Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Downshire Diary – (14) The Girl in the Christmas Dress

(Part 01)

Steve Berry had always had a distinct dislike for Christmas, in fact he hated everything about it, despite all the jollity and faux fun because unlike many of his Christmas mad friends he had no happy Christmas memories to anesthetise him against the season.
His parents were chronic alcoholics and each year their Christmas came in a bottle and thanks to his ill-tempered father, Steve’s came with a slap, so his childhood Christmases were festive memories he would rather have forgotten.
But adulthood brought no relief from the season and it always seemed to him that when shit happened Christmas just magnified the misery.
If someone died at Christmas the very season makes it more keenly felt and he could testify to that fact as his own mother died on Christmas Eve when he was 19.
He had no idea where his father was and quite frankly he didn’t care he never bothered to show up for the funeral and for all he knew he could have been dead as well.
So as a result he had never trusted Christmas, because he knew that shit lurks beneath the coloured lights and paper chains.
That was until Holly Davis opened his eyes to new possibilities and he realised that Christmas could also magnify joy.

After an excess of alcohol and some sneakiness from Holly he found himself working behind the bar in her Uncle Phil’s pub, the Pig and Whistle in Abbeyvale.
He was still uncertain quite how she managed to affect that, but affect it she did and during the ten days he spent working for her, she had turned his life upside down and it culminated at closing time on Christmas Eve as the church bells at St Mary’s chimed midnight, with him wishing her a Merry Christmas and kissing her.
Judging by the way Holly responded Steve hoped that the kiss on Christmas Eve might have been the start of something between them but alas for him it didn’t lead anywhere.
Holly had indeed responded to his advance and in fact had been hoping for it, but she knew it was far too soon to throw caution to the wind.
There were scabs as yet unpicked regarding Steve Berry that needed to be attended to before she completely let down her guard.
Holly considered him to be a work in progress she thought he had potential but he still needed work but there was certainly hope for him, but he was progressing nonetheless.

The other event that occurred on Christmas Eve was a prolonged fall of snow which resulted in them being snowed in.
Holly was due to go to lunch at her cousin’s house but as she lived 30 miles away it was not possible to make the journey safely with the amount of snow that was still laying.
Steve was due to spend the day alone in his flat, not celebrating Christmas at all, but Holly invited him to spend the day with her instead as he hadn’t risked driving home the night before.
He would have been quite happy to have slept on one of the bench seats in the lounge bar as he had once before, but Holly insisted he use the spare room.
So that was how Steve Berry came to celebrate his first ever Christmas and why he was sitting at the bar nursing a cup of coffee in the clothes he had been wearing the night before.

(Part 02)

It was as a result of them being snowed in at the Pig and Whistle on Christmas Eve which led to Steve Berry celebrating his first ever Christmas at the age of 30 and why he was sitting at the bar nursing a cup of coffee in the clothes he had been wearing the night before.
“Morning” he said as Holly appeared behind the bar
“Happy Christmas” Holly said and reached over and kissed his cheek.
Now it was not the kiss he was hoping for and it was not possessed of the passion that accompanied the embrace of the night before but that simple peck on the cheek held within it something very special, and that was hope.
“God its cold in here” she said
“Yes, there was a power cut during the night and it knocked the boiler out” he said
“I’ve relit it but it’ll take a while to warm the place up”
“This was not the Christmas day I had in mind” Holly said putting the collar of her dressing gown up
“Nor me” he added
She was supposed to be dining on a sumptuous feast at her cousin’s house, while he was supposed to be in self-imposed exile at his flat pretending that Christmas was just a bad dream.
“Do you want a drink?” he asked
“Oh yes please” she replied and Steve got up and went to the kitchen returning a few minutes later with a steaming mug of tea
“Thanks hon” she said and winced at her involuntary over familiarization and quickly went on.
“I don’t know what we are going to eat today” Holly said
“We will need to ferret in the freezer”
“I didn’t know ferret was traditional Christmas fare” Steve said “but I’m no expert on Christmas.
“You know what I mean” she said smiling “Can you cook?”
“A bit” he replied
“Good because I’m rubbish” Holly admitted
Steve actually undersold himself when he said he could cook a bit
He could in fact cook very well, exceptionally well.

Steve not being a traditionalist or a fan of the season could certainly make something out of what was on hand in the kitchen.
Holly however wanted to have a roast lunch, with all the trimmings, but after they checked the freezer they had to rule out a roast dinner as the joints would never have defrosted in time, and they were too big for the microwave and as they were frozen hard, impossible to cut down to size, but there were alternatives.
The fresh vegetable stores were limited but more than sufficient for two people.
Although she couldn’t cook herself, Holly was determined to help, firstly by peeling the potatoes and carrots and then by getting out of his way so he could get on by taking herself off upstairs to get ready for the day.

While Holly was gone Steve finished preparing the food and when he was done he was very pleased that he had achieved something to suit Holly’s traditional wishes, at least in part.

(Part 03)

Steve Berry had just reached the point where he could safely leave the kitchen and get showered and shaved when Holly reappeared and he was stopped in his tracks.
She looked stunning, her mousy hair, washed and styled was adorned with Christmas slides and she was wearing a white wool dress decorated with poinsettias.
And her shapely legs were covered by black tights with motifs of bows and parcels and as he looked at her from head to toe he thought to himself that he’d like them to be stockings rather than tights, but nice legs were nice legs regardless of what they were sheathed in.
“Wow” Steve exclaimed
“Wow” he said again and Holly blushed
“It’s a Christmas dress you know” she said
“I don’t care” he said “wow”
“But you don’t like Christmas” she pointed out
“It’s growing on me” he said unable to take his eyes off her
“Good” she said “you won’t mind wearing this then”
When would he ever learn, he now had to wear another blessed Christmas sweater.
“Where do you keep getting them from?” he asked
“They’re Uncle Phil’s” she replied “I buy him one every year”
“But I’ve never seen Phil in a Christmas jumper, not ever” Steve said
“No nor of I” Holly agreed

Steve went upstairs, showered and shaved and returned to find Holly had laid a table in the lounge bar, complete with festive serviettes, candles, party poppers and crackers.
On the CD player the Puppini Sisters were in full voice and his natural aversion to Christmas music was tempered by the fact that he caught Holly singing and dancing along with the music.
He stayed out of sight in the doorway so he could enjoy the spectacle as long as possible.
When she eventually became aware of him she blushed redder than the poinsettias on her dress.
“How long have you been standing there?” she said suddenly flustered and began fussing with the table.
“Long enough” Steve replied
“You should have said something” Holly said as she headed towards the kitchen still flushed red
“What and spoil the show” he replied as he followed close behind her and chuckled.

Holly carried on with the table while Steve checked the oven and ten minutes later he was transferring everything to serving dishes which Holly took to the table.
All he had left to do was make the gravy and get the Yorkshire puddings out of the oven.
Christmas dinner was as traditional as he could manage given the limits of the provisions available but it was Holly’s turn to say “Wow” as he served Chicken breast wrapped in bacon, served with Roast potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots, peas, stuffing and Yorkshire pudding.
“What no starters” she said tongue in cheek
Holly lit the candles and Steve opened the wine, then they pulled the crackers and she made him wear a paper hat.
For desert he served apple pie and ice cream after which they watched the Queens speech.

(Part 04)

As soon as the Queens speech was over Holly switched off the TV
“What now?” he asked
“Now we sit and talk” She replied
“You mean “talk”” Steve said
“Do we have to” He said “It’s been such a lovely day”
“How are we supposed to learn about each other if we don’t talk?”
Holly replied
“So what do you want to know?” he said resignedly
“You’re childhood” Holly said with great interest
“What about it?” he replied
“Well, it’s not just Christmas that was unhappy was it”
“No it wasn’t” he replied and Holly settled back to let him unburden himself
“It wasn’t just Christmas, it was New Year’s, Easter, Halloween and birthdays”
He paused and took a drink
“You see my parents were alcoholics, when I was young they managed to somehow keep it under control and were functioning alcoholics, they held down jobs and to the outside world they seemed normal.
But once I got to school age I pretty much raised myself, which is how I came to learn to cook, because if I didn’t cook I didn’t eat”
They had spent a very pleasant Christmas day together, snowed in at the pub, the last thing he wanted to do was regurgitate the unpleasant moments of his life, particularly as he had been doing his best to forget them.
But once he started he couldn’t stop and by the end of it he was exhausted as they sat in the gathering darkness.
Holly was largely quiet throughout and just added the odd word of encouragement and support.
Holly broke the short period of silence.
“How do you feel?”
“Surprisingly good” he responded

However, despite his feeling unburdened by the lengthy afternoon revelations there was an awkward silence in the aftermath, so Steve disappeared down to the kitchen to make them both a snack.
He wondered if he should have held back and if he had unnerved Holly with his total honesty.
“I should have drip fed her” he said as he walked around the kitchen “Let her absorb it and then I could have said more, but no, you had to blurt out every sordid detail of your pathetic life and now she probably thinks you’re a nut job”
When he had finished with the rant and the snack he put it on a tray and carried it upstairs to the lounge where Holly greeted his arrival with a smile, but not a nervous smile, it was a kindly open smile, from someone happy to see him return.

“God that was good” Holly said after consuming the snack he had prepared with relish.
“Every cloud has a silver lining” he said referring to the reason that he had learned to cook in the first place.
“There is always a positive in life” Holly said sagely “you just have to look for it”
“Well that’s what I plan to do” he said and cleared the plates away
“I’ll pour us another drink” He added

(Part 05)

When Steve returned to the lounge Holly was sitting on the sofa with a Christmas present on her lap and she was smiling broadly.
“Happy Christmas” she said as she handed him the gift
“What’s this?” he asked
“Well open it and find out” Holly answered
“I wasn’t expecting a present” Steve said and sat down beside her on the sofa and squeezed the package
“Oh no not another Christmas sweater” he said and Holly giggled as he tore the paper open.
But when he had removed all the paper and unfolded its contents he saw that although it was indeed a sweater, it was not a novelty Christmas one like those she had made him wear for the previous ten days but a plain blue one in cashmere.
“That’s fantastic” he said enthusiastically “I love it
“Try it on then” Holly insisted and stood up
Holly took hold of the new one while Steve removed the one he was wearing and then they swapped.
As Steve pulled the cashmere over his head Holly held the novelty one he had just removed up to her nose and inhaled his scent.
“That looks great” she said when he had put it on
“It feels it” he said “can I keep it on?”
“Yes” she said and held the other one to her breast and he walked over to the Christmas tree and plunged his hand in between the branches.
It was perhaps testament to the progress that he had made over such a short period of time that he had actually bought her a present, which he removed from its hiding place and said
“Happy Christmas”
“When did you put that there?” she asked in amazement
“This morning” Steve replied
“That was sneaky” Holly said and ripped the paper off like a mad woman until she was left with a little blue presentation box embossed with gold relief.
She looked at it in wide eyed wonder, it was jewelry, he had bought her jewelry and from a quality jeweler’s.
Holly took a deep breath and then opened the box and then she gasped.
“It’s lovely” she said as she took it out the box and held the gold pendant in her hand.
It was in the shape of a holly leaf and it had her name engraved on it.
“I love it, I absolutely love it” she said “put it on for me”
Steve took the pendant from her and when Holly turned her back to him, she reached back and scooped her hair out of the way while he fastened it.
Then she went to the mirror, stood on her tiptoes and looked at herself and admired the pendant.
“I really love it” Holly said and then she let out a squeal as she rushed towards him and then for the second day running they ended the day with a passionate kiss.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Jamboree Bag of Christmas # 3


In the Roman Empire on the great day of December 25th, came the Brumalia or festival of the shortest day. A day of great religious significance for the sun-worshipers.
This day was also known as Natalis Solus Invicti or the "Birth of the Unconquerable Sun"
This was the time when the day began again to lengthen.
In the fifth century the Western Church ordered Christmas to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol.


Saturnalia was a period of the year that was one of great festivity for the pagan Romans.
The four day celebration of Saturnalia began on December 17th with the feast of the god Saturn, the Roman deity of seed and sowing.
"The Roman Saturnalia was characterized by processions, singing, lighting candles, adorning houses with laurels and green trees, giving presents."
Many of these have passed into modern day Christmas celebrations.
A major part of the pagan Saturnalia festival was ritual turning everything upside-down which abolished for a short while the distinction of ranks, a reversal of all order and dignities where slaves were served by masters, soldiers served by their officers, a tradition which is still carried out today in the British armed forces.


A major part of the Romans pagan Saturnalia festival, the ritual turning everything upside-down and the temporary loss of the distinction of ranks, a reversal of all order and dignities where slaves were served by masters, soldiers served by their officers passed on into the British Christmas celebrations.
It was probable a remnant of the roman culture left behind when the great empire first shrunk and then fell.
The custom was carried out to great lengths at Christmastime in England during the middle Ages.
It was customary to appoint a "Lord of Misrule" or an "Abbot of Unreason" or even the 'Lord of Merry Disport' who presided over the blasphemous foolery and this appointment was normally made by a significant noble.
However in England an 'Abbot of Misrule' was chosen in every large household though in Scotland it was an 'Abbot of Unreason'.
During the thankfully short term of the festival he was the master of the house.
The church hierarchy frowned upon this Blasphemy but had to put a brave face on it.
Church leaders would certainly not approve of the fact that it was quite customary even for the clergy to indulge in the paganism.
Thankfully the early Puritans who witnessed the jolly antics of the grotesque fools abolished the practise, the only good thing they ever did, and when the puritans lost their power the practise was never revived.
There is still a tradition within the British Armed forces and the Metropolitan Police service where the lower ranks are served Christmas dinner by the officers but that is all that survives.


January 5th or twelfth night marks the climax of the Christmas season.
The twelve days of Christmas are counted from December 25th until twelfth night.
The season of Christmas begins with the first Sunday of Advent and concludes with Epiphany.
The period between Christmas day and epiphany is referred to as Christmastide.
Epiphany usually shares the white and gold, colours of Christmas denoting celebration, newness, and hope.
But epiphany has a much more significant meaning to the Christian as it marks the time when the magi were the first gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "king" and this act of worship by the magi,
Was a message to the world that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and of all faiths.


Gluhwein is a traditional German mulled wine served containing cloves to warm against the bitter winter days.
It is traditionally served at the many German outdoor Christmas markets to keep the customers warm and full of Christmas cheer.


Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas and is the last day of the Christmas season.
Three Kings Day or Día de los Reyes is Also known as The Epiphany, the Christian celebration commemorating the Biblical story of the three kings Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who followed the star of Bethlehem to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.
Traditionally in Spanish speaking countries, Three Kings Day is the time for gift-giving, rather than Christmas day.
In some regions it IS customary for children to leave their shoes out on the night of January 5 hoping the Three Kings will be generous, the children’s shoes will often be filled with hay for the Kings camels.
When the Spanish children wake on January 6 they find the hay has gone and their shoes are filled with toys and gifts.


1 bottle red wine
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon
Orange and lemon peel

With the exception of the wine boil all ingredients together and reduce the volume by half.
Remove from the heat Strain and then add the Wine.
Return to the heat bringing the mixture to the boil but not boiling.
Remove from the heat and Serve hot.


2 pints of water
8oz sugar
Half a bottle of rum
Half a bottle port
The juice and rind of 3 lemons
1 sliced apple
1 sliced orange
Grated nutmeg
Add the sugar and lemon rind to the water in a saucepan and boil. Remove from the heat and when cool strain before adding the rum, port and lemon juice.
Decant into large a pre-warmed punch bowl and float the sliced apple and orange on the top and finally sprinkle with nutmeg.


Most brewers will produce a robust and full bodied winter ale in time for the Christmas festivities.
It will be called Winter Warmer, Christmas ale, Winter ale or any combination of all the above.
In the 21st century when all the bars are stocked with many and various insipid imported lagers and the infamous Alco pops I just hope the brewers continue producing the traditional Christmas tipple

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Jamboree Bag of Christmas # 2


Many of our modern Christmas customs are carried over from pre-Christian celebrations.
Hanging gifts on trees is purported to stem from the ancient Druids tree worship, and the belief that the tree was the giver of all things good.


After the French Revolution and the Monarchy was overthrown the new republican government banned Midnight Mass and as a result the people were denied access to the Church crèches.
Though I support of the revolution The people of Marseilles were not best please with this decision as they were particularly fond of the church Crèche and as the revolutionaries had denied them access to the church they created "public crèches" these were produced by individuals but displayed for all to see.


The original Crèches in Provence date back to the 17th century, when the few bas-reliefs evolved into carved wooden figures.
They were mainly restricted to aristocratic and middle class homes.
The family crèche became even more widespread and some of them contained up to 40 different characters.
Even before decorated Christmas trees became the custom, the crèche already had pride of place in French people’s homes.


Santons are clay figurines that depict the characters of the nativity and were used in church crèches and later in family crèches.
The name Santon comes from the Provencal word "santoùn" or little saint.
The first Santons were modelled in wax by religious orders.
Then later they were made of clay found in the region of Marseilles and Aubagne.
When the French settled on the American continent they took Santons with them and they are an integral part of Christmas in Canada and Louisiana.


The Christmas cactus, native to Brazil, is a popular winter-flowering houseplant.
It has no symbolic or religious connection to Christmas.
The come in a wide variety of colours from red and purple to pink and cream.
Its only reason for being called the Christmas cactus is that it is in flower over the Christmas period.


Eggnog is a tradition that arrived in America from Europe although not in its current form.
In Europe there were many milk and wine punches served at festive times however once in America Rum was used as a substitute for wine.
There seems to be a difference of opinion as to how the Colonial American Milk punch became known as Eggnog.
One theory is that as Rum was commonly known as "grog" and the punch contained Egg the name derived from the description of the drink, "egg-and-grog".
This would have been corrupted to egg'n'grog and then eventually to eggnog.
Another theory claims that the "nog" in eggnog stems from the word "noggin". A noggin being a crude small carved wooden mug often used in low taverns.
So if you have an egg drink in a noggin the drink becomes eggnog.
The final theory is a mixture of the previous two and so claims that eggnog was originally called "egg and grog in a noggin".
They all seem equally unconvincing but without a doubt the jury is still out on the last one I think.
Eggnog is still a popular drink during the holidays today and it’s hard to imagine a Christmas without a cup of the "Eggnog" to spice up a gathering and lend merriment and joy to the proceedings.


The kissing bough was made out of mistletoe, holly, ivy, and any other available evergreens.
It was shaped into a double hoop and had bright streamers flowing from the top and was decorated with apples, pears, ribbons, and lighted candles.
Anyone found under the bough, as with mistletoe, was to be kissed without delay.
The kissing bough was very popular in England but its heyday was before the arrival of the Christmas tree.


4 Large eggs
2 floz. Jamaica Rum
8 oz. Granulated Sugar
8 floz. Un skimmed Milk
8 floz. Single Cream
1 pint Whiskey

Separate the eggs and then beat the yolks and whites separately before pouring them into a bowl together.
Add other ingredients and mix well then pour into a suitable container for serving.
Keep Refrigerated until ready to serve and sprinkle with nutmeg.


In medieval England the Lord of Misrule played a major part in the Christmas festivities.
He led the many holiday activities and wielded real power even over the King.
The Lord of Misrule was appointed by the King and his nobles to reign for the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The chosen man was usually had wisdom enough not to abuse his position of power when dealing with the nobility and when instructing the mummers, a traveling band of rowdy players, whom h controlled out on the streets.
Much of the custom surrounding the Lord of Misrule and the Mummers had parallels with the Roman Saturnalia, during which masters and slaves changed places, with general rowdiness abounding.
The Mummers were a rowdy traveling band of players who roamed the streets in costume performing plays, songs and generally doing as the Lord of Misrule bad them.
While mainly being restricted to the streets they would at times burst into churches and disrupt services and generally carouse around.
They would perform classic Mummer's plays and like carollers, would often perform in exchange for Christmas goodies.
When the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell came to power, they banned the Lord of Misrule and the Mummers.
Although the monarchy restored many of the Christmas traditions outlawed by Cromwell, the Lord of Misrule and the Mummers remained outlawed and never again enjoyed the freedom and popularity they had in medieval England.


December 8TH has been observed as a Roman Catholic feast in commemoration of the Immaculate Conception since1854.
It was in that year that Pope Pius IX made an official declaration that the term "Immaculate Conception" refers to neither the conception of Jesus nor to a virgin birth.
Pope Pius IX further decreed the term "Immaculate Conception" refers to a specific doctrine of Roman Catholicism decreeing that the Virgin Mary was preserved free from original sin by divine grace from the moment of her conception.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

A Jamboree Bag of Christmas # 1


Christingle has its origins in Eastern Europe and The Christingle Service is a Service of candle lights where very many years ago people gathered in the street, sang carols and collected gifts to help the less fortunate in the community.

It is a beautiful candle light service of hymns, carols, recitations and bible readings, but Christingle goes beyond a candle light service and it tells a story. A story is told with the symbolic use of the following items:
An orange representing the world.
A red ribbon tied around the orange to symbolize the blood of Jesus shed for his people.
Tooth picks decorated with dried fruits and sweets are placed at the four corners of the orange representing all the people of the world. A lighted candle in the centre of the orange represents the light of Christ to the world.


Every year as a token of their gratitude the people of Norway present Britain with a 70 foot Christmas tree which stands in Trafalgar square.
However the tree has not always been received in the same spirit as it was given at times the discord has soured the season of goodwill.
In 1960 Westminster City Council wanted to charge the Norwegians for the electricity used to light the tree but thankfully Parliament intervened.
While In 1980 the very same council tried to stop the tradition altogether by refusing to accept the tree in an attempt to save the £5,000 cost.
Good sense again prevailed and now the costs are met by the Greater London Authority.
Other bureaucrats have tried to interfere and spoil Christmas this time from Brussels and they complained about the breaking of import restrictions.
The tree has also over the years suffered physical damage, on a number of occasions from high winds and on one occasion it was attacked with a chain saw by anti-war protestors.
In 1987 protesters actually chained themselves to the tree although I don’t know what their cause was.


In the Roman Catholic areas of southern Germany, such as in Bavaria, Sankt Nikolaus still appears with a flowing beard and a bishop's staff.
In preparation of his arrival Houses are given a thorough clean and children shine their shoes or boots.
The children put a letter to St Nicholas along with carrots for his white horse in their shoes and these are left either by the children’s bed or on a window sill. During the night Sankt Nikolaus goes from house to house visiting the children and if they have been good, he fills, shoe or boot with delicious fruits, nuts and sweets but if they have been bad they may only find potatoes, coal, or twigs.


The Germans love to decorate their homes at Christmas and one of the favourite forms of German decoration is for the window.
The decoration consists of a small wooden frames holding a picture made from coloured glass or plastic with an electric candle light behind it.
These lights look very beautiful when viewed from outside at night.


A popular German Christmas decoration is an Adventskranz which consists of a wreath of leaves with four candles.
Advent which means 'coming' is the 4 week period before Christmas and on each Sunday of Advent, another candle is lit.


In Germany Der Weihnachtsmann or Father Christmas brings presents in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve after people return home from church they find the presents under the Christmas tree.
One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room.


In Austria St. Nicholas is the special children's saint and he is honoured throughout Austria because It is said that God rewarded Nicholas for his generosity by allowing him to return to earth each year to bring gifts to all the good children.


The nativity scene with the baby Jesus Christ laying in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph the shepherds and the wise men has long been a favourite Christmas decoration. It has been used for centuries to bring the story of Christmas alive.
It was Francis of Assisi who instituted the custom of the nativity scene after receiving permission from the pope.
Who was renowned for his love of animals, so at Christmas in 1224 he erected the first nativity scene in a cave outside the town of Greccio in Italy.
It did not resemble the type of scene you might see nowadays it was not a hand crafted nor mass-produced but a live scene.
Parishioners played the parts much as children do in the school nativity plays today.
People would gather to watch the spectacle and Francis stood in front of the manger reciting the appropriate gospel followed by a sermon.


The first Christmas card was printed in England in 1843, for a busy man called Sir Henry Cole.
Because he was such a busy man he wanted to save some of the time he had to spend on his Christmas correspondence.
However his motive was not merely to ease the burden of his letter writing he was also a tremendous advocate of the slowly expanding postal system.
Sir Henry Cole’s first commercial Christmas card sold 1000 copies at one shilling each.
But it was not until the 1860s that card production accelerated with the advent of cheaper printing methods.
Then in 1870 a half penny stamp for sending cards was introduced by the Post Office.


The "Sans Day Carol," is a traditional carol from Cornwall.
The carol focuses on the aspects of the holly's symbolism in the form of the different coloured berries.
Red berries represent the blood of Jesus and white berries symbolize his purity.
Green berries represent the cross upon which Christ was crucified and black symbolize his death.

Downshire Diary – (13) The Girl in the Red Dress

(Part 01)

Steve Berry had always had a distinct dislike for Christmas, in fact he hated everything about it, despite all the jollity and faux fun because unlike many of his Christmas mad friends he had no happy Christmas memories to anesthetise him against the season.
His parents were chronic alcoholics and each year their Christmas came in a bottle and thanks to his ill-tempered father, Steve’s came with a slap, so his childhood Christmases were festive memories he would rather have forgotten.
But adulthood brought no relief from the season and it always seemed to him that when shit happened Christmas just magnified the misery.
If someone died at Christmas the very season makes it more keenly felt and he could testify to that fact as his own mother died on Christmas Eve when he was 19.
He had no idea where his father was and quite frankly he didn’t care he never bothered to show up for the funeral and for all he knew he could have been dead as well.
So as a result he had never trusted Christmas, because he knew that shit lurks beneath the coloured lights and paper chains.

He used to dream of getting away at Christmas and going somewhere that didn’t celebrate it in any way, shape or form, but where exactly is that place?
Answers on a postcard please to Steve Berry if anyone has any suggestions.
So each year like the rest of the populous he was subjected to all the usual false jollity, Christmas Parties, Secret Santa’s and Christmas Lunch, Paper hats, crackers and all that shit.
And everywhere he would go from October onwards was bedecked with tinsel, garlands, bells, baubles and Led lights.
And it was impossible to avoid it as each and every shop played endless spools of regurgitated Christmas tunes and if that wasn’t enough there were the morons possessed of more money than sense who decorated the outside of their houses with every conceivable adornment of light emitting decorations to create an Led hell.

Steve never had a girlfriend at Christmas he always dumped them, or got himself dumped, when they started to get too jolly.
So when he was 21 he developed the perfect anti Christmas strategy.
He would always save a chunk of annual leave and finish work at least one week before the big day and return after the New Year debacle.
He would stock up with food along with the other festive numpties and armed with a stack of DVD box sets he became a Christmas recluse until the year turned and that strategy had served him well for nine 9 years and he believed it would serve him another ninety.
He had found it had become easier over the years with the advent of catch up TV, he just needed to avoid the adverts that remind him that it was Christmas and that he couldn’t afford a holiday.
His strategy was however tried and tested and it had managed to save his sanity over the years.

(Part 02)

Steve was in the Pig and Whistle, not exactly a real shit hole of a pub but not the most attractive or ambient but more importantly the only pub in town guaranteed not to play Christmas stuff because the landlord Phil hated the season almost as much as Steve did.
It was his last night out before his Christmas exile and it was his intention to get totally shitfaced as he had almost three weeks to recover.
He was not a social animal, he liked his own company and if he ever engaged in conversation with fellow patrons it was because he had initiated it.
He was also not averse to being rude if someone else spoke first.
So he was just enjoying his third pint as he sat in the furthest most corner of the bar reading his book when it happened.
“Hello” she said
Steve ignored her, normally if he didn’t respond they’d get the message and go away
“Hello” she said louder “Are you ok?”
“I was” he sighed
“Oh dear Mr Grinch” she said “what you need is some Christmas spirit”
“I’m fine” he insisted
“I don’t think you are sitting on your own in the furthest most corner” she said
Steve looked at her for the first time, she was roughly his age, maybe a little younger, and she was wearing a red dress, red and white striped stockings and had tinsel in her mousy hair.
“Who are you? The Christmas fairy?” he asked gruffly
He wanted to tell her to fuck off but she was quite cute.
“No I’m Holly, Phil’s niece” she said
“Holly? How very festive” He said sarcastically
“Yes I’m going to instil a little Christmas spirit” Holly said
“But Phil hates Christmas” Steve informed her
“I know” she said “which is why he’s going to Las Vegas until the New Year”
“When?” He asked
“Half an hour ago” she replied
“So are you going to come and join the rest of us?”
“No thanks I don’t do Christmas” he said and returned to his book
“Oh well perhaps some Christmas music will get you in the mood” she said resolutely
“Oh God” he responded

The Christmas party mix was really grating on him but he was too far along with his Christmas strategy to go off hunting for another Christmas free pub so he had to put up with it.
As the evening wore on she persisted in trying to draw him out of his corner, but to no avail.
He left his corner only to go to the bar and get another drink and then returned to his solitude.
Apart from the music upsetting his plans there was the added annoyance of customers, more arriving every hour, word had got out that Phil “The Grinch who stole Christmas” had gone for the duration, and that there was a new Santa in town.
This only became a problem however when, while he was at the bar, somebody took over his corner.
So he had to return to the bar again.
“Back again already Steve?” Holly asked
“Someone is in my seat” he said
“Well pull up a stool” she suggested
“Do I have a choice?” he said grumpily
“You’re just a little ray of sunshine” she said and laughed
“I can see I’m going to have to use all my Christmas magic on you”
He sighed as he settled himself down on a stool and said
“I’ve never seen it so busy in here”
“I know” Holly said “I’m going to need more staff at this rate”
“Good luck with that” he said with a sneer

(Part 03)

Steve Berry woke up the morning after he met The Girl in the Red Dress, with his face stuck to the mock leather of a bench seat and when he painfully sat himself up he saw he was in the lounge bar of the Pig and Whistle.
Well he had intended getting shit faced the night before, so mission accomplished there, and he had expected to wake up with a hangover, so another box ticked, but it was never part of the plan to wake up with a hangover at the pub.
“Good morning sunshine” Holly called as she crashed through the door wearing a dressing gown and slippers.
“Ow” he said “have some respect for the dead”
She put a mug of black coffee on the table in front of him and peered at his bloodshot eyes
“Blimey! Can you actually see through those?” she asked
“I hope you don’t drink like that when you’re working”
“Well I don’t need to worry about work until January” he said and sipped at his coffee
“Don’t you remember anything about last night?” Holly asked with a wry smile on her lips
He closed his eyes and replied
“I remember I don’t like Christmas”
“Anything else?” Holly persisted
“It was very busy, very noisy” Steve said but could remember nothing else
“Do you remember me saying I needed more staff?” she asked
“Yes I do remember that” he replied
“Good” she said “because your it”
“What?” he said loudly and then winced
“You volunteered to work right through till New Year’s Eve”
“I can’t have” Steve said
“Well you did” She insisted and showed him a piece of paper detailing the fore mentioned offer signed by Steve.
“That doesn’t count” he said “I was pissed”
“It’s legally binding” Holly stated “It’s notarized by a solicitor”
Steve stared at the signature
“Sam Culver?” he said “he’s not a solicitor he’s a forklift driver”
“Be that as it may he has still witnessed your signature on this contract” she said coolly
“Contract?” he said in disbelieve
“Contract” she confirmed
“Oh please you’re not really going to hold me to this?” Steve said waving the “contract” in her direction
“You start tonight” she informed him
“Oh God I’ve sold my soul to the Christmas fairy” he said with his head in his hands
“I prefer Christmas angel” she said “But I’m not the one with tinsel in my hair”
“Oh shit” he exclaimed and felt his head
“Get yourself a hair of the dog, I’m going to get dressed” Holly said smiling
“Oh and there’s no drinking on the job, by the way”

He didn’t bother with the hair of the dog but he did drink another coffee before he left to go home and after a bath, a sleep and something to eat he felt revived by the time he left home again to report for his first shift although he still couldn’t figure out how the Christmas Angel had tricked him into working for her.

(Part 04)

Over the week and a half that followed Steve’s press ganging by Holly, the Christmas Angel, between his first shift and Christmas Eve, Holly had done her level best to elicit the full details of why it was that Steve hated Christmas and everything about it quite so much.
Holly had noticed right at the beginning that he was not the miserable git that she first thought or that he wanted people to think.
In fact that first night when he was forced to sit at the bar he had been very funny, once he managed to forget it was Christmas.
But every time he heard someone utter the words happy Christmas it was like he’d been stabbed.
So she relentlessly picked away at the scab every day, but she couldn’t get him to open up, no matter how hard she tried, but she wasn’t prepared to give up under any circumstances.

Steve would never have admitted it but despite his initial protests he had rather enjoyed working behind a bar again.
He hadn’t done it since he left University and started working as an accountant.
The repetitive festive music still grated on him, though less so than before, even the Christmas t-shirts and jumpers that Holly made him wear had become less onerous.
Holly herself led by example and wore an almost inexhaustible supply of festive outfits and he had to admit she still looked cute in which ever one she was wearing.
She was a nosy cow though and kept poking and prodding at him trying to find out what made him tick.
But it amused him that his not playing ball was driving her crackers, Christmas crackers even.

On Christmas Eve he drove to the pub, arriving at 9.30am, and thought to himself
“This is going to be a very long day”
It was bitterly cold day and the sky was slate grey and overcast, he sniffed the air and then knocked on the front door which Holly opened within a couple of minutes and she was already dressed in her Christmas outfit, namely Mrs. Clause.
“Morning Steve” she said “Happy Christmas Eve”
“Why are you always so cheerful?” he asked in response
“Because “it’s a wonderful life”” she said
“Oh God are you going to throw festive film titles at me all day?”
“I hadn’t thought of that” she said “but it sounds like fun”
He took his coat off and revealed his jumper of the day adorned with a reindeers head.
“There’s snow in the air” he said hanging up his coat
“Lovely” she replied with a chuckle “White Christmas”
“Stop it” Steve said
Holly had walked to the bar and picked something up and then returned to him with it behind her back.
“What’s that?” he asked suspiciously
“Antlers” she said triumphantly and put them on his head
“Please no” he said “that’s too much”
“Stop whining Grinch or I’ll put the Christmas tape on” she threatened
“That’s dirty fighting” he said

(Part 05)

With it being Christmas Eve they knew it was going to be busy in the pub that day so in addition to Holly and Steve there were barmaids Clare and Petra and in the kitchen were Stefano and Ausra.
It wasn’t manically busy but there was a steady flow all day, shoppers popping in for a warm, that kind of thing, and as it was such a bitter cold day the kitchen did a roaring trade in warming chili, soups, casseroles and stews, so much so that they kept the kitchen going right through the afternoon.
It was not however a day for cold desserts.
By five o’clock they had sold out of hot food and the till drawers were stuffed despite the fact that Holly kept taking them away to the office, but they kept filling up.

While Holly counted the takings in the office, Steve and Petra manned the bar and Clare helped Steph and Ausra clear away.
Job done they joined Steve at the bar and were enjoying a well-earned drink when Holly came out.
“Well done you lot” she said “I hope that drink is on the house”
“It is” Steve said
“We have had a phenomenal day” she said handing out pay packets “so there’s a little something extra in there”
“Thanks boss” Stephanos said
“Cheers Hol” said Petra
“Thanks Holly” Clare and Ausra said simultaneously
What she didn’t tell them was that the little extra was 100 pounds per head, they wouldn’t find that out until later.
“Where’s mine?” Steve asked
“Grinch tax” Holly said to the great amusement of the others and patted his cheek
“Charming” he replied but he was laughing when he said it and he knew that the others were finished until after Christmas whereas he still had the evening shift.
Although he wasn’t bothered about the money particularly he knew he would get it, he had actually enjoyed Christmas Eve for the first time ever.

They all finished their drinks and it was the moment that Steve hated most, the final farewell when Christmas wishes were exchanged.
“Merry Christmas” Clare said and kissed Steve
“And you” he replied
“Happy Christmas Stevie” Ausra said kissing him
“Yes you too” said Steve
“Happy, Happy Christmas” Petra said planting a very exuberant kiss on his mouth
“Ditto” he replied
“A very happy Christmas my friend” Stephanos said extravagantly and feigned to kiss him but shook his hand instead and roared with laughter.
“Have a good one” Steve said and also laughed.

When they had gone Steve noticed it had started snowing lightly.
“So why can’t you say Happy Christmas?” Holly asked
“I told you it was going to snow” he said
“Don’t change the subject” Holly persisted “why can’t you say Happy Christmas?”
“I can say it, I just didn’t need to as everyone else said it”
He answered “I didn’t want to wear the phrase out”
“Baubles” Holly said

(Part 06)

Holly disappeared upstairs for half an hour and when she came back down she had changed outfits again.
She wore a different red Dress but this time it had white trim and a much more daring neckline
But instead of the customary stripy tights on her lovely legs she was wearing black tights with holly motifs, which Steve thought was very appropriate as he watched her as he wiped down the tables in readiness for the next wave of festive punters.
Steve thought from the first time he saw her that she was quite cute but he thought he would have to separate her from the Christmas paraphernalia if she was ever to progress in his eyes any further than cute.
“I wish I’d asked Steph to keep some Chili back” Holly said “I’m absolutely starving”
“Don’t worry” he said “when Debbie arrives I’ll go over the road and get a take away”
“Ok Steve” she concurred “but what takeaway”
“Your choice boss, my treat” he replied
“What? Would that be a Christmas treat?” Holly asked
“No just a treat” he replied and smiled

Despite the weather Debbie arrived right on time.
“Hi everyone” she said as she went behind the bar
“The snows settling”
“Hi Debbie” Holly said
“So what’s your poison?” Steve asked
“Pizza” She replied very definitely “Pepperoni”
“Is that your final answer?” he asked
“It is” she confirmed
“Have you eaten Debbie?” he shouted
“Yes but I can eat a slice or two” she replied

As he walked across the road to the Vale Farm Pizza House he noticed the snow was falling faster and would lay quite deep if it persisted.
Despite Debbie saying she would only eat a piece or two he decided to get a pizza each, he’d seen Debbie eat before and for a skinny bird she could really pack it away.
He had a long wait as it seemed most of Abbeyvale were having pizza for tea.
When he got back to the pub the clientele had almost doubled so he thought it was the beginning of the evening rush and wasn’t sure if they’d have time to enjoy the pizzas, but he needn’t have worried as it proved to be a false dawn because the rush never materialized.
He was right about one thing though, Debbie demolished a whole pizza.
By seven o’clock the numbers hadn’t really changed even if most of the faces had.
And by eight o’clock with the snow falling thick and fast in near blizzard conditions it was fairly obvious punters weren’t going to be venturing out in any significant numbers.
Knowing that Debbie had a three mile journey home Holly said
“I think you’d better get off hon or you won’t get home at all”
“Are you sure Hol?” Debbie asked
“Absolutely” She said and handed Debbie her coat and her pay packet and gave her a kiss.
“Thanks Holly” she said “Happy Christmas”
“Happy Christmas and drive safely” she said “Text me when your home”
“Ok, happy Christmas Steve” she said
“And you Deb” he replied

(Part 07)

Holly had walked to the door with Debbie to see her off and wished her a Happy Christmas again and then stared out the window for a long time as she watched Debbie get underway.
When she returned to the bar she said
“You’d better get off as well Steve”
“No I’ll stay a bit longer” he replied
“This might be your last chance” she said “it’s coming down like billy-o”
“That’s ok” he said “I can always kip in the lounge bar again if it comes to that”

It was a very strange night because although there weren’t many customers they still managed to sell quite a lot of beer because they had a succession of punter coming in for jugs of ale, so much so that they ran out of jugs so they sold bottles instead.
But all in all it was very quiet Christmas Eve so by 9 o’clock Holly said
“Right let’s have a drink”
“I thought you didn’t like the staff drinking on duty” he said
“What the hell its Christmas” she replied and noticed that he visibly tensed at the word Christmas
She pulled him a pint and poured a glass of wine for herself and then they sat on stools on the punters side of the bar to drink them.
“Would you mind if I crash here tonight Holly?” He asked
“Of course not, I’d rather you crashed here than out there” She replied
“And it looks like my plans for tomorrow will need to be revised, so we can spend the day together, if you like”
“Ok thanks” he said “that would be great”
They were well into their second drink when Holly asked
“So what exactly is the deal with you and Christmas?”
“Do we have to go there?” he asked
“Yes we do” she said “I’ve been watching you all this week and every time someone wishes you a happy Christmas you react as if you’ve had an electric shock”
“Well I wouldn’t go that far” Steve responded
“I would” she said but he just shrugged
“Come on Steve” she insisted “You are such an infuriating man, cough it up”
“Can’t you just leave it alone?” he said
“You can’t tell me you haven’t enjoyed working here this week” she said “or that you would have preferred to be locked away in your flat pretending that Christmas was just a bad dream”
Steve drained his glass and went through the hatch and pulled himself another one.
“I don’t want to go into all the details, suffice is to say that for me there was no happy little boy waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve” he said painfully
“My childhood was unbearable and Christmas was even more so”
Holly didn’t speak but sat with head sympathetically inclined
“Not everyone was raised by Mary Poppins” he said factiously
“That’s not very fare” Holly said hurtfully

(Part 08)

“Not everyone was raised by Mary Poppins” Steve said factiously
“That’s not very fare” Holly said hurtfully
“And I suppose you think my Christmases were happy?” she asked forcefully but Steve merely snorted
“I had a succession of lousy Christmases when I was a child, my parents didn’t believe in it and so we didn’t celebrate it,” she said vehemently but Steve still looked unconvinced
“My parents are hippies, new age pagan hippies” She stated
“So Christmases for me were spent in a VW Camper van on Salisbury plain, don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and for me at the time it seemed perfectly normal and so I was perfectly happy, it was only when my school friends told me what they did at Christmas that I realized what I was missing out on”
Holly paused to gather herself
“When I was older I would at least get a present, though it was never wrapped in Christmas paper, there was no Christmas tree, no baubles or tinsel, no garlands or colored lights, and no Christmas magic, so in my childhood Christmas just didn’t exist”
“So now you’re over compensating” Steve said and took another drink “Majorly”
“Not at all, I just decided that feeling sorry for myself was not an option, and I refused to be dictated to by the past” she said “I decided that instead of regretting the Happy Christmas memories I missed out on as a child, I decided would make new memories and stop looking back”
“I was 17 when I first experience a proper Christmas, and I thought it was the most wonderful and magical experience I had ever had and I’ve made sure I’ve enjoyed every single Christmas since and I look forward to all the ones to come”
“There is no similarity between our childhoods” he said bitterly
“Your childhood was a happy one, it just didn’t include Christmas,
Whereas mine was desperately unhappy and did”
“And you blame Christmas for it being unhappy” Holly said
“I know that for you life was very different, but I want to squeeze the most joy I can from every moment of my life”
Steve just looked at her as she took a brief pause
“Just as you should” She said and put her hand on his knee and then at that moment the doors opened and a new group of punters came through the door their heads and shoulders dusted with snow.

He stood behind the bar drying glasses as he watched Holly as she chatted to the new intake of clientele in turn.
He liked it as she walked from table to table, she had a gait that was easy on the eye and the way the flared skirt moved across her lovely legs was quite sensual and then one by one the meagre band of customers disappeared into the snowy night amidst a peel of Happy Christmas wishes.

It was midnight and as the last customer left for the night, Holly wished them a happy Christmas and locked the front doors behind them and as she slipped the last bolt across and drew the curtain.
Steve appeared behind her just as the church bells at St Mary’s chimed midnight and Holly turned and faced him.
“Merry Christmas Holly” he said and kissed her

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (23) Another Highfinch Curate

(Part 01)

Since leaving the Army in January, Brian Lawton had been coasting along without any real purpose or goal that was until mid-October when he made one of his infrequent phone calls to touch base with his sister Jenna who was the de facto Vicar of St Martins in Highfinch while the Reverend Mortimer was recovering from a heart attack.
The village of Highfinch sat just on the edge of the Pepperstock Hills and Lily Green Hollows Golf Club separated the village from the Hamlet of Lily Green, which made up her parish.
“So how are you sis?” he asked jovially and she burst into tears.
Unable to get any sense out of her over the phone he said
“Ok I’m on my way”
Fortunately he wasn’t a million miles away as he and another ex-soldier were doing some security work in Sharpington and it was his day off.
Brian was 33 years old and had been medically discharged from the Downshire Light Infantry due to injuries sustained in Afghanistan when he lost most of his left foot.
It was a severe blow to him as Soldiering was the only thing he had ever wanted to do and he suspected he wasn’t equipped for much else.
But one thing he definitely could do was be there for his big sister.

He pulled up outside the Vicarage and immediately decamped and ran as best he could up the path and when she opened the door she wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed into his shoulder.
When he had consoled her she told him that she had fallen head of heels in love with a recent incumbent to the village, Nick Faulkner.
“What? “The” Nick Faulkner, the sports presenter?” he said
“Yes” she replied with her head in her hands
“And what?” she asked
“And does he feel the same?” Brian asked
“I don’t know”
“Well, have you told him how you feel?”
“Of course not” she said with alarm
“So what have you done about it?” he asked
“We had lunch together, twice, although one of those was in a group” she explained “and he invited me out to dinner”
“He did?”
“Yes” she replied
“So what’s the problem?” Brian asked her
“He’s doing the Rugby World Cup coverage and won’t be back until next month”
“Ok now I understand”
The World Cup ran from the 18th of September until the 31st of October so he could easily understand why she would be missing him.
“Well it’s only two weeks away now” he said
“Yes but that’s not the problem” she said and began crying again.
When he had calmed her down she went on to explain that she had been summoned to Abbottsford to see the Bishop the following day.
“Did he say what it was about?” he asked
“No, but it will be about Reverend Mortimer” Jenna said
“He’s going to replace him and transfer me to another parish”
“You don’t know that” Brian said reassuringly
“What else could it be?” she asked
“You’re just thinking of the worst case scenario” he pointed out
“That doesn’t mean it won’t happen” she retorted
“Nick is going to return to Highfinch and I will have been transferred to Carlisle or Skegness” she said bitterly
“You really have it bad don’t you?” he said and hugged his sister
“What am I going to do?” she sobbed
“Would you like me to go with you tomorrow?” he asked
“Could you?”
“Yes and I can stay for a few days?” he said
“That would be lovely” she said and kissed him
“I can help you pack” he said and for the first time since he arrived she laughed

(Part 02)

Brian and Jenna left the Vicarage just after 9 o’clock and walked to his car.
Although there was a four year gap in their ages and they were different genders anyone who saw Brian and Jenna together couldn’t fail to spot that they were siblings.
He was as handsome as she was attractive, they had the same open manner, the same brunette hair differing only in length, and they also shared intelligent green laughing eyes, broad toothy smiles, and pleasant demeanours.

Jenna was clearly very nervous and spoke hardly a word all the way to Abbottsford and when she did it was only in single syllables.
So Brian did most of the talking, however she didn’t really take in what he was saying.

He pulled into the carpark of the Bishop of Downshire’s Palace and Jenna got out.
“Good luck” Brian said as he hugged her then he watched her walk towards the heavy oaken doors with her head down and shoulders slumped.
Brian then got back in the car and waited until she reappeared two hours later.
From the moment she emerged from the large oak doors he could tell just from her gait alone that all was well.
“Well?” he asked as she got in the car
“I need you to help me pack” she said
“What? How can that be?” he asked in disbelief
“You can help me pack up Reverend Mortimer’s stuff” she said “I’m the new Vicar”
“That’s fantastic” he said and hugged her “I knew it was good news”
“And I’m getting a new curate”

Over the following weeks Brian helped Jenna pack all of Reverend Mortimer’s possessions into boxes and then decorate his old bedroom so that Jenna could move into it and then he did the same to her old room in readiness for the new curate who was arriving at the beginning of November.

Jenna enjoyed the busyness that had ensued after meeting with the Bishop as it kept her mind occupied and gave her less time to brood over Nick.

In between his labours at the Vicarage he was driving over to Sharpington for work but he knew he couldn’t keep that up for long and that he would soon have to leave his big sis to fend for herself.
However when the new Curates room was finished and the furniture was all in place Jenna said something that surprised him.
“Why don’t you decorate the attic room next” she said
“What for?” He asked
“So you can live in it” she replied
“What live here?” he asked
“Yes” she said “I’m a very reasonable landlady and the rents cheap”
“It’s a bit of a commute for work though”
“Get a job closer to home” she suggested “the Golf club are always looking for new staff”
“What even crippled ex-soldiers?” he said bitterly
“No one else sees you like that, only you, think about it” she said “I’d love to stay”
“Well I do like it here” he admitted

She had no doubts that they would welcome him with open arms at the Lily Green Hollows Golf Club because the manager David Pike was on the parish council and she had already broached the subject with him.

Jenna got her answer after evensong the next day when she found Brian up in the attic room stripping wallpaper.

(Part 03)

On the 2nd of November Jenna woke up with butterflies in her stomach because she knew that Nick was due back in Highfinch.
In fact her butterflies were so bad she had to forgo breakfast.
In addition to that anxiety she was also nervous because Brian had an interview at Lily Green Hollows.

“Good luck” she said and kissed Brian on the cheek and watched him drive off.
When she got back inside the phone was ringing and she knew from the caller ID that it was Julia Thomas who sat on the parish council with her and more significantly was Nick Faulkner’s next door neighbour.
“Jenna darling” Julia said “Nicks back”
“What?” she asked “Are you sure?”
“Yes I can see him now standing on his drive”
“Thanks Julia” she said and hung up then after a quick look in the mirror she ran out of the Vicarage.
She was in such a hurry to get to see him that she rushed headlong round a corner and met Nick coming the other way and they both ended up on their backsides on the cold pavement.
“I’m so sorry” He said getting quickly to his feet and proffering a hand to the prostrated Jenna which she took.
“Nonsense” she replied, “I wasn’t looking where I was going, my mind was elsewhere”.
“Mine too” he said “are you ok? Are you hurt?”
“No only my pride” she replied
They dusted themselves off and there was a brief moment of awkwardness as they finally looked at each other properly.
“Anyway” she said “Duties to perform”
“Yes” he agreed “things to do”
And then much to her surprise and delight he kissed her which she graciously welcomed
“How clever of you to know where my mind was” she said and returned the compliment.

Suddenly conscious of making a spectacle of themselves in the street they walked back to the Vicarage where she made them coffee and they talked about the events that had occurred in his absence.
Before they knew it they had talked the morning away and they still hadn’t settled on a restaurant to go to for dinner.
“I know” she said “I have a brilliant idea”
“Tell me more”
“There’s a big bonfire night display at Sharpinghead” she said
“The fireworks are spectacular”
“And you would rather do that than have a meal?” he asked
“No, as well as” Jenna said
“As well as?”
“Oh yes I thought I would let you buy me a hotdog at the fireworks and then we have all week to decide where you’re going to take me for dinner at the weekend” she explained
“I can see you have it all planned” he said
“Well I do now”
“That’s a date then” he said
“Two dates actually” she corrected him “And there are still three day where we have nothing planned”
“Well we can’t have that then can we?” he said “let’s go for lunch”
“I like your thinking” she said and kissed him
“I like yours better” he said and kissed her back

(Part 04)

Brian was interviewed by David Pike for an assistant green keeper’s position and even though he had no experience such was the regard David had for the new Vicar, Brian was offered the job.

Jenna and Nick’s first proper date to the bonfire night party at Sharpinghead was a great success although they didn’t spend much time watching the pyrotechnics.
They had eyes only for each other and had it not been for the hot dogs they could have been almost anywhere for all the notice they took of where they were.
They did at least settle on the location for their Saturday night dinner date, the Runcible Spoon in Purplemere.

On the same night as Nick and Jenna’s first date Brian was on the way home from Sharpington after his final security shift and he was driving along a lonely stretch of road in the Pepperstock Hills when he came upon a car on the side of the road with the hazard lights flashing.
It was the worst possible spot for anyone to break down and it was probably the most remote place on the entire road as there was no civilization for at least 2 miles in any direction.
He drove slowly past the stricken vehicle and could see a figure inside that appeared to be female so he pulled up in front of it.
Then he got out and walked back and as he did so he heard the tell-tale sound of the central locking which made perfect sense, after all a woman alone at night miles from anywhere was very vulnerable.
He walked up to the driver’s side where the occupant had wound the window down about an inch so asked loudly
“Is everything ok?”
“I have a flat tyre” she replied
“Do you have a spare?”
“Yes I do”
“Good, pop the boot then” Brian said
“But it’s also flat” she said sheepishly
“That’s not so good” he pointed out
“Do you have a mobile phone I can borrow?” she asked “Mine isn’t working”
“It’s not your phone that’s the problem” he said “Coverage is a bit patchy up here”
“Oh” she said looking downcast
“Well we have a couple of options, I can either go ahead, and send help back, which I’m not really comfortable with” he said “or I can give you a lift, I’m going as far as Highfinch”
“Oh really” she said brightening a bit “so am I”
“Well that a bit of luck then” he said “I’m Brian by the way”
“Rosie” she replied and unlocked the car.

He helped Rosie transfer her bags from her car to his and when she had locked it they set off down the road.
After a few minutes he said
“It was fortunate that I came along” He said “it’s not a particularly busy road at this time of year especially after dark”
“Yes it was very providential” she agreed
“So whereabouts in the Village are you going?” he asked
“The Vicarage” she replied
“Yes, is it so shocking that I would be going there?” she asked thinking he must be an atheist or a humanist or just a cynic
“Not at all” Brian replied “I’m guessing you must be the new Curate”
“Yes I am” she said with surprise “but how did you know that?”
“Well I could tell you that Highfinch is a small village and everyone knows everyone else’s business” he said
“But actually it’s because the Vicar is my sister”
“Oh well that’s very providential indeed” she said and laughed

(Part 05)

Once inside the house he got his first proper look at the new Curate and he wasn’t disappointed, he thought she was a very pretty girl a few years younger than him he figured late twenties possibly 30.
She was wearing her shoulder length brunette hair down so it danced around her nape of her neck as she walked into the hall and when she slipped off her coat she was wearing a green dress that hugged her figure, well what figure she had.
Rosie was a tall girl, stick thin, with no visible bust line at all, nor did she have any hips to speak of and she had an arse like a boy, but very nice legs though and overall Brian liked what he saw.

Jenna had returned after her date at the fireworks and was in the lounge, so he took Rosie in and introduced the two of them and they greeted each other like they were long lost friends.
“I’ll take your bags up to your room” he said
“Thank you” they both said and he left the two of them chattering incessantly.

On Saturday night Jenna was dressed up to the nines for her big date with Nick.
“Wow sis” Brian said when he saw her “Not at all bad for an old bird”
“Don’t be so cheeky” Rosie said and punched his arm
“You look absolutely stunning” she said to Jenna
“Did you see that savage attack?” Brian said rubbing his arm
“She’s only been here two day and I’m already being brutalized”
“Stop whining” Jenna said unsympathetically
“I was actually worried about leaving her in your care for the evening but I can see who will really be in charge”

After Nick had picked Jenna up and Brian and Rosie watched them drive off there was a brief awkward silence between them until Brian said
“Listen I can’t offer you the sumptuous delights of the Runcible Spoon but I can run to a pretty decent pizza”
“On one condition” she replied
“What’s that?”
“That we can watch Dr Who while we eat it”
“I can see you are a girl after my own heart, it a deal” he said “I’ll get the menu”

So while Nick and Jenna were enjoying the culinary delights at The Runcible Spoon, Brian and Rosie ate pepperoni Pizza and watched Dr Who after which he said.
“We could go over to the Downshire Arms if you like”
“I’m not a big pub person” she replied hesitantly
“There’s a quiz on” he added
“Well I do like a quiz” she “Ok, as long as it’s not too rowdy”
“I promise” he said “Highfinch doesn’t do rowdy”

The pub was quite busy but not rowdy and not having been in the village that long he didn’t know that many people so he made a bee line for the only familiar faces he recognized, one of which was his new boss David Pike who was sitting at the same table as fellow parish councillors Julia Thomas and Vicki Paulding none of whom had yet met the new curate.

They had a fun evening and their improvised team battled bravely to a very creditable second place.
As he was taking his outdoor shoes off Rosie noticed the abnormality as he took his left foot out of his shoe and quickly slipped it into his slipper.
“What happened to your foot” she asked
“A road side bomb” he replied “In Afghanistan”
“I didn’t know you were in the army”
“Yes but not anymore though” he said sadly
“Do you get any pain?”
“No not really, not anymore” he said
“It just looks a bit freaky so I’m a bit self-conscious about it”
“I used to be a nurse so I’m sure I’ve seen worse” she said
“I don’t think we know each other well enough yet” he said “But thanks”

(Part 06)

Nick and Jenna had a lovely meal in Purplemere and found that the Runcible Spoon certainly didn’t disappoint and they would both have agreed that neither did the company.
The next day Jenna was in a wonderful mood and it didn’t take an expert to know why and Brian was very pleased to see she was looking much more like her old self again and seemed to have fully recovered from the malady of despondency that had afflicted her.
Jenna was also on very good form in the pulpit and delivered a very inspiring and enlightening sermon and afterwards back at the Vicarage she turned her attention on Brian.
“Brother Dearest” she said
“What?” he responded suspiciously?
“I have a task for you”
“And what’s that?” Brian asked
“I need you to help out at the Christmas Bazaar” she said
“Oh ok yes I can do that” Brian said a little relieved to get off so lightly
“Excellent” she said “We just need to get the ladies to alter the costume”
“Hold on what costume?” Brian said “I don’t remember agreeing to a costume”
“The Santa costume obviously” Jenna said
“I am not going to dress up and Santa” he said adamantly
“But you have to, you can’t sit in Santa’s grotto in your ordinary clothes” Jenna insisted
“What grotto?” he asked
“You’ll make a wonderful Santa” Rosie added
“That’s not fair, you’re ganging up” he said indignantly “ganging up isn’t fair”
“I’ll let you know when you’re needed for the first fitting” Jenna said as she left the room
“But Jenna?” he called
“Can’t talk, I’m going to lunch with my boyfriend”
A moment later her head appeared around the door and she added
“I rather like the way that sounds”
Brian spent the next five minutes trying to fathom how she had managed to rope him into playing Santa at the St Martin’s School Christmas Bazaar without him even realising what he had agreed to and in fact he was left with the impression that he actually volunteered.
A local man called Henry Gold normally played Santa and had done for many years but since his sad demise earlier that year it had proved difficult to replace him.
“You really will make a marvellous Santa” Rosie said and went out to make lunch.

Later that week his sister volunteered him for something else but on this occasion he offered no resistance.
As the winter was beginning to bite there had been a call out to church groups in the area for volunteers for the soup kitchens in Purplemere or Finchbottom.
As soon as the request came through Rosie signed up without a seconds hesitation which prompted Jenna to suggest Brian do the same to look after her.

But what began as a simple babysitting exercise turned out to be one of the most rewarding things he had ever done, a real eye-opening experience plus he got to spend time with Rosie which was becoming more of a pleasure every time they went out.

Brian was replacing Henry Gold as Santa at St Martin’s School Christmas Bazaar due to the latter’s sad demise earlier in the year and as Henry was a much bigger man than Brian was so some significant adjustments to the suit and the padding were necessary.
So on the Monday morning before the Bazaar in the church Hall the Vicar and a small team of ladies were on hand to affect alterations, well the team of ladies obviously did all the work and Jenna looked on, but Brian noticed she was wearing a worried frown.

(Part 07)

He didn’t want to broach the subject in front of the ladies so he waited until they were on their own back at the Vicarage that evening.
“What’s the matter sis?”
“Christmas is the matter” she replied
“But you love Christmas” he reminded her
“Yes but It’s such a busy time, there is so much going on, Advent, Christingle, Carol Concert and the Bazaar and everyone is watching me to see if I screw up”
“But you’ve been here for ten years” he said “this is hardly your first Christmas”
“Yes but it’s my first Christmas as the Vicar” she said worriedly
“Look you’ve already ticked off the first Sunday of advent and the Bazaar is totally covered, so stop worrying” he reassured her.

For Reverend Jenna Lawton the run up to the second weekend of advent was a test of endurance and the success of the first weekend of Advent under her belt she still approached the Second weekend with little confidence despite her brother’s words of comfort.

On Friday lunchtime Brian was required at the Church Hall for his final fitting, so he walked over from the Golf Course in his meal break.
But before he could get in the door of the Church Hall his sister the Vicar burst out of it.
“It’s a total disaster” Jenna blurted out “Trevor Gurney has appendicitis”
“Oh no” Brian said “is he ok?”
“What?” she said as if confused by the question
“Trevor” he clarified “is he ok?”
“Oh shit,” the Vicar exclaimed, “I never thought to ask”
“So what’s the disaster then?” He enquired
“Trevor is the chief Elf to your Santa,” she explained
“So what’s the problem?” he said “can’t we just find someone to fill his shoes?”
“It’s not his shoes that are the problem” Jenna explained
“He’s a six foot stick insect with a bum like a twelve year old boy”
“Oh” Brian said unhelpfully
“We can’t get anyone else with their own costume at this late stage” she went on
Brian went to speak but she was in full flow and cut him off
“No! We can’t hire a costume they’re all gone, and if we put one of the volunteers in Trevor’s costume they will just look ridiculous”
“Don’t you think a six foot Elf is ridiculous anyway?” Brian remarked
“He’s a very good Elf” Jenna said indignantly “and he supplied his own costume”
“So let me get this straight we need someone six feet tall, stick thin with an arse like a 12 year old boy” he asked
“Yes” Jenna replied crossly, “That’s why it’s a disaster”
“I know just the person,” he said
“Really?” she asked doubtfully
“Really” he said and taking out his mobile phone he got up his contacts list, scrolled down and hit call.
“Rosie? Where are you?”
“I’m here” she said suddenly emerging from the Church Hall
“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked and put his phone away.
The Vicar paced up and down like an expectant father while looking her Curate up and down.
“I don’t believe it, the solution was right under my nose all the time” she said
“Will you do it?” She asked eventually
“Do what?” Rosie asked
“Be the chief Elf to my Santa” he said “You are uniquely qualified”
“Ok” Rosie agreed
“Sorted” Brian replied
“Thank you God” Jenna said looking to the heavens and crossing herself “and thank you Brian”
“You’re perfect Rosie, I can’t believe I didn’t see it” she said
“You obviously don’t spend as much time looking at her as I do” Brian said and then blushed at the realization that he’d said it out loud.
Jenna didn’t notice but Rosie did and she was smiling as she went back inside.
Jenna just kissed his cheek before going off to belatedly enquire about Trevor’s state of health.
Brian followed her into the hall where the ladies swarmed around him like they were preparing Cinderella for the ball.
He tried on the suit and measurements were taken by women muttering to one another with their mouths full of pins and it was agreed it would be ready by Friday without fail and after the ladies had finished doing their thing, he returned to work in a good frame of mind and very much looking forward to the big day.

(Part 08)

On Saturday morning Brian rose very early and to his surprise Jenna and Rosie had already left the house.
Although he was press ganged into the job and he was a bit nervous, well in truth he was terrified, he was pleased that he would not be enduring the ordeal alone and would be sharing the experience with Curate Rosie Coulter.
He treated himself to an extra close shave, a much closer one than usual in order to accommodate the beard and as a result when he applied the aftershave it stung like hell.
He arrived at St Martin’s school smelling sweetly and red-faced at about 11.00am to find his sister the Vicar fussing around like a mother hen, uncharacteristically wanting things just so.
“Hey sis” he said
“You’re cutting it fine” Jenna said crossly
“There’s plenty of time” he said
“There’s still so much to do” she retorted
“Ok just calm down” Brian said “it’s all in hand”
“Look it’s not just a Christmas Bazaar you know we’re making Christmas memories” Jenna said “it’s important for the children so it’s got to be done right”
Just then Rosie came through the door behind him
“Hello Santa” she said brightly
“Hi Rosie” he said “Hey why aren’t you in costume?”
“Some of us have had a very busy morning Grouchy Clause” Rosie said
“Come on Rosie your costume is through there” said Jenna and lead her away to one of the offices, but she paused by the doorway and let Rosie go ahead of her gave her an appraising look and declared to her brother.
“You were right bro she does have a bum like a twelve year old boy”
“Yes she’s perfect” he said absentmindedly
Jenna smiled and left him with the drama teacher Cherry Overton-Brown who showed him in to the grotto.
“I’m your dresser, Brian” she said “I’m going to help you with your wig and beard”
“Ok” he said
“I’m in amateur dramatics you know” she continued pompously
“No I didn’t know that” he replied disinterestedly

The grotto was in one of the classrooms, though he wasn’t sure what subject as all the walls were hidden behind red velvet drapes, decorated with tinsel and coloured lights.
The huge throne was in the furthest corner surrounded by Christmas parcels.
Leading to the throne was a snow covered path and on one side of it was a festive tableau of snowmen and reindeer and on the other side Santa’s sleigh was parked.

He was fully regaled in the red velvet suit and as he sat on his throne, Cherry applied the finishing touches to his beard and placed the hat on his head and pinned it to the wig.
Just as she stepped away to admire her handiwork Rosie appeared, and being tall and flat chested she was dressed as Bernard the Elf, from The Santa Clause movies, wearing Trevor Gurney’s costume, and it was a perfect fit.
Which consisted of a rather expensive looking fitted tunic, in brown and green with gold brocade decorating the front and back, thick deep red tights on her skinny legs and pixie boots with turned up toes.
Rosie’s hair was tied up and hidden under a matching hat and to all intents and purposes she looked like a boy, and he still found her staggeringly sexy.

(Part 09)

To get to the grotto you had to enter via an adjoining classroom, also festively decked out which acted as an ante room where a small number of children and their accompanying parents waited their turn, and where Cherry Overton-Brown, who for some reason was dressed as Robin Hood, kept order, and beyond the anteroom in the corridor there was a sizable queue of expectant children.

The grotto opened to the first child at 1 pm and there was pretty constant stream almost non-stop until 4 o’clock.
Rosie escorted the excited or apprehensive child in from the ante chamber, who would then climb upon Santa’s lap, the child not Rosie, much to Brian’s disappointed.
Santa would then have a quick chat with them and give them their gift, and then Tom Rowlands, the Verger, would take a photo.
Rosie then escorted the happy child back out to their parents and this well-oiled machine kept operating like that for 3 hours and when Rosie escorted the final child back to their waiting parents the Verger followed them out.
Leaving Brian shattered and alone on his throne and suffering from the seasonal condition of “Santa’s lap”.
He was gagging for a drink he had nits in his beard and a damp patch on his trousers.
But despite his apprehension at his debut as Santa he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hoped he had done his predecessor proud.

When Rosie returned from showing the last of the little darlings out of the door she came over to him and said
“That’s definitely the last of them”
“Excellent” he sighed
“But there is just one more customer for Santa” She said and sat on his knee.
“I don’t think I have a present for you little girl” Santa said “I’m almost certain that you’re on the naughty list”
“I think I’m probably on the nice and naughty list” Rosie said and giggled
“But I really don’t think I have any presents left” he said
“Then I will have to have a kiss instead” she said and kissed him.

As the resident celebrity of Highfinch, and the Vicars boyfriend, Nick Faulkner, was both the guest of honour and the raffle prize draw master.
But with the draw complete he went in search of his own prize draw, namely the Reverend Lawton and he caught up with her in the ante room to Santa’s grotto.
She was peering through a gap in the door to the grotto.
“What are you looking at nosy?” Nick said
“Shush” she said and put her finger to her lips “Come and have a look”
He tiptoed across the room and also peaked through the crack in the door and could see Rosie the Elf snogging Santa Claus.
“Well, well” he said “Just wait until Mrs Claus finds out about this”
“Oh I think she already knows” Jenna said

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Mornington-By-Mere – (24) Christmas Surprise

(Part 01)

There are four Windmill Cottages in the village of Mornington-By-Mere and they are as quaintly picturesque as is the rest of the village.
They stand detached in a neat row alongside the southern bank of the River Brooke situated between the East Bridge and Church Hall.
The Chapman family live in number 1 and Jo Williamson and her daughter Cassandra live next door at number 2.

Alan Chapman was a 50 year old widowed Farm Labourer and was very highly regarded and as such he was never out of work as a result and because of that he could easily pick and choose where he worked.
As a consequence of his outdoor life he was a lean fit man with a full head of sandy hair and a weathered complexion.
His daughter Lorraine didn’t live with him full time as she was a Nurse at the Winston Churchill Hospital in Abbottsford and rather than commute back and forth she shared a flat with two other Nurses, Jane Hall, and Rosie Parsons who also lived in Mornington and worked at the Churchill.
It wasn’t a huge flat and nor was it in the smartest part of town but it was perfect for them as it meant that they had a place to live that was close to work, which was ideal for them all as they worked shifts, and it meant that split between the three of them their expenses were less than their travelling would have been.
His 23 year old so James was also a Farm Labourer but he worked exclusively at Windmill Farm and the baby of the family Siobhan went to college and was well employed in the evenings babysitting.
So as a result of his children’s independent existences Alan spent a lot of his leisure time on his own.
He wasn’t altogether happy with that but he had been a widower for ten years so he was getting used to it.

He was not an unsociable man however and was well liked by those who knew him and he got on well with his neighbour’s.

One of those neighbour’s was Josephine Williamson who he knew very well and would have liked very much to have known her better.
But what held him back was that she was 8 years younger than him, so he admired her from a distance.
She was five foot eight with luscious thick ginger curls tumbling down onto her shoulders and mesmerizing green eyes, with a lovely figure, curvaceous and perfectly proportioned.

Jo was a divorcee but had raised her daughter single handed and had to stand on her own two feet, she had managed to get a full time job with one of the new firms up at Mornington Field, Paige Turners and things were going well for her so she was happy-ish.
But Caz was in her final year at University and when she graduated she was going to marry the love of her life, Alex Kincaid-Smith who lived at number 4 which meant Jo would truly be alone.
But she wouldn’t under any circumstances tell her daughter how scared she was of that prospect because she didn’t want to hold her back.

(Part 02)

Alan was in a much more positive frame of mind when December came around, because Christmas was just around the corner.
He liked Christmas and so did the kids so he was guaranteed they would all be around if only for a few days.
Alan had spent the whole week working up at Wood Hill Farm for the Newman’s but they had got on so well that they were finished by Friday lunchtime so Kashveena fed him a good lunch and sent him on his way with a full weeks wages.
Kash Newman was renowned in the area for her cooking and she didn’t stint on the portions either.
When he got home to an empty house he sat down in front of the TV and started watching “The Bishops Wife”, one of his all-time favourite Christmas movies, but with his stomach still full with Kash’s lunch he lasted no more than 10 minutes before the long blinks set in and as a result he spent the afternoon sleeping on the couch in a fitful dreamy sleep in which Loretta Young featured heavily.
It was just when he had woken from that long afternoons snoozing and surfaced from an erotic dreamland that he heard the sound of the doorbell.
The bell continued to ring as he made his way up the hall and when he opened the front door he found a rather tipsy Jo Williamson leaning against the doorframe.
“Alan darling” she slurred, “I am a damsel in distress”
“How can I help?” he said
“I’m locked out” Jo said “and Caz won’t be back for at least an hour”
Cassandra had gone to Abbottsford with friends to do her Christmas shopping.
“Could you be a dear and let me stay here until she gets home?”
“Yes of course” he said just being neighbourly “Come on in party girl”
“Thank you kind sir” she said as she almost fell through the door.
“Let’s get your coat off” he suggested which proved to be something of an effort, but they managed it in the end and when they had she adjusted her skirt and straightened her scarlet festive top.
He sat her on a chair in the hall while he pulled her boots off revealing her festive tights with a cute holly leaf motif.
“Come in the kitchen and I’ll put the kettle on” he said
“Wine will do” she suggested and fell against the wall giggling.
“Coffee I think” he replied

A couple of cups later and Jo had sobered considerably and she told him all about the Paige Turners Christmas lunch at the Old Mill Inn and how much she had enjoyed it.
Well he already knew how much she had enjoyed it by the way she fell in through the front door.
“Do you want another cup?” he asked
Jo checked her watch before replying
“Yes please, but I must have a pee first”
“Ok, I’ll take it through to the lounge” he said

(Part 03)

Alan was sitting on the sofa when she tottered into the lounge, make up repaired, outfit perfect, and in one hand she held a sprig of mistletoe.
“Look what I have found,” she said and as she reached him she raised it above her head.
So he stood up to face her, puckered up and gave her a Christmas kiss and as his lips touched hers her it was evident that it was a more intrusive kind of Christmas kiss she was interested in, which took him by surprise, but it was a nice surprise, so in the spirit of the season and just to be neighbourly he responded in kind.
Holding the bubbly redhead in his arms was something he had often imagined but never expected for a moment that it would actually happen.
She was gorgeous and felt so good in his arms and the smell of her hair and her perfumed skin intoxicated him.
He never for a second believed that she might view him in a similar light.
He supposed it must have been as a result of the over indulgent boozy lunch, but whatever the cause she was showing no signs of letting up and had consolidated her position by locking her arms tightly around his neck.

Jo and Alan lay silently in the afterglow in his bed and after a few minutes Jo turned her head to look at him.
“My goodness that was really powerful mistletoe” Jo said from beneath the duvet.
“It was that” he agreed
“This isn’t quiet how I envisaged the day going” she said
“Well we Chapmans take hospitality very seriously” he said
“I don’t make a habit of this” she said
“Nor do I” Alan said “And this isn’t something I envisaged happening either, but it’s something I pictured in my dreams, often”
He reached out and put his arm around her and she lay her head on his chest.
“Truly?” she asked
“Truly” he confirmed
“Mine too” Jo whispered and kissed his skin

“I’m sorry if it wasn’t as good as you dreamed” she said
“I’ve only ever been with… I had only ever been with my husband John”
“It was every bit as I dreamed it” he reassured her and she hugged him tightly
“I’m no serial philanderer” he confessed “There’s been no one since Eve, until now”
“I’m glad” she said and he felt her sighing breath on his chest

They lay entwined beneath the duvet and after about 5 minutes Jo broke the silence.
“I have to go” she said “Cassandra will be wondering where I am, and what I’m doing”
“I don’t want you to go” he said
“It won’t be forever” she reassured him
“I know” Alan said “I thought we could try another sprig of that mistletoe”
“Oh yes” she said “merry Christmas”

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Abbottsford Police Chronicles - Christmas at the Phoenix

(Part One)

When Bill Overend was promoted to DCI he inherited most of his predecessor’s team but immediately made two additions from outside of Abbotsford, Detective Constable Boris Katarski and newly promoted Detective Inspector Tom Adamson.
And since that time Bill Overend and Tom Adamson had become very close.
Tom was a diminutive figure who trotted on his toes rather than walked in much the same way Jimmy Cagney did when he was dancing.
He was only five foot six inches tall and as thin as a racing snake with thinning Sandy hair. But despite his emaciated appearance he was extremely strong and had whippet like speed.
There is more than one criminal now enjoying “her majesties pleasure” because they underestimated him.
Also Tom was never seen without his notebook in which he often seen to scribble furiously.
He was notorious with regard to his notebook, he was almost fanatical about it and it is almost a given that if it wasn’t in Adamson's note book then it hadn’t been said or hadn’t taken place and Tom was proud of that.
At thirty-nine years old he was the most experienced Detective in the division, with the exception of Overend, but had never sought further promotion.
He liked being a DI, he had found his niche, and he was good at his job so it suited everyone.

DCI Overend was in Australia for his best friend Dave butcher’s wedding and in his absence DI Adamson had been subbing for him.
It had already been over two weeks and he still had another week to go and he was getting restless.

Tom hadn’t been out of the office for any meaningful reason for what seemed an eternity so he was perversely relieved when the spate of pickpocketing was reported.
The incidents had all occurred at the Phoenix Shopping Centre in Abbottsford, which as there were only two Detectives not already up to their eyeballs, enabled him to get out the office as well as doing some last minute Christmas shopping he still hadn’t got everything yet for his wife Rachel.

A large number of women had had either their pockets picked or bags stolen while visiting the Phoenix shopping Centre.
Interviews were conducted and information collated and nothing leapt out at them.
So he got DC Grace Suddaby on the case and from the information collected she compiled a crime map of the Phoenix Shopping Centre logging various markers such as the location the theft was discovered, shops visited prior to the discovery and the place where they were 100 percent sure they still had the stolen item.
And with that information Grace’s computer model managed to isolate the crime hotspot to the second floor.
The only other thing the computer model picked up was another common denominator being that they all visited Santa’s Grotto but that was treated as nothing more than an anomaly.

(Part Two)

On Friday Detectives Tom Adamson and Grace Suddaby along with PCs Deacon and Hanratty, in plain clothes, posed as shoppers on level two of the Phoenix Center.
They were about three hours in and nothing had happened other than Tom had completed all of his Christmas shopping.
He was just about to go and get himself a coffee when there was another robbery reported so Tom went to the security office instead.
Tom recognized the woman sitting just outside security, she had been in front of him in the queue when he bought perfume for Rachel and furthermore she was ahead of him all the way from there to the Grotto because he remembered thinking what a cracking little arse she had.
Then within minutes of leaving the Grotto she noticed her purse was missing.

Tom produced his warrant card and entered the security room and spoke to the operator seated in a wheelchair in front of a bank of monitors.
“All those channels and still there’s nothing on” Tom said
“Hello guv” said the operator.
Ben Holmes had once been a uniformed Sergeant in traffic at Abbottsford nick before he broke almost every bone in his body in a high speed pursuit gone wrong when his bike left the road.
“Alright Ben” Tom said and shook his hand.
Ben was already checking the CCTV footage and had the woman on screen from eight different cameras and she was in sight the whole time and no one got anywhere near enough to dip in her bag.
“You were watching her very closely guv” Ben said
“What can I say I had her under close surveillance” Adamson replied with a smirk
Nothing had shown up on CCTV as they followed the women’s journey through the center and no one appeared to rob her.
So either she was lying or…

He called Grace and told her to meet him outside the Grotto.
The computer model had indicated the grotto was significant but they had assumed it was just an anomaly.
So adhering to the old Sherlock Holmes axiom
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
Tom surmised
“It must be Santa or one of his helpers”
And Gracie agreed.
So they went back to see Ben Holmes in security
“We need to have a look in the Grotto” Tom said
Ben twiddled a few nobs and a collection of images of the entrance of the Grotto appeared
“No I mean inside” Tom said
“We don’t have any cameras inside” Ben said
“That’s very convenient for Bad Santa” Grace said

(Part Three)

Tom Adamson, Grace Suddaby and the two PCs had regrouped to a café in the food court where they planned their next move.
“We have the miniature camera gismos” said Tom “So we can catch them on camera”
“We need a child” Catriona Hanratty said
“What?” Said Tom
“We need a child” Catriona repeated
The other three all looked at her blankly
“Well you can’t queue up to see Santa if you haven’t got a child, it’s kind of for the kids”
“Damn” exclaimed Tom
“There’s one” said Gracie excitedly
“Hold on Gracie” Tom said “We can’t just grab one at random and deputize it”
“Trust me” Grace said and leapt up
“Oh God we’ll all get done for kidnapping” he said and put his head in his hands.
A few minutes later Grace returned with a woman and a three year old boy.
“Grace you can’t...” Tom began
“This is my sister Amy and this little deputy is my nephew Owen”

All around the store were little piles of colourful A5 size cards to be presented to Santa Elf’s for a free visit to Santa, all you had to do was take a card fill in your name and address and hand in the card to an Elf.
It was free to shoppers plus you got a free photo of your little darling sitting on Santa’s lap.
And it was because it was free to shoppers that it didn’t show up as a hot spot on the crime map and why it was so popular with the punters and why there was a long queue to get in.

Grace went back to the office and picked up a couple of miniature camera units and her laptop and returned to the Phoenix, inside half an hour.
She attached one mini camera to the handle of the buggy and second to the shoulder strap of Amy’s bag pointing straight down at the invitingly open bag.
And then they were all set.

(Part Four)

While PC Dickie Deacon was at the rear entrance with a security guard
DI Tom Adamson and PC Catriona Hanratty were in the queue with Amy and Owen.
When they reached the front they waited patiently until the curtain opened and a young girl dressed in regulation Elfish clothes, green tights, and pointy shoes that kind of thing, stepped through.
After making all the usual happy, happy, Christmas spiel the Elf opened the curtain again and ushered mother and child through and Tom and Catriona waited by the entrance.
Gracie meanwhile was still seated at the café opposite with her laptop open watching the feed from the cameras.
Once beyond the curtain Amy and Owen were led down a gloomy pathway by Santa’s little helper and then Amy was halted at the end of the path by her escort as it opened out into the grotto.
Owen was then escorted by another Elf to Santa who was seated on his throne surrounded by presents.
Now the child had eyes only for Santa and the presents and Mum had eyes only for her excited child.
The second Elf helped Owen up onto Santa’s lap and then took up her position ready to take a photograph.
“Say Rudolph” said the Elf and the camera flashed.
Owen jumped down off Santa’s lap and ran back to his Mum brandishing his present proudly and as Amy settled him into the buggy it happened.
Gracie was intently studying the screen on her laptop when she saw a hand dip into Amy’s bag and withdraw her purse.
“That’s a go” Gracie said into her radio “that’s a go”
“Ok” Tom said “In we go”
Despite Adamson’s whippet like speed Catriona Hanratty was through the curtain ahead of him and they both rushed down the pathway towards the light.
Amy and Owen were already on their way out as the officers ran in and they made a space for her.
“You can’t come in here” the first Elf said
Hanratty took hold of her wrist and whispered
“Let’s not do anything to upset the child”
Adamson pressed on and grabbed Elf number two and expertly cuffed her.
Santa was up off his chair and headed out the back but reappeared seconds later under the purposeful control of PC Deacon.
“Well done Sticky” Adamson said
“Let’s get him out of the suit before you cuff him, we don’t want the kids of Abbotsford watching the police arresting Santa”
“Ok guv” Deacon replied
Just then Grace Suddaby arrived and asked
“Did we get them all Guv?”
“Three in custody” Tom replied “Well done everyone”

After a thorough search of the Grotto the police found a number of stolen items, purses, handbags, credit cards and phones.
Later they searched the residences of the three suspects where they found even more stolen items, plus evidence of identity fraud.
When Grace checked the camera she was hoping to recover the photograph of her nephew sitting on Santa’s Lap she found no memory card in it.
It transpired they were clearly only interested in the names and addresses on the cards which they could then use with the stolen credit cards.

When Tom Adamson went home that night it was with a strong sense of achievement for a job well done and half a dozen neatly wrapped presents for Rachel that he slipped unnoticed under the tree.