Grey Mary – A Ghost Story For Christmas

An updated and expanded version of Grey Mary will appear in Paul’s book Tales From Badgers Crossing (coming spring 2022 from Greenteeth Press), so for the time being this has been taken down. Details of how to buy and/or pre-order a copy will be posted soon.

For now, you can still read the notes on the inspiration behind this tale below.

And don’t forget, there are still plenty of other stories on this site for you to enjoy.

Notes On This Story

Mari Lwyd is a real tradition celebrated in towns and villages in South Wales in December and January and the photo at the top of the story is a real Mari Lwyd puppet. The Chepstow Mari Lwyd is a particularly well-known one an attracts people from all around the world in January. They are taking a year off in 2020 but will return bigger and better than ever the following year.

Here’s a brilliant video of the pwnco in action at a real Mari Lwyd festival:

This story began life as a 400 word short written at my weekly writing group. That week’s leader used this image as a prompt. Originally, Josh was going to steal the charity money and fall foul of Grey Mary, but that kind of evolved into the secondary story thread of “Harry” and Josh had more of a redemptive arc. It’s Christmas after all and sometimes ghost stories can have happy endings! Also, the Mari Lwyd festival is a time of celebration, fellowship, kindness and fun, so I felt that I should honour that.

Thanks to David Southwell of Hookland and Andy Paciorek of Folk Horror Revival who often talk about this tradition, and without whom I would never have even heard of it.

This was written to be read out at a Ghost Story for Christmas event in Manchester in December 2019. Thanks also to my Welsh friend, writer Howard David Ingham, who checked it over for me, to make sure the folkloric and cultural aspects were sensitive. What I can’t vouch for, however, is the Welsh accent and pronunciations of some of the words I attempted on the night!

  • Shwmae (pronounced shoo-my) is an informal greeting, equivalent to the English “Hi”.
  • Croeso i Gymru (croy-so ee cum-ree), as the story says, is “Welcome to Wales”. That sign really is there at the end of the Prince of Wales Bridge.
  • Boneddigion a boneddigesau (fon-uh-vigg-yon uh fon-uh-vigg-uss-eye) was almost correctly translated by Josh – it actually means “Gentlemen and Gentleladies”.
  • Iechyd da (yech-ee dar) is the equivalent of the English “Cheers”. It actually means “Good Health” as does the malt whisky drinker’s Scots Gaelic salute, Slàinte mhath.
  • The translation of Mari Lwyd really is disputed as mentioned in the story.
  • There is no English translation for pwnco (punk-oh).

There were a couple of links back to Badgers Crossing in this story for the eagle-eyed. The obvious one was The Grey Man pub, which refers to the BC local nickname for our black and white chums (as heard in my 2017 Ghost Story for Christmas, The Grey Path). The other was far more obscure, however. The tape Brenda puts on, NOW 13, was also the album Paul Church listens to in Cloakroom Duty. I like to think they met each other in the late 80s and he gave it to her.

Perhaps that’s a story for another time…