This is the story of a little creature called Bob, and how he came to be. He is small and brown, and he looks a bit like an acorn, only a bit bigger. His face is smiley and happy, and he has tiny, tiny ears that you can’t really see. The most favourite things he likes are cake and chocolate and he’s very excited when they come together in the same thing to make chocolate cake. But this story isn’t about cake or chocolate; it is about him. You see, he wasn’t always. There was a time when there wasn’t a Bob, and as hard as that may seem, thankfully, now there is, and I, for one, am very glad of that.
One snowy Christmas evening, many years ago, an old, old man was out in the woods looking for lichen to feed his reindeer. The old, old man had a long, long white beard, and old, old, long, long, caped coat, that may have been red, or blue, or even green, depending on how you looked it, with white fur around the edges. His bones rattled when he coughed, and he looked tired, but very happy with this long, long days’ work. They had been busy all night and all day, flying all over the world, giving presents to good children and their grown-ups (even some of the naughty ones, if they said sorry and really, really meant it), so the old, old man decided that the reindeer definitely deserved a treat and they loved to lichen more than anything, even more than mince pies and carrots and sherry or milk. There had been some lovely treats from the children he’d left presents from, yet lichen was the very thing reindeer loved the most.
However, the old, old man had a problem. In fact, it was a big problem. I’d almost go so far as to say that it was big, big problem or an even a big, big, big problem. Do you remember me saying it was snowy evening? It was a very snowy evening and was rapidly becoming an extremely snowy night and the old, old man was getting colder and colder and older and older and more and more tired. He could really do with some help. If you or I had been there, I’m sure we would have given him a hand and looked for some, or something else nice that those reindeer would have liked as a treat after all their hard work. But it was a long time ago and neither you or I were around then, so what could be done?
Well, let me tell you… The old, old man was special and always, always kept a bit of magic in his pocket. You can’t see magic, so sometimes fairies and the magical folk add a bit of glitter or sparkle to help you see it all happen. On that snowy, cold night he took the magic from his pocket, which in those days looked little pouch tied to his belt. Can you guess what he did? He sprinkled the magic all over eight acorns he found on the path by his feet where he’d trampled the snow away warming his toes. Each little came to life when he touched them and named them. He called them awake: “Wake-up Abigail, wake-up Bob, wake-up Carla, wake-up David, wake-up Evie, wake-up Frankie, wake-up Grace, wake-up Harry, wake-up Ioan and wake-up Jemima.”
“Hello,” they all said, apart from Bob, who was still half-asleep and only managed a yawn.
“You are my special Acorn elves,” said the old, old man, “and I would like you to help me find some lichen for my reindeer. Will you please help me? We are very tired, and my reindeer have worked hard this night and I would like to reward them for being so good.”
“Of course, we will, yes, of course!” said all of the Acorn elves, apart from Bob, who said “pardon?” and ate a leaf, spat it out and scratched his ear.
The Acorn elves ran about searching for lichen and were off hither and thither in their pursuit. Bob fell over in the snow, made a snow angel, threw a snowball at a grumpy red-nosed reindeer who told him off, built a snow reindeer and ate some juicy berries that some hippity-hoppity birds said were lovely. But he didn’t find any lichen.
The old, old man sat down on a log and looked tired. Bob noticed and went and sat down next to him. “Yous alright?” asked Bob.
“I love my job,” said the old, old man, “but I do get a bit tired sometimes.”
“What yous bin doin’ then? Lots of stuff wiv them reindeer?”
“We’ve been travelling the world and giving presents to everyone who deserves one.”
“What? The wholes world? Is it bigger than the wholes wood?”
“Much, much bigger, yes, so huge, little Acorn, that you couldn’t see it if you were the mightiest Oak tree that there ever was in all of time.”
“Ooooh. And all them peoples that gets presents, is that just the goods ones then, that can’t be very many.”
“It is everyone.”
“Do you get the presents from a shop? I hear the hoomens talkin’ abouts them as they do walkin’ hereabouts.”
“Some of them. Some of them are extra special.”
“That must tek yous ages long to get everyones everything.”
“It does. A whole year, nearly. The Mrs and I have a little holiday about Easter time.”
“Do you has anyone to helps you, but grumpy reindeer?”
“Oh yes, I have all my elves at the North Pole, and the Mrs, of course.”
“Elves like us?” Bob was quite excited by the thought of there being more elves somewhere else. He was new to the world and everything is amazing when you are new to the world.
“Not quite like you, no,” said the old, old man. It wasn’t clear by the way he said that if he meant the wood elves he’d just created or Bob in particular, but I suspect he meant Bob. There really is nothing quite like Bob.
“Ooooh.” Bob was thoughtful for a moment. This was an achievement. It was the first time in his life he had ever actually done such a thing. Eventually, he said “I bin sleeping on the ground for ages and it was borin’, but all the time I knws I was gunna to grow and be summat brill n that. There was times I’d bins thunking I’d be a mouse’s lunchburger and that was scaretwizzling, I tells yer. When there’s something horrorlurking or just dullsville, there’s alus summat good coming, in’t there? E’en if it you dun’t know what it’ll be. I didn’t know I was gunna be snowsplayin’ today, but I is right now. I dun’t know why or how much lunger it’s be lasting n that, but it ain’t haf grand. Sems to me, whateves yer do is wuf doing if it meks yer feel gud or meks someone else heppy”.
The old, old man and Bob looked at their feet, or in Bob’s case, what were almost feet, for a moment.
“Whats can I be doing for yous?” asked Bob. The old, old man realised two things at this point. First, that Bob had up until that point had totally missed the point of what he was meant to be doing. He hadn’t collected any lichen and didn’t even know he was meant to looking for it. Second, that the other Acorn elves hadn’t seen how wonderful the world was around them or chosen to offer their help, they just did what they were told, but Bob, as maddeningly distractable as he was, had a heart full of wonder and wanted to live and grow.
“Little Acorn Bob,” said the old, old man, “I want you to do two things for me. You seem to know these woods very well for such a small fellow, can you find me some lichen for my reindeer? They are grumpy because they are tired too after a busy day and I think they deserve a treat. When you come back, I will tell you the second thing I want you to do for me.”
“I wills do all that rights aways, I wills,” said Bob, and he did.
A little while later, all the Acorn elves gathered back by the old, old man and the reindeer. The old, old man had built a beautiful, big fire and had brewed a lovely pot of tea for himself and warmed some ice and snow to make a drink for his reindeer. The Acorn elves piled up their lichen proudly, and the old, old man was just about to thank them politely for their efforts when one of them pointed out that Bob was nowhere to be seen. All of the other Acorn elves started to laugh and say that Bob was probably off playing somewhere again. The old, old man said nothing; he had faith in his little friend. With that a huge pile of lichen seemed to stagger towards them and collapse in heap, next to the much smaller collection made by the Acorn elves. They could tell it was Bob, but only because they could see the tip of hat, the tips of his fingers and the tips of toes. “Hellos there,” said Bob, suddenly appearing from behind it all. “I found a bit for yer, but excuse me, I’lls be back in mo, hang on a minute,” and promptly disappeared, leaving everyone aghast, everyone but the old, old man, of course, of course.
Two minutes later, another staggering heap appeared with two tiny little brown legs underneath. They could tell it was Bob, but only because they could see the tip of hat, the tips of his fingers and the tips of toes. Bob had brought another huge pile of lichen. The reindeer licked their lips and it was a bit of struggle for the old, old man to hold back them back from eating it all up there and then, and possibly Bob too.
“Well, goodness me,” said the old, old man, “fantastic work! Well done all of you, but especially well done Bob! I thank you, and my reindeer thank you. I am sure they will really enjoy this lovely treat. However did you manage to find so much Bob?”
“I asked the tweetie hippity-hoppers, they knows everything,” said Bob, with authority.
“Right, my fine little acorns,” the old, old man announced, “it is time for you to go back to sleep, settle down now, back to where you belong. May all of nature protect and guard you so that you will become fine, fine oak trees, growing strong and tall, proud and beautiful, giving shelter and life to all.” The wood elves found their places back in the wood, here and there, high and low, settling down snug in the earth, deep beneath the blanket of white, white snow, and slowly turned back into the fantastical seeds they had once been. All of them that is, except, of course, guess who? Bob.
Bob got a bit lost at first, but he’d found his place, which was close to the old, old man’s camp for the night, and he’d started to snuggle down into the earth. Then he realised that his elven brothers and sisters were changing, and he, well, wasn’t.
“’Cuse mes, Mr Old Man, sirs,” asked Bob, rather bemused “I was listenin’ n all, and I think I was doing it all right and that, but how come I is still here and talkin’ and they all isn’t and are all lyin’ there like there was afore.”
“You have forgotten one thing Bob, haven’t you?” the old, old man said.
“No, I ain’t. I listened right hard wiv both me ears and l looked wiv both of me eyes and I used my thunkiling brain n all. You told us to back to where we was and go to slep, and I did what yous said and watched the others to mek sure n everythink.” Bob was getting really upset by now. There were big tears appearing his acorny eyes. The old, old man bent down and picked him up and stroked him to make him feel better. “Oh Bob, good Bob, best little Acorn Bob, you have done all that could ever want you to do. I asked you much earlier to do me two favours, one was to collect lichen for my reindeer, which you did marvellously. Going to sleep was my request for the other wood elves, not for you. I have one other favour I ask of you, my dear little friend.”
“Oh, well, that’s alright then,” Bob sniffed a big sniff and gave the old, old man and huge, if a bit snotty, “what tis it?”
“I’d like you to live, Bob.”
“Just as you have today. Enjoy life and do all you can. See the fun when there’s grey skies. Help other people when you can. Seek out adventures and take other people with you, if they are only a step away. Can you do that, Bob?”
“Living is easy, it’s jus’ breathing in and out.”
“There’s more to it than that, you know.”
“Oh, I knows that, there’s the thunking and stuff. But breathing is the most importantest bit.”
The old, old man laughed and gave Acorn Bob and huge hug, until Bob pointed out that he couldn’t do breathaling at all, which was a bit of a shame with him only just being a live ‘n’ that. With that, Bob and the old, old man sat down on a downed tree trunk, and drank tea and ate mince pies, and the very last of the chocolate off the Father Christmas’ favourite Christmas Tree.
And that is how one old, old man gave his last gift one dark snowy Christmas night. And how Bob came to be.