6 Dec 2010

The Christmas Eve Ghost

When I was a teenager not all that terribly long ago, my dear parents warned me against dating certain boys. They:
  • Shouldn't have worn braces in their youth;
  • Could not drive a panel van; and
  • Definitely must not be Catholic.
Now the first warning is financial - boys who wore braces are more likely to begat children with crooked teeth, and orthodontists are expensive. Excellent advice.

The second is self evident - for Aussies who were dating in the 70s it is, anyhow...

The third, though - the third points to the staunchly held position still prevalent at the time of my youth that Catholics and Protestants should not mix. Absolutely and positively not on first dates. Preferably never.

Clearly, Bronwen and Dylan's mother thought the same...

They had moved to Liverpool from their village in Wales after their Da had died. Mam earned a meager living for the three of them by doing other people's washing. Early in the morning while Bronwen and Dylan slept, Mam would collect the dirty washing from the well-off people in the better part of the city and then rush back to be home when the children awoke. The next morning she would return the clean washing, ironed and beautifully folded, and collect some more.

In the evenings, Mam was mostly too tired to do anything except sit and look into the fire and remember when things were different, but sometimes she told Bronwen and Dylan thrilling stories about dragons and hauntings, and wicked devils with tales, and ghosties that came down the chimney at night.

On Sundays Bronwen and Dylan and Mam sang hymns in Chapel. It was plain, with whitewashed walls.

Their next-door-neighbours were the O'Rileys. The O'Rileys did not go the Chapel. They went to a different church. Their church had beautiful statues and coloured class and lighted candles.

Bronwen and Dylan were not to speak to the O'Rileys. They were not to go near their church either. Their church was for a different sort of people, not their kind. Bronwen thought it was very strange, but she did as Mam told her. Mam's face was stern and serious.

On Christmas Eve Mam washed clothes and Bronwen and Dylan went with her delivering it all around the houses. When Dylan's little legs were tired from all the walking, Mam took them home. But Mam still had more shopping to do. She didn't like to leave the children alone in the house after dark, but she wasn't going to be long...

"Don't answer the door if anyone knocks," she said as she left the house. Bronwen and Dylan talked about Father Christmas and waited for Mam to return.

Then there came a knock. But not at the door. It was coming from the back of the house in the dark corner by the copper.

"Plonk," it went, "Plonk! Plonk!" "Plonk! Plonk! Plonk! Plonk!"

"It's that horrid ghostie coming down the chimney to get us!" shrieked Dylan.

The two children bolted, screaming, through the kitchen and onto the street. Straight into the arms of Mrs O'Riley coming home with the family shopping...

What will they find when they go 'next door'? What is the Christmas Eve ghost? What does Mam say?

The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes is my pic of the Christmas Books for 2010. It is a wonderful addition to our Basket of Delights. It's available in Oz from Readings and Reader's Feast. For those wondering, there is nothing supernatural in the book, and there are no ghosts and spirits. Not really.

Shirley Hughes herself talks about The Christmas Eve Ghost on this video. Listen for her comments about reading aloud to children, and have a gander at her beautiful sketch books. Covetously sublime.

You'll be pleased to know that my Beloved is not a Catholic. He has never driven a panel van, and he has beautiful teeth.

I do as I'm told.

I'm a good girl, aren't I?


  1. I was curious about that book. Thanks for such a suspenseful review. I can't wait to read the actual book!

  2. I adore Shirely Hughes. Her illustrations are to die for. Her books were always amongst our *must reads* when mine were little. No littlies any more but that won't necessarily stop me from reading this one. lol

  3. Did Shirley Hughes write _An Evening at Alfie's_? Her name sounds familiar...

    I *did* marry a Catholic (lapsed), but now he's a good Presbyterian. Ha ha!

  4. That is a really interesting book review, I want to know what happens next.

    Ah the panel vans! I was a teen in the 80s (dating in the 90s) and I remember the boys at school who were 'a panel van man!!' No good girls were seen talking to them.

    Catholic and Protestants; my Dad was Protestant and mum Catholic in the 60s, a real furor on my Dad's side!!!

  5. We LOVE Shirley Hughes - Dogger is one of our all-time favorites! I need to have this one, too. Sigh. It never stops, does it?

  6. Looks great!!!! "My Naughty Little Sister" by Shirley Hughes is really cute, too.

  7. Have just bought this book to go in our Christmas book box!We are great fans of Shirley Hughes!For older children she has illustrated a new edition of 'The Thirteen days of Christmas' another lovely book for Christmas.

  8. Thanks for the book plug! I can't wait to order this one. Shirley Hughes is a perpetual favorite with us. I had no idea she was still writing.

  9. We'll have to start our Christmas reading on Nov. 1st next year.

    ...and visions of braces-wearing, panel-van driving Catholic boys danced in their heads.

  10. Glad I took the time to watch the video - how much fun to see Shirley Hughes at work!

  11. Who would we have dated then? EVERYONE in my high school [except me who refused] had braces!! It was a very middle class area and most of the parents had General Motors employee benefits!


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