rustle of feed. You look on

and this is no playpen, no stable.

Weak and helpless. No, he was going

up in the world. Angel. A bright spark

born in a stall. God's gift. No kidding.


Anthony Powell: A Christmas Carol

24 Dec. Marley obit. Contrary to various statements that have appeared in the press, I was not in fact at Eton with Jacob Marley (financier, descended through his mother's side from the Somerset Marleys) - he KS, four years older than I, Benson's. Never the less, we saw a good deal of one another in the post-Oxford period.

Marley always seemed good example of capable business figure, while displaying not the smallest interest in arts. Business now supposed to have devolved on associate Scrooge (possible ramification of Devonshire Scrooges? - for some reason nothing in Debrett) whom V says we once met at some gathering of City types, tho' can't recall. By all accounts, formidable figure.

25 Dec. Dined with Cratchits, distant connexions of V's (on mother's side, possibly descendants of Suffolk Cratchytte offshoot). Goose. Trimmings. Plum pudding. Gin - perfectly drinkable (I did not see label). Cratchit nice, obsequious, clerkish type. Grace (after meal, surely solecism?) pronounced by Cratchit's younger son, Timothy, unassuming child. Heaven knows how little susceptible to "cuteness" in the young, but both V and I by no means unaffected. (DJT)

AS Byatt: St Luke's Gospel (chapter 2)

It might begin:

The stable lies dank, fecund and welcoming. Two oxen with calm liquid eyes stare gravely on. In a corner, an ass stirs. There is a crib, of course, and a hook for a lantern. Hens scavenge restlessly through the straw. Alone in the pale, delicate, timeless light, the child sings his limited lovely note. Why does this elemental tableau, this quintessence of burnt residue scraped from the mythological crucible, give us pleasure?

Or it might begin with Joseph and Mary travelling by donkey along the Judaean back roads. Joseph's thoughts buzz around him like clouds of locusts. He thinks of the angel Gabriel, is moved by the automatic power of myth, then repelled by caution. The myth is too big, too easy, too much for his unborn child. He must be oblique.

Mary sits astride the donkey. She has not, so far, complained. Now she says: "Joseph, Joseph. Please listen to me. Please listen. When all this is over, when it is finished, when it is complete, I must have something to do. I must have something to do."

He is surprised, startled, taken aback. "But you are the mother of our Saviour."

"I know. But my iconic significance is appalling. It is appalling."

Or it might begin within the walls of blood and muscle, the dense accumulations of flesh and protoplasm, within the womb. That unborn heart, imminent and immanent. Blood. Oblation. Sacrifice. Those words are ancestors knew. Of such are their myths, and our own. The baby stirs and twists. Language is within him. The words crackle along his pre-partuitive synapses. (DJT)

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