Grey children are moving across no-man’s land
on the astro. I turn back to Alistair catching up
with ‘Lord of the Flies’ coursework through lunch.
His tanned face is smiling: Have you ever
been to Antigua or island hopping? I look out
at the rehearsal of the truce on the Western Front:
During that Christmas, the Queen’s Westminsters,
wearing top hats and with umbrellas up, cycled across
the frozen sludge to the German trenches, but
after they’d exchanged gifts of Tickler’s jam
for schnapps—or, in our case, bags of Haribo
and Sainsbury’s commemorative chocolate bars—
they scouted the snipers’ positions so next day
they’d be ready for when the Hun raised his head.
Alistair’s staring at a present stuffed in the bin.
What’s that? he asks. A brown paper package
tied up in string is, in this case, just a prop,
I explain. There’s nothing in the battered box.
Can I have it? I shrug. As I check my diary
for our next catch-up session, Alistair holds it out
in both hands. Sir, your Christmas present.