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Tidings by Ruth Padel – unsentimental evocation of the Christmas spirit

Ruth Padel’s unsentimental narrative poem about a homeless man at Christmas evokes the true festive spirit

Tidings – of what? Ruth Padel knows that comfort and joy are no more reliable at Christmas than at any other time of year. Her Christmas narrative poem is magical because it acknowledges hardship, struggle and unpredictable reality. It is a literary and emotional feat (elegantly illustrated in red, white, black and gold – a dainty fox steps out in the snow on its cover).

She introduces us, on Christmas Eve, to Charoum, angel of silence: “I am the seed of fire/ in a hearth you thought was cold,/ the stillness when you step into moonlit snow/ and who you are in private.” Charoum shows us around north London, points out a homeless hostel near Euston (the book is dedicated to the team at Focus Homeless Outreach and Street Population, Camden). We inspect at St Pancras Old Church the tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Hardy’s tree, and drop in on a carol concert to survey the congregation’s feelings that might “flare out tonight/ in joy or disappointment, in a loneliness/ hardest to accept this time of year,/ or else might bear new fruit”.

What she does, brilliantly, is to see off the sense of resignation that can set in at Christmas

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