‘A Christmas Meeting’ by Rosemary Timperley

I don’t know where I came across ‘A Christmas Meeting’ and I’m not quite sure I ‘get it’. It is quite a wobbly little story that seems to get wobblier each time you try to take hold of it.

Our unnamed narrator – “a spinster with…myopic eyes that once were beautiful” – is spending Christmas alone in her furnished room. She muses on “all the Christmases of the past coming back in a mad jumble” and concludes that “however cynical you are, however irreligious, it makes you feel queer to be alone at Christmas time.” She is not really alone though, for she has “a feeling of companionship with all the other people who are spending Christmas ­­– millions of them – past and present”. She is even less alone – and “absurdly relieved” – when a young man comes to her room in error, and ends up staying for a chat.

I usually share this story with thirteen-year-olds, having spent a few weeks studying Saki, Dahl, and other twisty tale-tellers. When it comes to the last week before the holidays, I reach for ‘A Christmas Meeting’. I read it aloud and let it go, for fear that if I force my pupils to study it proper it will wobble away from them. It isn’t quite the end-of-term treat they want (it’s good, but it’s no Shrek 2!), but ‘A Christmas Meeting’ is usually met with a sort of enthusiastic confusion that I interpret as approval.

First published in Truth, November 1951, widely anthologised, and finally collected in From Another World and Other Ghost Stories, Sundial Press, 2016

Chosen by Matthew Hamblin. Matthew is a teacher and a potter. He works at a comprehensive boys’ school in central London and in his shed. You can read his full Personal Anthology of stories he loves to teach here.