Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (99) Christmas in Sharpington – Jenny’s Tale

(Part 01)

The traditional seaside resort of Sharpington-by-Sea with its Victorian Pier, seafront hotels, crazy golf, The Palladium ballroom, well maintained gardens, promenade, theatre and illuminations, has all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside, as well as amusement arcades and of course the Sharpington Fun Park and 55 year old triplets, Alex, James and Jenny Wardle live together in the huge house they grew up in, in the grand neighbourhood of Granite Hill, which in a nod to San Francisco, the locals had nicknamed Nob Hill.
“So it’s Christmas time again” Alex said as he looked out the window.
“As if anyone could fail to notice” James added as he and Jenny joined him at the drawing room window.
Even without leaving the house they could see more than half a dozen houses decorated to the hilt.
Every coloured light imaginable, Santa's on the roof or climbing a ladder, sleighs, elves, snowmen, bells, stars, baubles and last but by no means least standing almost four feet high that perennial favourite Winnie the Pooh.
Alex was taken aback, what the hell did Pooh have to do with Christmas? And later as he and his siblings walked down to the seafront he noticed that every other house seemed to have one, there was even one on the pier so he guessed there must be something in it.
He didn't recall mention of him in the bible and in all of the many nativity plays he had seen over the years Winnie the Pooh was conspicuous by his absence and although there is a donkey in the story it wasn’t Eeyore.
The stable did not house Piglet and the wise men did not travel from the east with Tigger bearing gifts of Huney.
Nor in any of the Christmas traditions around the world is there a single reference to Pooh as one of Santa's helpers, there was Black Peter, and the Jolly Elf, there was even the devil figure Krampus, but no Pooh, but it appeared to him, that the people of Sharpington were giving him pride of place on their lawns that Christmas.
As they turned left onto the promenade the early winter sun broke through the mackerel skies exposing patches of the bluest sky and if he had had any remaining doubts that Christmas was coming to Sharpington they were soon dispelled as the promenade was decked in its Christmas garb.
Inflatable Santa’s climb the walls of the Fun Park and the pier was draped in LED icicles.
Then when they passed the Seaview Hotel they saw what looked like a cheery red-suited burglar hanging from one of the balconies and they all laughed before they went their separate ways.

Jenny had never married and had spent all her adult life in the halls of academe at the University of Downshire teaching medieval history, but when she turned 55 the academic fire went out in her so she retired.
She also decided it was time for her to try different things, things she had never done before or indeed had never had any regret at not having done it, so it wasn’t a bucket list.
Nor was it really a list, she didn’t write down what she might try and then tick it off afterwards, it was more a case of stumbling across something she had never done before and diving right in.
The new experience that week was ice skating, which she had never done, nor roller skating for that matter, she had a terrible sense of balance so the thought never entered her head at any time in her life that she should give it ago until she moved back to Sharpington.

(Part 02)

The new experience that week for Jenny was ice skating, which she had never done, nor roller skating for that matter, she had a terrible sense of balance so the thought never entered her head at any time in her life that she should give it ago until she moved back to Sharpington.

In the 18th and early 19th Century the pond up in Jubilee Park regularly froze in winter and the well healed of the town would don their skates and take to the ice, but it rarely froze after that, the hard winter of 1962 was the last occasion.
During the industrial revolution the enterprising folk of commerce used ice from the fish processing factory to make an artificial rink and charged people to skate on it but that ceased when the fish factory closed.
But in the 21st century the technology existed to produce and maintain an artificial outdoor rink at a relatively low cost, so Sharpington had one on the promenade by the pier every December and it proved very popular.
And that was where Jenny was headed after she separated from her brothers.
On that bright sunny morning the flashing skates of hundreds of brightly clad figures made zigzag patterns on the frozen blueish white surface of the ice.
She actually felt quite excited as she approached but as she got nearer and it appeared that all the other skaters on the ice were clearly not novices she started to have doubts.
But then she caught sight of a tall angular man of similar maturity to herself who was struggling with grace, style and gravity and she felt heartened so she went and hired some skates.
Once she had donned her skates she made her first tentative steps on the ice and her courage began to desert her again so she stuck close to the rail and inched her way forward.
Before she got going she looked across the ice and admired the skill and confidence of the other skaters but when she joined them she had to focus all her attention on what she was doing, which was why she didn’t see the tall angular man until he bowled noisily past her and ended up in a crumpled heap on the ice in front of her.
“My goodness, you’re worse than me” she said laughingly “and I’m rubbish”
“Then you are a good judge” he said and laughed
“Let me help you up” she suggested after getting a firm grip of the rail, and after few comic near misses, that almost had them both on the ice, they managed to get him upright again where he too grasped the comforting rail.
“Thank you” he said “I’m Paul”
“Jenny” she responded
“Is this your first time?”
“The first time for many years” he replied “What about you?”
“No this is my first time ever” she retorted and laughed
“Then you’re doing extremely well” he said and then he nearly fell again.
“How about we do it together” she suggested and offered her arm and they moved off rather ungracefully together.
As they circumnavigated the rink they chatted almost oblivious to their surroundings and they found they had a shared love of history.

(Part 03)

Paul Morfett was not a native of the town but had lived in Sharpington for ten years since the death of his wife, they had lived in Abbottsford all their lives up until her passing, and after it everything in the place was a hurtful memory of her so he moved somewhere neither of them had been and so held no such memories.
As he was a writer by profession his location did not hamper his career and it had actually aided it, and he had written an additional four novels in his “Cross of Kings” series while he was there.
His historic books used material from a number of text books which gave his stories an authentic feel and he considered the academic authors as allies and although he didn’t know it at the moment she helped him to his feet she had been an ally in his writing because he had referenced the books of Professor J W Wardle on many occasions but by the time they stepped off the ice he hadn’t made the connection that his Professor and his companion were one and the same person.

They curtailed their ice skating duet about half an hour after the clouds began to gather and when they finally relented it was only because the expected rain arrived.
But by the time they had reclaimed their footwear the rain had turned to snow and the snow fell thick and fast as smoke from the red-hot coals of the barbeque filled the air with mouthwatering smells as fat dripped onto the charcoal.
“That smells good” she said
“Are you hungry?” he asked
“Starving” Jenny replied
“Well allow me to treat you to lunch” he offered “do you like Italian? I know a great restaurant called the L'uccello canto?”
“That’s my favourite” she said “So yes I’d love to”

As they walked briskly to the restaurant through the snow they passed Doily’s bookshop when Jenny stopped in her tracks.
Because in the shop window was a pile of books in front of a cardboard cutout of her lunch date.
“You’re Paul Morfett” she said “I know you told me you were a writer but you didn’t tell me you were a good one”
“Well I do ok” he said “have you read me?”
“Occasionally, I like that you do your research” she replied
“I like to get it right” he said
“Come on” she said and pushed open the door “I want to show you something”
They went to the back of the shop to the reference section and after perusing the history shelf she withdrew a tome and handed it to him, with the back cover on display.
“Do you recognize anyone?” she asked referring to the author’s photo

“I can’t believe that I’ve actually spent the afternoon with my favourite history academic and it turns out she’s not a crusty old professor” he said with the candle light dancing in his dark gipsy eyes as they peered at her from behind the flame.
“Well I’m releived to know that you don’t think I’m crusty” she said

They spent all afternoon in the restaurant as the snow continued falling outside and along with their favourite Italian food, a liberal amount of wine and a number of liqueurs were consumed and when they left they were merrier than the season.
They stepped outside and their shoes crunched on the snow covered pathways and they braced themselves against the cold and tried to draw themselves deeper into their coats as a promenade tram went by with its windows steamed up.
“Where to now?” she asked when they reached the corner
“I think I should get you home” he said
“But I don’t want to go home” Jenny retorted
“Well my apartment is just along the promenade” he suggested
“Will there be wine?” she asked
“There can be” he replied
“What about kissing? Will there be any kissing at your apartment?” she asked brazenly
“There could be kissing now” he pointed out
“Yes there could” she agreed and they passionately kissed as the snowflakes fell around them.

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