Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Mornington-By-Mere – (87) Sleeping Arrangements

The Armstrong’s lived at West Side Farm on the other side of the village where there were a number of cottages and small houses on the Purplemere road and Dulcets Lane which formed the part of Mornington Village known as Manorside
While their kin, the Appleby’s and the Hancock’s had farms at the other end of the vale and they had all worked the land for many generations.
But they were very close knit families and every year they had a family holidays together similarly they often got together oh high days and holidays

So on Boxing Day of 2017 it was the turn of the Armstrong’s to host the Hancock’s and Appleby’s who journeyed to Mornington for a celebration meal.
All three had large families and when the children grew up and had girlfriends and boyfriends no one knew until everyone arrived exactly how many people they had to accommodate for food and sleeping births.
Given the distances involved and the fact that drink was normally taken in liberal quantities there was always a lot of people who stayed overnight which often caused a bit of a reshuffle on the accommodation front.
In the case of West Gate Farm it was further complicated by the fact that the lady of the house, Beth Armstrong, insisted that the unmarried couples sleep in separate rooms.
Mainly because she was a good Christian woman and didn’t want anything unsavory going on under her roof.

So the result of the segregation meant Peter Armstrong’s girlfriend Glenda had to share one of the spare rooms with his cousin Alana Hancock he was forced to endure their enforced separation on the lounge sofa as he had had to give up his own room for his aunt and uncle.

He found it difficult to drop off, partly because it wasn’t very comfortable but mainly because his head was rerunning the conversation he had an hour before with his girlfriend Glenda, in which she had told him she was breaking up with him.
But it wasn’t that so much that was troubling him because he had come to the conclusion that he didn’t actually mind.

After tossing and turning for about an hour and then just when his eyes were beginning to get heavy he suddenly had an acute need to pee so Peter tiptoed his way upstairs to the loo and relieved himself.
He was yawning as he stepped back onto the landing and was not really paying attention and so he bumped into Alana Hancock coming the other way.
There was an instance of recognition and then she pushed him back into the bathroom and planted a wet sensual kiss on his lips.
He had always had a soft spot for Alana but he thought she was out of his league, but that aside she was kissing him, however he immediately disengaged and said
“We can’t be doing that”
“Why not?” she asked
“My girlfriend is in the room you just came out of” he pointed out
“Not according to her” Alana said
“What?”
“Glenda told me she’d broken up with you” she said
“Oh yes” he said and kissed her

When they returned to their own beds Peter still couldn’t sleep but instead of his head being full of thoughts about his ex-girlfriend Glenda, it was now full to overflowing with images and thoughts about his new girlfriend Alana.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Downshire Diary – (99) The Tomboy Chorister

Danny was going to a Christmas Concert at Abbottsford Cathedral which was well attended as usual and when he when inside he saw the wonder of a manger scene, it looked so very life like and real, and there was a good reason for that, because it was.
In fact it was a wonderful scene and captured the mood perfectly as “Ave Maria” played softly in the background.
Part of the wonder of the stable of Bethlehem were the live animals, who seemed perfectly at peace away from his Uncle Jacks farm
Then he saw his younger brother dressed as Joseph, and his sister as the Virgin Mary, not exactly type casting he thought to himself rather uncharitably.
There were also three of his cousins playing shepherds, two Uncles and a maiden Aunt representing the Magi and his father was the angel Gabriel.
In fact the only one of the tableaux that was not a living member of the family was the Christ child which was actually one of those robotic dolls that pregnant women, with more money than sense get to practice motherhood on, supplied by one such woman, Aunty Evelyn.
His mother would also have been in it but for the fact that she was the Vicar and was part of the clergy taking the service.
Whereas his contribution to proceedings was as soloist in the choir in which he was performing “o holy night”.
He waved to his many kith and kin as he walked towards the vestry and as he did so his mind was preoccupied with two things, the first was a wish, to give a faultless performance in front of such a large congregation and the second was his hope of getting Heather Jones under the mistletoe at the party afterwards.

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (99) Christmas in Sharpington – Jenny’s Tale

(Part 01)

The traditional seaside resort of Sharpington-by-Sea with its Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, The Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, has all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park and 55 year old triplets, Alex, James and Jenny Wardle live together in the huge house they grew up in, in the grand neighbourhood of Granite Hill, which in a nod to San Francisco, the locals had nicknamed Nob Hill.
“So it’s Christmas time again” Alex said as he looked out the window.
“As if anyone could fail to notice” James added as he and Jenny joined him at the drawing room window.
Even without leaving the house they could see more than half a dozen houses decorated to the hilt.
Every coloured light imaginable, Santa's on the roof or climbing a ladder, sleighs, elves, snowmen, bells, stars, baubles and last but by no means least standing almost four feet high that perennial favourite Winnie the Pooh.
Alex was taken aback, what the hell did Pooh have to do with Christmas? And later as he and his siblings walked down to the seafront he noticed that every other house seemed to have one, there was even one on the pier so he guessed there must be something in it.
He didn't recall mention of him in the bible and in all of the many nativity plays he had seen over the years Winnie the Pooh was conspicuous by his absence and although there is a donkey in the story it wasn’t Eeyore.
The stable did not house Piglet and the wise men did not travel from the east with Tigger bearing gifts of Huney.
Nor in any of the Christmas traditions around the world is there a single reference to Pooh as one of Santa's helpers, there was Black Peter, and the Jolly Elf, there was even the devil figure Krampus, but no Pooh, but it appeared to him, that the people of Sharpington were giving him pride of place on their lawns that Christmas.
As they turned left onto the promenade the early winter sun broke through the mackerel skies exposing patches of the bluest sky and if he had had any remaining doubts that Christmas was coming to Sharpington they were soon dispelled as the promenade was decked in its Christmas garb.
Inflatable Santa’s climb the walls of the Fun Park and the pier was draped in LED icicles.
Then when they passed the Seaview Hotel they saw what looked like a cheery red-suited burglar hanging from one of the balconies and they all laughed before they went their separate ways.

Jenny had never married and had spent all her adult life in the halls of academe at the University of Downshire teaching medieval history, but when she turned 55 the academic fire went out in her so she retired.
She also decided it was time for her to try different things, things she had never done before or indeed had never had any regret at not having done it, so it wasn’t a bucket list.
Nor was it really a list, she didn’t write down what she might try and then tick it off afterwards, it was more a case of stumbling across something she had never done before and diving right in.
The new experience that week was ice skating, which she had never done, nor roller skating for that matter, she had a terrible sense of balance so the thought never entered her head at any time in her life that she should give it ago until she moved back to Sharpington.

(Part 02)

The new experience that week for Jenny was ice skating, which she had never done, nor roller skating for that matter, she had a terrible sense of balance so the thought never entered her head at any time in her life that she should give it ago until she moved back to Sharpington.

In the 18th and early 19th Century the pond up in Jubilee Park regularly froze in winter and the well healed of the town would don their skates and take to the ice, but it rarely froze after that, the hard winter of 1962 was the last occasion.
During the industrial revolution the enterprising folk of commerce used ice from the fish processing factory to make an artificial rink and charged people to skate on it but that ceased when the fish factory closed.
But in the 21st century the technology existed to produce and maintain an artificial outdoor rink at a relatively low cost, so Sharpington had one on the promenade by the pier every December and it proved very popular.
And that was where Jenny was headed after she separated from her brothers.
On that bright sunny morning the flashing skates of hundreds of brightly clad figures made zigzag patterns on the frozen blueish white surface of the ice.
She actually felt quite excited as she approached but as she got nearer and it appeared that all the other skaters on the ice were clearly not novices she started to have doubts.
But then she caught sight of a tall angular man of similar maturity to herself who was struggling with grace, style and gravity and she felt heartened so she went and hired some skates.
Once she had donned her skates she made her first tentative steps on the ice and her courage began to desert her again so she stuck close to the rail and inched her way forward.
Before she got going she looked across the ice and admired the skill and confidence of the other skaters but when she joined them she had to focus all her attention on what she was doing, which was why she didn’t see the tall angular man until he bowled noisily past her and ended up in a crumpled heap on the ice in front of her.
“My goodness, you’re worse than me” she said laughingly “and I’m rubbish”
“Then you are a good judge” he said and laughed
“Let me help you up” she suggested after getting a firm grip of the rail, and after few comic near misses, that almost had them both on the ice, they managed to get him upright again where he too grasped the comforting rail.
“Thank you” he said “I’m Paul”
“Jenny” she responded
“Is this your first time?”
“The first time for many years” he replied “What about you?”
“No this is my first time ever” she retorted and laughed
“Then you’re doing extremely well” he said and then he nearly fell again.
“How about we do it together” she suggested and offered her arm and they moved off rather ungracefully together.
As they circumnavigated the rink they chatted almost oblivious to their surroundings and they found they had a shared love of history.

(Part 03)

Paul Morfett was not a native of the town but had lived in Sharpington for ten years since the death of his wife, they had lived in Abbottsford all their lives up until her passing, and after it everything in the place was a hurtful memory of her so he moved somewhere neither of them had been and so held no such memories.
As he was a writer by profession his location did not hamper his career and it had actually aided it, and he had written an additional four novels in his “Cross of Kings” series while he was there.
His historic books used material from a number of text books which gave his stories an authentic feel and he considered the academic authors as allies and although he didn’t know it at the moment she helped him to his feet she had been an ally in his writing because he had referenced the books of Professor J W Wardle on many occasions but by the time they stepped off the ice he hadn’t made the connection that his Professor and his companion were one and the same person.

They curtailed their ice skating duet about half an hour after the clouds began to gather and when they finally relented it was only because the expected rain arrived.
But by the time they had reclaimed their footwear the rain had turned to snow and the snow fell thick and fast as smoke from the red-hot coals of the barbeque filled the air with mouthwatering smells as fat dripped onto the charcoal.
“That smells good” she said
“Are you hungry?” he asked
“Starving” Jenny replied
“Well allow me to treat you to lunch” he offered “do you like Italian? I know a great restaurant called the L'uccello canto?”
“That’s my favourite” she said “So yes I’d love to”

As they walked briskly to the restaurant through the snow they passed Doily’s bookshop when Jenny stopped in her tracks.
Because in the shop window was a pile of books in front of a cardboard cutout of her lunch date.
“You’re Paul Morfett” she said “I know you told me you were a writer but you didn’t tell me you were a good one”
“Well I do ok” he said “have you read me?”
“Occasionally, I like that you do your research” she replied
“I like to get it right” he said
“Come on” she said and pushed open the door “I want to show you something”
They went to the back of the shop to the reference section and after perusing the history shelf she withdrew a tome and handed it to him, with the back cover on display.
“Do you recognize anyone?” she asked referring to the author’s photo

“I can’t believe that I’ve actually spent the afternoon with my favourite history academic and it turns out she’s not a crusty old professor” he said with the candle light dancing in his dark gipsy eyes as they peered at her from behind the flame.
“Well I’m releived to know that you don’t think I’m crusty” she said

They spent all afternoon in the restaurant as the snow continued falling outside and along with their favourite Italian food, a liberal amount of wine and a number of liqueurs were consumed and when they left they were merrier than the season.
They stepped outside and their shoes crunched on the snow covered pathways and they braced themselves against the cold and tried to draw themselves deeper into their coats as a promenade tram went by with its windows steamed up.
“Where to now?” she asked when they reached the corner
“I think I should get you home” he said
“But I don’t want to go home” Jenny retorted
“Well my apartment is just along the promenade” he suggested
“Will there be wine?” she asked
“There can be” he replied
“What about kissing? Will there be any kissing at your apartment?” she asked brazenly
“There could be kissing now” he pointed out
“Yes there could” she agreed and they passionately kissed as the snowflakes fell around them.

Those Memories Made on Teardrop Lake – (99) Clandestine Christmas

Daryl Bodle had a mission to fulfill but it was a clandestine affair that could only be undertaken in the early hours of the morning.
This in itself was not an issue for him as he was a nurse so he was used to late night activity.
He arrived home from work just after 9 o’clock, showered and changed and then ate supper of cheese and biscuits following which he fell asleep during Match of the Day.
The alarm on his phone woke him up at 2.45am, so he stretched and got up from his chair, went for a pee and set off.

His destination was the Funny Bones comedy club in Childean and his target was Sarah Hanratty, who was also a night owl as she was the owner and manager.
Sarah was a very stern looking young woman with short brown hair with gold framed spectacle’s which she liked to peer over the top of and because she rarely smiled she was considered to be a joyless person, and as her habit was to dress in black she was known as the
“The Wicked Witch of the West”.
Some people considered it a little ironic that a sour faced old spinster should own and manage a comedy club.
But it was only the people who didn’t really know her who called her derogatory names and thought her sour faced and joyless.

He drove into the car park and walked round the back of the building to Ms. Hanratty’s office and he looked through the barred window and saw her sitting at her desk with her back to the glass.
She was counting the night’s takings and he smiled to himself as he thought how much she looked like Scrooge in his counting house.
It would have been a good night, being Saturday night and Christmas Eve.

On previous visits he had let himself in the staff entrance however since they had a break in at Halloween they had tightened up on security and now employed a biometric system requiring the staff member’s thumbprint so on that occasion as he was expected he just tapped on her barred office window.
Despite the fact that his visit was not a surprise he nonetheless startled her because she almost jumped out of her chair, which she then swung around so she could check out the source of the tapping.
When she saw it was him her stern face relaxed into a smile and she began to fuss with her hair.
Daryl pointed in the direction of the staff entrance and she nodded her understanding.
As he stood outside the door he looked through the small glass panel as Sarah appeared in the corridor and she clearly wasn’t aware he could see her, because she began straightening her clothes and when she was about ten yards from the door she hitched up her skirt and adjusted her stocking tops.
He stepped away from the door as she opened it and once inside he said
“Happy Christmas Miss Hanratty, how are you?”
“All the better now that you’re here” she said and stood on tiptoe to kiss him
“Are you done?” he asked
“I am, I just need to put the cash in the safe” she replied “and then we can go home”
“I like the sound of that” he said and kissed her
Ten minutes later after locking the takings in the safe and setting the alarm they drove to Shallowfield and spent their first Christmas together.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Downshire Diary – (98) Snowstorm in Springwater

(Part 01)

Downshire is a relatively small English county but like a pocket battleship it packs a lot in, a short but beautiful coastline, a channel port, the Ancient forests of Dancingdean and Pepperstock, the craggy ridges and manmade lakes of the Pepperstock Hills National Park, the rolling hills of the Downshire Downs, the beautiful Finchbottom Vale and farm land as far as the eye can see from the Trotwood’s and the Grace’s in the south to the home of the Downshire Light infantry, Nettlefield, and their affluent neighbour’s, Roespring and Tipton in the north but our story begins further south at the most southerly fringe of the Pepperstock Hills National Park.
The Park stretched from the bare, and often barren crags of Oxley Ridge in the North to the dense wooded southern slopes on the fringe of the Finchbottom Vale and from Quarry Hill, and the Pits in the West to Pepperstock Bay in the East.
It is an area of stark contrasts and attracted a variety of visitors.
The quarry hill side of the park to the west, as the name suggests, was heavily Quarried over several hundred years, though more extensively during the industrial revolution, the Quarries had been un-worked for over fifty years and nature had reclaimed them and former pits had become lakes and were very popular with anglers and the sparse shrubbery and woodland made it popular spot with courting couples whereas the northern crags and fells were popular with climbers and more hardy folk.
To the south and east was an extensive tract of magnificent mixed forestry and was rivalled only by the ancient woodland of the Dancingdean Forest.

Cheryl Vermeulen lived in the village of Springwater in the home she had once shared with her ex-husband Bijs and at the age of 29 she was facing her first Christmas on her own for 8 years and she wasn’t looking forward to it.
She wasn’t lonely per se, she had friends aplenty, and she even had a romantic interest or at least she had someone she was interested in romantically she just needed to close the deal, which was proving to be more difficult than she had hoped.

Cheryl woke early in the depths of winters to find it was snowing lightly but it was 4am, so she went to the bathroom and then went back to bed.
She awoke for the second time at six o’clock but after looking at the clock she went back to sleep again.
The next time she woke to the sound of machinery, a repetitive whining sound, and when she realized it was not part of her dream, she jumped from her bed and rushed to the window.
Across the cul-de-sac and through the naked black branches of the trees, she could see one of her neighbour's driveways and his son's car stuck in the snow.
Then she glanced to the bedside table and the clock radio which screamed in her face its “eight o'clock!!!”
“You’re kidding me” she snapped “Where did the time go?”
Well, what happened was she kept going back to sleep and at some point she had even switched the alarm off and then made the fatal error of wanting to stay cosy for a few more minutes, but those few more minutes turned into an hour.
As a result she was in a panic, so she threw on anything that would keep her warm and ran wild-eyed down the stairs.
Her first stop was to the coat cupboard where she searched out her wellington boot's, then she turned them upside down and banged them against each other to wake up any sleeping insects and encourage them to vacate the premises, as their cosy abode was about to be invaded by wool clad size three feet.
Once she had her boots on, her coat was next followed by a hat and scarf and finally she put on her thickest gloves.
It took her several attempts to open the door with her thick gloves on and she had to take one off to open the garage door and it seemed that everything was conspiring to frustrate her just when she was in such a hurry.

She wriggled her way to the back of the garage in search of the snow shovel, she knew they had one, her ex-husband Bijs had bought one when they first moved to the village but they had never used it, he drove a 4x4 and he drove her to work when there was snow on the ground, and it never lay for long anyway so there was never any need for it.
Once she had the shovel she wriggled back to the door again this time with the shovel above her head.
Shovel in hand she stood on the threshold and looked down the drive at the task ahead.
The small granular flakes were falling fast, and the wind was blowing it in drifts across her drive.
After a few moments she looked beyond her drive and wondered why she was the only one outside when the men of the neighbourhood were normally out flexing their muscles but then she remembered, it was still only 8.15 on Sunday morning, and they were not expected at the church by 9:30 for a preservice choir practise ahead of a full program of church events on the third Sunday of advent.

(Part 02)

As she looked from the garage door out to the street, along the 40 foot length drive covered by a foot of virgin snow, Cheryl sighed and asked herself
“Where on earth do I begin?”
In the end she went straight to the middle and began to shovel a narrow path to the street and she initially moved along at a fairly steady pace, but when she had reached the road she stopped and looked at her watch and felt deflated.
She realised she had a choice to make she could either shovel like a mad woman and go to church unkempt and un-showered and dressed like a bag lady or she could make a phone call.
Cheryl went back to the house and picked up her phone and dialled a number
“Hello?” a voice said
“Hello Kay, sorry for calling so early, is Owen there? I can’t get the car out” Cheryl said “I’m never going to make it to church on time”
Owen and Kay were in the choir as well and also lived in Springwater and before she could continue Kay interrupted her and said
“Don't worry Cheryl we’ll pick you up on the way”
“Oh bless you Kay” she said “I’ll be ready”

Owen and Kay came along right on cue and Cheryl made her way through the snow to the car.
It was still snowing as they approached St Bartholomew’s Church when Owen said
“I hope the rest of the choir can make it”
“I just hope there will be someone there to listen” Kay added
“Even if it’s just the three of us and no congregation we can still sing for God” Cheryl said
“Yes we can” they agreed

Only three choir members failed to make the rehearsal but they all arrived in time for the performances and despite the weather there were plenty of congregants there to listen.
Once they finished the rehearsal Cheryl used the time before the first service to enjoy a cup of coffee at the church Café, Bart’s, where she spent 20 minutes laughing and chatting with fellow choristers, and among them was Dave Torrison, who was on her romantic radar.

The church was full by 10.30 and the choir was well warmed up for their rendition of “Carol of the Bells” and Cheryl was in particularly good voice and nailed all of solos.
The second service was equally well received judging by the emotion filled faces of those who had just been blessed by the music.

After the service was complete, they shared the peace and the congregation had dispersed, some of the choristers went for a late lunch.
One of them was Dave Torrison and after Owen and Kay related the tale about her not being able to get her car out of the garage Dave said
“Well I don’t mind coming round to help”
“Really?” she asked
“Absolutely” Dave said
“Well in that case I’ll make us dinner” Cheryl said
“Great” he said “But I’ll need to go home first and change”

Owen and Kay dropped her off in front of her house.
“Have fun” Kay said and winked
As she walked up the little path she’d cleared earlier that morning it already had two inches of fresh snow on it and she looked across at her neighbour’s drives in the failing light and could see that all the men had been out and cleared their driveways and were safely tucked up warm inside.
Cheryl’s first act was to rush inside and change into something that would make the best of what she had and then when she was perfumed and made up she put on her snow shovelling gear on top of her outfit and waited for him.

When he arrived, Dave thought she looked rather cute in her wellies, puffer jacket, woolly hat, scarf and gloves, but as the snow shovel stood two foot taller than she did, he suggested she leave the drive to him.
Cheryl didn’t argue because it meant she could make a start on dinner and perfect her appearance.
“I hope this is ok” she said as she looked at her reflection in the mirror.
She needn’t have worried, after all he thought she was cute in a puffer jacket and wellies he would be putty in her hands when he saw her in a figure hugging wool dress.
Suffice is to say she did make an impression and they both had a great Christmas.

Mornington-By-Mere – (98) Christmas Cards

Mornington-By-Mere is a small country village lying in the Finchbottom Vale nestled between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest and the rolling Pepperstock Hills.
It is a quaint picturesque village, a proper chocolate box picturesque idyll, with a Manor House, 12th Century Church, a Coaching Inn, Windmills, an Old Forge, a Schoolhouse, a River and a Mere.
But Mornington-By-Mere is not just a quaint chocolate box English Village it is the beating heart of the Finchbottom Vale and there were a number of cottages and small houses on the Purplemere road and Dulcets Lane which formed the part of Mornington Village known as Manorside and Mariana Harding was staying at number 1 Dulcet Mill Lane in the house she was raised in, along with her brother George, by their Aunt Julia.

She was a well-travelled woman in her mid-thirties who hadn’t put down roots anywhere but she had made lots of friends which became problematic at Christmas time when it came to sending Christmas cards because a considerable amount of strategic planning was required to ensure that maximum effect was gained from sending Christmas cards, because, design, timing, size and quality are of paramount importance.
There are all kinds of do’s and don’ts, one of them is sending Christmas cards too early, which is not only ineffective but can be humiliating for the sender because it is very revealing, by disclosing the size and quality of card, it exposes the sender to the possibility of a devastating counter-attack.
On the other hand, a very late Christmas card runs the risk of negating the recipient's ability to respond, and reduces one's total card count, and it can look like an afterthought.
Mariana thought it was better to be on the early, rather than late side, because the pre-emptive Christmas card sets the pace and compels the opposition to reply.
And it is a brave opponent who will respond with either a lesser card or better than card.
The second thing she considered was the value and size of cards. Important people, certainly people who think they are important, send big and important looking Christmas cards which was designed to make the recipient feel small.
It was a costly option but she thought it was worth it.
She didn’t consider herself a snob though and she thought there was definitely a place for cheap and nasty Christmas cards.
They could be used for a variety of reasons they didn’t just imply bad taste or poverty, they could be used to disrespect the recipient, and possibly lead to deletion from their Christmas card list.
She found cheap cards were particularly useful for terminating pointless Christmas card exchanges with people she met on holiday or business trips when she foolishly exchanged addresses on drunken night’s outs.
She tried to avoid First-time Christmas cards sent on impulse to recent acquaintances because they can have devastating consequences or disappointments.
But she didn’t follow her own protocols so when she was in Denver for a conference at the end of November and she met a man called Seelie Dawson, with whom she let her guard down, and one night after dinner, when alcohol had been taken, she gave him her address and phone number.
Following that breach she was overcome with regrets, firstly for the breach, second for not getting his details, thirdly for not giving him her email and finally for losing her phone on the journey home.
And ever since she got back to Mornington she had thought of nothing else but him and had abandoned her long standing and well-honed system and sent no cards at all and occupied her time examining the abundance of cards that arrived through her door every day hoping there would be one from him and each day she was disappointed.
But she never gave up hope and then on Christmas Eve she perused the pile of mail on the door mat once again and on that day with wonder in her eyes she received a Christmas card and the postmark was from Colorado, and she only knew one person there.
Her hand was shaking while she opened the envelope and withdrew the card, but before reading it she looked inside the envelope and saw a photo and it was a picture of her and Seelie, together and smiling, which recalled the evening to her mind with perfect clarity.
She turned her attention to the card, but she closed her eyes and took a breath before opening it, but when she did she read.

Mariana

I hope you liked the photo, it was a very memorable evening.
I have tried several times to phone you on the mobile number you gave me.
I am going to be in England for the New Year, I would very much like to see you while I’m there, perhaps we could have dinner.
I’ve written my contact details on the back of the photo.
I look forward to hearing from you, and I hope very much that we can get together in the New Year.

Have a Happy Christmas
Seelie x

She flipped the photo over and saw the full gamut of details and her joy could not be contained so it was twenty minutes before she had calmed down enough for her start using them.

Despite the fact she didn’t send a single Christmas card that year she had her best Christmas in a decade and a very Happy New Year.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (98) Christmas in Sharpington – James’s Tale

(Part 01)

The traditional seaside resort of Sharpington-by-Sea with its Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, The Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, has all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park and 55 year old triplets, Alex, James and Jenny Wardle live together in the huge house they grew up in, in the grand neighbourhood of Granite Hill, which in a nod to San Francisco, the locals had nicknamed Nob Hill.
“So it’s Christmas time again” Alex said as he looked out the window.
“As if anyone could fail to notice” James added as he and Jenny joined him at the drawing room window.
Even without leaving the house they could see more than half a dozen houses decorated to the hilt.
Every coloured light imaginable, Santa's on the roof or climbing a ladder, sleighs, elves, snowmen, bells, stars, baubles and last but by no means least standing almost four feet high that perennial favourite Winnie the Pooh.
Alex was taken aback, what the hell did Pooh have to do with Christmas? And later as he and his siblings walked down to the seafront he noticed that every other house seemed to have one, there was even one on the pier so he guessed there must be something in it.
He didn't recall mention of him in the bible and in all of the many nativity plays he had seen over the years Winnie the Pooh was conspicuous by his absence and although there is a donkey in the story it wasn’t Eeyore.
The stable did not house Piglet and the wise men did not travel from the east with Tigger bearing gifts of Huney.
Nor in any of the Christmas traditions around the world is there a single reference to Pooh as one of Santa's helpers, there was Black Peter, and the Jolly Elf, there was even the devil figure Krampus, but no Pooh, but it appeared to him, that the people of Sharpington were giving him pride of place on their lawns that Christmas.
As they turned left onto the promenade the early winter sun broke through the mackerel skies exposing patches of the bluest sky and if he had had any remaining doubts that Christmas was coming to Sharpington they were soon dispelled as the promenade was decked in its Christmas garb.
Inflatable Santa’s climb the walls of the Fun Park and the pier was draped in LED icicles.
Then when they passed the Seaview Hotel they saw what looked like a cheery red-suited burglar hanging from one of the balconies and they all laughed before they went their separate ways.

James returned to Sharpington for the first time in twenty years after his brother Alex lost his wife and he found it very welcoming so as he was divorced and his son was living in America he decided to move back to the old family home and as he had independent wealth and plenty of time on his hands he took to doing voluntary work.

After he parted company from his siblings he made his way to Jubilee Park which was playing host to Santa’s grotto in the pavilion.
When he first walked in a week before, he found the place in disarray as a group of volunteers were putting the grotto together and his eyes were drawn to the throne in one corner where jolly Santa Claus would be sat next to his sack of gifts.
James had always been fascinated by the genesis of Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas was a Bishop in 4th century Turkey and became a giver of gifts to orphaned and poor children and James liked that such a wonderful tradition had begun as acts of kindness.
The second thing he noticed in the “work in progress” grotto, was the diminutive figure of a pretty middle-aged brunette called Charlotte Morley who was to be his Elf in chief, and when she turned and smiled at him he was hooked, and he wanted to get to know her better.
And he got to know her very easily because when she turned and smiled at him she liked what she saw and set her little pixie cap at him.

(Part 02)

Because she was to be Elf to his Santa they worked closely together and apart from their mutual attraction they bonded over their dislike of the “Overlord” of the Grotto operation, Sharpington Council employee Amanda Rawlings, who was an officiously obnoxious control freak, which would have been ok, had she been any good at it.
During their first week they were beset with problems while they were getting ready for the big event there were problems everywhere.
Some of the other expected volunteers were no shows due to illness, the donated gifts were late, and were unwrapped and they were all feeling the pressure of being massively behind schedule.
Then, a day before his debut as Santa they discovered a problem with the throne which necessitated getting in a carpenter at great expense which was the last straw for James, so when Amanda walked in moments later dressed as an Angel and holding a Christmas Tree he snapped.
So when she said cheerfully,
“Isn't this a lovely tree? Where would you like me to stick it?”
James looked first at Charlotte then turned to Amanda and said
“Up your arse”
Charlotte laughed as Amanda stood open mouthed and added
“Well that is the tradition isn’t it? To have an angel on top of the Christmas Tree”
They didn’t see much of her after that which suited them down to the ground because with her absence everything began to run like clockwork.

But on the day he walked in to Sharpington with his brother and sister things took an interesting turn.
The grotto opened to the first child at 11 o’clock and there was a pretty constant stream, almost non-stop until 3 o’clock and then the visits became more sporadic as the weather had deteriorated and heavy snow was falling.
With James wearing his red suit sitting on his throne, Charlotte was dressed as an Elf and escorted the excited or apprehensive child in from the ante chamber.
The child would then climb up on to Santa’s lap and while Santa had a quick chat with them and gave them their gift, and a man called Owen would take a photo.
Charlotte then escorted the happy child back out to their parents and this well-oiled machine kept operating like that for the duration of the day and when Charlotte escorted the final child back to their waiting parents, Owen followed them out.

James sat on the throne and gathered his thoughts before he got up and changed and just at the moment he prepared to move the lights went out.
“Oh bugger” he exclaimed and then the door opened, spilling light into the room and a figure appeared but disappeared again when the door closed.
But he heard footsteps in the darkness which grew louder with every step and when they stopped the owner of those steps sat on his lap and kissed him.
It was a long and lingering kiss and when it was over he said
“And what would you like for Christmas little girl?”
“Some more of that would be nice” Charlotte replied

After an unhurried passionate embrace they left his chair with the intention of going for dinner with the prospect of more kissing to follow.
But when they left the darkness of the grotto they found the rest of the building was also in darkness.
Whereas Charlotte had plunged the grotto into darkness for her own ends, the other volunteers had assumed it to be empty when they left, which they did promptly because of the snow.
Charlotte turned on the lights and they soon realized they were locked in, all the windows had bars on them and the doors were padlocked and chained from the outside
“Well it looks like we’re here for the night” she said and James thought about being stuck in the grotto with an Elf ten years younger than him and he said
“Happy Christmas”

Those Memories Made on Teardrop Lake – (98) Christmas Memories Evoked

When Keith Fulbrook was growing up Christmas was a very special time for him and every year the season evoked so many memories and many of those memories were of the times he spent at his grandparent’s farm in Shallowfield.
A row of wellington boots standing on the flagstones, fresh from hours of play in the snow and dripping wet mittens drying on a string behind the tortoise stove in the kitchen, the smell of burning logs and damp wool invading the nostrils, soon to be replaced by the scent of a fresh cut fir tree in the living room filling the air with the aroma of Christmas joining the smells of nutmeg and ginger coming from the pantry.
He just had to smell pipe smoke and he was back with his grandpa with his twinkling blue eyes and wry smile as he puffed out a dense cloud of aromatic smoke from his meerschaum pipe.
But it wasn’t just smells, the house was always alive with the ringing sounds of boisterous laughter of ten grandchildren of varying ages filling the house.
And when the house wasn’t resounding with laughter it was music as the family gatherings always prompted renditions of the carols and songs of Christmas played on guitar and fiddle and sung with gusto.
But that wasn’t the only Christmas music he remembered there was also the sweet sounds of a choir at the candlelit midnight mass.
But candlelight was eclipsed by the sparkle and twinkle of the fairy lights reflected on the fragile glass ornaments and heirloom decorations that magically transformed his grandparent’s living room into his childish vision of a magic wonderland.
And then there were the tastes candy canes and chocolates from the tree, satsumas and nuts in their stockings, sugar almonds, jellied fruits, dates, liquorice, and mints.
Turkey and all the trimmings, Gammon, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, mince pies, shortbread, pies, tarts, fruit cakes, sausage rolls.
But all the bounty of the table was far outweighed by the abundance of love which was linked to every single memory.
But his favourite Christmas memory came when the winter delivered up the perfect Christmas gift, snow.

When Keith went to bed the wind howling through the trees gave no clue that it was carrying Jack Frost to the Vale but the next morning when he woke up to the sound of excited squeals and when he looked outside he gazed out at the whitened landscape and ten minutes later all the grandchildren dashed out into the white magical world, screaming and shouting like released convicts rejoicing in a new-found freedom.
The warm knitted gloves were soon abandoned as snowballs were hurled in all directions.
Shrieks filled the winter air as aims improved and increasing numbers found their mark.
As the battle ground expanded they joined forces with a group of village children and that was the moment he first saw Yvonne Sage and he discovered there was something even more exciting than a white Christmas.
Yvonne was the same age as him, give or take, and she was tall for a fourteen year old girl, lean and wiry with braided brown hair and a bit of a tomboy but he was smitten.
But he had never noticed a girl before so he didn’t really know what to do about his infatuation.
But because she chose to join a group building a snowman so did he.

Rudolf, their giant snowman, gradually took shape on the village green.
A red tartan scarf was draped around his broad shoulders and a boy produced an old battered black hat, which was accidently set at a jaunty angle on his huge head which gave him a rakish look.
Two un-sucked gobstoppers provided him with staring blue eyes.
Keith and Yvonne held the ends of a length of old rope which they tied around Rudolph’s substantial waist, some pebbles substituted for buttons, a carrot nose and a stick mouth completed the magnificent figure.
And then they stood back to admire their handiwork.
Despite being pleased with the finished article Keith panicked because he didn’t know what to do next if Yvonne suddenly went off with her friends.
But then Tom and Lindsay Collingwood suggested going up to Coopers Hill for a bit of sledding.
“Yeh count me in” Yvonne said “What about you Keith?”
Keith was so releived that he didn’t know what to say so he just nodded his agreement and she smiled because she really liked him and she wanted him to go with her.
And so they walked up to Coopers Hill together and the fact that they didn’t have a sled or a toboggan didn’t seem to faze them at all, so on the way there they collected some cardboard boxes from outside Stephenson Supermarket and shared a sheet of cardboard and used it to ride down the hill, screaming at every bump, and when they got to the bottom Tomboy Yvonne had a boyfriend.
Although they didn’t realise it at the time they were victims of love at first sight and it was a love that lasted a life time.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Mornington-By-Mere – (97) A West Bank Cottage Christmas

The James family lives in the village of Mornington-By-Mere, which is a small country village lying in the Finchbottom Vale nestled between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest and the rolling Pepperstock Hills.
It is a quaint picturesque village, a proper chocolate box picturesque idyll, with a Manor House, 12th Century Church, a Coaching Inn, Windmills, an Old Forge, a Schoolhouse, a River and a Mere.
But Mornington-By-Mere is not just a quaint chocolate box English Village it is the beating heart of the Finchbottom Vale and there were a number of cottages and small houses on the Purplemere road and Dulcets Lane which form the part of Mornington Village known as Manorside where the James’s lived in a small two bedroom cottage in the row of West Gate Cottages on the banks of the River Brooke.

Wilson James was 18 years old when he fell in love for first time and it happened at Christmas at the next door neighbour’s house while he was home from University.
He hadn’t intended to, he wasn’t even looking for a girlfriend, he was far too busy and struggled to fit in all the student socializing as it was.
In fact he didn’t even want to go to the Craven’s house that night and he had never even given Deirdre a second look.
Mainly because she was just a kid, after all she was also only 15 when he went away, but also she wasn’t his type, although he had only met her a couple of time as the family only moved in at Easter.
But he did at least remember that she had a crush on him but he shrugged that off, because a lot of girls that he met seemed to feel that way about him.
So under sufferance he went next door with his parents a week before Christmas and when he went in the house and the pleasantries were exchanged he realized that the immature 15 year old who had a crush on him had turned into a dazzling young woman and all at once she had his full attention and he thought that if he couldn’t find a way to fit Deirdre into his life, there was something wrong with him.
They only had eyes for each other from the first moment and over the next week they were inseparable but on Christmas Eve she and her family were driving to Nettlefield to spend Christmas with the Grandparents.
So on that morning shortly before the Craven’s set off the love struck couple exchanged presents, he gave her a locket with his photograph in it, which she loved and then she gave him a beautifully wrapped gift box and said,
“This is for you”
“Wow” he said and was a bit embarrassed and felt a bit guilty because it looked so much more than what he’d got for her.
But he opened the box anyway and found it was empty.
“Is there supposed to be something inside the package?” he asked and she smiled
“It's not empty” she said “I blew kisses into it until it was full”
“That’s really sweet” he said and kissed her
“I got you a proper present as well” she said and handed him what appeared to be a CD “That was just a bit of fun”
He loved the CD because she had chosen it for him, and even though she said it was only a bit of fun he kept that gold box by his bed while she was away and whenever he missed her he would
open the box and take out an imaginary kiss.

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (97) Christmas in Sharpington – Alex’s Tale

The traditional seaside resort of Sharpington-by-Sea with its Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, The Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, has all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park and 55 year old triplets, Alex, James and Jenny Wardle live together in the huge house they grew up in, in the grand neighbourhood of Granite Hill, which in a nod to San Francisco, the locals had nicknamed Nob Hill.
“So it’s Christmas time again” Alex said as he looked out the window.
“As if anyone could fail to notice” James added as he and Jenny joined him at the drawing room window.
Even without leaving the house they could see more than half a dozen houses decorated to the hilt.
Every coloured light imaginable, Santa's on the roof or climbing a ladder, sleighs, elves, snowmen, bells, stars, baubles and last but by no means least standing almost four feet high that perennial favourite Winnie the Pooh.
Alex was taken aback, what the hell did Pooh have to do with Christmas? And later as he and his siblings walked down to the seafront he noticed that every other house seemed to have one, there was even one on the pier so he guessed there must be something in it.
He didn't recall mention of him in the bible and in all of the many nativity plays he had seen over the years Winnie the Pooh was conspicuous by his absence and although there is a donkey in the story it wasn’t Eeyore.
The stable did not house Piglet and the wise men did not travel from the east with Tigger bearing gifts of Huney.
Nor in any of the Christmas traditions around the world is there a single reference to Pooh as one of Santa's helpers, there was Black Peter, and the Jolly Elf, there was even the devil figure Krampus, but no Pooh, but it appeared to him, that the people of Sharpington were giving him pride of place on their lawns that Christmas.
As they turned left onto the promenade the early winter sun broke through the mackerel skies exposing patches of the bluest sky and if he had had any remaining doubts that Christmas was coming to Sharpington they were soon dispelled as the promenade was decked in its Christmas garb.
Inflatable Santa’s climb the walls of the Fun Park and the pier was draped in LED icicles.
Then when they passed the Seaview Hotel they saw what looked like a cheery red-suited burglar hanging from one of the balconies and they all laughed before they went their separate ways.

Alex was the only one of the three who had lived his whole life in Sharpington, having married a local girl with whom he Managed the Palladium Ballroom and raised two children and with both children married and settled he and Natalie looked forward to their retirement together but it wasn’t to be, as she had a massive heart attack only two months before their leisurely life was to begin.
He considered himself very lucky that he had his siblings to support him in his hour of need and they had helped him when he didn’t want to leave the house, when he couldn’t see a future, when he couldn’t function.
But two years later he went out, in fact he went out often and he began to enjoy life again and part of that enjoyment was being with James and Jenny and another part was Tracy Whitehouse.
He had known Tracy since he was at school but she was Tracy Gurney back then and he had reconnected with her at a bereavement group at the Jubilee Community Centre.

When he parted company with the others he didn’t have any definite plans he just set out to enjoy the respite in the weather.
That was until he caught sight of Tracy going into the café and he decided there was something better to do than enjoy the weather so he went to the café to join her, even if it meant he would have to have breakfast number two of the day.
It was busy in the café with lots of chatter and he hears Tracy order a bacon sandwich and a coffee above the hubbub, so he ordered the same and walked over to her table and said
“Do you mind if I join you”
“Oh yes that would be lovely” she said when she turned around for the first time.
“So what are you up to today?” he asked
“Nothing much” she replied “I’m just enjoying the winter sunshine before the rain rolls in again this afternoon”
“So what about when the rain does come back?” Alex asked
“Back home I suppose” she said “What about you?”
“Well there showing “Shop Around The Corner” at the Tivoli” he said
“Oooh I love James Stewart” Tracy said
“Why don’t you join me then” he suggested
“I’d love to” she replied and smiled
So they finished their breakfast and then they stepped outside and went for a walk in the sunshine, firstly on the beach and then as the clouds began to gather they walked along the pier because there were plenty of places to shelter should the rain arrive early.
As it turned out the rain held off but the temperature dipped so they spent a lot of time out of the wind keeping warm and they lost track of time and had to forgo lunch or miss the start of the film so they pigged out on popcorn instead while they watched the classic film.

By the time they left the theatre the expected rain had turned to snow and there was quite a lot of it.
“Oh dear I wasn’t expecting this” she said
“It’s just like the film” Alex said
“It is rather” she agreed
“Although Sharpington isn’t quite historic Budapest”
“No that’s true but it has its pluses” he said looking at her, and made her blush
“And in the film the girl got her man” she said coyly
“Well I’m game if you are” he said and took hold of her hand
“Life imitating art”
“I think that would be rather nice” she replied blissfully unaware of the bustle of film goers around them.
But she was very aware of Alex kissing her gently on the lips.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Those Memories Made on Teardrop Lake – (97) At the Christmas Market

Memories of William Horton’s childhood flashed through his mind as he approached the Christmas Market in Shallowfield.
Although the memory that filled his head was a distant one, in more ways than one, as it happened many years earlier when his father was an Army Colonel stationed in Berlin.
Their Nanny Gisela took them to the Spandau Christmas market and she indulged them with food and drink, he could almost taste the spicy sausages, fried onion and tangy mustard, the recollection was so vivid.
He knew that the Shallowfield Market was a pale imitation of its German counterpart but he wasn’t there for Gluwein or spiced sausage nor was he looking for marzipan novelties or tawdry decorations.
His interest was in the centre piece of the market, the Christmas Tree, a mighty thirty foot evergreen dressed to honour the season and when he got his first sight of it, it made him sigh.

It was a magical place for him and looking upon it brought him back to the moment he had last seen it a week earlier and he felt the joy of that moment instantly, when he kissed Georgia for the first time in the glow of the trees lights.
But that kiss had not been repeated since because he was a soldier of the Downshire Light Infantry like his father before him, and he had been away with the regiment, but a promise was made to meet again, a promise he hoped they would both be keeping.

He stood by the tree and scanned the faces in the crowd looking for a tall willowy red head, but after ten minutes he began to think she was going to let him down.
But then he felt a tug at his elbow and when he turned around Georgia was smiling at him.
“Hi” she said
“You came” William said
“Of course” Georgia retorted and kissed him as the Snow fell softly and the lights of the tree twinkled and their hearts became entwined.

Downshire Diary – (96) Tears fall like Snowflakes

It was early morning on Christmas Eve in Abbottsford and just as dawn was breaking snowflakes started to softly fall.
Downshire’s metropolis was a noisy city, all hustle and bustle, where at Christmas it always tended to rain.
But as the city came alive the snow fell thicker and faster, and a quiet hush descended as the large white snowflakes fell.
As the winter continued to make its presence felt the holiday rush seemed to slow down and shoppers took a pause to appreciate the beauty of winter’s gifts.

In the warmth of her flat, Arabella looked out as the snow dressed the town in its winter gown.
She looked upon it with joy initially but the joy subsided as tears started to flow from deep within as she remembered the white Christmas’ of her childhood when she lived in Tipton, where her family still lived in the north of the county.
The tears born of loneliness filled her eyes because she would be spending Christmas alone and lonely.
An ache swelled inside her chest and its pains are radiating, a choked cry, that won't pass her lips, filled her throat as the touch of sadness showed on her wrinkled face.
Arabella was a nurse at the Winston Churchill Hospital and she was working over Christmas so she would not be seeing her family and as if that wasn’t bad enough her boyfriend Frank left Abbottsford that morning to spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day with his parents in Sharpington.
So that was why she was feeling so blue, so lonely and isolated, as she was stuck inside her lonely flat for Christmas Eve.
Her only company was her cat Oscar and she cuddled him for comfort but felt no peace and was resigned to the fact that it wouldn’t come that day.
As the snow continued to fall the purring of Oscar had been replaced by the computers comforting hum yet that too turned out to be an empty comfort.
She was alone with her thoughts all day and found then uncomfortable companions and lamented the passing of the days of Christmas carolling, present wrapping, sending and receiving cards, and enjoying the season with friends.
She stared out the window watching the flakes of snow fall and said a silent prayer to help her survive the joyless day and for someone to give her a much needed lift and make her smile.
Then the tears flowed again as the feelings of worthlessness came again and she felt so very blue.
As she looked out the window she found herself thinking that somewhere out there, there were other lonely people feeling as she did, and some who needed company far more than her, just some human contact.
It was a basic need to be wanted, for some loving care, a smile, a hug or just a card, especially during the joyful season.
And just then the phone rang and when she looked at the caller ID a smile spread across her face.
“Hi mum, it’s so nice to hear your voice”

Talking to her Mum for over an hour cheered her up and got her into a better frame of mind to face the next four hours before she left for work.
Her mum was wonderful, she always helped get her head straight, and she couldn’t wait to see her at New Year’s.

She got herself showered and dressed in her uniform and was just preparing to leave for work, she was going to leave half an hour earlier than normal because of the snow and she was just getting her shoes on when there was a knock at the door and she tutted because whoever it was going to make her late.
But when she opened the door she couldn’t believe her eyes
“You’re here” she said “Why are you here?”
But her visitor couldn’t reply because she was kissing him.

“So why are you here?” she asked when she got Frank inside her flat.
“They closed the Pepperstock Express Way because of the snow” He replied “So I’m spending Christmas with you”
“Why didn’t you call me?” she asked and kissed him again
“My phone died” Frank said “So I couldn’t even call to say I missed you and I love you”

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Mornington-By-Mere – (96) Christmas at Briarbank

(Part 01)

Thirty Five year old Ross Clarke lives in the village of Mornington-By-Mere, which is a small country village lying in the Finchbottom Vale nestled between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest and the rolling Pepperstock Hills.
It is a quaint picturesque village, a proper chocolate box picturesque idyll, with a Manor House, 12th Century Church, a Coaching Inn, Windmills, an Old Forge, a Schoolhouse, a River and a Mere.
But Mornington-By-Mere is not just a quaint chocolate box English Village it is the beating heart of the Finchbottom Vale and there were a number of cottages and small houses on the Purplemere road and Dulcets Lane which form the part of Mornington Village known as Manorside where Ross lived in a small two bedroom cottage in the row of West Gate Cottages on the banks of the River Brooke and he lived there with his grandfather.

Ross Clarke loved Christmas and it really irritated him when he heard people whining about what a crap Christmas they had because their mother in law over did it on the sherry and told everyone what she really thought about them or when their wife's uncle Stan spent Christmas afternoon asleep on the sofa breaking wind with monotonous regularity.
Or their brothers new girlfriend who kept hitting on her sister in law or the Gran who said
"Just a small dinner for me, I don't have much of an appetite" then spent the afternoon eating all the chocolate Brazils.
It really made him angry because their bitching and moaning always brought him down at his favourite time of year.
It also wound him up when he thought about those who through no fault of their own had truly awful Christmas’s, like his Grandfather who was one of the half a million or so men of the allied forces, who along with six hundred thousand Germans who spent Christmas 1944 outside in the snow of the Ardennes forest during the battle of the bulge.
Men who sheltered in foxholes, scratched out of the frozen earth with no hot food or drink.
Unable to light fires for fear of giving their position away to the enemy and regularly coming under enemy fire or being shelled.
And sometimes once they had hewn out a decent sized foxhole and settled down into it out of the icy wind, an order would come down the line to move out and they would move a hundred yards or sometimes less and dig another hole.
He wanted to tell all the whiners to go and bitch and moan to one of those old soldiers and see how they would laugh at their petty gripes, they certainly wouldn’t get any sympathy.

He had spent a of time with his grandfather since his teens but for the last three years that time was spent at the Briarbank Hospice and they spent that time talking at length.
But for the last three months the conversations had been very one sided.
But there had been another reason for his visits other than seeing his grandfather, and that reason was Linda Perch, a thirty four year old palliative care nurse.

(Part 02)

It was 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve when he arrived at the hospice and his spirits lifted when he saw Linda was on duty and when she saw him she smiled.
“Did you draw the short straw?” he asked
“Worse than that I volunteered” she retorted
Because she had no family she was working all over Christmas to allow the nurses who did have families to spend it at home with them she was doing the same thing over New Years as well.
“So are you on tomorrow as well?” he asked
“Yes I’m on until Boxing Day”
“That’s tough” he said and she told him that she would survive and then they parted company with a smile.
They knew they would have plenty of opportunities to talk during the night and he wished her happy Christmas at 1.45am.

He managed to see quite a lot of Linda during Christmas Day as he had decided not to go home at all and managed to catch a few zzzz’s in the arm chair beside his grandads bed, but he managed to be awake and alert when she was around and he found that his feeling for her were deepening and he hoped that when she smiled at him it wasn’t just her professional demeanour.
But she went off duty at two am on Boxing Day which was when he decided it was time to go home to his bed.

He returned to the hospice on Boxing Day evening and was pleased to see Linda’s car was in the carpark, he didn’t think she would be back in until the next day, but when he went inside instead of being greeted by her normal friendly smile, he found her wearing a grave expression.
“Hello Ross I was just about to call you” she said
“I’m a bit concerned about Harry, his breathing is very laboured”
“Damn I shouldn’t have gone home” he said
“Nonsense” she chastised “it would have made no difference”
Then she gave him a warm smile and added
“I’ve phoned Dr Lutchford, so go and sit with him and I’ll be in shortly”
“Ok” he complied but what she hadn’t confided was that she thought the end was close.

The Doctor arrived about half an hour later and Linda accompanied Ross to the relative’s room and squeezed his hand before she joined the doctor.
Fifteen minutes later she and the Doctor joined him and Claire Lutchford sympathetically said
“I’m afraid he has pneumonia”
“Does that signal the end” he asked knowing that it did but wanted confirmation,
“I’m afraid so” Dr Lutchford confirmed
“How long?” he asked flatly
“Not long” she replied
“Don’t worry” Linda said putting her hand on his “I will stay with him till the end”
Although she wasn’t officially on duty that night she stayed with Harry and Ross.

The following day Linda split her time between attending to Harry and keeping Ross company and they spent a weary night and Harry Clarke died just after seven o’clock the next morning with the winter sun invading the room and bathing his deathbed in sunlight.
Linda was patient and considerate and waited with Ross, who was quiet and showed no emotion as they finally left the room

(Part 03)

Ross spent the morning in the relative’s room while Linda made all the necessary phone calls.
Sgt Pierce, the village policeman paid a visit to rule out foul play and stayed until Dr Lutchford arrived to sign the death certificate.
And an hour later William Hemmings and Sons arrived to collect the deceased, although it was Melanie Hemmings who offered their condolences.

Ross was looking out of the window as the Hemmings vehicle drove away and Linda walked up behind him and lightly stroked the back of his arm.
“Are you ok?” she asked
“Not really” he replied and the tears he had been holding back immediately welled up in his eyes as he turned towards her, so she took him in her arms and he dissolved completely into tears.
“Its ok honey” she whispered, “let it all go”
And as he sobbed uncontrollably onto her shoulder, Linda kissed his cheek.
She held him close and stroked his back as he sobbed until he lifted his head and said
“I’m getting you uniform wet”
“I don’t care” she replied and he broke down again.
It dawned on her at that moment as he sobbed his heart out that now his grandfather was gone he would have no reason to go to the hospice and so she wouldn’t see him again, and that was what she was thinking as she consoled him with her empty words.
Shameful selfish thoughts of her never seeing him again as she held him in her arms instead of thinking of him and his loss.

They were both excruciatingly tired because it had been a very long night sitting up with Harry, however she had had a lot of time to think as his life ebbed away.
And almost all of those thoughts had been about Ross and the reason, they got on really well and whenever he was there the two of them flirted, but at first she never thought it was anything other than flirting, but she would always look forward to seeing him and hoped that it might be.
But everything came into sharp focus now that she was faced with the prospect of never seeing him again.
And now she had him in her arms she was not of a mind to let him go.
But let him go she must, because now was not the time for her to claim him, but it wasn’t going to be for long she hoped.

Had Ross known the disposition of her heart when she comforted him in the relatives room he would not have carried an emptiness inside him when he left the hospice.

In the days that followed his grandfather’s death he had to contend with the double loss of his grandfather’s death and his heart’s desire.
But then on New Year’s Eve he received a fillip when he took a phone call from Briarbank Hospice.

It was a gloriously sunny day in Mornington as he stared out of the window of his cottage, and his heart skipped a beat when he saw Linda approaching with Harry’s personal possessions, as the winter sun set her red mane ablaze.
And he pledged to himself that once she crossed his threshold he wouldn’t let her leave again until he had told her of his feelings.
The promise would have given him less anxiety had he known that she had made a similar pledge and after she crossed the threshold pledges were kept and declarations were made and so Linda didn’t re-cross it until again until New Year’s Day.

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (96) Christmas in the Attic

Christmas was just around the corner for the inhabitants of Highfinch which nestled on the edge of the Pepperstock Hills where the Lily Green Hollows Golf Club separated the village from the Hamlet of Lily Green, which made up the parish of St Martins Church and between Lily Green and the sleepy hamlet of Kingfisherbridge was where Alex Trafford lived and since it was only a few weeks before Christmas, his divorcee sister Kate and his niece India were staying with him, which was how it had been for the previous eight years, ever since her divorce, and he saw no reason to deviate from the norm that year.

Northerly winds shrieked through the trees, carrying winter on its coat tails, as they wrapped themselves around the house and tried to shake it from its foundations with all their spiteful might as the freezing rain and snow they carried streaked down the double glazing, creating eerie shadows on the walls which were at odds with the glow from the hearth.
It was cozy and safe inside the house as he watched the fury of the storm outside until he shivered, so he pulled the curtains together and shut out the stormy vision.

His sister Kate and her daughter India were in the kitchen making Christmas cookies, mince pies, Christmas cake and pastries and the smell of cinnamon, spices and ginger was mouth-watering but he knew from experience that they wouldn’t let him have one, Amy would have done, she always did.
But Amy was gone now, gone forever and he missed her so much, but it was the first Christmas since her death and he didn’t know what to do without her, he didn’t know where he fitted in.
When Amy was alive she steered the ship and he was her first mate, but now he was cut adrift and rudderless.

He sat down in his chair by the fire and looked at the Christmas Tree and winced, trimming the tree was Amy’s forte and what he had done was a pale imitation which was when he decided mainly for want of something to do, to get up and go in search of more decorations.

He opened the hatch and pulled down the ladder and climbed the steps to the loft and sought out the decorations that he hoped would improve the appearance of the tree.
It was a large house and subsequently it had a large loft and after more than twenty years living there the loft was an absolute treasure trove.
He switched on the light and he muttered to himself as the dim light from the LED bulb did little better than a candle like glow which created weird and wonderful, if weak and feeble, shapes all over the loft.
He was of his time and much preferred light bulbs that came on to maximum brightness the moment you flicked the switch.
He knew it would brighten eventually he would just have preferred it to be immediate.

There were huge trunks and boxes full of old clothes and shoes, old books of his fathers and toys from his childhood and so many other memories were stored in the loft.
The winds took on new life up in the roof space, howling like a banshee as granular snow and hailstones beat its staccato rhythm on the roof and the unearthly soundtrack put him in an eerie frame of mind.
He momentarily forgot the reason for his trip to the attic, as he started to ponder what treasures he might rediscover.
Then he remembered why he was there and opened a box but only found some of his sister Kates old dolls.
Then out of the corner of his eye he saw a figure which made him jump but when he looked closer it was just an old dress maker’s dummy.
But he felt himself drawn to that corner of the loft and in particular a large oak chest.
He knelt down in front of it and unbuckled the leather strap and lifted the lid and instantly new what it contained even if he could see inside the plastic cover, it was his wife’s wedding dress, he hadn’t seen it since their wedding day or touched the silk folds and felt their softness against his skin since that wonderful day.
She had packed it lovingly away because she dreamed that one day her daughter would wear it on her wedding day, a common enough dream for a mother.
Sadly they were never blessed with a little girl, not a boy for that matter, it wasn’t to be for them, and it was his one regret, that he was unable to give her a child.
Suddenly he felt compelled to touch the soft cool silk, so he carefully unzipped the bag and tentatively reached for the silk and in the instant his fingers touched the fabric, the dress makers dummy seemed to come to life and he looked up and found himself staring mesmerized at what appeared to be his darling wife Amy as she was on that wonderful day in June all those years ago when they were married at St Martins Church, and he sighed to see her sweet smiling face with sparkling blue eyes.
The tone of the wind seemed to change at that point and it seemed to have been replaced by church bells and wedding music, he knew it wasn’t possible but he couldn’t move and didn’t want to for that matter.
“I miss you so much” he said to the apparition and he felt soft kisses on his neck and he sighed again
Just at that moment he was brought back to the moment by a call from the landing
“Uncle Alex! Lunch is ready”
“Ok I’ll be right down” he said and the blissful moment had gone.
He zipped the garment bag up again, closed the lid of the trunk and re-buckled the strap, then he walked back to the ladder but looked back as he descended and she was there again smiling at him and softly said
“I will be with you always”
“Thank you” he responded and as he continued his descent she added
“And the tree looks fine darling”

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Those Memories Made on Teardrop Lake – (96) Crazy in Love

Shallowfield sat on the southern edge of the Finchbottom Vale and was bordered on the other side by the Dancingdean forest and the town’s fortunes had always relied largely upon forestry and agriculture for its survival.
In the post war years with rationing and a shortage of work a lot of people moved away from the area and it only just survived and the community around Teardrop Lake fared even worse.
Only a few of the houses around the Lake were thriving, a lot of the houses had been rented out and those that hadn’t were in a poor state of repair, some too such an extent they were little more than ruins.
But by the 70s however things were beginning to change, thanks mainly to tourism as a result of an increase in leisure time.
This trend was reflected by the fact that the previously derelict Shallowfield Lodge, which had been inherited by a young couple from Lincolnshire, Rob and Sheryl Brown, was being turned into a Hotel.
From then on Shallowfield went from strength to strength which was echoed by the fortunes of the Claremont Hotel.
It was once the home of a wealthy Downshire family but like so many similar great houses in the county it fell into disuse as the fortunes of the owners suffered after the Great War.
It had had many reincarnations since then, particularly in the years between the wars and had been used for many things over the post war years but it wasn’t until the 60s that it became the Claremont Hotel.
However things had got tough in the Hotel trade with the success of Travelodge, Premier Inn and Holiday Inn Express and so places like the Claremont needed to offer something extra to attract the guests which was why Clara Davits was in Shallowfield, because she was an events manager and in December there was an awful lot of scope for such things and Clara was good at her job.
She was also exceptionally hard working, and that December she was working even harder than ever although that was due in no small measure to the fact that she needed distracting.
That was because her husband Owen was a sergeant in the Downshire Light Infantry and was currently on exercises with the regiment firstly in Brunei for jungle operational training and from there to Canada for battle training on the prairies of Alberta.
It was a three month absence which was passing agonizingly slowly for her.
She was able to skype him occasionally and he messaged her when he could but it wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing.
However the two back to back deployments meant she wouldn’t see him until the New Year and as that would have been their first Christmas together she had been very down, which is why she threw herself into her work.
Despite that however she was prone to bouts of daydreaming as she unpacked the Christmas table decoration.
She knew she should get busy on the rest of them to meet her target but she was overcome with tiredness so she decided to have a mug of coffee instead to try and wake herself up, so she sat down on one of the sofa’s to drink it and promptly fell asleep instead and had a long luxurious nap.
When she awoke it was two am and the place was in darkness, obviously someone had come along and thought the room was empty and turned out the lights.
She was still feeling tired so she decided to go outside for some fresh air so she donned her coat, hat, scarf and gloves and went outside.
The snow that had fallen on and off all day had petered out and when she looked up at the night sky she could see breaks in the cloud and the multitude of twinkling stars beyond.
Clara looked back at the hotel where her Christmas lights were visible and then up to the stars again and she addressed them curtly
“Yes I know you’re beautiful, but you’re just showing off”
She walked around the grounds for about half an hour through the fresh fallen snow and when she was done she made her way back towards the hotel when her phone vibrated in her pocket.
Even if she had been able to retrieve it from her pocket with her gloved hand she wouldn’t have been able to operate it so she waited until she had tromped back across the terrace to the warmth of the hotel before she removed her glove and checked her phone.
The source of the vibrating was a text message so with her un-gloved finger she selected “unread messages” and her heart skipped a beat when she realised it was from Owen.
The message seemed to take an eternity to open but when it did she couldn’t believe her eyes as she read,
“Just landed in London, exercise cut short, unexpected ten day leave, see you in 36 hours, counting the minutes”
“Me too” she said and hugged the phone before she ran back outside and she began to laugh out loud as she ran around like a child experiencing its first sight of snow culminating in her falling backwards into a virgin bank of snow.

Despite the lateness of the hour she was seen by one of the guests on the second floor.
“Look at that crazy woman, making snow angels at this time of night” he said to his wife who agreed wholeheartedly that she was crazy.
And Clara would not have disagreed, she was crazy, crazy in love, and her love was coming home for Christmas.

Mornington-By-Mere – (95) The Unexpected Gift

When the Mornington Estate exercised its option to purchase Mornington Field from the MOD it also acquired all the buildings and infrastructure on the airfield itself as well as 29 houses in the village formally used as quarters for military personnel.
The buildings on the airfield itself were converted into commercial premise while the former married quarters were made available to rent and the Vineyard family moved into number 17 Military Row on the 18th of December 2014 but Donna Vineyard was the only one still there five Christmas’ later but she shared the house with her boyfriend David Smith.
They were both hard working 30 years old’s, Donna at the Digitize Image Lab up at Mornington Field and David farmed up at Smithfield’s Farm with his family.
That year it was Donna and David’s turn to play hosts to the parents for Christmas dinner, which Donna achieved with great aplomb.
But after dinner, when the table was cleared away and the dishwasher was loaded, it was time for present giving, and this Donna didn’t take in her stride, and that was because she didn’t really like receiving unknown Christmas Presents.
Donna preferred to either get money or have already selected the gift and instructed the giver, or preferably she would actually buy it herself and then give it to the presenter for them to wrap.
That way she avoided having to employ one of the stock phrases for responding to the Christmas present she would rather not have received.
Her comment’s included,
“Thanks a lot”,
“My word! What a gift”,
“You shouldn't have”
And “Wow”
Or “Well, well, well”
She would have liked to have been facetious but she loved Christmas too much to say something like
“If I had put on 4 stones it would have fitted me perfectly”,
“It's lovely, but I'm worried about the jealousy it may create”,
“Just my luck to get this, on the Christmas I promised to give all my gifts to charity”
Or “Unfortunately, I am about to enter MI5's Witness Protection programme”
So imagine her dismay when her boyfriend of five years presented her with an unexpected gift in front of all the assembled family.
“Oh I’ll open that later” she said “let someone else go next “
But they all insisted she open it and inside she was seething, but externally she had to adopt a calmer stance and David knew precisely what was going on behind the façade and smiled at her discomfiture as he put the gift box in her hand as she sat down on the chair.
It was a box about the size of a bag of sugar and painfully aware that all eyes were on her she pulled the ribbon which undid the bow, then she removed the lid to reveal a smaller similarly wrapped package which she removed and smiled with gritted teeth.
David knew that parcels within parcels were another one of Donna’s pet hates, which is why he did it.
So she again pulled the ribbon which undid the bow, then she removed the lid to reveal another smaller similarly wrapped package.
This was repeated twice more before she held a small bundle wrapped in tissue which, urged on by the spectators, she began to unwrap, and the only audible sound was that of Donnas teeth grinding.
But finally the last layer had been conquered and everyone expected one of her stock response’s but instead there was just silence, even the grinding of teeth had desisted because her mouth was open as she stared at the item at the centre of the unfolded tissue paper, which was a platinum set solitaire diamond engagement ring.
No one else in the room could see it so they weren’t entirely sure what was going on until David asked
“So Donna Vineyard, will you marry me?”

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (95) The Christmas Surprise

In this noisy city he made his way through the darkness as the people rushed by at a frantic pace as a quiet hush fell with a fall of snowflakes and the holiday rush seemed to slow down if only briefly.
It was Christmas Eve, and he had been summoned, and as he had no other place to be, he went along.
Bay View House was a large detached Victorian House sitting on a two acre plot so he walked up the gravel drive.
He turned the key he had been given in the lock and stepped into the house of a man he didn't know.
The house was lit with an abundance of Christmas lights that twinkled against the red brickwork.
The door was stained cedar red and sported a fresh wreath bearing a banner that said “Ho, Ho, Ho”

The lights were on inside the house but it appeared there was no one home but it was warm and cozy and as he had walked the icy streets through heavy snow for twenty minutes to get to the house he welcomed it.
But he didn’t know what to do next, the letter he received at the hotel with the door key, simply told him to go to the house and let himself in.
He stood in the entrance liberally decorated with evergreens, and he drank in the nostalgia inducing atmosphere, but after a few minutes he slipped off his coat and walked towards the drawing room, as per the instructions he received, and pushed open the door and stepped inside and when he looked ahead of him he did a double take because standing at the end of the room by the Christmas tree was Angie, his wife.
“Angie?” he asked and she squealed and launched herself at him.
The reason that he was surprised to see her was that she was supposed to be in Alaska and she wasn’t expected home until Christmas Eve, which was four days away.

She was a geologist working for Transglobal Oil and Gas Exploration and she was supposed to conducting a survey and the trip was supposed to be for a month.
His contact with her had been sketchy, they skyped occasionally, more so when she was in Canada, not so much in Alaska due to the remoteness of the region she was working in.
They also exchanged email, which was also problematic, but she would record little video messages on her phone and she would send them to him whenever she could get a signal.
He really looked forward to getting them and the first thing he did when he got up in the morning was to check his phone.
But there had been nothing for two days, and he had been missing her terribly and he had been counting the days until she was home, which should have been in four days.
Which was when they were to spend ten days together, including Christmas at the Abbottsford Regents Hotel, before she would be off again for another month.
But there she was in his arms kissing him and although he didn’t care why, he asked anyway.
“Why are you home early? And whose house is this?”
“The house belongs to my boss, he’s been brilliant and his wife set up the surprise, the enigmatic message and the key” She explained “They’re in New York until Christmas Eve, and we can stay here before we go on to the Regents as planned” she explained
“Yes but why are you back early? Not that I’m complaining” he said and kissed her again
“Because I have a special Christmas present for you which had to be delivered as soon as possible” she replied enigmatically
“Ok” he mused looking around for a gift
“Following an in depth scan we made a seismic discovery which was so earth shatteringly important I had to share it with you face to face, and it couldn’t wait another four days” she continued “because the news will be in the public domain by then and you have to be the first person I tell”
“God it sounds really important” he said worriedly “So what did you discover?”
Angie looked at his worried expression and smiled, and after a pause she said
“I’m pregnant”

Monday, 5 June 2017

Those Memories Made on Teardrop Lake – (95) The Ice Breaker

(Part 01)

The fortunes of Shallowfield had always relied largely upon forestry and agriculture for its survival.
In the post war years with rationing and a shortage of work a lot of people moved away, to Abbottsford, Abbeyvale and beyond and it only barely survived, and the community around Teardrop Lake fared even worse.
Only a few of the houses around the Lake were thriving, a lot of the houses had been rented out and those that hadn’t been were in a poor state of repair, some too such an extent they were little more than ruins.
But by the 70s things were beginning to change, thanks mainly to tourism and an increase in leisure time.
More importantly these people had money in their pockets.
This trend was reflected by the fact that the derelict Shallowfield Lodge, which had been inherited by a young couple from Lincolnshire, Rob and Sheryl Brown, was being turned into a hotel.
Its completion formerly marked the rebirth of Teardrop Lake and the revival of the busy village of Shallowfield went hand in hand.

One of those houses that was just hanging on was Chapel House which was the family home of the Walker family and although only the older members of the Walker clan lived in the large rambling pile year round it was were the family gathered in numbers for special occasions and of course Christmas.
Among those drawn back to Teardrop Lake each year were the four Walker girls, sister’s Jane, Kathy, Margaret and the baby of the family, Liz.
And over the years the numbers grew with the addition of boyfriends, husbands and then for the older two girls, children.
And it was on the whole a very loving family and among their number were Paul Biggerstaff and Liz Bradshaw but they felt love of a very different kind.
The problem was they were not a couple, they were married however, just not to each other, and they were in fact brother and sister in law.
Paul had been married to Liz’s sister Margaret for over four years and they had been in love with each other for all of those and their mutual attraction was obvious to them both from the first moment they were introduced, but they knew instinctively that they could never act on it.
And for over four years they kept their feelings in check, at least until Christmas in 1970.

They managed to avoid each other most of the previous year, apart from the summer holiday and Christmas.
Because they kept each other at arm’s length they appeared standoffish to the rest of the family but appearances can be deceptive and beneath the surface they were in turmoil.
Because of what appeared to be an intense dislike of each other the rest of the family took great delight in pushing them together just to watch them squirm.
One afternoon after Liz had helped clear away the dinner dishes she had just exited the kitchen into the hall when she met Paul coming the opposite way, they paused not knowing which way to go when Aunty Vi pointed out quite loudly
“You’re under the mistletoe”
“You have to kiss” Aunt Edith added “its and bad luck not to”
“It’s actually against the law not to” Aunty Vi chipped in
“What law?” Liz asked
“Christmas law obviously” Aunty Vi replied
“Rubbish” Paul said
“Tosh” Liz agreed but by now the rest of the family and gathered and they spontaneously started chanting
“Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss”
Delighting in their discomfiture without understanding its nature.
Eventually with no escape Paul and Liz agreed to kiss, just to shut everyone up, and no one understood why they made such a palaver about one simple peck beneath the mistletoe, which was hoped might break the ice between them.

Once the crowd had dispersed, Paul and Liz went their separate ways and independently decided to assuage their embarrassment by over indulging in mulled wine, amongst other things.

(Part 02)

Later that afternoon when those members of the family who had not decided on an afternoon constitutional, were asleep beside the roaring log fire, Liz drained her glass and tottered to the loo and when she emerged she met Paul walking towards her also slightly the worse for drink.
They paused in the middle of the hall and looked at each other
“Look!” she slurred pointing above her head “Mistletoe”
“Yes it is” he agreed
“We’re under the mistletoe” she slurred again “And you know what that means”
“We have to kiss” he responded “it would be bad luck not to”
“It’s actually against the law not to” She added superciliously
“Well if its Christmas law and its Christmas then we must” he concurred
So she stood on tip toe to face him and puckered up and gave him a Christmas kiss and as her lips touched his it was evident that it was so much more than a Christmas kiss or even a drunken expression of their lust.
The kiss lasted for a full ten minutes and might easily have gone on for another ten had they not heard the family return from their walk.
Fortunately they were loud and boisterous which gave the kissing couple time to go their separate ways unnoticed.

When they reflected on it later the nature of the kiss had surprised them both, once they started they didn’t want to stop, but stop they did, it was not just a perfect Christmas kiss, it was perfect on every level, and having broken the ice with a kiss, they wanted to repeat it.
But the next morning in the cold, sober, light of day, they felt guilty, really, really guilty, but not just for weakening, the guilt came because the kiss revealed that they were not just attracted by naked lust, after the kiss they realised it was love, so they avoided each other for the rest of the week.

They had both decided they would not get drunk in case they let their guard down on New Year’s Eve and kissed again.
But about half an hour before midnight they met again in the hall and there was a nervous tension accompanying them because it was the sight of their perfect kiss, a kiss which could easily have led to something else, and would certainly have gone on had they not been interrupted.
“Here we are again at the scene of the crime” he said trying to make light
“Do you mean the kiss?” she asked and he nodded
“I do”
“It was some kiss” she added wistfully
“Yes it was” he agreed and then they both stood looking around awkwardly, lost in remembrance of the kiss seven days before.
“It was only a drunken snog though” she said
“Do you think it was just the mulled wine then?” he asked
“Probably” Liz replied indifferently
“It might be nice to know for sure” Paul said after a moment’s thought
“Like an experiment?”
“Yes, just so” he agreed
“Well I suppose in the interest of science I suppose we could”
She replied and like she had done the week before she stood on tip toe and touched her lips to his and the experimental kiss began.
It was a long kiss, a hot kiss, a passionate kiss and overall a perfect kiss, even more perfect than the previous one, a kiss against which every kiss that followed would be compared to.
After five minutes they heard a door open but this time neither of them were in any mood to stop so they just relocated to the boot room and kissed again.
That New Year’s Eve experiment proved two things conclusively, firstly that the drunken snog was not made perfect by the alcohol but by the participants and secondly that they were hopelessly in love.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Downshire Diary – (94) Christmas in 1962

(Part 01)

Downshire is a relatively small English county but like a pocket battleship it packs a lot in, a short but beautiful coastline, a channel port, the Ancient forests of Dancingdean and Pepperstock, the craggy ridges and manmade lakes of the Pepperstock Hills National Park, the rolling hills of the Downshire Downs, the beautiful Finchbottom Vale and farm land as far as the eye can see from the Trotwood’s and the Grace’s in the south to the home of the Downshire Light infantry, Nettlefield, and their affluent neighbour’s, Roespring and Tipton in the north but our story takes place in the southern town off Abbottsford which was the biggest in Downshire, its administrative capital and the seat of the Downshire government.
It was also a place of learning thanks to the Downshire University, a Cathedral City and was home to Abbottsford Town football club.

It was a cold and bitter winter in 1962, and one of the hardest Downshire winters in living memory and eighteen year old Luke Osbourne found himself far from home in Abbottsford that Christmas, a trainee in the restaurant at the Regents Hotel, and he was penniless and alone.
He had spent most of his money on presents for his family in Northchapel and the remainder on postage to have them delivered in time for Christmas.
But on the day before Christmas Eve, he got paid and the restaurant manager, Stefanos Calavittis, told him
“Take the rest of the evening off, we are booked solid tomorrow and Christmas Day and we are very busy so there will be no time off for the next two day”
He was a very strict manager but his bark was worse than his bite and he treated all the staff firmly yet fairly.
“So go home and get some rest” He added.
Luke trudged home through the winding streets of the town towards his digs, where he had a room on the top floor of a Victorian terraced house in Castleview Road, but he decided to spend an hour at the Castle Pub.
It was run by Bob Dalimore, ex Abbottsford Town center forward, and he would regularly regale die-hard fans like Luke with stories of his glory days in the black and white quarters, he also overlooked the fact he was under age.
The Castle soon became his local as it was on his way home and the stocky, bald former football hero always made him and fellow Knights fans welcome.

After nursing his pint for an hour he wandered through the deserted winding back streets of the Castle district, slipping and slithering on the icy pavements and his breath rose in dense clouds in the sub-zero temperatures.
But suddenly two menacing figures appeared out of the darkness and he was knocked violently to the floor and after a sustained beating they left him bruised, bloody, cold and wet, minus his watch, his signet ring and his pay packet.
After an indeterminate period of time he struggled to his feet, brushing melted snow from his sodden clothes and groggily set off to complete his journey home.
He could have gone back to the pub where everyone would have rallied round but he was too ashamed.
His head ached from the beating and his hands had lost all sensation but he rubbed them vigorously together to restore circulation regardless.
As he stumbled along he peered through the frosted dimly lit windows and saw families, gaily preparing for the upcoming celebrations and he found himself wondering how things were at home.
He had received a letter from his mother only that morning and though it was intended to cheer him up it had the opposite effect because in truth it held sadness between every line.
“We will miss you, on your first Christmas away from home” she wrote and he missed home even more.

(Part 02)

Luke ached from the cold and huddled deeper into his duffel coat as a black cab sped by, full of drunken revelers, its windows steamed up.
The Christmas lights twinkled from the windows in Castle View Road, and he looked up to his own darkened window of his tiny attic apartment high above.
“Not far to go now” he said to himself as number 85 Castle View Road was in view.
He struggled up the narrow staircases up to his tiny attic apartment on the fourth floor of the old Victorian building.
Once he got into his room he spread his soaked clothing on the lukewarm radiator and crawled into bed as outside the snow began to fall heavily and little drops of moisture trickled down the frozen windowpane.

When he arrived downstairs for breakfast the next morning, his landlady, Mrs. Oliver, took one look at him and ordered him back to bed.
Fortunately he was not the only member of the Regents Hotel staff to have rooms at Mrs. Oliver’s, so they were able to let Mr. Calavittis what had happened to Luke and to testify that he wasn’t malingering.

He spent much of the day in his room under the covers until he suddenly heard a chorus of voices as they wafted up on the crisp afternoon air.
So he crawled out of his bed and wrenched the dormer window open and he saw far below in their back garden his next door neighbours children running around and having fun in the snow, his first reaction to the view of the Cooper family enjoying the weather was one of sadness, but he quickly shook off those feelings and leant far out and scooped up handfuls of snow from the slates and the Cooper children shrieked and ran for cover as his snowballs found their mark.
“Merry Christmas Luke” Sally Cooper called up to him and smiled “Come down and join us”
He liked Sally, she was a few months younger than him and he had a crush on her.
“Yes please come” her younger siblings chorused

Luke donned his duffel coat and woolen hat and went downstairs and via the back garden of 85 and joined the Coopers and was greeted by a volley of snowballs.
But when Sally saw the cuts and abrasions on his face she was shocked by their severity and called off her siblings attack.
“My goodness” she said “Mrs. O said you were robbed, but I didn’t know they hurt you so badly”
And then to her brother John she said
“Go and get mum”

When Mrs. Cooper appeared and saw his injuries she went all mother hen over him
“You poor boy, look what they did to you, you’re spending Christmas with us” she announced “and I want no argument”
“I’m working all day tomorrow” he said meekly
“Well you’re not working tonight” Mrs. Cooper said “so you’re staying for dinner, George has made Punch and we are having roast Goose tonight”
“He’d love to” Sally said “Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes very much, thank you” he said and Sally took his arm
“Come into the warm then” Mrs. Cooper said “it’s getting chilly”
“We don’t just have Punch and Goose this evening” Sally said as they followed the other inside
“What else could there be?” he asked
“Mistletoe” Sally replied and smiled so despite everything it turned out to be a wonderful Christmas in 1962 after all.