Mornington-By-Mere, is a small country village lying in the Finchbottom Vale nestled between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest and the rolling Pepperstock Hills.
A quaint picturesque village, a chocolate box picturesque idyll, with a Manor House, 12th Century Church, a Coaching Inn, Windmills, an Old Forge, a Schoolhouse, a River and a Mere.
But it wasn’t just a quaint chocolate box English Village it was the beating heart of the Finchbottom Vale.
And although the village was the hub it was the surrounding farms and hamlets that were its life blood.
One such Farm was Manor Farm on the Western side of the village.
The Hargrave family had farmed the land at Manor Farm since the days when Napoleon was still a Corporal and they were showing no signs of bucking that trend.
The head of the Hargrave’s was Bruce though he leant heavily on his wife Karen.
They were in their mid-fifties and were looking forward to many more years at the helm.
There were three children the eldest at 32 was Mandy who along with her husband Jason McCabe had produced the first grandchild.
The second child was Norman who was two years younger than his sister and two years younger still was Michael and neither of them showed any sign of producing a little Hargrave.
Michael was a serious farmer, and a good one at that, but there was more to him than just farming.
Michael was very active in the church, at St Winfred’s as well as farther afield.
This involved among other things, being a greeter at the church services, delivering Parish Magazines, helping at the Christmas Bazaar, you name it and he did it and that was only in the village.
His wider good works included the Soup Kitchens in Finchbottom or Purplemere, who were always desperate for volunteers.
The Christmas Charity Wagon in Sharpington, which was an old Mornington Brewery dray pulled by two white shire horses.
The whole thing was bedecked with tinsel and lights and carried on the back a multi denominational choir.
Michael was not however among those going from door to door, as the wagon drove around the town, collecting donations in plastic buckets and handing out sweets to the excited children, no he was in the choir because he had the voice of an angel.
He was also volunteered for the Roving Angels which had been in existence for about two years and was similar to the Street Angels, Street Pastors and other groups that had sprung up all across the UK in the previous 12 or 15 years.
They had made a really positive impact on crime and antisocial behaviour in Finchbottom and Purplemere town centres over the first two years, particularly in the general vicinity of the bars and clubs.
They provide a calming presence on the streets late at night in situations where a police uniform might have the opposite effect.
In the two years since they began Roving Angels had contributed to a 29% fall in public place violence on the weekends.
It all began when Christian Churches in the area came together with the Police and the Borough Council’s to establish the Angels.
But it took people of Faith to make it work as with so many things in life.
Michael had been with them since the beginning.
But one of his favourite good deeds was to help out on the Santa Express, which was something to behold, and he loved it because it reminded him of his childhood.
The Boddingtons were pig farmers at Saddleback Farm near the hamlet of Fallowacres, which was as near as damn it the center point of the Vale, though only geographically.
But they also had a number of butcher’s shops in and around the Vale.
The Mornington Estate heavily subsidised the businesses in the village among them were a General Store, Farm Shop, Bakers and of course a Boddington’s Butchers Shop.
It was only a small shop located on the River Brooke side of The Street next to Addison’s Baker’s.
As a result of it being a small shop located in a small village it hadn’t had a full time butcher since before RAF Mornington was mothballed at the end of the 90s.
However when the Mornington Estate exercised its option to purchase Mornington Field back from the MOD it also acquired all the buildings and infrastructure on the airfield itself as well as 29 houses in the village formally used as quarters for military personnel.
Once plans were drawn up to optimize the newly acquired assets and more people moved to the village all the businesses benefitted.
So everyone in the family did a stint in Mornington but no one wanted to make it permanent.
Eleanor Boddington was approaching her twenty fifth birthday and she was fed up with not having proper roots.
The longest she had in one place was a two year stint at the shop in Childean, which ended in disaster when her ex-boyfriend wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Since then she had been like a nomad, she would love to settle in Mornington with a particular farmer she was keen on, providing she could get him to notice her.
Which shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was proving to be. she was a typical Boddington, good looking, thick black curly hair and wild gypsy eyes and she flirted with him for all her worth.
Over the last few years she had had a lot of dealings with Manor Farm because they were a heritage farm and as well as breeding more exotic animals like llamas and ostrich, the farm produced quality meat.
And it was during her dealings with Manor Farm that she first met Michael Hargrave.
She liked that he was a tall man with broad shoulders and hands like shovels.
Ellie also liked his short brown hair, neatly trimmed beard and thick rimmed glasses.
But the things she loved the most about him were his hazel eyes and his infectious laugh.
He seemed to enjoy their conversations which were lengthy and diverse and she learned a lot about him and his interests.
And she admired him very much for all his voluntary work and she suggested she might join him some time but nothing ever came of it.
Until December came around and he suggested she join him on the Santa Express.
He had resisted previously because he wasn’t sure she genuinely wanted to help he thought her interest might be purely superficial.
“So if you’re really interested” he said “I will pick you up outside the shop at 1 o’clock on Wednesday”
“I’ll be there” she promised
The Santa Express was a renovated steam engine and coaches, which ran from Sharping St Mary station to a secret location where Santa was waiting in his grotto.
It picked up the local children and their parents late afternoon so that they arrived at the grotto in darkness in order to make the most of the spectacular lights.
It was one of the high points of his year, he well remembered his parents taking him when he was a young lad and he liked to see other the kids as excited as he used to be at their age.
On Wednesday afternoon Eleanor was standing outside Boddington’s at 1 o’clock as promised and they talked the whole way as they drove to Sharping St Mary and when they got there the kids were going crazy with excitement and the excitement was quite infectious.
But Michael’s job on the trip was to make sure none of the over excited little darlings fell off the train.
John Cooper and his sister Lyndsey, and Bizzie Lizzie Florist Michelle Norman among others from the village were also present and at one point Michele managed to trap him between the carriages armed with a bunch of mistletoe and only when she had satisfied herself in the pagan ritual did she let him go.
Eleanor witnessed the kiss and she was not at all happy about it but she did enjoy the day as a whole.
Now if the kids were excited on the way to the grotto then judging by the decibel level they were even more so on the way back to the station.
When they disembarked and the children and their parents made their way home Michele Norman kissed Michaels cheek and said goodbye and then Michael and Eleanor went back to his car.
On the journey back to Mornington Eleanor barely spoke because she was sulking about all the kissing.
Back in Mornington he drove into Military Row and dropped her off outside number 7.
“Well did you enjoy the day?” he asked
“Most of it” she replied, kissed his cheek and got out of the car.
He had never believed in love at first sight or in soul mates he thought them rather fanciful notions the stuff of romantic fiction and sentimental movies.
That was until he met Eleanor and he was instantly smitten, and he thought she may have felt the same.
Even his mother had noticed and after she had seen them together she said
“You two are like two halves of a different whole, and that each of them was the missing piece in the others puzzle”
It wasn’t many months before when his mum was nagging him about getting a wife he had said
“I’m not looking for a life partner” well he thought he may have found one whether he was looking or not.
But after the Santa Express experience he was beginning to think he and his mother had misread the situation and over the following week that feeling was reinforced as she appeared to be avoiding him.
On Christmas Eve local Vet Hayley Gwilym was at Manor Farm to look at a sick Lama and she happened to mention that her retired mentor Robin Jeffrey had been bending her ear all morning.
And during her visit she asked Michael if he would pop up to Dulcets Mill because he couldn’t get the web cam to work and he needed it functioning for Christmas Day so he could skype his kids and grandchildren.
They both knew it probably meant that he had disabled it by accident but she had tried to explain over the phone and failed miserably, she would have gone up to see him, but she had an extraordinarily long list of calls so she pleaded with him to go in her stead.
So later that afternoon he had to go out in the cold and trudge across the village through the snow just to tick a box.
As he suspected Robin had accidentally disabled the web cam so he worked his magic and went back out into the cold night and by the time he got to the road it had started snowing again and by the time he reached the Close it was coming down hard and fast.
In fact it was coming down so rapidly that visibility was reduced to zero.
It was so disorienting that he couldn’t have even found his way back to Robin’s despite being no more than 15 minutes away from Dulcets Mill.
So he inched his way along the footpath tucking up close to hedges, picket fences and garden walls so he didn’t wander off course.
When he reached the end of a row of houses he had to take a leap of faith, as he couldn’t see the other side of the road.
As he trudged onward he realised he had gone off course because he hadn’t reached the other side.
He had no idea how far he had gone as he had no point of reference, so he decided the best course of action was to veer left to try and find the footpath again.
Unfortunately he had no idea how far left to go or for that matter how far left he had already gone.
Michael was just beginning to panic when he tripped on a kerbstone and crashed into another lost soul and they fell to the floor in an untidy heap.
When he had scrambled to his feet he found he was outside Boddington’s
“I’m saved” he thought as he envisaged taking refuge in the shop until the snow abated, but first he had to help the other poor customer he had left prostrate on the snowy ground.
“I’m so sorry” he said as he grabbed a handful of coat and pulled the stricken body to its feet.
The individual muttered incoherently under their breath as they brushed themselves off and he got the impression his apology was not accepted.
And when they began to turn in his direction he was bracing himself for a volley of abuse but to his great surprise he found the previously stricken figure to be Eleanor Boddington and the muttering scowling indignant face instantly changed to a beaming smile when she recognized the face of her assailant.
“Michael” she said excitedly then cautiously gave a long look in the direction of the shop doorway then in a quieter voice she continued
“I didn’t know it was you”
“Are you ok?” he asked
“I am now” she replied and glanced again at the door
He looked her up and down and realised why he hadn’t recognized her before, she was dressed in heavy duty winter clothes.
Her lovely thick black curls were completely covered by a red woolly hat, her dainty feet were in wellies and her slender figure was concealed by a puffer jacket.
She was still looking anxiously towards the shop doorway and then impulsively she steered him around the side of the building and kissed him as the snow fell steadily on them, which he reciprocated.
After a minute of mutually beneficial passion he said
“Does this mean you’re talking to me again?”
“That depends” she said enigmatically
“On whether you go around kissing Michelle Norman every five minutes or not” she said
“I see, you are referring to the mistletoe kiss on the train”
“I didn’t see any mistletoe” Eleanor said
“So you thought it was just a snog?” he asked
“Yes” she replied and looked down at her feet.
Michael lifted her chin so he could see her eyes and then he kissed her.
It was less prolonged than the first however because a voice called from the shop doorway
So Michael released her reluctantly and she called.
“I’ll be there in a moment Dad”
“I have to go” she said and kissed him again
“Perhaps we can pick it up again later” he said
“We’re going to Fallowacres”
“How long for?” he asked
“Until the New Year” she replied
“In which case I’m going to need another kiss before you go” Michael said and then they kissed one last time
“Happy Christmas Ellie” he said
“Happy Christmas” she echoed and she paused by the door and added
“I’ll bring you a present”
“You’re the only present I want” he said and she ran straight back into his arms.
Michael watched as they drove away from the shop and then turned around and continued his journey home as the snow abated.
And he spent all that Christmas looking forward to the New Year.