A Winter’s Tale


When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Love’s Labour’s Lost – Act V
William Shakespeare

In the two verses of this little song Old Will conjurers up the sort of winter’s night when a household gathers around the fire and ghost stories are told. It is a tradition as old as the first winter eve when a fire was lit, the community clustered around it and a tale of the unknown things beyond the warmth and comfort of the circle of light was told.  It is a tradition that has carried down through the centuries in every culture were language is spoken.


And the tradition of a Ghost Story at Yuletide, that time when the longest night passes and daylight slowly makes it way back into our lives, is one that is popular in Great Britain to this day.   And it is a tradition that I have followed on this blog for the past three Christmastides and one that I am loathed to break given that I do not know what the consequences would be.  All three stories, as indeed is this year’s, have been by the premiere teller of ghost stories of the 20th century:  Montague Rhodes James or simply M. R. James.

In 2000 the BBC broadcast four ghost stories over the Christmas holiday with the great Christopher Lee in the character of James as the storyteller.  The setting is King’s College Cambridge, somewhere  between 1908 and 1918, on a Christmas Eve during his time there as Provost.  As he has done in previous years James has invited colleagues and students to join him around the fireside in his rooms; there he proffers them, and us, a glass of port and a ghost story for Christmas.  Settle in, savour the warmth of the port, listen to the crackle of the fire, the hiss of the gas lamp, the wind through the trees, and perhaps even the sound of snow against the window pane and listen to the story of Number 13.


On this day in 1974:  Warmest reliably measured temperature below the Antarctic Circle of +15 °C (+59 °F) recorded at Vanda Station.


Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

One thought on “A Winter’s Tale”

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