Read by Richard.
Jakes Mum by Jana.
Proofed and audio edited by Jana.
Story by Bertie.
Hello, this is Richard
And I’m here with a story set at Christmas about a boy called Jake and his special friend, a crow called Birdy. Birdy has lived for a very long time, seen many things, and is extremely wise. Fortunately he can talk, but it seems that only Jake understands him.
It was the depth of winter, with bright cold mornings, gloomy afternoons, and evenings getting dark at 4.30pm. Jake was sitting in the bath. He looked at the taps, above his toes. One moment he was marvelling at the spots of electric light reflected in the taps and the next, he was sitting in darkness.
“Mum,” He called out. “Turn the lights back on. I’m in the bath!”
But there was no reply.
“That’s odd,” he thought to himself. “Maybe something’s gone wrong with that box under the stairs.” He meant the fuse box, which sometimes tripped off when there was a surge of electricity. When that happened, Mum or Dad usually crawled into the cupboard with a torch and flipped the switch back on.
He was still musing about this when there came a knock on the door. It was his mum.
“Jake love, the lights have gone out,” she said.
“I know that,” said Jake, “because it’s dark.”
“Can you open the door?” asked his mum. Jake stood up slowly, reached for a towel, dried himself a bit, stepped out of the bath, and carefully made his way to the door. Fortunately he was able to turn the little latch and open it.
“Thank goodness,”said Mum. “I was worried you might drown in the dark.”
“No problem,” said Jake. “I can swim two lengths of the pool. When are the lights coming back on?”
“We don’t know yet,” said Mum. “Dad’s calling the electricity company.” But of course, the only message that Dad received was: “Your call is being held in a queue. We will answer you shortly. Your estimated waiting time is 57 minutes. We thank you for your patience.”
For now, they used Mum and Dad’s phones for light, until the battery on Dad’s phone went, and then they only had Mum’s phone. But Jake didn’t mind. In fact, he found it quite exciting at first and managed to navigate around the house in complete darkness as he knew it so well. He went to his room and took his torch out of the drawer - he had used it the previous summer when they went camping. He turned it on and flashed it around the walls of the room, making spooky shadows with his hands.
When he had enough of playing with shadows, he decided to do something a bit more fun. He slipped downstairs with the torch positioned it under his chin and silently crept up behind his mother, who was in the kitchen, busily peering into the fridge, and shouted:
“Oh my goodness,” she screamed, as she jumped up. “Oh, Jake! You scared the living daylights out of me.”
Jake laughed. Even Mum smiled quietly to herself in the darkness.
As there was nothing else to do, he went back to his room and sat on the bed, looking out of the window. The only light on the street came from the moon and the stars until a car went past and had to slow down because a fox was caught in its headlights.
He waited for his best friend, a black crow called Birdy, who generally called round in the evening. Sure enough, a shadowy bird soon arrived on his window sill.
“Caw,” said Jake.
“Caw,” responded Birdy.
This was their way of saying hello to each other.
Jake opened the window and Birdy hopped inside.
“How do you like sitting in the dark?” asked Birdy.
“It’s fun,” said Jake. “Dad keeps banging into the furniture and saying bad words, but I can find my way around the house in the dark, no problem.”
“It’s just like the good old days,” said Birdy. “You can see all the stars when the town lights go out.”
“It’s great,” agreed Jake. “There’s the North Star and the seven stars of the Plough.”
“Back in the day,” said Birdy, “before people had Google Maps, they used the stars to find their way around. And we birds still use them now. That’s why we never get lost, even when some of us, like swallows, go on holidays to places like Egypt.”
“Very nice,” said Jake. “I wish we were going away for Christmas. I’d like to go somewhere snowy like Iceland.”
“I visited Iceland once,” said Birdy. “Some Vikings took me there in their boat. I saw the Northern Lights fill up the sky with all sorts of colours. It was amazing; even better than the Royal fireworks!”
“Cool,” said Jake. “When do you think the lights will come back on here?”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Birdy. “The Government’s run out of electricity. I think it will be a few weeks before things get back to normal.”
“Run out of electricity? How can that happen?” asked Jake.
“Seems like someone was sleeping on the job,” said Birdy. “They forgot to order more electricity in time for Christmas and when they turned all the holiday lights on, “Boom!” The electricity ran out.”
“That’s strange,” said Jake. “I didn’t think a grown-up would make a mistake as big as that.”
“Caw!” exclaimed Birdy, flapping his wings, “You’re wrong there! Grownups mess up all the time. I well remember, back in the day, when the chief cook at the palace forgot to order extra pastry for Christmas. They soon ran out of pies, what with all the festive feasting, and when King Henry found out, he was hopping furiously. He came blundering into the kitchen, knocking over pots and pans, smashing plates, and bellowing, “Get me that lazy good-for-nothing Cook, I’ll have his head, I will.” But the cook was long gone. He was off to Paris to learn how to make fancy French sauces.”
“Well at least Mum has bought six boxes of mince pies,” said Jake. “But how can we watch Christmas TV if there’s no electricity?”
“You could always go sledging instead,” said Birdy.
“But there isn’t any snow!”
“That’s a good point. Perhaps there will be.”
“I hope so,” said Jake. “Because it’s going to be very boring without any internet or TV during the holidays.”
“Well,” said Birdy. “It’s been nice chatting. I’ve got to be off now. I’m going to dinner with Queen Victoria.”
“But she’s dead isn’t she?”
“Oh you know me,” said the Crow. “I can fly back and forth. It’s you who is stuck in time. I’d get some sleep if I were you. Dreams are the only place you humans are free!”
Since there was nothing else to do, Jake took Birdy’s advice. He got into bed and soon fell asleep and dreamed about travelling with Vikings to Iceland. In the morning, when he woke up, he knew that the electricity was back on because he heard Mum listening to the TV breakfast news. The voice was saying:
“The Government is warning that there will be intermittent power cuts until the New Year.”
And sure enough, that evening, just after Dad had turned on the fairy lights on the Christmas tree in the living room, everything went dark again.
Earlier in the day, Mum had managed to get the last box of candles from the supermarket before they ran out because everyone was buying in a big panic. But she had forgotten to buy matches. So they sat in the dark. Mum lit the torch on her phone and shone it up at her chin. She looked like she was ready for Halloween not Christmas.
“Oh dear,” she said. “How on earth are we going to cook Christmas lunch if there’s no electricity?”
“We could have ice cream,” suggested Jake.
“Not if the freezer is off,” pointed out Mum. “It’s more likely we’ll be having bread and marmite.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” said Jake, who liked bread and marmite almost as much as he liked ice cream.
That evening Jake’s best friend, Birdy, came back to see him for his regular chat by the window.
“Caw,” said Jake.
“Caw,” said Birdy.
“Mum and Dad say we will have to eat bread and marmite for Christmas lunch.”
“Nice,” said Birdy. “I like a few breadcrumbs myself, but I’m not so keen on marmite. It’s too salty for my taste.”
“I love it,” said Jake. “But not for Christmas lunch. Mum says we can’t cook without electricity.”
“Nonsense!” said Birdy. “Does she think people didn’t eat Christmas lunch before electricity was invented? Of course, they did. They roasted it over the fire. I was glad not to be a goose or a wood pigeon at Christmas. Humans don’t eat crows, fortunately.”
“Eeyuk!” Exclaimed Jake, screwing up his face. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I think crow probably tastes disgusting.”
“Well I’m glad you think so,” said Birdy. “Because I wouldn’t like it if you ate me for your Christmas dinner.”
The next morning, when they were driving to school, Jake told his dad, “Birdy says you don’t need electricity to cook. You can roast things over the fire.”
“Well now, he says that, does he?” said Dad, who never really took anything that Birdy said seriously. In fact, Jake suspected that his dad did not even believe that Birdy could talk.
“So,” said Jake. “Are you going to cook Christmas lunch on the fire?”
“Well we do have a nice big fireplace,” said Dad. “But the chimney hasn’t been swept for aeons - probably not since Victorian times.”
“So,” said Jake. “Get a chimney sweep.”
Dad laughed. “I’m not sure anyone does that job anymore,” he said.
School finished early because there was no electricity to cook lunch, and the classrooms were dark and gloomy in the afternoons without any light. Jake’s mum was working from home because the electric trains were not working. She fetched Jake home and gave him a marmite sandwich for lunch. Then Jake went out into the garden and looked for Birdy. He found him sitting on the bare branch of an apple tree.
“Caw!” Said Birdy.
“Caw!” Said Jake.
“I’ve got some good intel for you,” said Birdy. “I was flying past the antique shop at the end of your road, and I noticed they are selling a spit.”
“What’s that?” asked Jake.
“It’s for roasting food over the fire,” said Birdy. “You stick things on it and turn them over the fire. Back in the day, they cooked like that all the time in the palace.”
“Thanks,” said Jake. “I’ll tell Mum. And by the way, Dad says there aren’t any more chimney sweeps. Is that true?”
“Of course there are!” Exclaimed Birdy. “Talk to the House Martins. Sweeps are always clearing their nests out of chimneys.”
Jake thanked Birdy and went inside to tell his mum what he had learned. “Hmmm,” she said. “That sounds like quite a fun idea.”
A little later, they walked down to the antique shop and took a look at the spit which was standing on the pavement. Jamie, the owner of the shop, came out and told them:
“You won’t find many pieces like that around here. It’s a 19th Century roasting jack. They’re coming back in fashion now since there’s no electricity half the time.”
“It’s rather handsome,” said Mum, admiring the two cast iron stands and the steel skewer. “How does it work?”
“By clockwork. No electricity required at all.”
Mum liked the roasting jack, but she also liked a bargain, so she haggled over the price until he agreed to reduce it by 75 pounds and to bring it round in his van. By the time Dad came home, it was already standing in their fireplace.
“But the Chimney needs cleaning,” protested Dad.
“That’s ok,” said Mum. “I looked on my phone and found a sweep who lives a couple of streets away. He’s coming round tomorrow to clean it out. And I’ve ordered some logs to burn on the fire.”
“Very well,” said Dad with a sigh, not so happy because he knew that it would be his job to light the fire and to clean out the grate.
School ended on the Thursday before Christmas. On Sunday evening, Jake and his mum and dad attended a candlelit carol service at St Mary’s Church. Jake held a candle in his hand and watched the white wax drip down the stick as he sang, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The little glows of light all around the church were quite magical. Jake’s neighbour, a white-haired gentleman, was reading one of the lessons.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.”
Afterwards, when everyone was wishing each other Merry Christmas, Jake’s mum asked the neighbour, “How did you see the words?”
“I had to learn them off by heart,” he told her.
“Why didn’t you read them off your phone as the vicar did?” Asked Jake.
“I belong to a different generation,” explained the neighbour. “I enjoy learning poems and passages of Shakespeare and the Bible off by heart.”
Jake was impressed. “I bet people had better memories in the olden days before electricity and the internet,” he said.
“Yes, I believe they did,” agreed the neighbour, “though I’m not quite so old that I remember life before electric light. I’m only getting used to that nowadays.”
Jake woke up early on Christmas morning and found his presents under the Christmas tree by using a torch. “Oh Cool,” he said, because Santa had bought him a new games console, but of course he couldn’t try it out because there was no electricity. Instead, he opened the 1000 piece Jigsaw puzzle called “Birds of Britain.”After trying to figure it out for a while, he realised that he was losing far more pieces in the dark than he was finding by the light of his torch. He put his Christmas hat on and went back to his room where he ate the mince pies and chocolate orange that Santa had left in the stocking at the end of his bed.
Dad got up an hour later, and went downstairs to start the fire. After lighting bits of newspaper, blowing frantically with the billows, pushing logs around with the tongs, and muttering quite a few bad words, the fire eventually got going. He hung a copper kettle on a hook over the flames, and brewed up coffee for himself and tea for Mum which he took upstairs to her in bed.
“Merry Christmas!” Called out Jake when he heard him on the landing. “Merry Christmas Jake,” called out Dad. “Santa’s left your presents under the tree!”
“I know, I’ve already opened them,” replied Jake.
When Dad came back downstairs, the fire had gone out, so he got down on his knees and lit it all over again. Then he unboxed the Christmas plum pudding, placed it in a copper pot of water, and hung it over the fire to simmer.
Next, he went outside to the shed where he had hung up a brace of pheasants - it was nice and cool out there. He unhooked the birds and brought them into the house.
The roasting jack stood in front of the fire, with a dripping pan underneath to catch the fat that came off it. He pushed the pheasants onto the spit and set it up. Jake helped him by turning the handle to wind up the clockwork mechanism. When he released it, the handle began to slowly turn and ticked like a clock.
Meanwhile Dad wrapped some jacket potatoes in foil and used a poker and tongs to push them between the logs.
Jake sat and watched the jumping flames and turned the spit and felt the heat on his face.
“This is a fun way to cook,” he said.
“Give me an electric oven any day,” said Dad, who was scraping carrots in a bowl of cold water.
After the potatoes had boiled for 15 minutes or so, he took the pot down off the hook and transferred them to the dripping tray to roast alongside the vegetables. When the pheasants were almost ready, there was just enough fat for Dad to make some gravy with flour, a stock cube and a sprig of rosemary.
Mum had laid the Christmas table with a big candelabra, the family’s best silver, and two crackers by each plate. They pulled the crackers, read the bad riddles inside, and put on the coloured paper hats before tucking into the roast pheasant. When Dad brought in the Christmas pudding, Mum poured brandy over it and lit it with a match. “Merry Christmas!” They all wished each other.
Jake felt sleepy after all the roast potatoes and two helpings of Christmas pudding. Usually, at Christmas, he dozed on the sofa while his parents watched the Queen make her Christmas speech on TV after lunch, but as there was no electricity they gathered around Mum’s phone. Her Majesty had just finished saying, “My husband and I,” when the battery ran out.
“Oh bother, I can’t call Aunty Joan in Canada,” said Mum.
“I suppose I had better heat some water for the washing up,” said Dad.
Jake went upstairs to lie on his bed. He soon fell asleep and only woke up when Birdy tapped on his window.
“Caw,” said Birdy.
“Merry Christmas!” Said Jake.
“How was your lunch?” Asked Birdy.
“Cool. Dad roasted pheasant over the fire.”
“Well, I’m glad he didn’t cook crow pie.”
“No offence, but I think you would taste disgusting,” said Jake.
“I should hope so,” replied Birdy. “How are you managing without electricity?”
“It’s been interesting. It’s been a bit like travelling back in time to see how people lived in the old days.”
“And how do you like the old days?” Asked Birdy.
“It’s been fun,” said Jake. “The candles are magical, and I can sneak around the house in the dark, and school has to finish early. But Mum and Dad don’t like it. Dad hates lighting the fire and washing dishes instead of using the dishwasher. Mum hates sweeping up instead of vacuuming and washing clothes by hand. And cooking takes all day.”
“Well, the news is that the Government is going to switch the electricity back on tomorrow. They’ve bought a big supply over from France.”
“Great,” said Jake, “We’ll be able to turn the Christmas tree lights on!”
“Well Merry Christmas!” said Birdy, flapping his wings.
“Caw! Merry Christmas!”
“May all your Christmases be bright,” called out Birdy as he flew across the rooftops.
And that was Birdy and the Christmas Power Cut, read by me, Richard Scott, for Storynory.com. Birdy was written for Storynory by Bertie, and Jana played the part of Mum.
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