We had our second, proper Christmas on Tuesday 28th as Team H felt well enough to drive 180 miles on Monday and had negative results. People still get coughs, colds and winter lurgies nothing to do with Covid. It would have been a waste of totally rearranging and child proofing the house if they couldn’t have come at all! With my son and daughter-in-law living with me it has tripled ( octupled? ) the amount of equipment needing protection from three and six year old boys, not to mention the mountain of Christmas presents they had given each other.
A favourite children’s present, sent by Nanna in Spain via Amazon, turned out to be very popular. Seasick Sam is a game, along the same idea as Buckaroo, but they just liked playing with Sam. You see how much food you can stuff in his mouth before he is sick. We five adults had Secret Santa with all presents to be bought locally or in charity shops and we all came up with a great selection.
Writing did not take a back seat as six year old wanted to write his own Frightened Freddy Lego story and being six it revolved around vomiting, with Seaside Sam having a starring role and toilets. We took lots of screen shots and edited the pictures on the computer. When I suggested we start writing the story he said ‘I think I’ll make the story longer…’ who would be an editor!
The next day we edited more photos and whittled them down to 33. Then he narrated and I typed, no easy task with someone who bounces around like Tigger the whole time, whilst leaning on my desk… We printed it out and sent the photos to his mother’s ipad in time for the deadline of going home .
‘Oh it’s just that I, we were wondering… we haven’t been able to contact him.’
‘Why do you need to contact him?’
‘We don’t, we just wondered why none of us had heard from him and they missed the quiz evening again.’
‘I didn’t know my brother was so popular.’
‘Perhaps I could ring your mother?’
‘I hardly think so as she’s been dead for eight months.’
‘Oh er I am so sorry, she looked fine at the wedding.’
‘She was fine at the wedding, anyway, I must cut you off, conference call coming up…’
‘Louise, Tina’s sister, chief bridesmaid, top table?’
‘Louise, of course, sorry I didn’t get back in tou… answer your messages.’
‘That’s not why I’m calling. Have you seen Ben?’
‘No. I’ve been ringing round everyone, no one’s seen or heard from him, phone’s dead.’
‘Oh Ali, I’m really worried now, same with Tina, she hasn’t been on Facebook for weeks.’
‘You were right to call me, but don’t panic; what about your parents?’
‘They’re worried, I mean we’re not one of those families who call all the time, but she’s not answering in our WhatsApp group or anything.’
‘Has anyone been round their flat?’
‘No, Mum and Dad are isolating and I’m on a Scottish island.’
‘Oh so you did get that croft? What about her work?’
‘Now don’t worry, I’ll get in contact with Ben’s company, even if he’s still working from home they would know if he’s on leave. ’
‘Tina would have said if they were going on holiday, she was always talking about going on a proper holiday again.’
‘TG Services, how can I help?’
‘Can I speak to Ben Chambers please?’
‘Chambers, chambers… ben? Chaos here, everyone working from home, except me… I don’t know the name, what department?’
‘Actually I’m afraid I have no idea, can’t you look him up on the computer records?’
‘No, confidential records cannot be shared with members of the public…’
‘Tom, it’s Ali, have you had any luck? No, nor have I, not a trace of either of them. Have you been round their flat? No of course not, you would have popped round last week if you weren’t in Belfast. I’m a hundred miles away so who’s nearest… Gemma’s in hospital, what happened to her? Call the police? I don’t think it’s that serious yet, I mean they could have gone on holiday, stuck isolating goodness knows where and we’re panicking for nothing. Okay, okay, I’ll drive down tomorrow morning make a day out of it. Have you got their new address? No, nor have I, have to message Louise, no I didn’t see her again and now she’s on some bloody Scottish island.’
‘Louise? It’s Ali again. I’m in their road, the neighbours are already regarding me with suspicion. I couldn’t even get in the building let alone find their flat, yes used to be the old asylum, very smart. I have been lurking to catch anyone going in or out, no luck so far, nobody seems to know them, so not likely to find a friendly neighbour with a spare key, not that you can just go waltzing into someone else’s home uninvited… and what did the police website say? Surely the only option is to have them break in and … no I’m sure they are fine, but there could be a clue where they have gone on holiday, somewhere warm knowing them. Not that warm, no, I’m sure they didn’t end up on a Mediterranean island with a wildfire raging. You call the police then, more likely to take notice of a relative, and you will have to give permission for a search… ’
There was a word that made Mary shudder; she seemed to hear it everywhere she went. It was a four letter word beginning with F… FALL. In conversations it was usually preceded with phrases such as;
Did you hear Mrs. Burton had a nasty…
Of course she was never the same after her…
He had just got off the bus when…
The Waitrose staff were very good when she had her…
Most infuriating of all was her own daughter’s loud voice as they negotiated National Trust Gardens.
Mind you don’t…
Like death, falls were something that happened to other people, usually The Elderly and Mary did not include herself in that category. Why, she was the same age as The Queen and David Attenborough, Her Majesty wasn’t elderly and Sir David certainly wasn’t. There were other terms and words that Mary avoided; stairlifts, wheelchairs, mobility aids and that condition Mary couldn’t even utter to herself, frequently referred to in advertisements during daytime television.
As Mary briskly walked down the high street, she noticed with distaste that Betty was cheerfully pushing a shiny red three wheeled contraption.
‘My son bought it for me last week, after my fall’ explained Betty proudly.
But however sprightly Mary felt, she found herself being very careful, not wanting to end up like that woman on Tuesday.
There had been a circle of concerned people outside Somerfield’s and a young man with a mobile phone had taken charge. Sprawled in the middle of the pavement was an old lady, her skirt up past her knees in a most undignified manner. Mary had scurried by, making a mental note to always wear slacks when she went out.
At the door to the ‘Cosy Teapot’ she took the two steps up carefully to make a dignified entrance. Her daughter Catherine was already there.
‘I thought we’d sit downstairs mother, you don’t want to have a fall on those rickety stairs.’
Mary ignored that remark.
‘You’re looking very tired this morning Catherine, perhaps it’s the menopause’ she said, as the young waiter came to their table.
‘Well,’ said the younger woman, obviously keen to relate a drama ‘we were fast asleep last night when the phone suddenly rang; I looked at the clock, it was three thirty a.m. my heart was thumping, I thought it must be bad news from Australia or you taken ill.’
‘Why would you think I might be ill?’ Mary interrupted.
Catherine carried on regardless. ‘To my relief it was only Careline; Miss Brown next door had fallen out of bed and couldn’t get up. We had to go round with the spare keys to let the ambulance people in. Next time we’ll take a torch; it took us ages to find the light switches… and Miss Brown, she was wedged on the other side of the bed. When the ambulance men finally came they asked if she was my mother! I’m sure they thought it was our fault her house is such a mess. But they were quite jolly, checked her blood pressure, got her back into bed, filled in lots of forms and declared she was fine. By that time it was five a.m.’
‘That old woman should have gone in a home years ago’ said Mary unsympathetically.
‘She’s younger than you Mother… hmm you could have one of those Careline buttons, just in case.’
‘Certainly not.’ Mary cringed at the idea of neighbours and medics tramping round her bedroom in the middle of the night and changed the subject. ‘Rita had her own drama the other day, when it was so hot; her daughter took her shopping and they were outside Asda when her daughter suddenly fainted. After much kafuffle, they were both sat on chairs inside Asda and the manager came rushing over and patted Rita’s hand, asking if she was alright. She told him indignantly she was fine, it was her daughter. We had a good laugh over that.’
The two women tucked into their cake.
‘…anyway, what have you been doing this week Mum?’
‘The old people’s lunch club started back yesterday and we had a new volunteer. You’ll never believe what she said to me “Here’s a spare seat dear.” I told her in no uncertain terms. “I’m serving not eating.”
She wondered what Catherine found so funny.
That afternoon Mary was pottering in her garden, glad she didn’t require a gardener. Her grandson mowed the lawn, put her hanging baskets up and did some of the heavier jobs; he enjoyed doing it. The garden was one of the many reasons why she refused to be shoe horned into some pokey flat
Mary was a compulsive dead header and was tidying her favourite basket which hung from the shed wall. One dead bloom eluded her, but if she just stretched a little… suddenly her foot slipped off the edge of the path.
She couldn’t believe she was lying on the ground, but was greatly relieved no one had seen. This wasn’t a fall, just a slip and she was sure she could get up; with the help of the wall and the trellis she pulled herself triumphantly to her feet. Not a fall, not a drama, but perhaps it was time she went indoors to have a nice cup of tea and watch Countdown; she could rinse that spot of blood off her hands while the kettle was boiling.
As she moved cautiously up the path to the back door she heard sirens screeching. This used to be such a quiet street she mused, someone must be causing trouble. Loud rustling noises caused her to turn round; a policeman was climbing over her wall, he must be chasing a burglar.
‘Wrong garden’ she tried to call, but he rushed over to her.
‘Are you alright madam?’ he asked, before replying to his radio. ‘PC476, re. report of elderly lady collapsed in garden, I’m dealing, ambulance in attendance.’ He turned to Mary. ‘Lucky for you an old man over the back saw you out of his bedroom window, knew he couldn’t help, so he dialled 999. Now, we’ll get you into the house and open the front door for the paramedics.’
The opening of the front door revealed two men in green and several concerned neighbours. She tried to protest.
‘I’m fine, there’s been a terrible mistake.’
To her horror she heard the ambulance man say to her neighbour ‘Does she often get confused or have falls?’
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Vivienne looked out of her front window, the road was quiet, empty; Saturday, day three of the new lockdown. At least in the first lockdown it had been spring, a spring as warm as summer and she had not been living by herself. Glad as she was for the peace and quiet after her divorced, inexplicably homeless son had left, you could have too much peace and quiet. She was used to living by herself since Geoff died, but that was without a pandemic; going to her groups, lunches out, friends round for coffee. Now the clocks had gone back, the nights were drawing in, dark by five o’clock… a month was a long time, but there seemed little hope that it would be only a month. It made little difference that Julia had been stuck in Tier Three, no one was going anywhere. If James drove her up there for Christmas they would be the exact limit of six people, but she presumed that was another rule that had gone by the board. Now her son was talking about helping cook Christmas dinner for the homeless, no doubt because Cassie had also volunteered. Vivienne felt like a statistic, vulnerable because of her age and pitied as a one person household. Could join a bubble or was that just lonely old people who needed help, certainly not her. Meet one other person for a walk, hmm, Sonya down the road had said she must pop in for a cup of tea a couple of weeks ago, after her ex husband had departed from Sonya’s life and his own… but her new friend had been busy with the funeral and both daughters returning from abroad and now it was too late.
A morning walk would be good and the autumn weather was pleasant, a newspaper was all she needed, with James still insisting on doing her on line shopping, but it gave a little purpose to the outing. As she passed by Sonya’s front gate she was pathetically grateful to see Sonya coming towards her with the dog.
‘Oh I’m glad I caught you Vivienne, why don’t you come in for that cup of tea, I’ve still got cake left over from the funeral, I’m sure no one is going to tell on us.’
Vivienne didn’t take much persuading, she was rather curious to see inside the house. Their front gate chats had really only been about Covid, the dreadful ( Vivienne’s opinion ) dying ex husband Sonya had taken in for his last two months that had turned into seven and Vivienne’s trials and tribulations having a son in his forties back at home.
Inside, the house was bright and tidy, not at all the gloomy hospital scenario she had imagined from Sonya’s descriptions.
‘The girls did a great job helping me put the house back to rights, once the hospital bed and all that equipment had gone. Glad to get rid of all those things with wheels and brakes, the number of times I banged my ankles. It is a bit strange without him; they rang me up, the cancer charity, in case I wanted to talk. I felt like saying I would be more upset if the dog died.’
‘But you might benefit from someone to talk to, it must have been very stressful.’
‘I feel sorry for our daughters, nothing much was really resolved, especially as he was dead by the time they got here.’
‘Oh dear, I’m sorry, but it must have been good for the three of you to be together.’
‘Yes, they decided we must celebrate the good times; all those photos I had up in the loft have been digitalised and you wouldn’t believe what you can order on line.’
Vivienne could hardly miss the large framed photo in the hall. The young man bore no resemblance to the withered scowling figure Sonya pushed in his wheelchair.
‘He was very good looking.’
‘Yes, unfortunately lots of women thought so.’
Sonya led her into the front room where a large framed collage of photos took up one wall; babies, holidays, happy days by the look of it. Turning away Vivienne supressed a smile as she saw heart shaped cushions scattered on the large sofa, each bearing pictures of young Sonya with her beloved.
‘Wait till you see the dining room, I’ll put the kettle on.’
On the dining table was a colourful jigsaw in progress, as Vivienne tried to make out the picture her friend came in with two mugs of tea and slices of cake.
‘Only his cousin actually came to the funeral, so we didn’t have to worry about numbers or getting much food in – do you like the jigsaw, that was when we had the caravan.’
Vivienne picked up the large bright mug, disconcerted to look into the eyes of the deceased ex. She thought of the one family photo and picture of she and Geoff at that dinner and dance displayed in her living room and wondered how many items in this house were dedicated to Sonya’s husband.
‘Did you see on top of the piano?’
A very blingy metal frame contained a picture of an impossibly glamorous Sonya leaning against the muscular loved one, who in turn leant against a huge shining motorbike.
‘That was before we had the children and how about this, I ordered it from Amazon, my family tree.’
On the other end of the piano was a gaudy metallic tree with heart shaped frames hanging from its branches. Tiny babies and aged people peered out.
‘It was a very reasonable price, for real silver. But I still like this best.’
Vivienne followed her gaze to a large family portrait, two little girls swamped in frills and their father gazing adoringly at his wife and daughters.
‘We won a free studio session, though it turned out you had to pay a fortune if you actually wanted to keep any pictures, but I’m glad we had that done.’
‘I wish Geoff and I had thought to do something like that, you can’t beat a professional photographer.’
A piercing scream penetrated the calm of James’ office and disturbed his important conference call with New York. Every sound in the neighbourhood wafted through the back bedroom windows, but it was too hot to close them.
‘Everything okay?’ asked the managing director in New York.
‘So sorry, yes, fine…’
For a moment James wondered if he should investigate, he vaguely recalled his mother mentioning they were in charge of the twins today while his sister and brother-in-law went to Ikea and she might have to pop to the corner shop... None of them believed that he was actually working from home, that it was Friday and he had a great deal of real work to do. Strange sounds had emitted from his nephew and niece at regular intervals since their arrival yesterday, either because they were having fun, or more likely they were arguing. There was the possibility that one of them had been impaled on one of his mother’s lethal gardening implements, or perhaps they had accidentally killed their grandmother…
Eighty per cent of MPJ staff worldwide were working from home, but usually in their smart book lined studies, not from their mother’s back bedroom with sewing machines and ironing boards as a background for Zoom. It was hardly professional to interrupt discussion of the dreadful news from Beirut ( its importance to the shareholders of MPJ, not the suffering of the locals ) and disappear out of sight to lean out the back window and be heard yelling ‘JASON, JACINTHA what the hell are you doing now?‘
When his sister Julia had said they were going camping for their summer staycation he thought they meant a tent in a remote field, not a camper van parked outside his mother’s house. Julia insisted social distancing would be maintained, while her husband Jack queried whether social distancing was even a thing anymore. They did sleep in the van; James had not had time to look up council regulations and see if this was legal, but there was much toing and froing to the bathroom and the washing machine had been on constantly since their arrival. The twins weren’t that bad, not according to his mother anyway; they were just high spirited, Covid cabin fever and he just wasn’t used to children of that age, whatever age they were… he had forgotten and dare not ask, his family would be shocked at his lack of interest in the precious ones, his mother’s ONLY grandchildren as she liked to frequently point out.
Another piercing scream rent the air. This time James did a few quick manoeuvres on the keyboard and the screen went blank; New York would either think England had been hit by a nuclear bomb or perhaps that his local wifi had gone down. He rushed over to the window and leaned out to see an arc of water gleaming in the sun. Jason was chasing Jacintha with the garden hose and this time she let out a screech of triumph as she ducked under the washing line and the family’s bedding hanging out to dry took the full brunt of the high powered hose.
Doris danced round the kitchen, her mood lifted. What was this music, that composer who died young, they played it at that concert they went to… Thank goodness for the radio to ease the monotony of kitchen chores. She was having a big tidy up, making space. It was just as well her son and his family were not coming straight to her after flying in from the USA. Their delayed annual holiday was starting with a further two week delay in quarantine at an air bed or b&b; for the best really, she had managed to avoid getting English Covid, she didn’t want to get American Covid. Cassie next door would help her order a big shop next week, though goodness knows what the children’s likes and dislikes would be this year. The top cupboards would have to stay untouched, Doris had not used her stepping stool since lockdown, the last thing she wanted was a fall and end up in hospital on a ventilator. She just needed everything to look orderly so her son would see she was still coping fine.
Doris was startled out of her conducting with the wooden spoon by the phone ringing.
‘Good morning, my name’s Natasha and I am calling from…’
‘Hold on a moment, I’ll just turn the radio off, I can’t hear you.’
‘Noo… Wait, what’s that music, I love it, I’ve heard it before, but I can never find out what it is… ’
‘Lovely isn’t it, I know the composer…’
‘Who is it?’
‘…but his name won’t come to mind.’
‘Do you know what the piece is called?’
‘Some rhapsody I think, don’t go away, let’s hope they tell us what it was before the news comes on.’
Doris held the phone near the radio and strummed the counter top with her other hand, it was that time they went with Mary and her husband, narrow seats, no leg room for the men, concerts like that were off the agenda now with social distancing.
‘Oh that was lovely, thank you so much, I’ve tapped it into my phone, I’ll download it later.’
Just as well Natasha caught the presenter’s voice, Doris had been so wrapped up in the gorgeous music she hadn’t heard what he said.
‘You are very welcome Natasha, one of my favourites. I don’t do downloading, I still have CDs. By the way, why were you calling?’
‘Oh er um I understand you were involved in an accident recently and may be eligible for compensation.’
‘No, no I’m fine, I have been very careful, apart from that time with the secateurs, where are you calling from, council covid welfare ?’
‘So you have not been involved in a motor vehicle accident lately?’
‘No dear, I haven’t driven for years and Cassie next door doesn’t have a car. I usually get the bus, but we’re not supposed to use those now. Cassie orders on line for me, I’ll have to get a lot more next week. My son and his family are over from the USA, I think we’ll have a good old English roast and I’ll make him his favourite chocolate cake, even if his wife is on one of her diets and I never know what her children are going to eat… ’
One of my earliest memories is of being seen across the busy road we lived on and walking by myself to the corner shop. I was well known by the two ladies who worked there. One of them was called Dolly, which seemed a very strange name for an old lady. Among the sweets they sold were Dolly Mixtures which I assumed were named after her. Mum could watch my progress and return ready to signal when it was safe to cross back. What I actually bought on these solo expeditions I have no recollection and I assume it was because my baby brother was asleep indoors, but it was the beginning of a lifetime of popping to the shops – until now…
Unless you are subsistence farmers or have a team of servants, someone in the household has to go shopping. Whether you live in a beautiful Mediterranean town and gaze down from your geranium filled balcony to the daily market selling freshly caught fish and newly picked vegetables or do a huge weekly supermarket shop with no idea where the food has come from, shopping is an activity or chore that never ends – until now…
When my parents bought their first house, on a new housing estate, there were no shops nearby, but we were not likely to starve. The milkman brought a boxful of groceries, there was a greengrocer’s van and the butcher’s boy came on his bike. It was a long walk to the new shopping centre for my mother with a baby and toddler as well as me. Her friend from round the corner had six children, so it was quite an expedition with the added excitement of a route through a large cemetery. Mum used to be amused by another neighbour who would dart back and forth between Fine Fare and Tesco checking the prices. Even in these small shops our mothers would be complaining that they were ‘always moving things around’. Needless to say there was often some vital item forgotten and I would be sent on my bike to another housing estate where they boasted a parade of shops.
When we emigrated to Western Australia in 1964 all three of us were sent up a sandy track, the unmade section of our road, to the corner shop and later Tom The Cheap Grocer. The shops closed for the weekend at noon on Saturday, so on Saturday morning Mum and Dad would make a frantic dash in the car to stock up at the bigger shops in an older suburb. A far cry from today’s 24 hour shopping.
Things have come full circle; having your shopping delivered is popular again, especially with busy working families. When someone says they are off to do their Tesco shop they probably mean they are going upstairs to the computer. With the advent of The Virus and isolation, Grandparents are being smugly told by their offspring that they should have learnt how to do on line shopping.
Our local shops are so good that we had no need for on line shopping and a typical Saturday morning would be a walk along the cliff top, coffee at the Ludo Lounge, then stroll over to the greengrocers – until now…
Anyone with a 12 week sentence ( the medically very vulnerable told by the Prime Minister and the NHS to stay indoors ) or those shielding them, is dependent on supermarket deliveries or family, neighbours and volunteers. But with the sudden popularity of on line shopping you have to log on at one minute past midnight to try and get a slot.
The fun of bargain hunting has been replaced by the excitement of not knowing for sure what you will get in your delivery. Six weeks into our lock down and I think I have cracked it. The poplar local greengrocers which only takes cash, has engineered a major delivery operation using only the phone and Facebook. The free range, outdoor reared and expensive butcher up the road takes orders and payment on the phone. My latest discovery is a website for deliveries from local Co op shops. They seem to have plenty of slots, but this might be because you have to spend a minimum of £15 with a limit of 20 items and an eclectic limited choice of what is available. Type in cheese and you will find cheese. Type in baked beans and up come green beans, jelly beans and coffee beans. Put in peanut butter and up comes butter. With some outside the box thinking I did find Whole Earth Organic peanut butter and it appeared on the shopping list, but the next day showed up as unavailable in the polite e-mail update. The deliveries come by motorbike. How have your shopping habits changed recently?
His wife was glaring at him and mouthing something.
‘Oh… yes, I’ve got leukaemia…’
‘..apparently one of the volunteers at the centre has had to leave, she’s seriously ill.’
‘Oh Dear… what’s the matter with her?’
‘Non Hodgkins Lymphoma.’
A moment’s silence… ‘Oh… that’s me.’
Cyberspouse has had two visits to the oncologist since chemotherapy. One scan showing everything stable and blood tests ‘all in the black’. Another scan is booked before the next check up. Check up means just a chat ‘How are you?’ I don’t know what happens to other patients, but I guess the oncologist has checked results and can see if you are looking fine or not and judge which aches and pains have any significance.
Life goes on normally with DIY, trips to the rubbish tip, outings and mini breaks and more planned and it’s easy to forget there is anything wrong.
When the Game of Life goes wrong.
There came news recently that a cousin had committed suicide; something that has never happened in our family before, as far as I know. But shock was not the first reaction because this was a cousin we hardly knew, he had cut himself off from his family, his sister tried to keep up some form of contact, obviously enough to hear the terrible news. I know nothing of his life abroad, what was it that led him to take his life? The only further details to emerge are that his sister is now very angry at what happened before his death. My aunt and uncle are dead, spared this final disappointment with their son’s life. I wonder what people in his life have been left behind.
The saddest news this week is the senseless murder of a young policeman, Andrew Harper. The fact he was married only a month ago and was due to go on honeymoon soon has touched everybody and kept his death in the national news. Anyone can imagine what his family are going through and any police family would be chilled by the reminder that no police officer knows what each shift might hold.
Cyberspouse did his thirty years in the Metropolitan Police, he and his colleagues got their pensions and time to enjoy a new life. Andrew Harper will never have sons and grandsons. If the young get incurably ill it is terrible, but sadly that is the unfairness of life and we have to accept it, but no one has the right to take another life before their allotted time.
Perfect bliss; to come out of the cool sea and lie on the beach soaking up the sun, then plunge back into the waves to cool off again. This beach would be paradise if it wasn’t full of thousands of other day trippers, but when I close my eyes it’s peaceful, I could be alone. The screams of swimmers and the laughter of children fades away and I am drifting off to sleep, the early morning start, to beat the traffic down to the coast, is catching up with me.
I’m not quite asleep and I open my eyes to observe unnoticed the trio of girls spreading out their towels a few feet away. When they go running and giggling towards the waves I close my eyes again; in this heat wave they are bound to stay frolicking in the waves for a while.
My eyelids are heavy, my towel is moulded comfortably into the warm sand and I am drifting, just as I was in the gentle swell moments ago. Work, studying and responsibilities have floated away.
The gentle hum of human voices returns and then I hear it; a voice at odds with happy holiday makers, an increasingly urgent cry.
‘Charlie, Charlie, CHARLIE…’
I keep my eyes closed, just someone calling their dog and disturbing my perfect day.
‘Charlie, Charlie, has anyone seen a little boy…
I open my eyes, I am listening, but nobody else is. Where is the voice coming from?
‘Charlie, help, I’ve lost my son, he was here a second ago, Charlie…’
I sit bolt upright, twist around and there she is, sheer panic in her eyes, her mouth fixed open. People start to stir, struggle to their feet in the soft sand. The young woman looks straight at me.
‘Did you see where he went? Someone, someone must have seen him… Charlie?’
My brain starts to wake up, unburdened by parental terror I find myself gearing into action.
‘What does he look like, how old is he?’
‘Four, red hair, purple shorts, lime green top…’
Sounds quite easy to spot, but four is young, can they talk by then, I don’t know much about kids…
‘Go to the Lifeguards, they probably have some system or other, they’ll get a search going… I’ll look around.’
She stumbles off, some granny person is taking her arm. For some reason other sun bathers and parents seem to think I know the mother, know what’s happening.
‘Come on everybody, if we all look, red shorts, purple top and green hair… I mean purple shorts, lime green top and red hair, four year old boy.’
Suddenly everybody is shouting for Charlie, it’s quite exciting, a Lifeguard is running, talking on his radio… I could be a Lifeguard, saving people on land and sea…
Then I see him in the distance with a man, trundling away from our search area. I plough through the sand. Holding the man’s hand, is he being kidnapped? I overtake and trip over a sandcastle in front of them, the boy looks unperturbed.
‘Charlie, are you Charlie, your Mummy’s looking for you.’
‘My name’s Archie.’
‘Clear off mate.’
‘I was just trying to help a lady who’s lost her son, sorry, same clothes …’
The cries and shouts and radio voices reach us and the man turns his head to see the whole beach on the move, moving towards us, recognising the purple, green and red description.
‘My brother’s called Charlie’ says the little boy.
The man suddenly laughs. ‘Bloody child, he’s always doing that to us, getting lost. Come on Archie, no ice cream till we’ve found your twin brother.’
The game of snap ends ten minutes later when a worried swimmer emerges from the shallows with a grinning sodden child, but now nobody is sure where the mother is.
Over the years there have been very different Christmases; in one Scottish town we had too much food with one family on Christmas Day, then a Boxing Day with the other family who didn’t appear to have any food in the house; we went out searching for food, but all the shops were shut.
One year the longed for white Christmas arrived. My sister and brother-in-law were coming on their first holiday back to England. We had just bought our first place, a small two bedroom ground floor flat, which had the fortuitous novelty of gas central heating. Everyone had told my sister a white Christmas was very unlikely in the south of England. My brother-in-law’s sister lived with her family in a village near Dover, they came up to stay with us to be reunited. It snowed and there we were six adults and two toddlers almost snow bound in a flat that now seemed very small. I recall that all the adults had different drink requirements, but at one stage we couldn’t get any drinks as brother-in-law had been pinned in the kitchen by his sister for a tearful argument about how fairly their precious time in England was going to be shared between she and I. As she was having us all for actual Christmas Day and Boxing Day I’m not sure why she was complaining. My husband was relieved to avoid the trip to Kent due to his shift work and was going to spend the day with my aunt and uncle who had been deprived of the rest of us for Christmas. It began to look as if none of us would get to Kent if the trains and roads were snowed up… we did and Christmas morning was beautiful, trudging through snowy fields with the little ones , then back to a roaring log fire in their cottage. Alas the circle of heat emanating from the open fire did not spread to the rest of the cottage. It was freezing, especially for the Australian contingent, the bathroom, being a mere asbestos attachment to the rest of the building, was particularly uninviting.
If you have access to children Christmas feels more real and we had a few years with four generations, though children are a risk as well, they are liable to be sick all over great aunty’s sofa.
Christmas is something to be ignored and got through for some people, while for others it brings enormous stress as they juggle extended families. But it would seem strange for the year to peter out devoid of any celebrations.
For writers Christmas provides plenty of plot possibilities. In my Brief Encounters Trilogy three Christmases pass, with an ecclectic group of people assembled each time; plenty of tension and opportunity for both love and discord.