Spectator literary competition No. 2830 

This week you are invited to choose, from different authors, two characters who have the same job or position (e.g., Shakespeare’s Quince and Lewis Carroll’s Carpenter, Mr Collins and Mr Slope, Holmes and Philip Marlowe) and give an excerpt of not more than 150 words from their conversation on meeting. Entries should be submitted by email to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 8 January.

The recent challenge to come up with a Christmas list, in verse, in the style of the poet of your choice was another popular one and it was tough to whittle the entry down to just six.

There were neat references to Dorothy Parker’s ‘One Perfect Rose’ from Noel Petty and Martin Parker, and I liked Basil Ransome-Davies’s riff on MacNeice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’. Melanie Branton’s Shakespeare almost made the cut: ‘Hoping I get a keg of sack or pouch of snuff,/ A statement earring, in-your-face and blinging,/ Desiring Marlowe’s codpiece, Jonson’s ruff,/ But fearing Anne will buy me something minging’, and honourable mentions, too, to Philip Roe, John Whitworth and John Beaton, who stepped very ably into the shoes of the magnificent William Topaz McGonagall.

The winners below take £30 each. The bonus fiver belongs to Rob Stuart.

Merry Christmas!

I do not wish for aught because the Lord
Hath always my heart’s stocking fill’d with
His love is life’s foundation and reward.
This paragon of gifts He gives all year.

Get thee behind me Santa, do not tempt
Ungratefulnesse in those whom God hath
bless’d —
By the Almighty’s grace am I exempt
From death. In Heav’n shall I ever rest.

He moulded me this Earth to live upon,
And though I share it there is room enow.
O’er beasts He granted me dominion —
The platypus, the ferret and the cow.

The lighthouse of His tendernesse doth keep
My sinneful boat from ploughing into rocks.
All else is by these bounties render’d cheap —
But then again I wouldn’t mind some socks.
Rob Stuart/George Herbert

Bring me Hunting Gothic Corbels,
Please, dear Santa, on your sledge,
Also, Mackintosh’s Gorbals,
And Lost Views of Wenlock Edge.

Poor old Archie keeps on moulting,
Soon he’ll be a furless bear;
People say he looks revolting,
So bring garments he can wear.

Clothes for me spell needs more flagrant —
As an ancient rhyming ham
I want khaki shorts, all fragrant
With the musky scent of Pam.

But, should this appear too shocking,
You’ll assuage my senile lust
If you leave within my stocking
A blow-up Peggy Purey-Cust!
Jerome Betts/John Betjeman

Give me, stout against the season,
Doors that let no bird or breeze in,
Give me drugs that undo reason —
These I want and so much more:

Comfort vis-à-vis my lover
(Cold now, earth and stone above her),
Balm to help my heart recover
From the grief that weighs full sore.

I expect you will reject me,
Nor from chill nor gloom protect me,
Give to others, but neglect me.
Yet more pain I have in store.

All my pleadings you will spurn, for
I don’t merit what I yearn for.
This year, it won’t be my turn for
Joy. It’s never been before.
Chris O’Carroll/Edgar Allan Poe

Dear Santa, this year these things bring to me:
A healthy helping of humility,
A carton of compassion, wrapped in love;
I’m not the same poor wretch I used to be.

Of creature comforts, bring me but a smidgen;
I’m less deserving than a lowly pigeon.
The milk of human kindness I could use;
The moving finger writes: I’ve found religion!.

The hedonistic life that late I led
Is over. That boil’s lanced, and how it bled!
This flow’r that once had bloomed, I’m proud to
Awaits the resurrection of the dead.

So Santa, underneath my tree please place
A simple serving of amazing grace.
Let that sustain me in the days to come,
Until I meet my Saviour face to face!
Mae Scanlan/Omar Khayyám

Dear Santa, though you don’t exist
My Mum and Dad pretend you do,
So here’s the usual Christmas list
Of all the stuff I’d like from you:

A pair of eyes that don’t need specs,
A cheerful, sunny disposition,
A pretty girl who’ll teach me sex
By making ‘missionary’ her mission.

A gift with words, to work upon
Ideas from my poetic vaults,
Some brand-new genes, not handed on —
I don’t want other people’s faults.

A scruffy kitten or a pup
Who’ll love me without bribery,
A decent job when I grow up,
But, Christ! — not in a library!
Nicholas Holbrook/Philip Larkin