The traditional seaside resort of Sharpington-by-Sea with its Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, The Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, has all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park and 55 year old triplets, Alex, James and Jenny Wardle live together in the huge house they grew up in, in the grand neighbourhood of Granite Hill, which in a nod to San Francisco, the locals had nicknamed Nob Hill.
“So it’s Christmas time again” Alex said as he looked out the window.
“As if anyone could fail to notice” James added as he and Jenny joined him at the drawing room window.
Even without leaving the house they could see more than half a dozen houses decorated to the hilt.
Every coloured light imaginable, Santa's on the roof or climbing a ladder, sleighs, elves, snowmen, bells, stars, baubles and last but by no means least standing almost four feet high that perennial favourite Winnie the Pooh.
Alex was taken aback, what the hell did Pooh have to do with Christmas? And later as he and his siblings walked down to the seafront he noticed that every other house seemed to have one, there was even one on the pier so he guessed there must be something in it.
He didn't recall mention of him in the bible and in all of the many nativity plays he had seen over the years Winnie the Pooh was conspicuous by his absence and although there is a donkey in the story it wasn’t Eeyore.
The stable did not house Piglet and the wise men did not travel from the east with Tigger bearing gifts of Huney.
Nor in any of the Christmas traditions around the world is there a single reference to Pooh as one of Santa's helpers, there was Black Peter, and the Jolly Elf, there was even the devil figure Krampus, but no Pooh, but it appeared to him, that the people of Sharpington were giving him pride of place on their lawns that Christmas.
As they turned left onto the promenade the early winter sun broke through the mackerel skies exposing patches of the bluest sky and if he had had any remaining doubts that Christmas was coming to Sharpington they were soon dispelled as the promenade was decked in its Christmas garb.
Inflatable Santa’s climb the walls of the Fun Park and the pier was draped in LED icicles.
Then when they passed the Seaview Hotel they saw what looked like a cheery red-suited burglar hanging from one of the balconies and they all laughed before they went their separate ways.
James returned to Sharpington for the first time in twenty years after his brother Alex lost his wife and he found it very welcoming so as he was divorced and his son was living in America he decided to move back to the old family home and as he had independent wealth and plenty of time on his hands he took to doing voluntary work.
After he parted company from his siblings he made his way to Jubilee Park which was playing host to Santa’s grotto in the pavilion.
When he first walked in a week before, he found the place in disarray as a group of volunteers were putting the grotto together and his eyes were drawn to the throne in one corner where jolly Santa Claus would be sat next to his sack of gifts.
James had always been fascinated by the genesis of Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas was a Bishop in 4th century Turkey and became a giver of gifts to orphaned and poor children and James liked that such a wonderful tradition had begun as acts of kindness.
The second thing he noticed in the “work in progress” grotto, was the diminutive figure of a pretty middle-aged brunette called Charlotte Morley who was to be his Elf in chief, and when she turned and smiled at him he was hooked, and he wanted to get to know her better.
And he got to know her very easily because when she turned and smiled at him she liked what she saw and set her little pixie cap at him.
Because she was to be Elf to his Santa they worked closely together and apart from their mutual attraction they bonded over their dislike of the “Overlord” of the Grotto operation, Sharpington Council employee Amanda Rawlings, who was an officiously obnoxious control freak, which would have been ok, had she been any good at it.
During their first week they were beset with problems while they were getting ready for the big event there were problems everywhere.
Some of the other expected volunteers were no shows due to illness, the donated gifts were late, and were unwrapped and they were all feeling the pressure of being massively behind schedule.
Then, a day before his debut as Santa they discovered a problem with the throne which necessitated getting in a carpenter at great expense which was the last straw for James, so when Amanda walked in moments later dressed as an Angel and holding a Christmas Tree he snapped.
So when she said cheerfully,
“Isn't this a lovely tree? Where would you like me to stick it?”
James looked first at Charlotte then turned to Amanda and said
“Up your arse”
Charlotte laughed as Amanda stood open mouthed and added
“Well that is the tradition isn’t it? To have an angel on top of the Christmas Tree”
They didn’t see much of her after that which suited them down to the ground because with her absence everything began to run like clockwork.
But on the day he walked in to Sharpington with his brother and sister things took an interesting turn.
The grotto opened to the first child at 11 o’clock and there was a pretty constant stream, almost non-stop until 3 o’clock and then the visits became more sporadic as the weather had deteriorated and heavy snow was falling.
With James wearing his red suit sitting on his throne, Charlotte was dressed as an Elf and escorted the excited or apprehensive child in from the ante chamber.
The child would then climb up on to Santa’s lap and while Santa had a quick chat with them and gave them their gift, and a man called Owen would take a photo.
Charlotte then escorted the happy child back out to their parents and this well-oiled machine kept operating like that for the duration of the day and when Charlotte escorted the final child back to their waiting parents, Owen followed them out.
James sat on the throne and gathered his thoughts before he got up and changed and just at the moment he prepared to move the lights went out.
“Oh bugger” he exclaimed and then the door opened, spilling light into the room and a figure appeared but disappeared again when the door closed.
But he heard footsteps in the darkness which grew louder with every step and when they stopped the owner of those steps sat on his lap and kissed him.
It was a long and lingering kiss and when it was over he said
“And what would you like for Christmas little girl?”
“Some more of that would be nice” Charlotte replied
After an unhurried passionate embrace they left his chair with the intention of going for dinner with the prospect of more kissing to follow.
But when they left the darkness of the grotto they found the rest of the building was also in darkness.
Whereas Charlotte had plunged the grotto into darkness for her own ends, the other volunteers had assumed it to be empty when they left, which they did promptly because of the snow.
Charlotte turned on the lights and they soon realized they were locked in, all the windows had bars on them and the doors were padlocked and chained from the outside
“Well it looks like we’re here for the night” she said and James thought about being stuck in the grotto with an Elf ten years younger than him and he said