Downshire is a relatively small English county but like a pocket battleship it packs a lot in, a short but beautiful coastline, a channel port, the Ancient forests of Dancingdean and Pepperstock, the craggy ridges and manmade lakes of the Pepperstock Hills National Park, the rolling hills of the Downshire Downs, the beautiful Finchbottom Vale and farm land as far as the eye can see from the Trotwood’s and the Grace’s in the south to the home of the Downshire Light infantry, Nettlefield, and their affluent neighbour’s, Roespring and Tipton in the north but our story begins further south at the most southerly fringe of the Pepperstock Hills National Park.
The Park stretched from the bare, and often barren crags of Oxley Ridge in the North to the dense wooded southern slopes on the fringe of the Finchbottom Vale and from Quarry Hill, and the Pits in the West to Pepperstock Bay in the East.
It is an area of stark contrasts and attracted a variety of visitors.
The quarry hill side of the park to the west, as the name suggests, was heavily Quarried over several hundred years, though more extensively during the industrial revolution, the Quarries had been un-worked for over fifty years and nature had reclaimed them and former pits had become lakes and were very popular with anglers and the sparse shrubbery and woodland made it popular spot with courting couples whereas the northern crags and fells were popular with climbers and more hardy folk.
To the south and east was an extensive tract of magnificent mixed forestry and was rivalled only by the ancient woodland of the Dancingdean Forest.
Cheryl Vermeulen lived in the village of Springwater in the home she had once shared with her ex-husband Bijs and at the age of 29 she was facing her first Christmas on her own for 8 years and she wasn’t looking forward to it.
She wasn’t lonely per se, she had friends aplenty, and she even had a romantic interest or at least she had someone she was interested in romantically she just needed to close the deal, which was proving to be more difficult than she had hoped.
Cheryl woke early in the depths of winters to find it was snowing lightly but it was 4am, so she went to the bathroom and then went back to bed.
She awoke for the second time at six o’clock but after looking at the clock she went back to sleep again.
The next time she woke to the sound of machinery, a repetitive whining sound, and when she realized it was not part of her dream, she jumped from her bed and rushed to the window.
Across the cul-de-sac and through the naked black branches of the trees, she could see one of her neighbour's driveways and his son's car stuck in the snow.
Then she glanced to the bedside table and the clock radio which screamed in her face its “eight o'clock!!!”
“You’re kidding me” she snapped “Where did the time go?”
Well, what happened was she kept going back to sleep and at some point she had even switched the alarm off and then made the fatal error of wanting to stay cosy for a few more minutes, but those few more minutes turned into an hour.
As a result she was in a panic, so she threw on anything that would keep her warm and ran wild-eyed down the stairs.
Her first stop was to the coat cupboard where she searched out her wellington boot's, then she turned them upside down and banged them against each other to wake up any sleeping insects and encourage them to vacate the premises, as their cosy abode was about to be invaded by wool clad size three feet.
Once she had her boots on, her coat was next followed by a hat and scarf and finally she put on her thickest gloves.
It took her several attempts to open the door with her thick gloves on and she had to take one off to open the garage door and it seemed that everything was conspiring to frustrate her just when she was in such a hurry.
She wriggled her way to the back of the garage in search of the snow shovel, she knew they had one, her ex-husband Bijs had bought one when they first moved to the village but they had never used it, he drove a 4x4 and he drove her to work when there was snow on the ground, and it never lay for long anyway so there was never any need for it.
Once she had the shovel she wriggled back to the door again this time with the shovel above her head.
Shovel in hand she stood on the threshold and looked down the drive at the task ahead.
The small granular flakes were falling fast, and the wind was blowing it in drifts across her drive.
After a few moments she looked beyond her drive and wondered why she was the only one outside when the men of the neighbourhood were normally out flexing their muscles but then she remembered, it was still only 8.15 on Sunday morning, and they were not expected at the church by 9:30 for a preservice choir practise ahead of a full program of church events on the third Sunday of advent.
As she looked from the garage door out to the street, along the 40 foot length drive covered by a foot of virgin snow, Cheryl sighed and asked herself
“Where on earth do I begin?”
In the end she went straight to the middle and began to shovel a narrow path to the street and she initially moved along at a fairly steady pace, but when she had reached the road she stopped and looked at her watch and felt deflated.
She realised she had a choice to make she could either shovel like a mad woman and go to church unkempt and un-showered and dressed like a bag lady or she could make a phone call.
Cheryl went back to the house and picked up her phone and dialled a number
“Hello?” a voice said
“Hello Kay, sorry for calling so early, is Owen there? I can’t get the car out” Cheryl said “I’m never going to make it to church on time”
Owen and Kay were in the choir as well and also lived in Springwater and before she could continue Kay interrupted her and said
“Don't worry Cheryl we’ll pick you up on the way”
“Oh bless you Kay” she said “I’ll be ready”
Owen and Kay came along right on cue and Cheryl made her way through the snow to the car.
It was still snowing as they approached St Bartholomew’s Church when Owen said
“I hope the rest of the choir can make it”
“I just hope there will be someone there to listen” Kay added
“Even if it’s just the three of us and no congregation we can still sing for God” Cheryl said
“Yes we can” they agreed
Only three choir members failed to make the rehearsal but they all arrived in time for the performances and despite the weather there were plenty of congregants there to listen.
Once they finished the rehearsal Cheryl used the time before the first service to enjoy a cup of coffee at the church Café, Bart’s, where she spent 20 minutes laughing and chatting with fellow choristers, and among them was Dave Torrison, who was on her romantic radar.
The church was full by 10.30 and the choir was well warmed up for their rendition of “Carol of the Bells” and Cheryl was in particularly good voice and nailed all of solos.
The second service was equally well received judging by the emotion filled faces of those who had just been blessed by the music.
After the service was complete, they shared the peace and the congregation had dispersed, some of the choristers went for a late lunch.
One of them was Dave Torrison and after Owen and Kay related the tale about her not being able to get her car out of the garage Dave said
“Well I don’t mind coming round to help”
“Really?” she asked
“Absolutely” Dave said
“Well in that case I’ll make us dinner” Cheryl said
“Great” he said “But I’ll need to go home first and change”
Owen and Kay dropped her off in front of her house.
“Have fun” Kay said and winked
As she walked up the little path she’d cleared earlier that morning it already had two inches of fresh snow on it and she looked across at her neighbour’s drives in the failing light and could see that all the men had been out and cleared their driveways and were safely tucked up warm inside.
Cheryl’s first act was to rush inside and change into something that would make the best of what she had and then when she was perfumed and made up she put on her snow shovelling gear on top of her outfit and waited for him.
When he arrived, Dave thought she looked rather cute in her wellies, puffer jacket, woolly hat, scarf and gloves, but as the snow shovel stood two foot taller than she did, he suggested she leave the drive to him.
Cheryl didn’t argue because it meant she could make a start on dinner and perfect her appearance.
“I hope this is ok” she said as she looked at her reflection in the mirror.
She needn’t have worried, after all he thought she was cute in a puffer jacket and wellies he would be putty in her hands when he saw her in a figure hugging wool dress.
Suffice is to say she did make an impression and they both had a great Christmas.