Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (78) It Happened One Christmas

(Part 01)

Sharpington-by-Sea is a traditional seaside resort complete with a Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, the Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park.
The Fun Park was the first purpose built amusement park to open in Britain, which had an assortment of rides, like the Rotor and the Wild Mouse, The Cyclone and the Morehouse Galloper, all very tame compared to 21st century roller coasters, but still fun.
It was also a popular resort for retirees and boasted a number of static caravan parks and one of them was the Whitecliff Hill Caravan Park which overlooked the town.

Kirsty Wishaw was petite and had beautiful straw coloured hair and at 27 years old she worked as the manager of the onsite Stephenson’s general store.
Stephenson’s had supermarkets and convenience stores all over Downshire.
Kirsty was a resident of Sharpington and had worked at the shop since she was at school.
Of course she had help in the shop in the form of a small group of part timers whom she knew she could trust which she needed because she had other demands on her time, namely her terminally ill mother who she had to care for, so the last thing she needed was another distraction which on one day in the middle of October came in the form of Phil Spurgeon.
Her eyes were drawn to him the moment he entered the shop, he was tall and slim with thick brown curly hair just long enough to cover his collar, with brown eyes and a toothy smile which lit up the whole shop.

Phil was a couple of years older that Kirsty and he was a writer who lived in one of the caravans on the far side of the park.
He was in the shop for about ten minutes and she caught him sneaking a look in her direction but when he eventually went to the counter with a basket full of essentials she was serving someone else, which she later thought was for the best really, she didn’t have time for such distractions, even very good looking ones.
So she did her best to ignore him which was difficult because he was gorgeous but she convinced herself it really was for the best.

Phil would have heartily agreed with her, he was finding writing his novel difficult enough as it was without the added complication of losing his heart to the lovely girl with the corn coloured hair.
He was an accountant by profession but after his marriage ended he decided he was going to give up his job and write a novel before life passed him by.

Phil’s neighbours up at Whitecliff Hill Caravan Park were the Taylor family, who unlike Phil had not chosen to be there because when they least expected it, life slapped them in the face and then it kicked them when they were on the ground.

The slap came when Michelle Taylor was diagnosed with breast cancer in January the previous year and needed surgery followed by chemo.
Her husband Martyn was a self-employed builder at the time with plenty of steady work and was able to increase his hours to cover for the shortfall.
Then came the first kick, at the end of February when Martyn was in a car crash and broke his leg.
In June there was another kick, when he needed surgery on his leg after he got an infection, but most painful kick came in October, when with bills going unpaid and Martyn still on crutches and Michelle unable to work for several months because of the surgery and two courses of chemo and with mounting debts and their savings long gone and no money for the mortgage they lost the house.

(Part 02)

So in December Martyn Taylor, wife Michelle, 9 year old son Sam and seven year old twins Ben and Mark moved into a caravan at Whitecliffe and they had a bleak Christmas.

Over the following eleven months the Taylor's worked hard to rebuild their lives, Michelle was declared cancer free and returned to work, and got a job in Sharpington.
Martyn found another job, not as a builder and not bringing home as much money as before the accident but it was steady and seemed to be more secure.
The boys did their bit as well by washing cars, cleaning windows and doing odd jobs on the park.
So by December they had managed to pay off the remainder of their debts and even had a bit left over for Christmas.
They were doing so well that in another six months they would be able to think about moving back into a house but then on the 20th December life kicked them again.

It had been a bitterly cold weekend with an icy wind blowing off the sea, all of which made it a very uncomfortable experience to live in a caravan.
So the Taylors had to employ additional heaters to combat the cold but during the night one of the electric heater in lounge area burst into flames and the fire rapidly spread.

Fortunately for the Taylors, Phil Spurgeon had been to a Christmas party at his cousin’s flat in Jubilee Court which was just down the hill in Sharpington and thanks to an over indulgence of family hospitality he walked along the prom to clear his head before going home, otherwise the caravan would have started spinning the moment he lay down.
Subsequently he didn’t get back to the caravan until a little after 4am to find the Taylors caravan well ablaze.
His first action was to phone 999 and his second was to raise the alarm with the occupants and the neighbouring homes which could quite conceivably have caught fire as well.

“Fire! Fire!” he shouted and banged on all the windows in turn frantically trying to raise the occupants, when a face appeared at the window.
The fire had engulfed one end of the caravan and had made the doors inaccessible so the big window at the opposite end became the route to safety.
The only problem was that the window only swung open about three inches before the catch was fully extended, so Phil had two choices, either smash the window or break the catch, so he looked around him to see if there was anything handy that might fit the bill, but he couldn’t see anything strong enough to break the glass or rigid enough to lever the catch, and then he spotted the rotary clothes dryer and quickly uprooted it from the metal socket in the ground and used it as a lever to break the lock and then propped it under the open window and a grateful and relieved Martyn Taylor started handing the kids out, and concerned neighbours whisked them away to safety just as wailing sirens could be heard in the distance, thankfully everyone was rescued safely but the Taylor's had lost everything.

(Part 03)

Kirsty Wishaw walked up the hill from Sharpington just after six o’clock as she did every morning and she was normally the only soul heading through Jubilee Park at that time on a winter morning but she had seen several people that morning but she thought nothing of it nor did she give the acrid smell in the air a second thought it was only when she got into Whitecliff Hill Caravan Park that she noticed blue lights in the distance and her first thought was a break in at the shop so she quickened her stride.
She soon realised that the blue glow from the lights was nowhere near the shop so her curiosity got the better of her so she went to investigate.
Which was when she saw Phil Spurgeon sitting on the back of an ambulance with a blanket wrapped around him.
Her heart sank immediately and all the feelings she had for him that she had been trying to suppress burst free and she ran towards him
“Oh my God are you alright?” she blurted “What happened, are you injured?”
“I’m fine” he said and when he saw how concerned she was for him he knew his novel wasn’t so important, he wanted her to be a distraction, in fact he wanted her to distract his socks off.
“Are you sure?” she asked with real concern
“Yes he’s good to go” Paramedic Andy Mason confirmed and slapped him on the back in fact over the next ten minutes a lot of people patted him on the back as they ambled along towards the scene of the fire, including several firemen.

The Taylor’s Caravan had completely gone but the homes either side were relatively unscathed, a bit black and sooty but nothing major, Phil couldn’t get back in his at that stage because the Firefighters wanted to make sure there was no damaged to the gas fittings.
As they stood looking at the mess Kirsty shivered and in response Phil put his arm around her and she liked how it felt, and a few minutes later they were joined by another resident Ken Baily
“Well done Phil” he said and shook his hand
“Well done for what?” she asked “Why does everyone keep patting you on the back?”
“Didn’t you tell her?” Ken asked him and Phil shook his head
“Young Phil hear raised the alarm and got everyone out”
“Really?” she asked “Why didn’t you say something?”
He didn’t reply but then it was a rhetorical question really, she knew the answer, he was just that type of person who acts without thinking and doesn’t believe he’s done anything special because he thinks he has merely done what any other human being would have done.
He was just thankful that everyone got out safely but he was desperately sad because the Taylor's had lost everything.
Being their neighbour he knew how hard they had worked to get back on their feet after having such torrid times and as they watched one firefighter raking through the ashes while another doused the embers it was truly evident that they had lost absolutely everything to the fire, smoke and water, including all the children’s clothes and the Christmas presents.
All that remained amidst the ashes were a few scraps of melted toys, half-burned books and scorched and tattered clothing.
“How cruel” Phil said

(Part 04)

All that remained amidst the ashes were a few scraps of melted toys, half-burned books and scorched and tattered clothing.
“How cruel” Phil said
“What do you mean” Ken asked
“I just think it’s cruel for a family who had worked so hard to be dealt such a blow” Phil said.
“This would be bad enough to endure at any time but just before Christmas just compounds the cruelty”
“Well I for one will not be standing for it” Kirsty said resolutely “Come on”
“Where are we going?” he asked as she took hold of Phil’s hand and led him away but she didn’t reply because she had turned her attention to her mobile phone.

Kirsty took him with her to the shop, she didn’t know what use he would be but as she had allowed her feelings free rein in his regard she wasn’t letting him go.
She opened the shop and put him to work making a hot drink while she opened the shop.
Once the drinks were made she settled him in her office, which was actually just a common room, where he sat in the easy chair in the corner and was instantly overcome be fatigue and fell asleep, so Kirsty put her coat over him and got on with the task in hand.
When she was on her mobile she was calling for reinforcements in the shape of two of her part timers, firstly because she knew it was going to be a busy day in the shop and secondly because she had a lot of phone calls to make.

One call was to a close friend of her late father, Bob Philips, who was a freelance journalist who worked predominantly for the Abbottsford Chronicle but he also had a well-read blog.
He was a heavy smoking, hard drinking down to earth man in his early fifties with a long suffering wife, Toni, who managed to bring up their three children virtually single handed and “what you see is what you get” summed him up as good as anything.
Despite all his faults though it was very difficult not to like him even if he could drive you to despair.
Bob was a chain smoker who on more than one occasion had almost set his car alight and apart from the smoking he was also a very heavy drinker.
He was often heard to say he had driven home because he was too drunk to walk, though in truth his friends never gave him the opportunity to be so rash.
Another of his well-worn sayings was that if he read about the evils of drinking he would give up reading.
His main diet was fast food and bar snacks in fact he thought that the three basic food groups were caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
His personal faults aside however, what was undoubtable was that he was a good writer even if he may have spent more time socializing than he should have done.
He was also a more intelligent man than he would have people believe, because he found that if people thought him an idiot they were more likely to open up than if they thought they were dealing with somebody who was more switched on.
His wife, Toni, had long ago given up on the chance of Bob writing “the Great Novel” that he spoke of in his youth.
Bob’s favorite quote was “Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism something that will be grasped at once”.

(Part 05)

The second call that Kirsty made was to Melville’s Holidays who had almost two dozen empty holiday caravans on the site and persuaded her old school friend Natalie Melville that it would be a very effective PR exercise to let the family use one of them for the Christmas period.
“Ok stop” Natalie said “You had me at “melted snow” and “smouldering wrapping paper”
I’ll check with maintenance which ones are ready to use and drop a key off to you this afternoon”
“Thanks Nat”

The third call was to another old friend, Jenny Rawlings, who she knew would get the word around, after all the three best forms of communication were Television, Telephone and tell Jen.
And her final call was to Richard Stephenson at the company headquarters to get his permission to donate some food from the shop and she was very persuasive and took her less than ten minutes to get him to agree, so by the time Phil awoke from his surprisingly comfortable sleep in her “office” everything was arranged.

Natalie was good to her word and duly arrived at Whitecliff Hill just after 2 pm and gave Martyn and Michelle the key to one of the Melville holiday caravans on the park which they were welcome to use until the end of March, free of charge, which would give them time to get back on their feet.

The Taylors were overcome by Melville's generosity but that was only the beginning because Jenny had done her part and put the word around and in the space of a day-and-a-half, friends, family and strangers helped the family.
They brought clothing, footwear, bedding, crockery, cutlery, towels and all of the basics as well as a Christmas Tree and decorations.

Phil just stood open mouthed and looked on and when he could speak he asked
“When did you arrange all of this?”
“When you were asleep” she replied
“Really?” Phil said in amazement “You’ve worked wonders, you are a force of nature”
“Not really, I figured out what was wanted and made a few phone calls and ask nicely”
“And what do you do when there is something that you want?” he asked
“I ask nicely” she said slipping her hand in his “and hold his hand”

So due to the generosity of friends and strangers alike the Taylor's were able to enjoy their Christmas after all and look forward to a hopeful New Year just five days after they thought their Christmas dreams had gone up in smoke.
This heart-warming story just goes to prove without any shadow of doubt that the Christmas spirit truly dwells within the hearts of mankind.
And because of Kirsty’s generosity of heart and Phil’s heroism they decided that love wasn’t a distraction after all.

But Kirsty and Phil’s involvement with the Taylor’s Christmas continued right up until Christmas Eve, where after having spent much of Christmas Eve in each other’s arms, crept through the darkness, and left a Christmas sack on their doorstep.
So come Christmas Day the Taylor boys had more presents to open, toys, games, a Scalextric set, puzzles, footballs and signed football shirts for their favourite football team the Abbottsford Knights while Phil and Kirsty spent Christmas Day with her mum for what was to be their first and her mums last.

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