No, I don’t know why I’ve got a picture of a meerkat in a blog that’s mostly about cat-cats, and under the title And Shepherds Still To Do. My normal approach is to look for a picture that matches the story, a picture that tells a little story in itself, a picture that inspires a hitherto unthought-of post or a picture that contains some oblique little jokey reference for the connoisseur of visual obliquities. Occasionally, I can’t find a picture to fill any of those categories and if in doubt, I always say, insert a cat. What’s not to enjoy about a picture of a cat?

But this little meerkat has been jumping out at me for some time. Probably he reminds me of the eight (or so) month struggle I had to persuade my free Aleksandr Orlov toy to cease his endless travels and turn up at my house. As you may know, there is a particular comparison website (I will include a link in case you’re interested – not being paid to advertise them, honest) which has been running a long and successful advertising campaign featuring eccentric meerkat characters, and the meerkat of all meerkats is Aleksandr Orlov.

The idea is if you use their comparison website and actually change – I can’t remember what it was – electricity providers, say – you can apply for a free fluffy meerkat. I’m not a great one for soft toys – since my mother broke my twenty-one year old heart by giving my teddy to Oxfam without my permission I have never felt quite the same about them. The only other one I have is a tiger called Kevin. He has been with me for years and is getting rather dog-eared and dusty, up on the top shelf.

Aleksandr sent me one charming email after another, all in his colourful Eastern European version of the English language, explaining that PostKat was in fact on his way with my free meerkat toy, but had currently made a detour to ski in St Moritz, or was touring Rome. There was even a map, upon which you could track his meandering progress around Europe. What really got my goat was when the map revealed that PostKat had got as far as Calais but had chosen to veer off to view the spring bulbs in Holland then peruse noir detective novels at some Scandinavian bookfest or other instead of just nipping across on Eurostar to deliver my Aleksandr.

I mean, it started off amusing, but one did begin to wonder – does Aleksandr actually exist? Might Postkat be a figment of some cynical ad-person’s imagination? Was it possible that these emails were coming from a warehouse in Milton Keynes or Blackburn, Lancashire as opposed to the Russian village of Meerkovo?

That aside – Shepherds Still To Do. What’s that all about then?

Well, I’ve been working on a sequence of Christmas short stories for this blog – kind of nativity re-tellings set in London, East Anglia and – well, they could end up anywhere in the UK, I haven’t yet finished the sequence. They won’t appeal to everyone – and please don’t think I’m trying make everyone a Christian and that every future post will be full of earnest debates as to how many angels might fit on the head of a pin. I’m not at all sure that I’m a Christian. I don’t know what I am, if anything. I went, or rather was despatched, to “the Methodist” every Sunday morning as a child. After that was Sunday Dinner with Nan and Grandad, which I looked forward to rather more. My parents were professed agnostics (they were always everything together, no separate opinions). I expect they just needed a few hours of peace and quiet. I expect I was terminally annoying as a child, or maybe they were just looking forward to manufacturing a couple of sisters for me.

So I went; I got stars for regular attendance in my little blue book; I got a copy of the Bible, now falling to bits and replaced with a Hagrid-sized paperback version, complete with Apocrypha, which I have not tried out yet. I don’t think the Methodists approved of the Apocrypha – at any rate it wasn’t in my old Bible. I relished the stories – as I would come to relish all stories, read, told or for the telling – and loved being able to sing great old hymns and carols somewhat out of tune at the top of my voice. I stopped going at the age sixteen because it clashed with strawberry-picking and a rather handsome farm manager, and never went back (well, I did go back with my sister, on one memorable occasion, but that’s a previous post and I can’t remember what I called it, off the top of my head).

Subsequently I got into Buddhism, and Mysticism, Philosophy, Particle Physics (please don’t test that out – I’m not pretending to have understood it, mostly) Neuroscience (ditto) and New Age timey-wimey stuff generally. I read and I thought and I wondered and I tried to fit it all together, tried to make sense of it all. (Still failing at that.) But just recently those Bible stories have come back to me. I just need them again. Maybe they’re comfort food for my declining years adrift in this chill, dank decade – the literary equivalent of tomato soup.

Which I loathe with a passion.

The first of the new story sequence is scheduled to come in on 1st December, so next – whatever – Tuesday? They’re all based on the gospel of Luke, by the way. Luke was my favourite as a child. If I’d been a boy I was convinced that would have been my name. So far I’ve completed my versions the annunciations – to Zacharias and to Mary, and the nativity itself, which covers three posts. Still to come – the Shepherds – oh no – and the Three Wise Men. And unfortunately (for me) the Wise Men are holding out for a post each – and time is catching up with me. I’d like to finish the sequence before the scheduled posts run out, thus effecting a seamless segue (I love that word, whatever it means). I said to them – couldn’t you all squeeze in together? It’d be much tidier and then I could get on with something else. A bit of non-fiction, perhaps? No way, they say.

PS: I should warn sensitive readers – there will be an ice-cream van. It’s the equivalent of the donkey. I didn’t ask for an ice-cream van – it just arrived in the plot, thankfully not playing Popeye the Sailor Man. And I mean, there aren’t so many donkeys wandering free in East Anglia nowadays.


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