In Competition No. 2728 you were asked to provide a parody, with a Christmas connection, of a living British writer with an international reputation.
The assignment invited you to follow in the mighty footsteps of Max Beerbohm, whose talent for parody few have matched. His A Christmas Garland, whose centenary falls this year, is considered one of the finest collections of parodies ever written in English, and on its publication reviewers agreed that not only had he captured the styles of his subjects but appeared to have gained ‘temporary loan of their minds’ too.
A tough act to follow, then. Derek Morgan, G.M. Davis, David Mackie, Shirley Curran and Chris O’Carroll impressed, but first prize goes to Alan Millard. His fellow winners get £25 each.
‘So what do we have?’ said Waxforth, unbuttoning his jacket and patting his paunch.
Detective Inspector Boredom straightened his tie. ‘Nothing much,’ he said, ‘signs of a break-in, blood in the hearth but no body.’
‘And this?’ said Waxforth, scooping up a black deposit from the carpet. ‘Here, sniff it, Mick!?’
Boredom, who prided himself on his prim appearance, was shying away when Mrs Groper appeared with the tea. ‘The doors and windows were locked,’ she insisted.
Waxforth, intrigued by the blood, looked up at Boredom. ‘Rather pale, don’t you think, Mick? Forensics will know but to me it smells like sherry.’
‘Will whoever it was return?’ asked Mrs Groper.
‘Not this year,’ smiled Waxforth, ‘Soot on the carpet, sherry in the hearth and no means of access apart from the chimney. I think the case is wrapped up. Come along Boredom! The Kingsmockem Arms should still be open.’
Alan Millard/Ruth Rendell
Up most of last night following a troublesome encounter with a chicken biryani at an establishment recommended by P., who is evidently not such a martyr to his inner workings as I find I have become. Spent a quiet day in anticipation of a similarly quiet one tomorrow: I have passed the age at which gaudy wrappings and unfortunate home-baking offer any pleasures.
I was closing the shutters against the waning day when a feverish pounding beset my front door, of the kind which would set Mam off on one of her broadsides against casual callers or on door-knocker etiquette. If it was well-meaning Mrs R with a plate of sweetmeats I supposed I could at least be civil. I set my face in a half-smile, opened the door — and there were The Waits: not especially restful, barely merry and hardly gentlemen. I checked my pockets for funds.
Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead/Alan Bennett
It is entirely possible that the knock came before the voices: the sequence shifts as I reach for it. I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday but yesterday can be another country these days; I have become the fool of memory. Anyway, the knock happened; always a moment of dread for me. I know that if I open my door I will admit something of the outside. And one day the something will be death. At school I lit upon timor mortis as a time-honoured cloak for my naked fear. But then, as now, it did nothing to muffle my night terrors.
I slid home the fastening on the inadequate chain and opened the door. A hooded figure brought its face up to the crack. ‘Merry Christmas, sir. We sing tidings of comfort and joy.’
I tipped Charon a fiver to go away.
W.J. Webster/Julian Barnes
A headless odalisque in a rubber suit
has opened its legs
on the kitchen table
for the cook’s spelunking finger.
The farce complete, he piles
raw sprouts, stripped for their sauna,
like the delicate corpses
of virid owlets.
The captive pudding fumes in the cauldron
like a trapped genie.
On the cake’s starched snowfield
a dying explorer has piddled
a festive greeting
in porphyritic urine.
Penelope Mackie/Craig Raine
I have as much sense of fun as the next person, and I can see good psychological reasons to celebrate a festival in mid-winter (though the winter solstice would be a much more rational choice of date). I believe in holly, and in mince pies. But then I have seen mince pies, I have smelt them, tasted them. Berkeleyans may say that does not constitute absolute proof of their existence, but I am prepared to be pragmatic on that score. Flying reindeers, however, are a step too far. There is nothing in the physiology or genetic history of the reindeer that suggests that it flies, has ever flown, or ever will fly. Moreover, I have yet to meet a credible witness who will swear to have seen one flying. We should consign the flying reindeer forthwith to the same oblivion as Bertrand Russell’s hypothetical orbiting teapot.
Noel Petty/Richard Dawkins
Precious Ramotswe looked forgivingly at Grace Radiphuti. ‘Why don’t you put the kettle on and we’ll have a refreshing cup of redbush tea.’ Grace had, yet again, put her foot in it and antagonised Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s apprentices, but Mma Ramotswe was right: things always looked better after a cup of tea. Grace was soon smiling as she remembered her greatest achievement — being the only person ever to gain 90 per cent at the Botswana Secretarial College. But then her face fell. She’d only four days to make up her mind about which shoes to buy for the Christmas party at Phuti’s shop — the red or the silver — and they’d both looked so pretty when she’d tried them on. She sighed. ‘Shall I make another pot of redbush tea?’ she asked. ‘What a good idea, Mma Radiphuti! We’ve only had six cups this morning and my traditional build makes me very thirsty!’
Virginia Price Evans/Alexander McCall Smith
NO. 2731: Pause and effect
You are invited to provide a poem in praise of punctuation (16 lines maximum). Please email entries, if possible, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 18 January.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 7, 2012