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On the twelfth day before Christmas, Harpo the Cat said “Merry Christmas!” to me. He doesn’t really understand the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars and so he gets the date wrong every year.

“Bah! Hard-boiled, stripey, peppermint sweet!” I said back to him. He looked puzzled, as well he might. He’s never seen a humbug, and even if he had, I doubt if he’d be very interested in it. Though I suppose I could sprinkle it with catnip...

Neither Bess nor Harpo bought me a Christmas present this year, unless you count the extremely small baby mouse I found in my left shoe one morning. I was mildly displeased by their lack of generosity since I’d already done a special shopping trip to buy them a packet of cat treats and a tin of sliced beef in gravy, which they I was sure they would hate because it was new.

Now that we were on the countdown to Christmas, Robin and I began to formulate our gastronomic plans for the festivities. “Perhaps we could turn the whole house into a drinkerie and eaterie establishment,” I suggested.

“Good idea,” said Robin, “but we need a name for it so that we can put up a sign.”

“Oh, I’ve already thought of a name,” I said. “I’m going to call it the Bar Humbug.”

“Will it be open to the public?” asked Robin.

“Of course it won’t be open to the public,” I said. “The only customers will be you, me, Bess and Harpo. And Santa Hats are banned.”

“What food shall we prepare and serve in the Bar Humbug?” asked Robin.

“How about smoked dascyllus aruanus?” I said, showing off my googling skills.

“What’s that?” Robin looked dubious. “Is it anything like salmon?”

“It’s very like salmon,” I said, “only completely different. It’s a small stripey fish found throughout the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. It’s commonly known as the Humbug Damselfish, presumably because it looks rather like the boiled sweet.”

“Sounds appropriate,” said Robin, “but I think I’d rather have salmon.”

“OK – salmon it is,” I agreed. “But we’ll call it dascyllus aruanus anyway. Nobody will be able to tell the difference. Now, what about drinks?”

“The humbug cocktail sounds interesting,” said Robin who is also a good googler.

“What are the ingredients?”

“One part white crème de cacao, one part crème de menthe and four parts of milk.”

“That sounds a bit unhealthy,” I said. “All that milk is bad for the cholesterol levels.”

“You’re right,” said Robin. “Let’s be healthy, and have it without the milk. We could also try the Wychwood Bah Humbug beer which is a 6% alcohol by volume strong ale brewed by Marstons, in the English town of Witney.”

“Jolly good. Now that we’ve got all that settled, I think I’d better go shopping for supplies before someone else snaffles them all.”

The local supermarket opens at 6.00am, at which time it mainly sells worms to early birds. I quickly filled my shopping trolley with goodies and baddies, paid for them and took them home. I managed to do it all in less time than it takes to tell. Feeling extremely smug, I arrived home with a car full of frivolities only to find a gloomy Robin who had just been struck with a Christmas insight.

“We need to go shopping for presents,” she said. “Dylan needs a thesaurus and Ashleigh needs a teddy bear...”

Dylan and Ashleigh are children who live just up the road from us. Dylan has ambitions to be a writer. He adores words and takes great pleasure from joining them together in interesting patterns. Someone at school told him that there was something called a thesaurus which would let him explore these patterns more flexibly, and now he knows that this is exactly what he needs.

“Well a thesaurus should be easy enough to find,” I said. “But we might have a bit of a problem with Ashleigh’s present.”

A couple of years ago, Robin gave Ashleigh a teddy bear called Horace, and he is Ashleigh’s pride and joy. Horace goes everywhere with Ashleigh. He even went on a winter holiday with her last year. Ashleigh was concerned that he might get cold, and so Robin knitted him some clothes with a special hole in the trousers for his tail. Horace loved his new clothes. Apparently they kept him very warm. But Ashleigh is now concerned that Horace might be feeling lonely. “He needs a sister,” she said solemnly to Robin as she sat on her bed, which was so covered with soft toys that there was barely room for Ashleigh herself. Fortunately Ashleigh is too young to understand irony. “His sister’s name will be Horacetta,” she announced.

We had our instructions. We knew just what to do.

There are three problems with Christmas shopping for presents at peak times. They are car parking, car parking and car parking. Full of trepidation, we drove to the mega-shopping centre, and headed into the car park, driving past a sign that said:

Car Park Full

along the way. Inside, we joined a queue of slowly moving vehicles trundling round and round in ever decreasing circles, hoping vainly for a space to appear as more fortunate shoppers than ourselves packed up their cars and departed. Suddenly the car ahead of us had a stroke of luck. There was a space! Now all that the driver had to do was reverse into it. No problem!

He reversed and straightened, reversed and straightened again, and then again and then one more time. But it did him no good whatsoever. He couldn’t get his car into the parking space no matter how hard he tried, and tried and tried again. Back and forth, forth and back. Nothing worked and he was getting more and more flustered. Eventually he gave up, and got out of the car. His girl friend got out of the passenger side and walked round to the driver’s side. He held the driver’s door open for her, she hopped in and he closed the door.

Vroom, vroom!

With one immaculate manouevre, she reversed straight into the parking space. Just like that. Her less skilful boyfriend tried to save face by standing and waving his arms as if giving her directions, but he didn’t fool anybody. We all knew that she was the brains behind the wheel. She got out, locked the car, and off they went to shop. He looked very shame-faced, and she looked triumphant.

Meanwhile we continued to play the circle game. Round and round and round...

“There!” said Robin. “That’s a space!”

She was right. Unfortunately it was only accessible backwards. My turn to reverse...

“Well done, darling!”

Robin understands exactly how to be a perfect wife. We left the car and went off to shop.

The thesaurus proved to be as easy to find as I had suspected it would be. We went straight to the book shop and bought a very handsome volume which was almost the same size and shape as Dylan himself. There was no doubt that he’d find it both thrilling and useful in equal measure once he developed sufficient muscles to both lift and open it. But the teddy bear proved to be a horse of a different colour.

So to speak.

“Where do you buy teddy bears?” I wondered.

“Duh!” said Robin. “In a teddy bear shop of course.”

“Where’s the teddy bear shop?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Robin. “Why don’t you go and ask the lady in the information booth over there?”

“I can’t do that,” I said, horrified at the very idea. “Men are genetically incapable of asking for directions. You go and ask.”

“Oh all right.”

The information booth in the shopping centre was occupied by a woman who appeared to be answering queries largely in gestures. “Where’s the teddy bear shop?” asked Robin.

“Up,” she said, making a corkscrew motion with her left arm, to indicate a transition to the next level, “and then over that way.” Her prehensile and multi-jointed arm, which was now high over her head, turned abruptly through 180 degrees and a sharp finger pointed the way to the teddy bear shop. We followed her instructions and lo and behold! There was the teddy bear shop.

The first thing that met our eyes when we entered the shop was a huge, noisy machine. A gigantic, transparent plastic cube sat on top of a red mechanism. A loud fan continuously circulated shredded polystyrene up and down and round about inside the cube. It was a fascinatingly hypnotic display, and after a while my eyeballs started contra-rotating in sympathy with the flying particles.

On one side of the red mechanism was a plastic protuberance with a fat, red cover protecting it. A notice on the machine exhorted members of the public to refrain from stuffing teddy bears. This, it proclaimed, could only be done by official teddy bear shop staff, all of whom were certified in advanced stuffing techniques.

Boxes of flaccid bears sat on the floor. It seemed that one had to adopt a bear and then the shop staff would use the machine to stuff it to the required degree of rigidity. How intriguing! I couldn’t wait to see it all happen.

Samples of pre-stuffed bears were pinned to the walls and Robin surveyed them carefully. None of them looked like Horacetta and so we examined the boxes of flaccid bears more closely. They looked and felt quite grotesque, and corpse-like as they flopped loosely in our hands. It was clear that, one and all, they needed reviving with a really good stuffing.

“Horacetta!” With a cry of triumph, Robin selected the perfect sister for Horace. An eagle-eared teddy bear shop staff member immediatly materialised by Robin’s side.

“Well chosen,” she said. “And for an extra $2 we will put a heart into her before we stuff her.”

“Oh yes,” said Robin, “that sounds like a good idea.”

The lady produced a red, fabric heart and gave to Robin to hold. “Make a wish on the heart,” she said. And when you’ve done that we’ll put it into Horacetta and then bring her to life with the magic machine.”

Robin concentrated hard on the heart and made a deeply important wish. The lady opened up Horacetta’s back and put the heart deep inside her chest. Then she removed the cover from the protuberance on the red mechanism, revealing a slim pipe which she inserted into the hole in Horacetta’s back. She pressed a button. A pump throbbed and Horacetta began to fill up and fill out with shredded polystyrene. When Horacetta was sufficiently shapely, the lady removed her from the red mechanism and sewed up the hole in her back with quick, expert stitches. “There you are,” she said triumphantly as she handed Horacetta over to Robin.

Christmas was now complete.

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