Ukulele

Here’s a story that didn’t make it into the bible. I’m sure it must have made the short-list, though.

When Noah was loading the animals onto the ark, he made sure he took as many as the ark would hold, and then some. That meant that there was very little space for any personal possessions. But, however tightly you pack a space, there’s always room for a ukulele and Noah found he could take two.

Noah and Mrs. Noah used to play their ukuleles on the stormy evenings afloat in order to calm down the animals and cheer them up.

That means that all musical instruments on the earth today are descended from that pair of ukuleles, and it explains why nothing cheers the heart like a song on a uke.

 

Saving Santa

Here’s this year’s Christmas story …

Nicholas stared out of the window at the night sky, unable to sleep. “How did it come to this?” he wondered. It had started out so well – being nice to children, giving them little gifts, bringing a bit of magic and joy into their little lives. The big mistake was teaming up with that dastardly deer, Rudi “The Nose”. If only he hadn’t listened to Dasher and Dancer, he thought, but he couldn’t really blame them. Like him, they weren’t getting any younger and it seemed like children demanded more each year. It was a struggle to get everything done, and there was little joy in the work. So when Dasher and Dancer mentioned this reindeer they had met at a special club they belonged to, Nicholas agreed to meet him and hear his ideas.

Rudi made it sound so easy. He would provide a bigger sleigh and a couple of extra reindeer to help pull it. Greater speed and greater capacity would get the job done with less effort. When, next Christmas, Rudi suggested an even larger sleigh, Nicholas didn’t need convincing.

The next winter, elves started knocking on the workshop door, looking for casual work. They came just at the right time, when Nicholas was wondering how he would ever source and wrap the huge number of presents the children were asking for, let alone load them onto the sleigh in a sensible order. The elves were a god-send, or perhaps, a little voice whispered within him, a deer-send.

Before long, Nicholas’s latest sleigh was so big that he had to employ nine reindeer to pull it. He also had fifteen elves on permanent staff throughout the year. Not only did he have to pay their wages, but he had paid for a new cabin to be built for them to live in. Well, he hadn’t paid for it yet. Like always, Rudi’s terms had been very attractive, if rather vague, and Nicholas was sure that his expanding enterprise would soon start turning a profit.

At least, he had been sure. But each year, the costs seemed to increase. It wasn’t just the elves and their cabins, the extra reindeer and the upgrades to the sleigh and the vast industrial facility they still quaintly called the workshop. Children who, long ago, had been happy with nuts, oranges and sweets in a stocking, now wanted electronics and all sorts of expensive gadgets, leaving huge plastic sacks out for Nicholas to fill. When Rudi started to mention getting some return on his investment and started to mention numbers, Nicholas was stunned. He hadn’t noticed how much he’d let things get out of hand. Rudi started getting a lot less pleasant. The elves started complaining about their pay and conditions. Even the reindeer became surly and Nicholas was sure they were calling him names. It seemed that Rudi had some kind of hold on them all. Nicholas couldn’t help feeling it had something to do with that strange, almost-glowing, red nose of his.

It was the night before Christmas Eve and Nicholas couldn’t sleep, he was so worried. As he lay in his bed, looking through the window at the stars, one star seemed to shine more brightly, as if it were calling to him. He tip-toed past the snoring elves and through the workshop, piled high with toys and games, computers and TVs, all destined for children’s bedrooms in a few hours’ time. Past the sleeping reindeer, and he was outside in the silence of the night.

There was the star! Nicholas walked along the path made in the snow by the star’s light until he came to a cave. In the cave were three men kneeling in front of a feeding trough. In the trough was a baby, and the light shining from the baby was brighter than any star (or any reindeer’s nose, for that matter).

Nicholas watched as the three men offered presents to the baby. Nicholas crept in and knelt beside them. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. I had forgotten who it was all for. Every gift was for you. Every child was you. And I’ve forgotten that. I’ve forgotten what love looks like and what love looks for.” As Nicholas knelt in front of the baby, his tears rolling down onto the ground, he felt a hand touch his shoulder. It was the child’s mother. She gently helped him up, wiped his face, kissed his cheek and turned him towards the workshop. “Thank you,” he said. Nicholas knew what he had to do.

Around the back of the workshop, Nicholas quietly opened the door of a tumble-down shed. With all his strength he pulled out the old sleigh. Once on the snow, the going was easier and by the time the sun started to rise, Nicholas was well on his way, away from Rudi, away from the elves, away from the gleaming piles of stuff, away to a new life with nothing but an empty sleigh and a heart so full he thought it might burst.

*     *     *

The presents still arrive in children’s bedrooms every Christmas Eve, just like before. Children still write their lists and dream of a jolly man in red coming down the chimney with a sack full of toys. Whether the toys are actually delivered by a jolly man in red or by an over-worked elf on a tight schedule, no one is awake to see.

Meanwhile, sometimes, and not only at Christmas, a young woman at her wits’ end to see any option other than the streets will awaken to find a small bag of money next to her pillow. Sometimes, sailors who have survived a terrible storm will tell tall tales about seeing a man through the spray, standing on the prow, pointing at a star that guided the ship to safety. Sometimes, a prisoner, wrongly accused, will be awoken and told that her fine has been paid and she can go free. Sometimes, a child who hasn’t eaten for days will discover an orange and some nuts in their shoes in the morning.

And there’s a shabby-looking mini-cab driver in Basingstoke with a slight Norwegian accent, who can’t be found as often as he can, whose old car doesn’t so much rattle as jingle, who doesn’t say much, but when he looks at you it’s as if he’s looking at royalty. Many of his customers don’t even notice, but some who do find their heart swelling and something thawing inside them and a few wonder if it might be possible in these days to be a saint.

 

 

The Little Hen’s Egg

I’m going to tell this story to the pre-school children tomorrow.  Against the background of my current reading about a Steady State Economy (“Enough is Enough” – Rob Dietz & Dan O’Neill), it feels appropriate.  So – are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin …

Once upon a time, there was a little hen.  She lived on a farm with a cow, a sheep and a goat.  Not far from the farm there lived a fox.

One day, the little hen laid an egg.  It was her very first egg.  Because it was her first egg, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.  The cow, the sheep and the goat were very excited about the little hen’s egg, but the hen didn’t see why.  So when the fox came along and offered to swap her egg for a nice fat wriggly worm, the little hen didn’t see why not, and said ‘Yes’.

When the cow and the sheep and the goat found out about this, they were horrified.  They said, ‘How could you be so silly?  Your egg is worth a lot more than a worm.  You shouldn’t have sold it to the fox.’

So the hen, the cow, the sheep and the goat went to see the fox.  The little hen said, ‘Please could I have my egg back?’  The fox said – ‘No’.

The cow said, ‘Will you swap the little hen’s egg for some lovely fresh milk?’  The fox said – ‘No’

The sheep said, ‘Will you swap the little hen’s egg for some lovely warm wool?’  The fox said – ‘No’

The goat said, ‘Will you swap the little hen’s egg for some lovely tasty cheese?  The fox said – ‘No’.

The fox said, ‘I am going to cook this egg and eat it with some toast and butter for my tea.  Egg and toast is my favourite food’.

The little hen was really upset to hear this.  By now, she really wanted her egg back.  But the animals could see that they would have to think of a really clever plan.  So the cow and the sheep and the goat put their heads together and hatched a really clever plan.  They found a big, round stone at the edge of the farmyard.  In fact, it looked a little bit egg shaped.  Then they found a pot of white paint in a corner of the barn.  They painted the stone and rolled it out to where the fox lived.

They said, ‘Will you swap this enormous white egg for that tiny little brown one?’  The greedy fox licked his lips.  He thought to himself, ‘These animals must be really stupid’.  He gave them the little hen’s egg and then, with all his strength, he lifted the big white stone egg into a pan of water he had ready.

The cow and the sheep and the goat took the egg back to the little hen.  She was delighted.  She took her egg to the barn and sat on it until, a few days later, out popped a little chicken.

They never saw the fox again.  Some say that he is still waiting for his enormous egg to cook.

 

Reindeer

Here’s this year’s Christmas story …

You know Dasher & Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall Robert the Reindeer?  No?  Well there’s a very good reason for that. . .

Robert the reindeer was out with the herd in Lapland, grazing on some lovely moss. The snow was falling thick and fast. Then the snow fell thicker and faster. Then the snow fell the thickest and the fastest that any reindeer had ever seen snow fall.

Robert looked up from the snowy moss and he couldn’t see a thing except for snow.  He thought he had better find the rest of the herd.  He walked through the snow storm to where the other reindeer had been grazing, but he didn’t find them.  Robert kept walking and walking, hoping to find his friends, but they were nowhere to be seen.

As Robert walked, the snow turned to rain and then the rain turned to sunshine. Robert kept walking. It got hotter and hotter.

One day he came across a man and a woman sitting by the roadside. There was a donkey standing near them, with her head hanging down. In fact, they all looked very fed up.

“What’s up?” asked Robert.

“I’ve sprained my ankle on a big stone,” said the donkey. “And now it’s too painful to walk.”

“You need to rest that ankle,” said Robert.

“I know,” said the donkey, “but these people are on a journey. The woman is going to have a baby soon, and she needs to get to where they’re going as quickly as possible.”

“Well, I’m trying to find my friends,” said Robert. “But I don’t mind taking these poor people where they need to go. Then I can carry on with my search.”

Well, if a donkey can talk to a reindeer, it’s not so hard to believe that the man and the woman quickly figured out that this strange creature was offering them a lift. The man helped the woman to climb on Robert’s back, and then he led the way.

The next evening, they arrived at a little village.  The man knocked on the door of several houses, but the people didn’t seem very friendly. In the end they found a stable and the woman gave birth there on a pile of hay.

Robert heard some beautiful singing and he looked out of the doorway. There in the sky was the most beautiful star, and it seemed to be singing to Robert. He felt that he had to walk in the direction of the star, so he set off.

Robert walked and walked. He rested in the daytime, so that he could follow the star at night.  As he walked, it got colder and colder.

One day, Robert saw a reindeer, and then another reindeer, and then another.  He was back with his friends in Lapland!  They were really pleased to see each other again.

Back in Bethlehem, no one knew what a reindeer was. So when people told the story about Jesus being born in a stable, they cut out the bit about the reindeer and pretended that the donkey had taken Mary all the way.  They thought it wasn’t a very important detail, because that’s the way many people think about animals, and Robert the reindeer was soon forgotten.

But God had seen everything.  God had seen how, even though Robert wanted to find his friends, he had chosen to help a poorly donkey and a man and a woman in need. Because of Robert the reindeer, God’s son had been born in the right place, and God was very pleased about that.  So God gave Robert the reindeer a special present. And because God didn’t want to cause the reindeer any problems, he gave the same special present to all the reindeer, and they were all delighted.

So now you know why you haven’t heard of Robert the reindeer.  You also know now why reindeer are so proud of the fantastic crown of antlers that they wear on their heads.

Reindeer head

 

 

The Christmas Wolf

There’s a little voice in my head asking what’s wrong with the Christmas stories in the Bible, that I feel the need to write new ones.  But I can hardly hear that little voice, because of a much louder voice howling like a wolf – “Aarroooooo!”  

Here’s this year’s story …   (The biblical background is Isaiah 11.1-9)

 

Once upon a time, far away on a hillside outside a little village called Bethlehem, there were some shepherds looking after their sheep.  They took it in turns to keep watch through the frosty, moonlit night, because they knew that they might not be the only ones watching the sheep.

Sure enough, hidden in the shadow of a big rock, was a wolf, and he was also keeping a close eye on the sheep.  In particular, he was keeping a close eye on one of the lambs, just a few weeks old, who looked very tender and tasty.

Suddenly, the sky grew bright as if the sun had risen in the middle of the night, and the wolf slipped behind the rock.  He could hear a voice, but he couldn’t understand human speech – although the voice didn’t sound like any human he’d heard before.  Then there was some singing, and then everything went quiet and dark and normal again.

The wolf peered around the rock and was delighted to see that the shepherds were walking down the hillside towards the village – every single one of them – leaving the sheep completely unprotected.  The wolf couldn’t believe his luck!  That lamb was his for the taking.  He started slinking slowly out of the shadows, towards the flock of sheep.  But then, as if out of nowhere, a big old wolf blocked his way.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked the old wolf.

“I’m hungry, and that lamb is my supper,” replied the younger wolf.

“The sheep belong to God tonight,” said the old wolf.

“But God doesn’t eat sheep!”

“True, but God protects the weak and saves the lost.”

The young wolf felt very frustrated.  “I am weak with hunger,” he pleaded, “and I am frightened of men, with their slings and their sticks.  The men have gone.  Surely God has given that lamb to me.  Let me eat.”

The old wolf shook his shaggy mane, making himself seem even bigger than before.  He said, “The men have gone to see God’s son, who has been born tonight in the village.  God has sent them to worship the baby.  God is looking after his sheep tonight.”

“But what about me?” asked the young wolf.  “Doesn’t God care about me too?”

“That’s why the baby has been born,” said the old wolf gently.  “The baby is God come into the world to make peace.   Peace between God and the world, and peace between all God’s creatures.  Tell me – do you enjoy being frightened?  Do you enjoy being feared?

“No,” admitted the young wolf.  “I do not enjoy fear from either side of it.  But it is the way the world is.  It has always been like that and always will be.”

“It is the way the world is,” said the old wolf, “because the world is broken by fear.  This baby makes peace.  He will heal the world and make it new.  The wolf will live in peace with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion, and a little child will lead them.  That child in Bethlehem – he will lead the world to peace.”

“That is a wonderful thought,” said the young wolf.  “Tonight, in honour of God and his baby son, I will live in peace with that lamb.”   And he bowed his head low.

When he lifted his head, the old wolf was nowhere to be seen.  There wasn’t even a paw-print in the frost.  But the young wolf knew that he had been in the presence of God.   He didn’t feel hungry and frightened any more.  He felt a warm glow of life within him and he leapt up onto the rock and lifted his head to the stars.

And some say that when the angels sang that starry night above the fields of Bethlehem, amongst the sopranos and altos, the tenors and basses, you could hear a wolf lifting his voice in praise to God – Aaroooooooo!

 

Wolf lamb and bear

 

 

 

 

Elijah’s Christmas

This is golden oldie, written in 1997.  The bible background is 1 Kings 19.1-18.

Elijah’s Christmas

The prophet Elijah was sitting in his cave, feeling sorry for himself.  An angel appeared to him and said, ‘Cheer up.  God loves you.’

Elijah said to the angel, ‘That’s easy enough for you to say.  You don’t have to live here, day after day.  You don’t have to make your way through this miserable, mixed-up world.  You don’t have to deal with the same stubborn, godless people every day.  You don’t have to try to live a good, godly life amongst all the sin and wickedness and debauchery and devil-may-care partying.  You don’t live my kind of life.  You can just breeze in, deliver your message, and shoot off back to heaven.’

But the angel replied, ‘No, really, God does love you.’

Elijah said, ‘Look.  All the things I’ve said about you, I could say about God.  This rotten world’s going down the drain.  Everyone hates each other.  Relationships are breaking down.  There’s dreadful poverty right next to fantastic wealth and no-one seems to care.  No-one’s bothered about God.  What does God really know as he peers down from his lofty throne?  What does God really know about what life on this planet is actually like?  How can God love us when he does nothing to help us except send angels now and then to say, “God loves you.”  There comes a point when words just aren’t enough.  What we need is action.  So don’t you stand there saying your piece over and over again.  Clear off!’

The angel fluttered to the entrance of the cave, safely out of Elijah’s reach.  He said, ‘God loves you, Elijah.  God loves everyone, and he’s going to prove it.  He is going to do something, and I’m going to show you what it is.  Watch this space.’  And the angel disappeared.

Elijah stared at the mouth of his cave.  Suddenly it started to snow.  ‘That’s odd for this time of year,’ said Elijah.  ‘Must be God.’  But God wasn’t in the snowstorm.

Then Elijah heard sleigh-bells, but God wasn’t in the sleigh-bells.

Then Elijah heard a deep voice booming, ‘Ho Ho Ho!’  But God wasn’t in the voice.

Elijah heard carol singers, oxen lowing, sheep bleating, donkeys braying, robins tweeting, envelopes being opened, carving knives being sharpened, corks popping, crackers cracking, fathers snoring, shepherds singing lullabyes and a little drummer boy.  But God wasn’t in any of these.

‘You’re wasting my time!’ shouted Elijah above the din.  Then he heard a choir of thousands of angels singing their hearts out.  ‘Now that’s more like it,’ thought Elijah.  But God wasn’t even in the angels’ singing.

Suddenly, all the noise went quiet, and the snow stopped falling.  The snow on the ground melted and made everything muddy.  Elijah strained his eyes in the darkness and his ears in the silence.  All he could hear was, very faintly, the crying of a baby.  And God was in the crying.

Elijah wrapped his cloak around him and went out to the entrance of his cave.  ‘It’ll never work,’ he said to the darkness and the silence.  ‘It’ll never work.  The risks are too great.  Anyway, how can a baby save the world and prove anything about God’s love?  The whole idea’s cock-eyed.  Now, those thousands of angels – that was on the right track.  But a baby …?’

The baby was still crying, and the more that Elijah thought about it and the more that he listened to the crying, the more he wondered if, maybe, this was just what was needed – this was exactly the way – perhaps the only way – to save the world.

© 1997, Alex Mabbs.

Santa the Wise Man

This was a skit I performed (with the Big Man himself, of course) at our Christmas Eve fancy-dress crib service in 2010 (and repeated at our monthly cafe service, The Junction, last Sunday evening).  I thought it might be appropriate to post it on St Nicholas’ Day today.

 

Conversation between Father Christmas & Alex the Elf.

Elf: Father Christmas – thank you for taking time to come and see us on your busiest day.

FC: Good to have an excuse to get out of my workshop.  The real elves (no offence (none taken)) are driving me mad – always under my feet and chat chat chat chat chat.  I long for some peace and quiet.  I’m getting old, you know.  Too old, perhaps.

Elf: Take the weight off your feet & have a rest.  You’ve been doing this job for a long time, Father Christmas.  Just how old are you?

FC: I lost count a long time ago.  Somehow I just keep going.

Elf: You must have met some famous people over the years.

FC: Well, of course, I only visit children.  It’s only later, when they grow up, that I remember the little child who ended up doing something amazing.

Elf: And I guess they’re always asleep, too.

FC: Yes, that’s right.  But, you know, talking about this does remind me of one time, a very long time ago, when I visited this baby who I just knew was going to be amazing – who was amazing, even as a baby.

Elf: Aren’t all babies amazing?

FC: They are, but I didn’t think so then.  Back then, I was in a different line of work – still magical but different.  There was me and two others in a partnership, looking at the stars and re-telling the stories they told.  One night, we saw this incredible star – one we hadn’t seen before, and as we stared at it and tried to listen to it, we started to think the most amazing thought.  God was up to something, something that would change the world.

Elf: And the star was telling you this?

FC: In its own way, yes.  The trouble was, as we looked at it, it started to move west.  We lost sight of it and quickly packed some bags of supplies and set off to find the star again.  Every night we found it and followed it as it moved, all the time with the thought growing in our minds that it was leading us to a baby – a baby born to be a King – a baby sent from God.

Elf: So where did you end up?

FC: The star led us to a country far from our home, a country called Judea.  We lost sight of the star for a rainy night or two, but we figured that a baby born to be a king would be in the king’s palace, so that’s where we went.

Elf: And did you find him?

FC: No, but the king was very helpful.  He asked his advisors and they looked in the bible and said that we should look in a village not far away, called Bethlehem.  And when we left the palace, the sky had cleared, and there was the star again!

Elf: And was it still moving?

FC: Yes.  It was moving south towards Bethlehem.  But we suddenly realised that we were about to visit the most amazing child ever born – a baby sent from God – and we had nothing to give him.

Elf: So what did you do?

FC: We went back into the city and sold our camels. (In those days I didn’t know there was such an animal as a reindeer.  I’d rather have a reindeer than a camel any day.)  Anyway, with the money, we bought some gifts for the baby.  Well – the others bought gifts – incense and myrhh – but I thought the money might be more useful, and decided I’d give him the gold coins I’d been paid for my camel.

Elf: So you had to walk now?

FC: Yes, but it wasn’t very far, and the next night, the star stopped over this mean little house – more of a stable really – full of animals.   But there, inside, was the baby and his mother.  There was a man there too, but I don’t think he was the father, because we knew, as soon as we saw the child, that this baby was God’s own son, and all we could do was fall to our knees in front of him and worship.

Elf: This is a really amazing story.  Are you sure it’s true?  Were you really there for the birth of Jesus?  Are you telling me that one of the three wise men became Father Christmas?

FC: Well, Alex, hmm, I think it’s true, but then I’m very old and I’ve heard a lot of stories in my long life and sometimes I think I get the stories a bit muddled.  But one thing I know is true is that there was a baby born in Bethlehem all those years ago who was God’s son, and he showed the world how much God loves everyone.  And another thing I know is true – every time I leave a proper present by the bedside of a sleeping child, I look at each of their faces and I think of that baby in Bethlehem.  I remember Jesus in that little hut, lying in the straw, and I think how much God must love these children, that he would become like them – even the poorest of them.  And I wonder what they will do with the gifts God gives them and if they will become like him?  Wouldn’t the world be amazing if children grew up to be like Jesus?  And so all I want to do is visit them on a special night and help them to believe that they are special – because God loves them.

Elf (probably wiping away a little tear): Thank you very much, Father Christmas.  I think I can hear the reindeer pawing impatiently on the roof, and I know you’ll be coming back in a few hours time to visit these children, so I think we’d better say goodbye for now.

FC: Goodbye everybody!  Happy Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Woman and the Tree

Once upon a time an old woman moved into a new house.  She wasn’t a very nice woman.  She was rude and unfriendly and didn’t have any friends.  Her new neighbours soon gave up trying to be kind to her, as she was just mean and nasty in return.

In the garden of the woman’s house, there was a little tree.  It didn’t look very nice – the leaves were blotchy, there were branches broken off and there was ivy growing up the trunk.  The old woman had never cared for anyone in her life, but there was little point being rude to a tree.  So she pulled off the ivy.  She pruned off the broken branches, leaving just two spindly little ones.  She watered it every day with old tea and tealeaves from her teapot.

The little tree started to look a bit healthier.  That summer, just one apple appeared on one of the branches.  “Ah – it’s an apple tree,” said the old woman.  When it was ripe, she picked the apple and ate it.  It was delicious.

Later that day, the old woman went to post a letter.  On her way she passed her next-door neighbour, and, before she knew what she was doing, she said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Brown.  Isn’t it a lovely day.  You’re looking very well today.”  It was hard to say which woman was more surprised, but both of them went on their way feeling happier.

A week later, the old woman saw a pear on the other branch of the little tree.  “How odd,” she said to herself.  “Perhaps it’s a pear tree after all.”  As the pear looked nice and ripe, she picked it and ate it.  It was just right – not too hard, not too soft, but sweet and juicy.

Later that day, the old woman went to the bank.  She didn’t like going to the bank, and, as usual, there was a long queue.  Normally, she became very irritated in a long queue and made lots of impatient comments and sighed loudly and so on.    But today, she just didn’t feel like doing that.  To her surprise, she found herself humming a little tune, and thinking about the other people in the queue and the bank clerks behind the counter who were looking hassled.  When it was her turn and the clerk said, “Sorry to keep you waiting,” the old woman just said, “That’s alright.  You’re very busy today.”  Then she went home still humming and feeling quite happy.

A week later, the old woman noticed a banana growing on the little tree.  “Now, that is very odd,” she thought to herself.   She looked a little closer and it seemed to her that the little tree was a slightly different shape.  Its two branches looked thicker, somehow, and not so grey.  And it was definitely a banana – nice and yellow and ready to eat.  So she ate it and it was delicious.

Later that day, the old woman was going out to the shops when she saw a pigeon on the pavement and the pigeon didn’t fly away.  “It looks like its wing is broken,” said the old woman, and so it was.  Now, the old woman didn’t like animals and, in particular, she didn’t like pigeons.  But, to her surprise, she found herself gently picking up the pigeon, putting it into her shopping basket and, rather than turn left to the shops, she turned right and took the pigeon to the vet.  The vet put a splint on the pigeon’s broken wing, and told the old woman how she could care for it while it got better.  And that’s what she did, without a single grumble.  She felt sad when the pigeon was better and flew away, but deep down she felt a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.

Well, all that summer and autumn, the little tree kept producing a different fruit every week.  A nectarine, then an orange, then a grapefruit, then a plum, then a grape.  By the time the old woman picked a lemon in October, she thought that the little tree was looking almost human.  She knew that she was changing, too, with every fruit she ate from the little tree.  She was becoming more loving, more patient, kinder, gentler, peaceful – she was becoming a better person and, for the first time in her life, she felt happy.

But one morning, the old woman looked out of her window and the little tree had gone.  “Oh no!” she cried.  “My lovely little tree!” and she burst into tears.

Just then there was a knock on her back door.  The old woman opened the door and there stood a boy.  He looked strangely familiar, dirty and, frankly, a little mossy.  “Hello,” he said.  “I wonder if you could please spare me something to eat.  I feel like I haven’t eaten for ages”.  “Of course,” said the old woman, and, drying her eyes on her apron, sat the boy at the table and gave him breakfast.  The boy told the old woman that he didn’t have a family or a home.  The old woman said, “You can live with me.”

So he did, and they lived happily ever after – the old woman who used to be mean and nasty and the boy who used to be a tree – two people who had both made each other human.