Jane’s face went a pearly white as she pulled out of the shopping centre car park into a sorry stationary stream of still vehicles as far as she could see.
“It has to be a pink phone. Your mother is quite adamant. You know what she’s like,” her father had said. The local out of town tech shop happened to have a good 27 MatureSmart handsets in, which Jane’s childless brother was quite adamant was the perfect phone for their mum – even though a suggestion he get his well-suited arse out of his solicitor’s office to the shop would have been unthinkable to make. Unfortunately all 27 handsets at the local shop were black. Which is how Jane found herself setting off at 4pm on the last Friday before Christmas embarking on a 35-mile drive to a tech shop the other side of Uppington with a five year-old and three year-old in the back.
“On the first day of Christmas my two love gave to me, a party and a pear tea,” Jack sang as the rain lashed the windscreen. Jane sighed.
“Mummy, what’s number two?” he asked.
“Number two what, love?”
“Number two in the days of Christmas song…” he asked.
“Oh it’s…two turtle doves,” she said, pleased to take an image off her mind of dozens of black MatureSmart phone handsets dancing around and taunting her.
“That’s it!” said Jack excitedly, “on the second day of Christmas my two love gave to me, two purple gloves and a party and a pear tea!”
Jane trundled the car forward a few yards until the lights turned red again. Well, peace and quiet would be a dream, she reflected, but keeping Jack busy would be a decent second best, while noting in the mirror that his sister Lizzy was fast asleep.
It continued to ‘three French Jens, four drawing words, five old kings all the way to 10 phones a-ringing, 11 wipers swiping and 12 mommas jumping.’ It brought a smile to Jane’s face despite the slow progress of their journey, as she made a mental note to try to recount it all to her husband, George, when he returned from work – if indeed he didn’t get back before them today.
Jane had just made it onto the motorway when Jack screamed.
“What’s number 13? I said!” he shouted with his hands folded “why won’t you listen?”
“Sorry Jack, I must have missed what you said while I was concentrating on the road. Errr…well I think it’s 13 trolls a tweeting, if that makes any sense?”
“Not really. And what was 12 again?”
“Listen Jack, can we just take it easy for a while I concentrate by driving to the shop?” she said as she scanned the signs and tried to remember whether it was junction 7 or 8 she wanted to take.
“Take it easy! No!” said Jack, kicking at the inside of the door.
“It’s just it’s quite an old song actually, so I don’t remember it too well, and I think there’s actually only 12 days of Christmas, honey.”
“Hmmph!” said Jack, “I suppose I’ll have to speak to someone old then.”
Then Jane had a brainwave. When the car next stalled to a halt in traffic, she reached to her phone and dialled her parents’ house – on the landline of course, as her mum didn’t have a mobile yet and her dad never figured out how to answer his in time.
Her father answered and she put the phone on loudspeaker.
“Err, Dad, I’m in a little traffic doing the err…seasonal errand for Mum we talked about…Jack is a bit bored and asking me what the days of Christmas are in the song, ‘on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me’. I can only remember up to 12, unfortunately, would you have any idea what was given on the 14th day of Christmas?”
“Jack, you have to remember something,” said his grandfather as she passed the phone and left it between the two child seats at the back. “What was given on the 14th day of Christmas is a secret. I was one of very few people told it by one of the Queen’s messengers in 1962…and…I never thought somebody would ask, but if you promise to be good and patient for your mummy, I will tell you, is that ok?”
“Ok, Grandad,” said Jack.
“Alright, it was ‘on the 14th day of Christmas my true love gave to me….14 charter ships a-mooring…model ships I think they mean, like the old dinkies.”
Jack listened attentively. “And that about on the 15th day, Grandad?”
“Well, then, let me see, I think that was 15 tops a-spinning, and I believe 16 was 16 ropes-a-swinging. Skipping ropes of course. Both popular playground games those, before all of these computers were invented.”
“Go on, Grandad…”
“Well 17, that’s a tricky one to remember as it’s 17 pork pies a-cooking, and 18 is 18 young ladies a-twisting. I can tell you a bit more about that one when you’re older.”
And so Jane’s father continued, as she sat there happily mystified at the ability of the oldest generation she knew to pass on knowledge to the youngest, even when speaking complete nonsense. By the time she’d angled her car into a much-coveted space in the packed car park of Uppington retail park, they’d made it all the way to 88 runs a-running.
“And not out, nor will that particular batsman be for a while yet,” said her dad.
“Mummy, can I stay in the car and keep talking to Grandad?” asked Jack as Jane cut the engine.
STUCK IN THE CHIMNEY
Santa swooped low towards Bristol, his flurry of visits to Bath and its environs complete. The recent snow had abated and Donner and Blitzen could stop showing off their advanced navigational skills, though to be fair, it had come in handy around south-east England.
“Airliners,” Santa would harumph. “So slow and dirty and noisy – and they do make life tricky for really important flights like ours, especially in bad weather.”
Goldilocks and Jenna agreed with the Boss but, as the newbies on the team, kept quiet. This despite their mentor Vixen telling them to stand up for female rights and to aspire to become leaders over time. They’d remembered Vixen’s partner, Comet, nodding sagely in a corner of the room and yawning. The two young’uns weren’t sure if Comet was tired or had simply heard it all before and was getting bored.
“Now,” the Chief Elf called out. “Special delivery to the big house on the right with the garden. He’s got a birthday coming up. We had a very well-written letter from his family saying that their grandfather was going to be eighty-seven and that over the last year or two, he’d begun to believe once again in the magic of Santa Claus. He even believes Bristol City football club are going back to the Premiership but I don’t think that’s got anything to do with us – we only deal in reality. We were asked to do this specially. Plus he’s got all his family with him, so we’re going to make all the adults wake up and take notice of Santa Claus.”
“We’re not going to break the golden rule are we?” Santa looked anxious. “Not landing on the lawn in full view.”
“No, no,” came the reply. “Roof landing as per normal procedure. No emergencies here. But we’ve got some extra presents for him and his family.”
“But looks like a big home anyway. Why’s he need these socking great parcels?” called out a junior elf from the top of the cargo bay.
“It’s a retirement home. But a home for retired writers of stories where the residents can all share ideas and stories and gain inspiration. Sounds like a jolly interesting place. Fifth chimney stack on the left. Number four chimney,” called out the navigator elf. “ Visibility good. Crosswind 20 mph; roof conditions NFTY.”
The sled landed smoothly on the snow covered roof. Santa and an elf jumped down and the presents were fed down the chimney – children’s first, then their parents’ and then two parcels marked “For Bleda”, the first a normal sized parcel and the second a big spongy parcel.
“Hope the big parcel doesn’t get stuck,” the elf sounded concerned.
“It’ll be fine,” Santa responded. “Now let’s get cracking. Lots more to do. Best get off to Somerset and Devon.”
In the morning, the grandchildren were up early. Bursting into the sitting room, the squeals of delight betrayed the discovery of presents in the hearth. Paper was torn off and thrown aside eagerly in the urge to get at the presents – battery operated cars, dolls, make-up packages, models….. All there. And the adults…. Scent, after-shave, jumpers.
“Wow,” exclaimed one of the children, “Santa has been generous this year. And look, presents for Grandpa too. And I thought Grandpa didn’t believe in Santa cos he’d got too old to believe.”
He picked up the parcel and ran over to Grandad who examined it carefully as if it were a suspect package before gingerly cutting the scarlet ribbon and unwrapping the paper decorated with happy Santas. He did a brief double take when he thought that one of the Santas was actually waving to him. Inside were a thermal vest and leggings plus a thick woolly jumper decorated with a picture of Rudolf. As Grandpa held it up, he could have sworn Rudolph winked.
‘Can’t be time for a drink already,’ he thought. His hands seemed steady enough; vision OK. He looked again at the presents and muttered to himself, ‘But I’m not going out in the cold.’ Then he looked at the fire and realised it had gone out overnight.
“Hey, girls,” he called out, “the fire needs relighting. It’s all very well relying on the central heating but Christmas demands a good log fire. Fetch me some wood and newspaper. “And who drank the port and ate the mince pies by the fireplace?”
Nobody heard him so Grandpa went off in search of some wood for the fire, wondering which of his family had consumed the drink and pies that had been left by the hearth last night, secretly wishing the port had lingered longer. At the time, he’d thought it a waste but he began to wonder who’d snaffled them.
“And the blasted fire won’t light,” Grandpa was grumping as the smoke billowed round the sitting room. “Looks like the chimney’s blocked. We’ll have to get a sweep in as soon as we can.”
“Don’t fuss, Dad,” the children answered. ”It’s quite warm with the central heating. The chimney can be swept after the holidays.” Grandpa muttered something about Christmas just not being the same without a roaring log fire.
The next two days passed happily enough with family games, brisk walks and grandchildren trying out new toys. It dawned bright and crisply cold on the 27th December. The grandchildren were up early. Grandpa stayed in bed dozing until about eight o’clock when his grandchildren banged at the door, shouting,
“Happy Birthday, Gandpa. Time to get up and open your presents.”
The presents from family and friends were unwrapped, Grandpa taking care – as usual – to open presents so as to preserve the wrapping paper for future use. Meanwhile the cards, socks, jumpers and books piled up. Then just as the ceremony of the unwrapping was about to end, a strange rumble was heard from the chimney and a large bulky package fell into the grate, the golden wrapping paper betraying a few smoke stains from the abortive attempt to light the fire two days earlier.
“What on earth?” Grandpa exclaimed….
The family looked dumbfounded and two of the grandchildren approached it gingerly, inspecting it as if it were a mystery visitor from another world and then poking it.
“It feels like there’s a box inside,” one of them pronounced.
“A box. It might be game of some sort.” the other speculated. “And look, it has an envelope attached.”
The grandchildren bore the parcel to their grandfather, now sitting in the main armchair looking quite goggle-eyed.
“Open the box!” alternated with “Open the envelope!” reminding Grandpa of a TV quiz show he used to watch. He opted for the envelope and gingerly loosened the flap to withdraw a large birthday card decorated on the outside with pictures of holly, snow and reindeers.
“Who’s it from?” the children and grandchildren. Grandpa open it and stared, utterly speechless, at the copperplate handwriting.
“It’s from Santa Claus,” he croaked in disbelief and then, after more encouragement from the others, continued.
“Dear Bleda (Francis), Your friends from the CTWG sent me a special message by chimney post telling me you had a birthday over the Christmas period and they know it’s hard when your birthday is so close to Christmas so they wanted you to feel special.
Please will you and your family be at the top of the fire escape at eight o’clock tonight. You may need to open the box beforehand. Make sure you’re all wrapped up warm.
Santa, the Reindeer and the Elves.
PS You’re going out for supper.”
Grandpa stared at the card in disbelief then turned to the box and loosened the tape. Taking the top off, he was first met by the sight of a hologram of the reindeers – plus Vixen as choir mistress – singing “Happy Birthday”. Then delving into the box he retrieved a thick red coat and trousers and furry boots together with a cap with a bell on top. Then more clothing all matching and fitting his family beautifully.
Ten to eight and the sky over Bristol is clear, a sharp frost hardening the snow round about. Bleda and the family wait expectantly dressed in their presents from Santa and feeling self-conscious. What if the staff catch them up here? How do they explain? They chatter nervously. They didn’t dream it did they?
Then from the north comes a clear jingle and the sounds of guffawing laughter. A speck appears in the sky growing brighter and a team of reindeer appears with a large sled in tow.
“Happy birthday, Bleda, please hop on board all of you,” chorus the reindeer and Santa, two of his elves and an extra reindeer sitting in the back drawing up to fire escape and hovering. Bewildered at the sight and the spectacle of talking reindeer, Bleda and the family follow their instructions, the grandchildren gasping at the sight.
“Now,” the reindeer sitting next to them, who smiles and introduces herself as Vixen, (Head of Communications and PR at The Big Hut) announces, “you’re all off for a birthday treat and meal in Finland at the real Big Hut. Sit back and enjoy.”
“Hold tight,” Santa bellows. “We’re off.”
“Oh, Bleda, we understand you write stories – I’ve read them on the web,” Vixen sounds almost seductive as she whispers in his ear and lays her hoof on his wrist. “ Perhaps you can tell us a story or two over dinner.”
[ (c) Colmore December 2018]