Spectator competition winners: Harold Pinter’s Nativity

18 December 2021

9:00 AM

18 December 2021

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3229, you were invited to provide the story of the Nativity retold in the style of a well-known author.

Star performers, in a most excellent entry, included Janine Beacham’s W.S. Gilbert:

Young Mary was the model of a good and humble Nazarene,
So Gabriel requested of her, ‘be our human go-between,
you will conceive a holy child, in keeping with theocracy,
you and your husband Joseph will be sainthood’s aristocracy…

Brian Murdoch and Nicholas Lee were also snapping at the winners’ heels, but after lengthy deliberation I have pleasure in awarding £25 each to the authors of the submissions printed below. A happy Christmas to you all.

Do you remember an inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an inn?
And the place at the back was no more than a shack,
With the sheep that the shepherds were sharing,
And their baas and their bleats, were they victuals to eat
Or a soft source of wool for the wearing?

And into the stable, three star-struck wise men
With ill-chosen gifts — bearing gold, it’s a joke,
Give a baby a toy or a clapper to spin,
With a rattle-ting-ting — you remember the inn?
And the frankincense smoke that made everyone choke
And the myrrh, with a whiff of the grave.

We prayed that the throng moved along and diminished,
‘Good God, we’ll be glad when Epiphany’s finished!’
The Magi… the magic… the Din!
I’ll always remember the inn.
Sylvia Fairley/Hilaire Belloc

Wee sleepin’, new-born, wondrous bairn,
All human woes and worries wearin’
With ox and ass your stable sharin’
This Christmas morn,
Around you angels are declarin’
A god is born.

From out the East come three kings bold
With frankincense and myrrh and gold.
Shepherds forget a treasured fold
As they adore you,
Ignorant of the trials untold
That lie before you.
Frank McDonald/Robert Burns

Astrophysicists at Miskatonic University give cautious credence to a tale out of Bethlehem concerning the temporary manifestation of a celestial body directly and not uncoincidentally above a melancholy old barn in which a mysterious couple, transients in the district for census or solstice, lay sequestered alongside livestock whose customarily cacophonous braying their presence inexplicably stilled. Something as like a human baby as to be indistinguishable, yet so unlike as to be ineffable to human intelligence, emerged from the woman, caul glistening slimily in the alien half-light. Its male parent, the woman maintained with terrifying pride, was not human. By means of arcane prophesies set down immeasurable centuries earlier, a triumvirate of Eastern potentates visited, offering tribute. Shepherds, also, directed by some collective ectoplasmic hallucination and in blind contradiction of their duty, came, abasing themselves eagerly before the homunculus, as if famished for whatever immortal quality its unique incarnation portended.
Adrian Fry/H.P. Lovecraft

I was running this lodging house once down Bethlehem way. Steady sort of trade but this winter everyone has to show up for taxing and we was full to bursting. Late on, this couple turns up. Scruffy bloke and the wife looking ready to drop — in more ways than one, know what I mean? They goes on at me and in the end I says they can kip in the stable. Better than being out in the perishing cold. Anyway, that night there’s a bit of a commotion — lights and voices .But I couldn’t be arsed to go and look and went back to sleep. Next day no sign of the couple in the stable but you can see they’ve used the manger for a kid. Dodgy whiff of incense, too. Some shepherds are milling around so I tell them to piss off. Nosy sods. Funny how you remember things.
W.J. Webster/Harold Pinter

It was not, I confess, without some trace of incredulity that I received the following account of the early career of an individual whose identity the reader will be, I am disposed to imagine, able with a minimum — if, even, that — of difficulty, to determine.
His parents, having, apparently, undertaken a lengthy journey in inclement weather on the least comfortable of conveyances, and, moreover, compounding the folly by omitting to communicate, in advance, their requirements vis-à-vis hospitality, were perforce obliged to accept as a fait, as it were, accompli, all other possibilities being, I am assured, exhausted, accommodation whose rustic character rendered it entirely deficient in, as regards confinement, suitability.
The modest nature of these origins, their celebration by both the local populace and certain exotic visitors notwithstanding, served to render his subsequent achievements even more worthy than they might, under circumstances less unconventional, have proved to be, of remark.
David Shields/Henry James

room to stay said she
no way said he

no bed said she
a shed said he

i’m in pod said she
via God said she

here’s the place said he
watch this space said she
Martin Parker/e.e. cummings

No. 3232: have i got news for you

You are invited to retell a news story from the past year in sonnet form. Please email entries to by midday on 12 January.

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