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Stephen's Ghost

Without doubt, Father Christmas had lost weight. Had Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected Lapland’s grain supply and Santa was forced to cut back on his sandwiches? His reindeer seemed much smaller too. Yes, climate had affected their Far North homeland three times faster than anywhere else on the planet. 1.5 degrees warmer meant more rain on the ice which then froze the lichen under it and the reindeers lost their valuable fodder. Females aborted their young, and those which survived were of smaller stature. Santa, like others around the world, adapted to the new circumstances, turned down his heating, put on a woollen vest and wore a warm scarf. Thoughtful fellow that he was, he ordered woollen scarves on Amazon for the eight reindeer which pulled his sleigh. As an afterthought he ordered a ninth for Rudolph. He didn’t pull the sleigh regularly on account of his permanent cold and that red nose. He was first reserve should Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner or Blitzen fall sick. This year they were all well, and Rudolph could relax in Lapland. He had offered his services for St.Stephen’s Day when they returned. It was an annual holiday and a day of merriment. More of that later. There was a lot of work to be done first delivering that huge sack of gifts, some of them slightly smaller this year. Father Christmas had also taken on an extra job to remind all the ghosts of departed folks by the name of Stephen, particularly those previously associated with horses, that they were invited to Finland’s big street party on St.Stephen’s Feast Day, the 26th December. The reindeer snorted haughtily at this. Ghosts and horses! After all the reindeers’ hard work flying thousands of miles on Christmas Day, why all this fuss over a sleigh ride drawn by horses on the Feast of Stephen? Yes, it was a jolly day and in past times had been an excuse for everyone to turn out in Christmas dress and an opportunity for the young men to eye up prospective brides whilst watching the horse driven sleigh races…….Finland’s equivalent of online dating for partners. In Bohemia, King Wenceslaus had a more worthy aim taking food, wine and pine logs to some poor wretch with his page struggling to walk in his footsteps. So much easier today to pop a couple of packets or tins in the supermarket food bank to feed the hungry. It was Christmas Eve and Father Christmas had not found one Stephen spirit willing to make the journey North. The sleigh was hovering over a Scottish castle. Was that a ghostly flicker? Yes. A possible Stephen? The flicker was now a steady beam. Yes, definitely a previously departed soul. Would he like horses? Who was he? Father Christmas looked at the jolly little spirit. He had been quietly asleep for many decades but had wakened this year on a sunny September day. His resting place in the castle had been a stable at one time but could well be a converted Air B&B cottage now. Yes, a stable was appropriate, thinking of the one in the Holy Land on this particular night. In fact, stables had been important to Stephen from his young teen years. Although his spirit was now resting in Scotland, his first job over a hundred years ago was as a stable lad at Blenheim Palace, the home of the Duke of Marlborough. He would travel with the racehorses to Chantilly in France, probably sleep with them, was promoted as coachman at Blenheim and eventually, still a teenager, bravely left his native England to take up a position as coachman in Scotland at Brechin Castle. There had been a stronghold castle there high above the River South Esk since the 13th century and in the same family with Scottish royal connections all these years. Early In the 20th century the Earl was the first man in Brechin to own a motor car. Young Stephen then had to forego his horse reins for a steering wheel and learn to drive on the job. No driving instructors around and certainly no driving test! He was the first man in Brechin to drive an automobile, yet he retained his love of horses all his life. Maybe that was why he wakened from his slumbers on Sunday 10th September 2022. The royal hearse slowly pulled off the A90 and made its way to Brechin Castle for a comfort break. Anne, the Princess Royal did not hear Stephen have a chat with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s spirit. Of course, it was about horses. She was not wearing a crown, rather a silk scarf tied around her head….. Hermes, of course. After forty odd minutes, the cortège left with hearse driver and the Princess fed and rested. The ghost of my grandfather Stephen could not go back to sleep.

That following Christmas he happily accepted Santa’s invitation to Lapland. There was someone called Philip who fancied himself as a horse carriage driver. Grandpa was a good twelve inches shorter and thought he might have the advantage crouched lower in an icy wind driving that sleigh and horses. He had been a betting man and wondered if Rudolph would give him good odds against the Greek. He was not past bribing the red nosed reindeer with cough lozenges, Vick and soft tissues. Former coachman Stephen was no saint.

It was snowing as Father Christmas took off from the Scottish castle. He was glad he and the reindeer were wearing long scarves to keep warm. His thoughts turned to Lapland. He wondered about that 200 kilometre wall to be built along Finland’s border with Russia to keep out migrants. Would that help in some way to deter Putin‘s aggression and Ukraine’s grain supply would flow again? He had not been happy with his reduced rations of sandwiches and was grateful he had a good supply of mince pies left on doorsteps by hopeful children. The carrots alongside for the reindeer were not quite the same as lichen but they would help Dasher and Dancer see better in the dark to get them home for the 26th. Children, eager for gifts, were not past bribing either with doorstep offerings! The world was finally wakening to the danger of global warming and hopefully doing something about it. Joyfully the robins were fat. Lots of holly berries around, but due to bird flu not so much cold turkey left over for Boxing Day, or should I say the Feast of St.Stephen?

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