Well it’s been a busy few days, mostly due to a peculiar eye test which resulted in me losing full control of my eyesight for a while. Anyway, I’m back and quite a few people have asked for a bit more in my Kiffness Bears story… so here it is (still first draft so I expect a bit to change over time). It’s going to be slow work as I’m spending most of my weekend editing the first draft of a slightly more adult book. More info on that coming soon…
Here we go, let me know what you think and if you want more !
Over the centuries, many explorers and missionaries from the major city of Schtink had all attempted to civilise theTrombony people and in doing so had amalgamated a variety of the native’s festivals and customs into their own as an attempt to win them over, and on at least one occasion to avoid a mass beheading. One of the early settlers had mistakenly thought he had heard the end of year celebrations called Kiffness and through a mix of awkward social situations and the passing of time, the festival had acquired a new name and had evolved into something quite different.
The majority of Tutherland inhabitants now observed the annual festival. Whole companies specialising in home decorations and greeting cards had sprung up, money lenders made a small fortune each year in loaning money for gifts and extra food, and families gathered together in their small homes and had a jolly good time, whether they liked it or not. Nobody could remember a time when Kiffness hadn’t happened.
The idea of Kiffness Bears themselves had been introduced much later in the tradition, within the last few generations in fact, but was adopted at surprising speed and vigour. It was considered a much friendlier way of delivering presents to children than the original Trombony tradition of hurling them to down to a huddle of village children from atop a specially constructed tall wooden tower. The more civilised procedure now was simply to place the gifts under a symbolic tower, fashioned from sticks or fire wood, which was painted and decorated by each home owner and placed in their lounges or hallways. Far less dangerous than their predecessors, these little wooden structures were typically no more than six foot tall, with an assortment of hooks and arms to hang sparkly decorations and ribbons from. Even the act of gathering as a family to decorate them in the few days preceding Kiffness had become a tradition in its own right.
Kiffness Bears were described as friendly, cuddly bears who snuck down the chimney (whether you had one or not) to deliver gifts to deserving children. It seemed much more in keeping with the ever expanding assortment of festive traditions than knowing your parents were simply handing you over a gift which they’d hidden for previous two months in a shoe box at the back of their wardrobe. There was no need to look for gifts if they only came down your chimney the night before you got them, and it would be fruitless to pester your parents for that special new toy if it’s not up to them what you got. Parents embraced the idea of Kiffness Bears with open arms and the fact that the children only got the presents that they had themselves bought and hidden was beside the point. It was more important that the idea of Kiffness Bears existed within the minds of children, even if the grown-ups all knew that they didn’t.
The relatively new lore resulted had from a single Kiffness Bear sighting many years ago, in a less then salubrious public house in a back alley in Schtink. Admittedly an intoxicated customer who had fallen asleep in the toilet, and who failed to notice that the pub had since shut, was possibly not most reliable of witnesses. But Schtinkters were an open minded people and were happy to accept the possibility that Jack ‘Three Sheets’ Philpott had indeed seen a large bear slide down the chimney, knocking over most of the tables and smashing several glasses in the process. The furry intruder had also been said to have been responsible for drinking an unattended cask of ale which Mr Philpot had never seen before in his life, as well as a large amount of vomit over the bar and down the clothing of the trapped customer. The bag of Kiffness toys, stored away by the landlord for his young son, had also had taken its fair share of splatter and was covered in something which smelt unpleasant and was probably best not to identify. ‘Three Sheets’ had ever seen eyes on the bag either; the bear must have brought it with him he told the landlord when he came downstairs to the bar the following morning.
Now the landlord was certain that he’d bought the handful of gifts for this little boy, and remembered hiding them away as clear as day, or as clear as the dark industrial skies of Schtink allowed. But he didn’t recall ever buying him a raffle ticket, which was somehow on top of the bag and turned out to be a winner. Of course, Jack ‘Three Sheets’ Philpot had been too inebriated to have remembered buying his ticket from the Charity to Save Trombony Orphans and Kiddywinks, let alone to have noticed it drop from his pocket as he hugged the bar. After the incident, he went happily on his way back to his rooms in a tenement a few streets away, while the landlords son got excited about his orange and small wooden horse. When the raffle was drawn during the Mayors speech on Kiffness Day afternoon, the landlord was even more excited when he realised he’d won 100 schenks, the official currency of Schtink. It was enough to buy him and his son a bed of their own each, a slap up meal and some news shoes which they both needed, as well as cover the damage caused by the Philpot-Bear incident.
The news of the special gift delivered by the Kiffness Bear spread like wildfire, starting amongst young people and working its way through families. Although many people were bemused, knowing darn well that the only gifts they ever got were ones which they’d bought themselves, others were happy to attribute any surprising ones to the mystical Bears. Every year, the newspapers printed stories of children who had surprise gifts which they weren’t expecting.
The majority of urban people thought it was nonsense at first, but happily told children the story of how, if they were very well behaved and appreciated what they were given, they’d always get a very good gift from the Kiffness Bears. But if they didn’t behave, or if they didn’t get believe, then they may not get anything at all. The bonus was if your child was disappointed or didn’t get what they wanted, you savvy parents just blamed the Bears. They don’t come to every child, you see, only the ones who are really, really good.
After a few generations passed, it came to feel like Kiffness Bears had always been part of the festivities, and throughout the Tutherland children left cookies and milk out for them so they could have a small snack on their delivery rounds. After all, delivering presents around the world must be hungry work. The myth was further enforced by the introduction of Blue Meanies into the legend, another idea of Jack ‘Three Sheets’ Philpott, who insisted that small blue imps had stolen his beer the night after Kiffness the following year, all because he’d done something unpleasant in charity collection tin. It had come to be thought that they acted as a sort of monitoring service for Kiffness, retrieving presents from naughty children who, in their opinion, didn’t deserve the gifts they’d been left.
To Tabitha, it all seemed ridiculous. She had seen no evidence to suggest that Bears delivered her gifts and was frustrated by her mother’s argument that they were very quiet and only came once you were asleep.
Mrs Jones really didn’t want to sit her daughter down again and explain that the presents come from the Kiffness Bears and really she couldn’t give her the presents as they weren’t from mummy and daddy. Why couldn’t her daughter just be a child for once? Every year for as long as she could remember, she’d had the same conversation with her daughter. And every year, Tabitha would look up at her with big brown eyes, listening quietly without any expression.
“Kiffness Bears come on Kiffness night to all the good boys and girls who have behaved for their parents, been nice to their friends and who have done their homework. If you didn’t behave, then the Blue Meanies will climb down the chimney straight after and take all the presents away again.”
This made no sense to Tabitha. Why would the Kiffness Bears deliver in the first place if you had been naughty? This was some sort of strange parent logic which she really didn’t understand. Also, she had never believed that anyone other than her parents could possibly have brought the odd strange selection of gifts she would find in her stocking. Every year she continued to get them; colouring pencils, small cuddly toy, orange, a knitted doll and an age appropriate board game. Surely, if she these were the result of gifts from some greater force, they’d make an effort to get something better? It made her left eye twitch just thinking about it. One day she would come with a compelling argument as to why Kiffness Bears and Blue Meanies are a load of codswallop. And when that day comes, she thought, watching her mother, Tabitha logic will reign triumphant.
In the meantime, Tabitha didn’t want to be having the same Kiffness conversation again either. It was becoming tedious, and she really didn’t understand why her parents thought that anything would be different this year. Of course, she would ask for her presents early, as she always did. Why don’t parents ever learn? They really are so silly sometimes, she thought. The conversation started two days before Kiffness when Tabitha had usually found what her parents had bought for her and wanted it now. She saw no reason to wait for a present when she knew what it as and that it was useful. And if it wasn’t useful it would give her ample opportunity to drop strong hints that it would be a horrid present if she did get that, and give her parents time to take it back to the shops and buy her something else. Why make everyone feel bad by giving her a present she didn’t want, and feeling horrid for buying it! Yet everywhere it happened.
So, for a change, Tabitha hopped off the kitchen chair and marched back to her bedroom, golden- red curls bouncing around her shoulders as she went. Shutting the bedroom door behind her, she kicked off her shoes and climbed onto her bed, amongst all her books and her best friend ‘The Amazing Mr Peaches ‘, who was curled up asleep on her pillow. Nobody quite knew who old Tabitha’s cat was but it was generally accepted that he was at least as old as her, and while he was considerably more inert than she was, they had a bond which some may describe as unlikely. He had arrived one day at their kitchen door and had never left. That was the sort of dogged determination which Tabitha admired. That was also where any similarities ended. Tabitha was sharp as a tack; The Amazing Mr Peaches was mainly asleep. Tabitha was highly organised, tidy and neat; the cat left hair wherever he went. Tabitha wasn’t one for cuddles and unprompted displays of affection. The cat would happily be picked up or pulled about by anyone as long as they let him sleep where he fell and didn’t mind a good coating of white and ginger cat hair along the way. He could even sleep while his eyes were open. Well, that’s what Tabitha’s’ father said, often said with a faraway look and the quiet air of someone who was actually quite jealous.
Tabitha loved her daddy, and despite her youth felt that he really did need looking after. She wasn’t quite sure what her daddy did at the ‘Ministry of Something Important but Probably Dull’, as she liked to call it in her head. However, she hoped that he probably managed to snatch some time to sleep at his desk or on the train home from work as seemed perpetually tired. Besides, nobody, Tabitha thought, could put up with her mummy’s squawking about “you must do” or “what will people think” without getting a good amount of serious napping in during the day. It exhausted Tabitha, and she was only eight. Imagine thirty years of that? While she loved her mummy too, it never bothered Tabitha too much about what people thought and mostly thought her mother shouldn’t either. She had come to realise at a very early age that most people were a bit on the dim side so it probably wasn’t worth worrying about what they thought in the first place.
Looking at the books strewn open on her bedcovers, Tabitha felt distinctly bored. She had read Martin and his Miraculous Farts twice, and on neither occasion had she found it funny or insightful. Little boy wants to have an adventure. Little Boy has an adventure. Little Boy meets unlikely bunch of characters and kills his evil nemesis through the powers of his bottom wind. Stupid! What was her daddy thinking in buying that one for her? She had read it, the second time, to make sure she hadn’t missed anything deep and meaningful in the first reading and was very frustrated to realise that she hadn’t. Rubbish! Then there was the story set in a boarding school which apparently was one of Mummy’s favourites when she was her age. That was quite interesting until it became evident that the only highpoint was going to be if St Julians’ won the all-important lacrosse match? Newsflash, she thought – not important, not interesting, not a literary giant.
The other masterpieces were a selection of books she had borrowed from the library – a murder mystery, a history of the monarchy and yoga for cats. All a lot more interesting but unfortunately read to death in the last 2 weeks. At least when the Kiffness festivities were over, the library would be open again and Daddy would walk her down there on a Saturday morning. It was one of the few things they did together and Tabitha was happy with the arrangement. Mr Jones was also quite satisfied with the arrangement, particularly the part about letting his little girl wander around the stacks of books inside – while he enjoyed a secret smoke on his pipe outside.
At least Uncle Ted would be coming to visit over Kiffness, and he normally bought her a book as a treat. He came every Kiffness Eve to drop off a gift for her and have a festive drink with his sister, Mrs Jones. Tabitha got the distinct impression that her mummy didn’t care for him too much, and said that he wore too much cologne and needed to find a “good woman” whatever that meant. Mr Jones said that he smelt a bit too much of gin, whatever that was, but he didn’t blame him growing up in “that house”. Tabitha didn’t really know what that meant either. But she loved Uncle Ted. Not one for public displays of affection, she liked the way that he restricted his expressions of love to patting her on the head and giving her a new book. Sometimes it was pens and paper. But mostly it was a book.
It was Kiffness Eve tomorrow which meant he would be visiting and she would get something new to read. Sanity again – something to do while everyone seemed to be rushing around cooking sausage rolls and complaining that there was nothing to watch on the television. There was never anything to watch on the television in Tabitha’s opinion, why would it be any different because it was Kiffness? Surely there would be less on as everyone seemed to be trapped at home, no school, no work, just endless days in the house with nothing to do except watch television and play board games. Every year her dad would get out Monopoly and insist on the three of them playing – more like bored games, Tabitha thought.
Mr Peaches opened one eye and stared at her for a second, closed it again and started snoring. That was the signal that it was bed time. Sooner you got to sleep, the sooner tomorrow comes and the sooner there are presents.
- Kiffness Bears – Extract 1 (helentreharne.wordpress.com)