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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a much-loathed ogre whose sin was that he stole time. The villagers hated him, and never more so than in November.

Sim Sala Dim (all my father’s characters were called this), the monstrous one-eyed giant, was particularly hated in November. With just one month to go till Christmas, the ogre took great delight in speeding up time.

My father, the storyteller, would pause for dramatic effect, scaling down several octaves as his rumbling, gravelly voice began the countdown. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Then he’d growl and turn into the ogre threatening the end of time.

I’d burrow deeper into my parents bed and pull the thick, multicoloured Kantha quilt over my face — the idea of this time eating monster was terrifying. At this point my dad always said, “Time’s up. Bed time,” and then roar at his witticism. It was a favourite in my lovely dad’s repertoire of home-made stories told with great relish to us four children at bedtime. Sim Sala Dim was an unlikely keeper of that precious commodity, time. When I grew up and wondered aloud why my dad chose an ogre to be his time eater, he explained the provenance of the tale. Apparently my mother used my impending birthday and the blossoming of the heady-scented Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bush, with its lilac flowers and thick leaves that grew outside our kitchen window as her barometer for time. She examined the crows feet under her eyes, her softly sagging chin, the wrinkled skin on her hands, and sigh, telling my father she was shrivelling up. I’m turning into the Ogre’s Bride she’d say referring to ...

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