26 December 2010


Bitter snow falling
Waiting the King’s arrival
Born in a cave

The afternoon was dark and chill with the promise of a bitterly cold late December evening to follow. The hail siling down upon the roof of my little house sounded for all the world like a stream of ball bearings thrown from a great height into a bucket. I let myself into the inky blackness of my unlit hall,  threw my briefcase onto the sofa in the living room and went into the kitchen. I had had a tiring and a tiresome day in the university and all I wanted now was my supper.

As I stood in the middle of the kitchen contemplating the meagre contents of my fridge, I was distracted by a small high-pitched cry from the back porch. “Open this door. Let me in please.” it ordered. With only the slightest hesitation I obeyed, and a tiny creature made apparently from half a foot of oiled ebony string rushed past me like some demented bat fish out of a marine hell. It hesitated for not one nano second, but  ran through the kitchen into the coal dark hall, plunged up the uncarpeted stairs, and disappeared.

I followed the trail of raindrops into my bedroom but no  alien being was to be seen. I stood very still and heard a faint rasping noise under my bed. Lifting the valance I found a black kitten sitting on its right hind leg, its left hind leg high in the air motionless behind its left ear, tiny pink tongue protruding, staring at me with eyes unwinking and huge in its tiny face.  “I am rather busy at the moment,” it seemed to say, “however a little supper in about twenty minutes would not go amiss.  Thank you.”

In my fridge there were two tomatoes, a sweet potato, an old oyster mushroom, a rather small steak and a pint of milk. I cooked it all and precisely twenty minutes later the kitten, now dry and immaculately coated, strolled into the kitchen. It ate half the steak finely chopped with a spoonful of sweet potato and delicately lapped two bowls of warmed milk, while I dined on what was left over. Having washed its paws and whiskers, it made its way back upstairs and took up residence again under my bed.

The next morning after our modest breakfast of milk and cereal, I turned it out into the garden, grabbed my unopened briefcase, shouted “Bye, Cat.” and scurried off to the Cathedral. I could almost feel the eyes of the furry sentinel now sitting atop my wall boring reproachfully into my rapidly disappearing back.

When I arrived home that evening, I was well prepared with cod fillet, Munchies, and a large frozen pizza in my reticule. Mewing quietly the kitten ran along beside me, darted ahead of me into the hall and ran straight into the kitchen. We dined; we sat beside the fire; the kitten replete with fresh cod slept. “You can sleep here tonight, small Cat,” I said, “but … ” The kitten opened one eye and stretched languorously. “ … tomorrow I must try and find out where you belong.” I was speaking to an empty space - the lodger had made a sudden dash for the stairs and my bedroom.

I  tried to find Cat’s owners, but no-one knew him or wanted him or cared at all about him. So I made him a bed in an old bicycle basket and left him in the warm while I went out to do the Christmas Eve shopping. By the time I returned the air was dry and cold and a pale sun was setting over the Cathedral towers behind the old city wall. I was greeted by the warmth of my living room fire and a small black torpedo who shot into my outstretched arms.

“Hello, small Cat.” I murmured. “You know, I can’t go on calling you Cat; it’s not respectful. Who then shall you be?” I paused. “I could call you Baruch, the blessed one. Would you like that?” The kitten stirred, climbed up onto my shoulder, rested its small face against mine, and with a tongue like the finest sandpaper gently licked my cheek. I switched on the radio and we sat in the old armchair while the familiar music of the carols and the words of the Nine Lessons floated around us.

“I have no Christmas present for you,” I confessed, “but I don’t expect  you will mind.” From the radio the voices of the fair choristers of King’s gradually rose to a poignant crescendo:
"What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

The kitten’s quiet purr suddenly exploded into the heavy rattle of a miniature Kango hammer. God was in his heaven, Baruch had been welcomed into his new home, and all was very right with our world.

Heavy clouds shone darkly above the hillside,
as I stood disappointed beside an empty manger.
No great star hung motionless and brilliant in the sullen sky,
no angels sang, no wise men rode through the night, nothing stirred
but the wind that blew dust into my eyes.

A stream nearby chivying the lazy reeds
murmured  “Look within yourself and your heart’s eye
will find the shepherds and the angels,
the Magi and Mary’s baby in his star-lit cradle.”
“Go” whispered the breeze lingering in the icy grass,
“follow the unchanging way which leads every weary soul to that light.”

Suddenly, in the cold still night on that empty hillside silent
beneath its leaden canopy, there were shepherds
fallen to their knees beside their midnight fire.
The dazzled sky was full of angels, whose mighty Hallelujahs
shook the branches of the olive tree
and warmed the night with the radiance of their song.

A train of grunting camels swayed over the rim of the world,
carrying tall men from the East in robes of scarlet and purple and gold,
dignified silhouettes against the coming of a new golden dawn.
Out of the shadows, from over the hills, across the rivers, down the valleys,
surged a thousand generations of pilgrims
come to honour the child, eternal paradigm of faith and hope and love.

A wide-eyed shepherd boy, his young lamb held close, walked beside me
along that crowded joyful road to Bethlehem, to witness
and to celebrate the old year’s dying, the new year’s resurrection 
and the promise made before the world began.
Which is now again to be fulfilled.