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The First Lockdown Christmas Mystery

Last year, Simon Lee encouraged students and practitioners of the law to try writing a Christmas mystery short story We asked him to have a go himself. His story, set in lockdown last Christmas, is running in five daily parts this week.

Please feel free to engage with the story as it unfolds, for example by sharing on Twitter with @paradoxbridge and @OU_OpenJustice what you think might happen and what the significance of the story is for law and society, for Open Justice and for the skills developed in legal education.   

#1   ‘For God’s sake, where’s the Black Baby Jesus?’          

Margery Gillingham hadn’t meant to be heard front of house but the teacher back-stage at St Thomas à Becket Primary School’s nativity play, was shocked and mystified by the Christ-child’s disappearance. The diversity of pupils in this part of Kent, where so many visitors over so many centuries have arrived in England, meant that the school had a range of baby Jesus dolls of different ethnicities. The closest matching doll to the look of the child playing Mary should have been taken out of the props cupboard days before the performance and the other dolls should have been locked away precisely to prevent any such mix-up.

In 2020, of all years, nothing should have been seen or heard going wrong because lockdown meant that the play was being recorded over weeks, rather than performed on stage at a single live event. So even though, on take one, there was a hiatus and a frantic search for the right doll, take two could have been substituted. Or, at least, the exasperated teacher’s shouted question could have been cut in its entirety. Somehow, though, the question made it through to the final version being streamed to pupils and their families by instalments on the twelve days of Christmas.

Mr Noel Day was the deputy head, the director and producer of all their school plays, and the organiser of the school’s Christmas Club (collecting savings weekly all year before distributing turkeys with Christmas hampers). This year was different. Even before the government had reduced the five days of Christmas grace in lockdown to a single day, Kent was in Tier 4 and Mr Day could not go on his usual rounds. Instead, the parents, staff and governors in the Christmas Club would have to come one-by-one to collect their own turkeys. Mr Day was storing them in rented freezers and fridges in his garage and would have to hand them over at appointed times in his back garden.

Lockdown had also thwarted the traditional way of staging a nativity play but Mr Day had found a way round that. On each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, he would circulate an email extract from their Nativity play. A hoarder of video clips from the days of cam-corders onwards, Mr Day had promised for the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 2021, after the twelve days of Christmas 2020 in lockdown, that each pupil’s family would then receive a box set of the whole sequence, with this narration. It suited Mr Day because his underlying health conditions and his location combined to make him one of the first victims of Long Covid and perhaps the source of the infamous Kent variant. He did not expect to recover but he was determined to die in style, on the birthday he shared with Jesus. 

If Margery Gillingham’s pupils had been listening to her while she was watching the opening lines of the play on Christmas Day in the privacy of her own home, they would have heard her shout again. This time, there was no question. ‘I’ll murder him,’ she stated, meaning the deputy head, not the Black Baby Jesus.


Caroline Derry Professor Simon Lee 

Simon Lee is Professor of Law at The Open University. In the run-up to his 60th birthday, he re-read and wrote about 60 of his favourite books in 60 days:

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