The Northwich Nativity

The names have been changed to protect the innocent … and to protect me from a lawsuit. Happy holidays LG


Chapter 1: Shepherd Spy

Moo and Buzzkill were relaxing on the couch watching the Shaun the Sheep on Sky+ when Moo suddenly jumped up and almost ran to the window. She hauled up the blinds so she could look better at the darkening sky.

Moo beckoned Buzz closer with a fluttering of fingers and pointed out a star that appeared to be really low. Not just low but very bright too – bright like that moment when you’re half-asleep in darkness and somebody puts the big light on. He had to squint to look at it.

As they both stared it suddenly lifted and appeared to move so they went out into the garden to get a better view.

“Maybe its aliens” suggested Moo. “You’d better lube up for the anal probe then” Buzz said, taking a swat on the arm from Moo as a come-back.

“It’s still moving” said Moo, “Let’s follow it and see where it goes.”

They jumped in the car and tried to keep up with it the best they could along the strangely deserted roads. “It looks like it’s near my house” Moo suggested, so Buzz put his foot down and jumped the red lights to try and get there quicker.

In a few moments they could see that it was closer to Castle so Buzz throttled up the hill and screeched the car sideways around the corner.

The star was now standing still in the sky and radiating a beam of light downwards onto number 168. He pulled into a side street and they abandoned the car.

“What if it really is aliens?” Moo asked. “Well I’ll go first on the anal probe if you like” said Buzz, trying to be helpful. They decided to go into the house but would need to be careful, what with the risk of alien probes an’ all that.

Chapter 2: We Free Kings

They kept close to the fences and hedges as they made their way along the street towards number 168. Moo was in the lead but she suddenly stopped and dropped into a crouch. She raised a hand for Buzz to do likewise as if she was taking point on a jungle patrol. He remained standing and looked over her head.

Buzz caught a snatch of conversation from a male voice “…so what happened next?”

A second male voice replied “Nothing really. I asked her to come up to my room to see my Darth Vader helmet and she ran off screaming.” “Well Cauli” the first voice said, “It’s a good job you didn’t offer to show her your shuttlecock or the police would have been round in a flash.”

“Was that a Scottish brogue?” asked Moo. “I don’t know” Buzz replied, “It’s too dark to see his shoes.”

They squeezed into a garden and waited for the voices to get louder as they passed but they stayed steady “So where’s Mrs. Tin?” asked voice two. “Mrs. Tin has given me the night off – tonight I’m a free man. As free as royalty.”

“Well that makes two of us. Erm…any ideas what we free kings can do then?” continued voice two. Then his voice changed as he continued “By the power of Grayskull! What the Hell Boy is that?” he ejaculated.

They must have just noticed the star too so Buzz and Moo sidled out of the garden like a pair of crabs and made their way towards them. “There’s safety in numbers.” Moo was saying, but Buzz was thinking “If it IS aliens then we won’t need to be able to run fast if we get chased – we only need to be able to run faster than these two.”

Chapter 3: Wise Guys

Buzz called ahead to get their attention “You’ve seen it too then eh?” Sometimes the best thing to do is to state the obvious. They both acknowledged with a grunt, their necks craning to try and take it all in – like standing directly below Blackpool tower and trying to see everything at once.

Moo spoke up “We followed it from Lostock”. The shorter of the two men looked around at the sound of a female voice. “What is it?” he asked. “A small suburb of Northwich about two miles away” Moo replied. “Not Lostock, I know what Lostock is. What is this?” He pointed straight up at the star but kept his gaze on Moo “We think it’s a star” she said. “Or maybe aliens” Buzz added. “I wish you’d stop going on about anal probes Buzz” said Moo in despair. The two guys shared a worried glance and started to shuffle backwards up the path to number 168.

Moo became the voice of reason “We’re going in to see what’s happening. If it is aliens then we need to let them know that we come in peace – well most of us come in peace”. Buzz looked up to see the three of them frowning at him while he broke a stave off the garden fence to use as a weapon.

They filed out of the path and crossed the road to the Spar shop to see if they could get some gifts for the aliens. And how ridiculous does that last sentence sound? But it’s important to the plot, honest!

Chapter 4: A Stable Relationship

Some years earlier Gammy and Fat Bob had met, fell in love and got married. Now they were on a Christmas holiday that Gammy had won in a competition in the Northwich Chronicle. The prize was a no-expenses paid trip to the hot spots of Northwich, Barnton and the surrounding areas, but they were having trouble finding a place to stay as the Christmas festivities meant that the Flotel was fully booked.

Fat Bob started at one end of the road and Gammy the other, and they checked out the guest houses from opposite ends of the street – finally meeting up at number 168.

Gammy was tired and needed to rest so Fat Bob rapped on the door in four-four time.

Nothing happened and nobody came so he tried again – this time in three-four time.

Still nothing.

He tried again with a lively, upbeat Ska rhythm, followed by a paradiddle but nothing happened again.

Fat Bob noticed that Gammy Girl had fallen asleep on the doorstep. After 20 minutes the door was opened by the inn keeper.

“Hello sweetie, can I help you?” she asked.

“We need a place to stay” said Fat Bob. He went on to explain that everywhere was full and that Gammy Girl was pregnant with a little Wrinker and that Blue Coo hadn’t eaten all day.

The kind inn keeper invited them inside and introduced herself. “Call me Bossy” she said, “Care for some tea and cake sweetie?” she asked. They both did of course.

While the inn keeper made the tea Gammy Girl lay on the couch with her eyes closed and Fat Bob serenaded her in an odd falsetto that sounded like a dolphin on helium.

She had just closed her eyes when she heard a lovely shimmering sound, like an angel playing jazz on a glockenspiel. Gammy opened her eyes again and saw a tall glowing, blonde figure standing before her.

The vision spoke while unpacking an iPod from a small backpack. “I am the angel Lollypop and I’ve been sent down to Earth to tell you that the Wrinker you carry is the future. The future of rock and roll. You must accept this gift from God and James Brown, and ensure that she is brought up in the ways of the blues, the soul and the rock and roll. Amen”

“Amen.” Gammy and Fat Bob responded in unison. Blue Coo nodded enthusiastically.

The angel continued “You are free to name this child whatever you please, but she will be known to all as Baby Boom Beam.” The angel applied a nicotine patch to her upper arm and disappeared in a healthy puff of smoke – leaving behind a faint smell of patchouli oil and an almost inaudible whisper of rock guitar that was leaking from her headphones.

Gammy Girl hugged Blue Coo with joy and Fat Bob wrote a song to celebrate the occasion.

When the inn keeper returned 10 minutes later she couldn’t help but notice that Gammy Girl was no longer alone on the couch – she was cuddling a cute, pink little baby and it was singing “…Why, why, why…Delilah? Duh-duh-duh-dah-diddih-duh” embellished with a reggae style kazoo solo.

Chapter 5: Do You Believe in Cheeses?

A knock resounded loudly through the house and Bossy Cow shuffled to the front door. Upon opening it she found a group of miscreants gathered on her step.

“Be off with you, you tykes. I’ll have no carol singing here. Especially if you don’t know the song the whole way though.”

Buzzkill ceased playing his jazz version of White Christmas and quickly ad-libbed a response “Penny for the guy missus?” he asked, pushing Cauli forward.

Moo got things back on track “We saw the star and we brought gifts.” She held up a Spar carrier bag and rattled it to produce a sound not unlike the sound made by a box of chocolates being rattled in a plastic bag.

Bossy took the gift from Moo and guided her up the hall with a hand in the small of her back. Cauli stepped up next. “I brought this”. He held up a similar bag and rattled it but it didn’t make a sound – other than the sound made by a rattling carrier bag.

Biscuit Tin got as close he could to a grin and held up a Spar bag that looked uncannily like a soft toy which he also rattled. “What the hell is that?” asked Bossy. “It’s a gift for the aliens or…the…whatever.” he mumbled.

Bossy looked at Buzzkill who was standing alone on the step clutching a splintered piece of wood. He held it up and pressed it into Bossy’s hands “Your fence is broken love” he said and marched in behind the others.

In the lounge Buzz joined the others who were kneeling in a semi-circle around Gammy and the new born Baby Boom Beam. They were joined by the animals; Blue Coo, Merlin and Willow.

While the travellers helped themselves to tea and cake, Bossy unwrapped the gifts and handed them to Fat Bob for all to see; a box of Terry’s All Gold, a Frankenstein DVD and a stuffed toy Meerkat. Very traditional gifts at this time of year I believe.

Gammy and Fat Bob thanked everybody for their gifts and in return he picked up his guitar and began to sing a song. He was only a few bars into the intro when he heard a second guitar. He looked around to see Buzzkill jamming along.

While Bossy was handing out the lyrics that Fat Bob had been writing there was a puff of smoke and the angel Lollypop arrived carrying her lucky Christmas bass.

Biscuit picked up a couple of wooden spoons and started to beat out a rhythm on a tin of Cadburys Heroes while Cauli played a melodic accompaniment on a tiny Xylophone that had come out of a Christmas cracker. Bossy and Moo sang their hearts out and everybody agreed that it was the best Christmas ever.

The End

Echo Chamber

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that … we all now live in our own echo chambers

It’s an accusation that keeps cropping up these days – the sad fact that we all now live in our own echo chambers. I’ve given this matter some thought. And my feeling is that this is fair comment. Social media has exacerbated the problem. It feeds on itself.

A good example is political discussion on FB – and the issue of Brexit in particular. You can see here how people draw the like-minded unto themselves and woe betide anyone who disagrees. If you raise your head above the parapet and make counter-arguments, you’ll either get shot down (often viciously and with foul language) or, worse, completely ignored. The reason most people post about politics is to get warm, fuzzy agreement. This makes us all feel better, of course. But it doesn’t help with reasoned debate. Or democracy. To be fair, I have occasionally seen reasoned, democratic debate on social media, but it is rare and in decline. Rather, it is mainly a place for people to reinforce stereotypes, get exactly the feedback they want to hear, and cosy up to others of the same ilk. If you get enough of your friends agreeing with you – then you must be right. Mustn’t you?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m probably just as guilty of this as the next person. It’s human nature. But it’s a bit of a trap this echo chamber. Far from widening our horizons, I think it’s making us batten down the hatches. It polarises views. Perhaps social media has the effect of magnifying, or even distorting, the human condition. We’ve all seen people say things over the ether that they wouldn’t dream of saying face to face.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to avoid the echo chamber. To try even harder to see the other person’s viewpoint – and to think it through properly rather than rejecting it out of hand. I may still reject it, of course, but hopefully only after reasoned debate – in my own head or with others.

And I’m going to try to apply this thinking to my reading and writing too. I’m going to try to escape from my own echo chamber of genres and authors. And I’d add movies into that mix as well.

So I’m going to ditch the echo chamber in 2017 and instead use the sounding board – the biggest sounding board I can muster. One that can reflect, or receive, worldwide … from Greenbank to The Gambia. Anything that is the antithesis of an echo chamber.

Liz Sandbach 8/12/16