The first festively themed challenge of this year was to compose letters to Santa in the style of the author of your choice.
I failed to track down examples of real letters from well-known writers to Old Nick (although both Mark Twain and Tolkien penned letters to their children from Father Christmas). But this was more than compensated for by the terrific standard of entries: step for-ward, David Silverman, channelling Dan Brown: ‘Dear Santa, I know who you are, buddy! And I can prove it! You’re an anagram of SATAN!...’; John Samson as Irvine Welsh: ‘Dear San’a, Gonny gi’e us back ma literary credentials…’; and Adrian Fry’s Harold Pinter: ‘I’ll be here when you come, wide awake... Expect no brandy, no pie: alms patronise. Finally, no laughter. Absolutely no laughter.’
Other worthy runners-up are Frank Upton, G.M. Southgate, Katherine Lloyd Clark and A.J. Snyders but they were outstripped by the winners below who earn £30 each.
Brian Allgar/Lewis Carroll
You are fat, Father Christmas, your tummy is
The chimney may prove a tight fit
To deliver the things that I’d like in my stocking
I urge you to diet a bit.
A cat with a grin that will gradually fade,
An egg with a shell that is broken,
Flamingoes for summer, when croquet is played,
And some hedgehogs, polite and well-spoken.
A teapot where dormice may peacefully snooze,
A potion that makes me grow smaller
To pass little doorways whenever I choose,
And a mushroom to render me taller.
Above all, a Snark who would tickle my head
While I teach him to count up to five —
But be careful you don’t bring a Boojum instead,
Or you’ll vanish before you arrive.
Sylvia Fairley/Edgar Allan Poe
Though the midnight air is shocking, I’ll be
hanging up my stocking
Hoping that you may come knocking, bringing
Christmas gifts galore.
First, a gift that would be calming; desolate since
I’ve a yearning for a charming souvenir of lost
Of that rare and radiant maiden, placed beside my
Shades of all that’s gone before.
And the seat on which I’m sitting is in need of a
Silk and velvet, wreck’d by shitting from the bird
above my door.
Since my life is grey and murky, cheer me with a
All the trimmings, chestnut stuffing, gravy, sprouts
and plenty more;
Failing that, I’d eat the Raven, slowly cooked or
Then he’d haunt me nevermore.
D.A. Prince/Alan Bennett
Dear Father Christmas
One of mam’s oft-repeated sayings was ‘I want doesn’t get’ so I’ve always been shy of writ-ing to ask for anything. At my age I’ve had most of what I want and if I haven’t there’s no one to blame but myself. I can’t see you pushing World Peace down my chimney, or anyone else’s for that matter, and anyway that’s a bit outside your role. Your job is wrapped-up, feely presents.
I wonder, though, if this year you might manage a packet of Lincoln biscuits. Rich Tea are all very well, as are Digestive as long as they’re not own-brand, but there’s nothing to beat a nice crumbly Lincoln from a fresh packet. They were never one of the pricey varieties though mam felt they had a touch of class that Nice lacked.
Yours, in the hope that springs eternal,
Bill Greenwell/Siegfried Sassoon
Well how are things in Greenland? Is it bleak,
Or have the elves unselfishly set to,
And tied the ribbons tighter by the week?
And how is Rudolf? Has his nose turned blue?
Still, when I shut my eyes, I see your beard,
Your scarlet cloak, as if it had been dipped
In the blood of soldiers who have disappeared.
Perhaps you’ve seen me in my earthen crypt.
A merry Yule, old chap! Do you know God?
If so, inform him that the Christmas cheer
Is rather sour lately. A firing squad
Has finished me — for cowardice, I fear.
But though I am expendable as hell,
And buried under mud ten fathoms deep,
I’m keen to hear your sleigh go by as well,
Do give me something, Nick, to help me sleep.
David Shields/Henry James
Dear Mr Claus,
It is not without, I confess, the admixture of a certain measure of genuine anticipation with the mere hope that must, under ordinary circumstances, accompany such an application, that I once again take up my pen in appeal to you, a full twelve months since last doing so.
I am, I believe, justified in daring to trust that, in forgiving my silence during the intervening period, you will, as it were, acknowledge the sincere gratitude with which your remarkably generous accession to my request was, upon that occasion, received.
That beneficence, unparalleled in my — admittedly somewhat circumscribed — experience, is indeed responsible for inspiring the confidence with which I hereby vouchsafe to you my request, appeal, petition for a new thesaurus to replace its original counterpart, now — alas! — exhausted by frequency of enthusiastic, if solicitous, consultation.
Yours in all sincerity, frankness and candour
A poem by Adrian Bailey was published recently in The Spectator inspired by ‘Adlestrop’. It began: ‘Yes. I remember Monica —…’ You are invited to submit your own take, substituting the proper noun of your choice for ‘Monica’, on Edward Thomas’s poem. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 8 January.