We always wheel out familiar stories to retell at Christmas. Many of you know this one: but it’s a fairytale, and therefore suitable for repetition ad infinitum.
Time for a story, I think….
Once upon a time, in a shabby middle class English garden, there lived a grumpy old Pyracantha tree.
It had been planted, many years ago, beneath the kitchen window of a very ordinary family house. Its dense evergreen leaves ensured the house never looked bare: and as the Advent season overtook the little cul-de-sac where it lived, it used its greatest strength to brighten the dull winter months. It had fiery berries which really belonged in fairy tales. They charmed passers-by and decorated the dankest days of winter.
There had to be a catch.
One grasp of this shrub was a one-way ticket to agony.
The family’s father sweated, chopped and chipped, braving the wildcat impudence of the grumpiest shrub in the whole garden. The mother would send him out to trim the tree and shut all the doors and windows: for some of the protestations which emerged from the father’s mouth as he laboured and fought the Pyracantha were not for the ears of their little children.
It was not a happy time for the tree. He was given unceremonious haircuts at the drop of a hat, and exposed to language which would make a sailor swoon. Really, his life was bleak. The nearby flowers were prissy and dull.
He would pass his days gazing through the kitchen window and watching the mother cook, the children working and playing, and Father joking jovially with his family.
“I am worse than worthless”, he told himself.”The people who pass by gaze in wonder at the flowers and they never look at me. I am invisible to them.”
But the Pyracantha was a warrior.
The kitchen window looked onto the world, and the world looked onto the kitchen window.
One day a marauding squirrel cast its beady eyes on the shortbread cooling on the kitchen working surface, and its little mouth watered. I must have some of that shortbread, it resolved; and we all know that when a squirrel sets its mind to anything, there is very little anyone can do to stop it.
But the Pyracantha was having none of this.
The moment the squirrel set paw on its lowest branches, the shrub-warrior employed its thorns with deadly accuracy, poking and pricking and generally making life unbearably disagreeable for the squirrel.
Sod this, said the squirrel, I’m off.
And the shortbread was left, safe and sound, ready to grace kitchen table coffee chats and children’s packed lunch boxes for another day.
Still, though, no one recognised the many and varied talents of this disgruntled, disaffected shrub. Until help emerged from a hitherto unexpected source.
The youngest son of the family was a compassionate little soul. He had a great love for anything living, whether animal or vegetable. Sometimes, he would simply sit next to the family cat and declare: “I love you, cat.” Or he would pass the time of day with the family dog by stroking him, even though the dog smelt unsettlingly like a barnyard.
Christmas was on its way, and soon the day for putting up the tree came round. The children asked Father: may we possibly have outside decorations this year?
Like the legendary Scrooge, Father liked the dark, because the dark was cheap.
But his eldest daughter made her eyes very big and round indeed, and walked her father round the local garden centre with such an air of happy anticipation, that the father relented; and bought a starry set of environmentally friendly Christmas lights.
When they arrived home, they were faced with a dilemma: where, oh where to put them?
I know, said the little son. I know a sad tree which stands outside the kitchen window. I see it watching our fun and I know it feels a little isolated. Perhaps it is he perfect place for our new, environmentally friendly Christmas lights.
The family draped the lights about the Pyracantha tree, and when it grew dark, at about 4:30 in the afternoon, they switched them on.
Heavens! Was there ever such a transformation in any shrub in any corner of the world?
The tree glittered in his twinkling new garb like a set of diamonds at the throat of a princess. And as any fashionista knows, when one is dressed properly, one feels immeasurably more cheerful about the whole business of life.
The Pyracantha felt like a deposit in a Swiss bank, except much, much more public and admired. Passers-by actually stopped their dogs to look at his fabulous berries and his beautiful new suit of stars. He realised, all at once, that he was both very handsome, and an outstanding warrior, and from that moment on he lived happily ever after.
And the moral of this story? Never underestimate the power of a new, well-cut set of clothes.