Peter Andrew was a big barrel chested man with a bushy beard and a happy jovial face and along with his wife Helen he ran the Old Mill Inn In the idyllic village of Mornington-By-Mere in the Finchbottom Vale nestled between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest and the rolling Pepperstock Hills.
They had been there for 20 years and had raised two children, Polly and John, and it was the perfect occupation for him but he hadn’t always been in hospitality.
He left school when he was fifteen, which was in the late seventies and he was living in Finchbottom with his parents.
The family home was in Shaftsbury Court, a warden run block of sheltered accommodation for the elderly and his mother was the warden.
Peter attended the School nearby which he left at the end of May and he started his first job three days later.
However in the November of that same year his mum changed jobs and the family moved from one side of town to the other, the significance of which would have a life changing effect on him within a matter of weeks.
The house move didn’t affect him getting to and from work as the town had a particularly good bus service, operating a flat fare service on circular routes.
Which meant he could still get the same bus as he did from the old address but from a different bus stop and the price was the same a fact which would have some significance at a later date.
His job was as a trainee groundsman with the Finchbottom District Council Grounds Maintenance team it wasn’t by any means his dream job but then he didn’t have a dream job, he left school at 15 because he wasn’t a scholar and he just needed to get a job so he took the first one that came along.
He enjoyed it well enough, though it wasn’t very fulfilling but then he didn’t think his job needed to be.
He was just happy to be earning after all, but as it was his first year at work he also had his first works Christmas party to look forward to.
It was on the last day before they broke for the Christmas holiday when they had a little works party in the yard where a little Christmas cheer was imbibed and a drink or two were consumed.
Peter was only sixteen at the time and he had only had very limited experience of alcohol and as a result he got well and truly bladdered on whisky Mac, cider and something unpronounceable from Yugoslavia.
So at the end of the afternoon one of his workmates gave him a lift into the town centre and from there he caught his usual bus.
But despite his drunken state he managed to climb the stairs to the top deck and the bus set off filled with Christmas shoppers and a drunken trainee grounds man.
He drifted off on the journey and he suddenly came to and looking out the window he recognized a familiar sight and so he promptly disembarked from the bus.
Peter headed off up the road in the direction of home wishing all and sundry a merry Christmas as he went.
He entered through the main doors to the flats and passed the Christmas tree in the foyer and headed straight for flat number one.
At the door he fumbled for his key and presented it to the lock and it wouldn’t fit.
He peered closely at it and he was satisfied that it was definitely his door key so he tried to put it in the lock again, but still it wouldn’t fit and suddenly the door opened and a stranger looked out at him.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Ah” he exclaimed “my name is Peter and I don’t live here anymore do I?”
The lady, who was the new warden, laughed and agreed with him that he definitely no longer lived there.
Peter apologized profusely and wished her a Happy Christmas and then made his way back to the foyer were there was a public telephone with one of those large Perspex domes over it.
His intention was to phone for a taxi to take him to where he actually lived but after rummaging in his pockets he discovered he had no money for the taxi or indeed a coin to make a phone call to order a taxi that he couldn’t afford.
However as he tried to duck under the Perspex hood he tripped over his own feet and fell into the Christmas tree which ended up on top of him.
The lady who now lived in flat no 1, heard the commotion and came to investigate and to his great surprise she thought it was very amusing to find a drunken teenager wearing the Christmas tree.
“Oh dear” she said laughing.
Deeply apologetic he explained the circumstances of his predicament and the new warden phoned a taxi for him and even gave him the money for the fare.
He thought that was real Christmas spirit and he never forgot her kindness and tolerance and from that time on he tried to keep that same spirit in his own heart at Christmas.
On New Year’s Eve Peter returned again to Shaftsbury Court but unlike his previous visit he was stone cold sober and there by intention.
He was carrying a large bouquet of flowers and a thank you card, he wasn’t going to knock on the door, he would have been too embarrassed to see her face to face, so he leant the bouquet against the door frame and turned to walk away.
He had only taken two steps when he heard the door open behind him and he went rigid.
Peter took a breath and slowly turned around expecting to see Mrs Copeland but instead he was face to face with a pretty 15 year old girl.
“Oh you must be Peter” she said looking at the card on the flowers
“Yes, yes I am” he said falteringly
“I’m Helen” she said “Mum’s inside, I think you should give her these yourself”
“Could you give them to her for me” he said
“No I can’t” Helen said “Come on in she won’t bite”
So with Helen holding his hand he went into the flat that used to be his home to apologize to her mum and ended up staying until the following year by which time he had a girlfriend.
By the next Christmas he had secretly proposed to Helen and five years down the line he had given up his groundsman’s job and the kind hearted Mrs Copeland was his mother in law.