I won’t hang about chatting for too long this week. I’m busy printing out and filing all the instalments that I’ve written so far. I find that if I have a hard copy at hand it’s easier to refer to than searching through the document downloads on my laptop. It’s also quite exciting to see it in print on paper. I can pretend that it’s a proper book. Every now and again I imagine what the front cover will look like. I have an idea that might work but of course a cover will only ever happen if I ever get as far as my book needing a cover. The thing on my mind at the moment is giving it a title. I’ve a feeling that I’ll be dithering about that for some time to come. I can’t believe how difficult it is to come up with one that’s right for the book.
Every week I learn something new about this publishing malarkey. This week I’ve learnt about Beta readers. That’s when you ask people to read your manuscript and they give you their honest opinion. You can then edit according to their feedback.
On Tuesday at our North Swindon WI we welcomed Al Sylvester to our Zoom meeting. Al organised an unsupported RAF expedition to reach the geographical South Pole. He told us of the team’s determination to achieve their goal despite extreme weather conditions and frostbite and of the mental challenges they endured as they skied their way across the bottom of the world. Following his return home he faced new challenges concerning health issues caused by the extreme cold. But his courage and determination peresevered and he went on to walk the length of Britain and run marathons as well as make it to the base camps of Everest and Annapurna. A totally inspiring man who refused to let anything stop him from acheiving his goals. The last thing he said to us was that if you want to do something, do it, the only thing that is stopping you is you!
So despite the odd ocassional times when I just feel like throwing in the towel during moments when I doubt my ability to write, I remain determined to follow it through and get it finished. That will be an achievment in itself!
Anyway, enough of my ramblings, here’s the next instalment. I had a lot of fun writing this one. Just remember it’s the first draft and not the finished article. Feedback is always appreciated, good or bad, but please remember to be kind.
Grab a cuppa, make yourself comfortable and enjoy…..hopefully!
Maggie Thornden, where are you?
Maggie stepped down from the foot stool she had been standing on and admired the Christmas tree that she had just topped off with a silver star. The tiny white lights twinkled amongst the fragrant branches of the Nordmann Fir, making the shiny baubles sparkle. Dotted here and there were the ornaments that Susan and James had made in primary school. She remembered their faces on the last day of the Christmas term when she carefully unwrapped the tissue surrounding clay stars and bells decorated with glitter and sequins that scattered over the floor. These precious reminders of their childhood were carefully re-wrapped in tissue once the festivities were over and safely stored away for another year.
Maggie took a sip of her cooling mulled wine and a bite from one of the mince pies that she had made earlier especially for the occasion. Michael Buble was singing Holly Jolly Christmas for the third time that afternoon and the fragrance of cinnamon and cranberry scented candles wafted through the house. Maggie knew that it was all a bit of a cliché but she loved this time set aside to decorate the house ready for the festive season. Before the children had been born, she’d tried to get Gordon to help her. She had this romantic image of the two of them hanging tinsel over picture frames and stringing paper chains across the ceiling, but it was obvious that he didn’t share her enthusiasm so eventually she just did it all herself. The children used to help hang up the ornaments when they were little. Susan would insist on wearing an angel costume and ballet shoes and flit around the tree pretending to be a fairy. A bossy fairy at that. She would scold her little brother if he dare to hang the baubles too close together or too close to the end of a branch where they could slip off and shatter.
Maggie loved the build up to Christmas. She never moaned if the shops started displaying cards and decorations before the first leaves of Autumn had started to fall off the trees and she started making copious lists from the middle of October. When the two of them had visited Liverpool a few weeks earlier, Maggie had oohed and aahed at the fabulous Christmas lights and window displays. It was a pity that they didn’t have more time in the city as she would love to have had the chance to do a bit of Christmas shopping but they were both feeling rather delicate on Sunday morning and neither of them really felt up to doing anything other than staying in their room drinking tea until it was time to check out and then drive home.
Maggie heard the front door open. Gordon was home from his shopping trip in Cheltenham. It had become a bit of a tradition in the Thornden house that the afternoon that Maggie decorated the tree was the time when Gordon would go and buy her Christmas presents.
“Stay in the living room.” He called out before heading up the stairs.
She could hear the rustle of carrier bags as he climbed the stairs and headed for the spare room where she knew that he’d put them under the bed. Tempting as it was, she’d never sneaked a look whilst he was at work. She enjoyed the thrill of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, not knowing what was hidden under the paper. Gordon always put his presents to her in boxes before wrapping them. He claimed it was because boxes were easier to wrap but she liked to think it was because he didn’t want her to guess what the gift was before tearing off the paper. Hoping that she would get something that she wanted, Maggie would drop hints and casually point out things she liked in magazines , but invariably there would be something practical packed into one of his boxes. One year it was a colander and another time she had to feign delight when she discovered a toilet brush nestled in the tissue paper.
Having stashed away his bags Gordon came back downstairs, took off his shoes and hung up his new down filled jacket on the coat hook in the hall.
“I’m going to put the kettle on. Do you want tea or coffee?” He called out on his way to the kitchen. Maggie felt a stab of disappointment. He would have seen the tree from outside so why hadn’t he bothered to come in to admire it knowing full well that she’d spent the good part of the afternoon decorating it ?
“Tea please, Don’t you want to see the tree first?”
Gordon popped his head around the door. “Looks lovely dear. Are there any mince pies left?”
The two of them sat at the kitchen table. Gordon spooned a dollop of brandy cream onto his warm mince pie.
“So, how was Cheltenham?” Maggie asked as she poured out the tea.
“Bloody heaving. Parking was a nightmare and it didn’t help that some idiot in their infinite wisdom had decided to resurface the road into town three weeks before Christmas which meant the traffic tailed back for miles. I tell you, there were some real idiots on the road.”
“I don’t know why you don’t just order everything online or at least do click and collect and pick things up after work one day in the week. Going shopping on a Saturday in December is just mad.”
“Maybe you’re right. Too late this year but I could give it a go next Christmas. What I don’t understand is why people are so impatient or just plain dithery. There was this one woman who insisted on chatting to the sales assistant about something totally unrelated to her purchase. I had to step in and point out that she was holding up the queue. And you’ll never believe what she said?”
“I bet I have a good idea,” Murmered Maggie under her breathe.
“She told me to sod off and get a life. What the hell is wrong with people these days!”
Maggie knew from experience that it was best to humour her husband when he was up in arms about people’s behaviour rather than get into a discussion about needing to be patient and sometimes just letting things go.
“What a rude woman. Now swiftly moving on, we received something quite exciting in the post today.”
“Really? Let me guess, long lost aunt Bessie has popped her clogs and left everything to us as long as we agree to take in her houseful of cats!” Gordon said through a mouthful of his third mince pie. “ Got to say these are very good mince pies. Been shopping at some artisan bakery again?”
“Cheeky! You jolly well know that I baked them myself. You saw me making them this morning. Anyway, be serious and listen.”
Maggie got up and disappeared from the kitchen. She returned with an envelope in her hand and sat back down at the table and handed it over to Gordon.
Somebody had used a fountain pen to write their address and the envelope wasn’t a standard one, the type that you bought at the supermarket. It was made of quality paper and lined with tissue.
Gordon pulled out an embossed invitation decorated tastefully with a small green Christmas tree topped with a gold foil star.
Gordon silently read the invitation.
“Well, what do you think? It’s not every day that we’re invited to a country house for pre-Christmas drinks.” Maggie was besides herself with excitement.
Maybe she had chosen the wrong moment to show him Simon and Lucinda’s invitation as it was obvious that Gordon wasn’t sharing her enthusiasm. He’d just had a stressful afternoon battling with the crowds of Christmas shoppers and needed more time to wind down.
“You go. You know it’s not my thing. You’re the one employed by the family not me. I’m not into the whole tugging of forelock thing and can’t stand moneyed people who think that they are a cut above everyone else.”
“You’ve never met Simon. He’s a really nice man. Do you know what Gordon, it’ll surprise you to know that just because you happen to be rich, it doesn’t mean that you have to be a pretentious snob who look down their noses at the hoi polloi. Simon isn’t like that, just as his father isn’t. I’ve never met Lucinda but from what I gather from Sally she’s lovely too.”
“Oh come off it Maggie. I’ve met this type of people before and on the surface they appear charming and polite but you’ll never be one of them. To them you are just the hired help !”
Maggie could feel her heckles rising.
“Don’t talk such rot. You have absolutely no idea what the Smythe-Robinsons are like. You never ask me about them or come to think of it, how my day with the major went. Stop talking out of your arsehole for once.”
And with that Maggie stormed out of the kitchen, stomped up the stairs and slammed their bedroom door behind.
Over reacting as usual thought Gordon and helped himself to another mince pie.
Sometimes he wished that he had the old Maggie back. The wife he’d had before she had decided to go and “rediscover” herself. They both knew their places before last July. He was the bread winner, in charge of DIY and lawn mowing and anything to do with the cars including taking charge of driving. All his wife had to do was look after the home and fair dues, she had been most satisfactory at doing that. No complaints in that department at all. In just a matter of a few days she had changed. Granted, the new hairdo and trendy clothes were an improvement but she’d become argumentative, bossy and sulked if she didn’t get her way. He’d really tried his best to humour her. For Pete’s sake he’d encouraged her to get a job and had even let her have her way and decorate rooms which in his opinion were perfectly alright as they were. He still didn’t understand what Scandi chic was. He’d even consented to wear shorts!
Well if she thought that she could weedle around him and get him to change his mind about going, well she could think again. She wasn’t going to get her own way this time. He was putting his foot down, he wasn’t going and that was the end of the matter. If he didn’t go, then there would be no way that she would go without him.
Wiping the crumbs from the corner of his mouth he left the table, leaving Maggie to clear away when she came back downstairs which she would do eventually, and took himself off to the living room where Michael Buble was singing Jolly Holly Christmas for the fifth time.
Maggie stood at the bedroom window looking across the road at their neighbour’s giant inflatable snowman wobbling in the breeze. A projector from the ground lit up their house with falling giant snowflakes. Up and down the road houses were decorated with twinkling coloured fairy lights or the cold blue light of cascading icicles. There were no festive lights strung up at their home although Maggie had ordered a pair of light up willow reindeer to pop on their front lawn. They were expensive but Maggie had reckoned that it was money well spent as they would last for years. All she needed now was to get Gordon to sort out the electrical supply to them.
She couldn’t believe Gordon’s attitude towards people sometime. Not just people with money but people in general. How could someone be so intolerable of pretty much everyone? She’d had to listen to his ridiculous rants about people on benefits bleeding the system, or at the other extreme, had more money than sense. What she couldn’t understand was that he hadn’t always been like it. It just seemed that the older he got, the worse he was.
She’d been stupid and naive to think that she could get Gordon to change. It was she, Maggie who was making all the effort to keep this marriage going. He just went along with her to keep the peace and to humour her but he was making no effort on his part to put a bit of spark into their stale relationship.
Tears pricked Maggie’s eyes as she watched the snowflakes fall and the jolly snowman sway gently in the breeze.
Well you stupid man, if you won’t come with me then I’ll go on my own.
In the following weeks you could cut the atmosphere in the Thornden household with a knife. Gordon didn’t mention how lovely the Christmas tree looked which further irked Maggie and to annoy Gordon she invited Irene from next door for coffee and a chat on several occasions around the time that he got home from work. Apart from having to make his own cup of coffee, Irene would insist on giving a blow by blow account of her plans for Christmas while he waited for the coffee in the cafatiere to brew. The woman never paused for breathe and although she asked Gordon questions, she never actually allowed him the chance to answer before carrying on with her wittering on about the best place to buy frozen turkeys or was the bang in crackers louder in days gone by. He’d ended up taking his coffee upstairs and retreating to their bedroom until the coast was clear.
On one of her day’s off Maggie drove over to Cheltenham to find herself an outfit to wear at the party. The twins now attended nursery a couple of days a week so that Susan could have a break from them and enjoy some much needed “me” time which included lunch and coffee dates with her friends with some shopping thrown in and trips to the gym. Maggie wasn’t sure that she fully approved of this idea. She never had the luxury of having time to herself when her children were little, but apparently Lottie and Millie who were now two years old were flourishing at their Montesorri day nursery so maybe she was just feeling jealous that she never got time to herself all those years ago.
Susan was already waiting for Maggie at the trendy Scandinavian styled coffee shop in the centre of the town. Maggie was used to seeing her daughter dressed in leggings and sloppy jumpers or cotton tops with her chestnut hair pulled into a high ponytail, the uniform of every young mum who only has time to throw on something comfortable in the morning. Today though she had obviously taken the time and trouble to get ready for her shopping date with her mother. Her long legs were clad in tight jeans tucked into brown suede ankle boots and she wore a poloneck jumper, no doubt cashmere, under a camel tailored coat. Her long shiny hair fell in waves over her shoulders and there was just a hint of make up by way of a little eyeliner and some neutral coloured lipgloss.
The two women embraced and kissed each other on the cheek.
“Darling, it’s so lovely to see you and don’t you look wonderful. Is that a new coat?”
“I’ve had it for years, I just never get round to wearing it much. I bet there’s some moth holes if you look carefully. Anyway enough of me, just look at you! That red coat looks amazing on you.”
Maggie had always wanted a red coat but had previously thought it too loud a colour for her to wear. She’d preferred to blend into the background and wear something neutral but when winter arrived she’d bought a belted cherry red coat with black buttons and stuffed her sensible hooded fleece lined anorak into the back of her wardrobe.
Maggie did a quick twirl. “Thank you. It’s my new investment piece. I thought it was time that the old anorak retired. Your dad’s got a new coat too”
Susan laughed “Ohh, get the two of you! I can’t believe that you managed to get Dad into a new coat. He’s had that tatty winter coat of his for as long as I can remember. Talking of Dad, how is my father? Still trying to be nice?”
Maggie rolled her eyes “We aren’t talking at the moment. I’ll go and order some coffee and I’ll fill you in. Another cappuccino?”
“Yes please and can you ask them to make it be skinny with dairy free milk.”
Maggie told her daughter about the invitation from the Smythe-Robinsons and her father’s reaction to it,
“His attitude is so infuriating Susie. He’s really got this thing about people with lots of money. I won’t repeat what he calls them, but it’s not nice.”
“Do you mean ‘a load of privileged wankers’? Don’t look so shocked. I’ve heard worse. And he’s right there some people who wave their wads of dosh about to say ‘hey,look at me, I’m loaded and better than you’ and who look down their noses at everyone who’s not driving the latest Aston Martin, wearing Armani suits or have a second home in Marbella.”
“But they aren’t all like that. There are plenty of people who are lovely, decent and kind but who just happen to be wealthy. Being rich doesn’t make you a bad person and I can’t get that over to your pig headed father. Look at Simon and the major. They are two of the nicest people that I have met.”
“But you work for them and Dad has this antiquated idea that it’s all Downton Abbey with you waiting on them. I bet he thinks that you answer the bell in the servants’ hall when they want their morning tea served. Mum, Dad is Dad. He’s got these opinions and no matter how wrong they are, he’s probably not going to change them. You might just have to accept that I’m afraid.”
“If he came to the party and met them he’s bound to change his mind. I just need to get him to go. I’m sure that he’d enjoy himself once he’s there.”
Susan shrugged “Maybe Mum, but put yourself in his shoes. He’s not the most sociable person as it is and having to mix with people that he already despises, and yes I know that sounds a harsh word to use but it’s true, he’ll probably feel really awkward and hate every minute. Do you want that?”
Susan had always been a bit of a daddy’s girl and it wasn’t surprising that she defended her father.
“This is the one thing that I want him to do for me. I’ve not complained when I’ve had to go to his work Christmas bash or the one at the bowls club. I’ll go on my own if I have to, but it’ll be embarrassing to have to make up an excuse why he’s not there with me. I feel really let down and deflated about Christmas now.”
“Shall I have a word with him?” asked Susan.
“No please don’t. He’ll know then that we’ve been talking about him and then I’ll have to deal with that. It’s kind of you to offer but it’s best not to say anything.”
Maggie knew full well though that Susan would find it impossible to not interfere and probably talk to her father regardless that she’d been asked not to. She should have kept her mouth shut and not mentioned anything.
“If that’s what you want Mum, I won’t say a word, so changing the subject slightly, what’s the dress code for this party?”
“Actually, it doesn’t say, but the invitation they sent us looks quite formal so I imagine that it’ll be a rather dressy affair. I wonder if it’s black tie? I’m thinking a cocktail dress for me. Something along the lines of a little black dress.”
Susan frowned slightly. “Don’t you think it might be wise to double check? You don’t want to get it wrong do you.”
“It’s a posh house and a posh family so it’s bound to be formal. Come on, we’ve finished here. Let’s go shopping!”
Maggie arrived home later that afternoon laden down with carrier bags. As well as a beautiful Karen Millen dress she had treated herself to some new shoes and a pair of tummy flattening knickers. Susan had insisted that she visited the cosmetic counter in John Lewis. Maggie usually just picked up a mascara and the odd new lipstick from the shelf in the supermarket. She had been offered a mini make over by the beautifully made up sales consultant at one counter and ended up paying a small fortune for all of the products that she recommended Maggie use to look amazing on a special night out.
The date of the party drew near. Maggie and Gordon continued to be civil to each other and neither of them mentioned the party. Gordon would come home from work. Maggie asked how his day was, and sometimes he remembered to ask her. They sat eating their meal making polite conversation as they had done before their Cornish holiday. Gordon would then watch television whilst Maggie wrapped presents or wrote messages in Christmas cards. Partners weren’t invited to Gordon’s office party this year because the company was tightening the purse strings and not including them so Gordon went on his own. He didn’t want to, but felt that he should. He came home early and complained that being at a party on your own was no fun. Maggie bit her tongue. In a few days time she herself would be going to a party on her but it didn’t seem to occur to him how she might feel being on her own. She wanted to tell him that her tummy was doing somersaults because she was nervous. That she was worried about driving to the party in the dark and home again afterwards. That she was disappointed that Gordon wouldn’t meet the major who often asked after her husband and would send his regards to him when she finished her day at work. She wanted more than anything for Gordon to be by her side but she refused to beg so said nothing.
It was the evening before the party. Maggie was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher after their supper. Gordon as usual had slinked off to his armchair in the living room and left her to tidy up. She’d put on the coffee machine and set out two cups.
“That coffee smells good”
Maggie had been miles away deep in thought and hadn’t seen him come into the kitchen. His voice startled her.
“Ooh, you made me jump. I was miles away.”
Gordon looked a bit sheepish “Here, let me help you” and handed Maggie the pans that casserole dish that had been soaking in the sink. “Shall I open a box of after dinner mints to go with our coffee?”
Maggie didn’t look up from what she was doing. “Yes, that would be nice. If you sort out the coffee I’ll be with you in a minute.” There was something fishy going on here!
The first thing that Maggie noticed when she entered their living room was that her Christmas candles had been lit and the lamps dimmed making the room feel very cosy. The television wasn’t on either. Gordon always switched it on the moment supper was finished. Maggie was feeling nervous. What was going on!
She looked at Gordon through narrowed eyes as he placed her coffee and two gold wrapped discs of chocolate on the side table next to her before settling in his chair. They both sat in silence sipping their coffee.
Eventually Gordon spoke. “I’ve been thinking, I was being unreasonable by refusing to go with you to this drinks party of your employer. I know how much it means to you and I was being selfish. Is it OK with you if I said that I’ve changed my mind and will come after all?”
“Well I must say, that’s a turn up for the books. I appreciate the offer, but really, don’t feel that you have to come just to please me. I’m happy to go on my own.” She wasn’t but she wasn’t going to admit to it.
“I want to go. I shouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush and I know you well enough to know that you wouldn’t tolerate working for someone who thought that they were a cut above you so they must be alright.”
“More than just alright, they’re really nice people with no airs and graces, but I’m not going to get into another conversation about wealthy people. We just end up getting all het up and falling out.” Gordon went to talk but stopped him in his tracks by holding up her hand.
Eventually he talked. “So, what do you think?”
“Me going to the party with you?”
Maggie was fed up of the frosty atmosphere between them especially as it was the time of the year when it should be all about good cheer.
“Throw me another chocolate and I’ll think about it.”
Maggie caught the chocolate that Gordon had lobbed over to her. She purposely unwrapped it very slowly and then nibbled it, again very slowly. Gordon sat patiently, watching the Christmas tree lights twinkle.
“Thought about it”
“We’ll go together. I’d like that.”
Gordon nodded “Good, that’s settled then” and reached for the remote control.
A thought occurred to Maggie “By the way, have you spoken to Susan recently?”
“She rang me today to discuss Christmas. Why?”
“No reason. Just wondering.”
Gordon shrugged and turned his attention to the television. Good old Susan. She never could do as she was told!
Maggie had never ventured further up the drive than the major’s house so had no idea what Simon and Lucinda’s house looked like so she was rather gobsmacked to see that it wasn’t at all what she had been expecting, a larger version of Manor Farm House, but instead sitting at the bottom of the sloping drive was a very modern single storey house with a flat roof and floor to ceiling windows facing a small lake. Candles flickered in lanterns on the large terrace that ran the full width of the house.
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” exclaimed Maggie “It’s like something you’d see on Grand Designs. What a beautiful house.”
“Must be difficult to keep those windows clean and I bet it’s like an oven in there in the summer!”
Maggie laughed. “Trust you to be practical.”
“Well, it’s important to take those things into consideration. That’s why I wouldn’t want a conservatory. Freezing in the winter, baking hot in the summer. Right, where do you think we should park? It’s not very obvious.”
Maggie directed him around to the back of the house which was very different to the glass walled front. Instead of glass, the walls were made of blocks of what looked like concrete. The only windows were small and functionary.
Maggie had been expecting to see swanky, expensive cars parked at the house, but instead there was an assortment of cars that were similar to their Touran. Parked at one end was a heavily mud splattered ancient Land Rover that had seen better days.
“We have come on the right night?” queried Gordon.
Maggie had to admit to herself that she was beginning to wonder.
The car parked Maggie held on to Gordon’s arm as they walked to what must have been the front door, except that it seemed to be at the back of the house. Maggie wasn’t used to wearing such high heels and needed to hold onto Gordon to stop herself from wobbling. She’d wished that she’d worn them around the house to break them in. She could already feel them rubbing and no doubt she was going to have a blister by the end of the evening. Gordon by her side looked very smart in the new suit that they’d bought in the summer. Earlier that day she’d driven over to Cheltenham before the shops opened and waited outside John Lewis so that she could dash in as soon as the doors open, pick up a new shirt and tie and get back home in good time for her hair and nail appointment that afternoon. When she made her grand entrance into the living room earlier that evening she was expecting Gordon not to comment but to grumble about keeping him waiting, but instead he told her that she looked amazing which rather took her aback. Gordon rarely, if ever paid her compliments these days.
“They stood at the door waiting for it to be answered. Maggie felt nervous and being nervous made her feel in need of a wee. She jigged on the spot. Damn, the last thing she needed was a trip to the loo. The tummy flattening pants had taken ages to pull on and would no doubt take ages to pull down! From the other
side of the door they could hear the sound of laughter. The party seemed to be in full swing.
The door opened and there stood Simon. Not dressed in a stylish suit but in jeans and a well worn rugby shirt.
Maybe she had got the date wrong, or maybe she really shouldn’t have assumed that it was going to be a posh do. What was plainly obvious was that she’d cocked up big time!
“Maggie, come in, come in. It’s lovely to see you, and this must be Gordon.” Simon said and shook Gordon’s hand. “I’m Simon but I expect that you’ve gathered that. It’s great to meet you. I know that Maggie talks a lot about you when she’s with my father.”
If Simon was surprised to see the two of them dressed up in for a smart night out he didn’t show it. Maybe, just maybe he was running late and still needed to change. Maybe everyone else would be dressed up in party clothes.
Simon lead the way into the huge open plan space . At one end was a very minimalistic kitchen with a long wall of highly polished white cupboards. The counter underneath was devoid of all of the usual kitchen clutter and equipment. As far as Maggie could see there wasn’t even a kettle on show. The kitchen was divided off from the rest of the space by a large island which was covered in platters of food and an assortment of drinks. Maggie slid the bottle she was carrying to join the others. Gordon had said that it was probably the kind of do that you didn’t need to take a bottle but Maggie had said that it would be rude to arrive empty handed. She noticed that the other bottles had the same label. So Gordon had been right. She hoped nobody was looking when she pushed their bottle behind the others.
Any hope that all would be dressed in frocks and suits were quickly dashed. Milling in small groups around the room were people dressed mainly in jeans and Christmas jumpers.
Noooo! Maggie wished that the ground would open up and swallow the two of them up. God knows what Gordon was thinking right now but she bet they weren’t pleasant thoughts. Probably wondering on what grounds he could cite when filing for divorce!
A few people looked their way and Maggie swore that she heard some tittering. There were people in the room that she vaguely recognised. Surely that’s the major’s gardener and wasn’t that the couple who ran the village shop? The man in the corner talking to a very attractive woman had a dog collar peeping out above the neckline of his Rudolph jumper.So the vicar was here too.
Simon told them to grab a drink and a plateful of food before excusing himself to go and answer the door to more guests.
“Why the hell didn’t you check what sort of party this is? I feel an absolute idiot!” Gordon said in a not too quiet voice.
“Ssh, keep your voice down, people are looking.”
“Of course they’re looking Maggie. Who wouldn’t look at the two saddos who couldn’t be arsed to find out the sodding dress code. Come on we’re going home!”
“We can’t go home. We’ve only just got here. It’ll look awful if we leave now. People will understand. We just need to make light of it. Look, I know it’s my fault and I’m sorry, really I am, but let’s just stay and enjoy ourselves.”
Gordon couldn’t be easily placated though. “You stay if you want to but I’m going home!”
Fortunately at that point the woman who had been engrossed in conversation with the vicar spied Maggie and Gordon and wandered over to them.
“ Hello, you must be Maggie and Gordon. I’m Lucinda, Simon’s wife. Maggie, I’ve heard such wonderful things about you from Simon’s father. I think he’s quite besotted with you. He’s here somewhere, probably in our studio looking at our latest project with our son and no doubt will come back with his recommendation on how we can make improvements.”
Maggie knew that Simon and Lucinda were not only married but were also partners in their successful architect business. The couple used to live at Manor Farm House with the major and their two children until moving into the house that they had designed and had built a few years earlier.
“By the way Maggie I love the dress that you’re wearing.”
“Thank you, but we do feel a bit over dressed,”
Gordon who was still smarting added “Unfortunately Maggie was under the impression that it was a more formal gathering!”
Well thanks a bunch. thought Maggie How to make me look really stupid in front of our hostess!
Lucinda shook her head “Do you know what Gordon, I really am such a klutz at times. I should have remembered that you’ve not been to one of our Thank You Christmas drinks dos before. It’s just an informal get together and over the years its sort of turned into who can wear the tackiest Christmas jumper do. Have you seen Bridget Jones Diary Gordon, the bit where Bridget’s parents have the turkey curry buffet and Mark Darcy wears that reindeer jumper?”
Gordon didn’t have a clue what Lucinda was talking about. “No, it’s not really my kind of film.”
“Well, one year I thought it would be fun for Simon to wear a similar jumper. We went the whole hog and had a turkey curry. Well, the curry bit sort of died a death. People didn’t really want turkey before, on and after the big day, but the jumper thing sort of became a tradition. I’m surprised nobody mentioned it to you. Still, it doesn’t really matter. You’ll know for next year. I’d better go and check on Sidney and Owen before they do any damage. Just make yourself at home!”
Maggie poured herself another wine and helped herself to a cocktail sausage.
“If she thinks that I’m going to wear a ridiculous jumper then she’s got another thing coming. Look at that scruffy couple over there. Their jumpers look like they’re made of sacks with some holly tacked onto them. Watch out, she’s heading this way.”
“It’s Sally, the person I job share with.”
The woman with the wild red hair and wearing the sack jumper threw her arms around Maggie. “Hay Mags, you made it. Aww, it’s so lovely to see you again. It’s been bloomin’ ages. And this must be the famous Gordon. Come here you, let me give you a hug. Your gorgeous Mags has told me a lot about you. Don’t look so worried, she only said nice things!” The woman threw her arms around Gordon and gave him a longer than necessary kiss on the cheek. There was a funny smell about her. It was familiar but he couldn’t quite work out what it was.
Eventually she let go of Gordon but insisted on holding his hand. “Come on over and meet my old man. He’s a bit mucky so don’t you go getting any ideas about getting cosy with him our Mags. He was late back from work and didn’t have time for a bath.”
Sally’s husband Jez was chatting to the man who looked after the major’s garden. Apart from the odd greeting from her, to which he would just nod back, Maggie had never had a conversation with him. He didn’t pop into the kitchen for cups of tea but preferred to sit on the garden bench with his thermos and sandwiches that he’d brought from home. Maggie would wave to him as he sat munching and sipping and he would raise his hand in response. She’d asked the major what the gardener’s name was, apparently it was Percy. From then on Maggie couldn’t help but think of him as Percy the Park Keeper.
“Hey Jez, look who I found lurking around the canapes looking like a right pair of toffs!”
Gordon might have been trying to place the pungent smell lingering on Sally’s very rustic looking Christmas jumper, but Maggie recognised that distinctive whiff of weed. Sally was, she realised, as high as a kite!
Jez grinned and held up his hands that were far from clean. “Won’t shake your hand mate. Afraid I was running late and I didn’t have time to give them a good scrub. Charcoal burning is mucky business. Have you met Percy?” Percy held up his hand in greeting. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he’d been talking to Jez only moments earlier, Maggie would have wondered if the man could actually talk!
Sally suddenly grabbed Maggie’s hand which made her wobble in her high heels. She wished that she could take them off. They were really pinching her toes by now.
“Come to the loo with me Mags, I really need a wee. Jez, look after Gordy for us and Percy, don’t you go telling any of those mucky jokes of yours!” Sally winked at Percy who looked pretty horrified and had gone as red as his Santa jumper.
Sally pulled the tottering Maggie into the bathroom with her and proceeded to pull down her harem style trousers and sit on the loo. Maggie wasn’t sure where to look so she got out her lipstick and reapplied it .
“Here, let me try it.” Sally had flushed the toilet and had crept up behind Maggie. She grabbed the lipstick
“Do you know if it’s vegan?” she asked
“Shouldn’t think so.” replied Maggie at which point Sally lobbed it back to Maggie.
“So, what do you think of Simon and Lucinda’s house?”
“Well, it wasn’t what I was expecting but it’s pretty amazing!”
Sally was picking at the fraying hem of the sack jumper. “I suppose it is if you like this kind of thing but it’s not to my taste. It’s just too modern and bare for my liking. A house should be full of stuff. You should see our place. Filled to the rafters in places but at least it’s homely. Give me the Major’s home any day. Bet your place is a proper home.”
“Well it’s not full of stuff if that’s what you mean, but it’s comfortable and it’s home. You, Jez and the kids will have to come for Sunday lunch one day.”
“Aww Mags, that’s so nice of you to ask us. It’d make such a nice change to not to have to cook just as you don’t mind making it all vegan.”
Maggie wished that she hadn’t opened her mouth. She could just imagine Gordon’s reaction to not having their usual joint of meat and having to eat a nut roast or whatever it was you ate for a vegan Sunday roast.
“So what do you think of Simon and Lucinda’s annual thank you Christmas party?” asked Sally.
“Well it’s obviously not what we were expecting” Maggie said referring to dress and heels “We thought that it was going to be some posh do.”
Sally pretended to look and sound offended “And instead you got us plebs dressed up in daft Christmas jumpers! Nah, afraid you won’t be invited to their posh do. That’s just for their friends and clients. I sometime help out with that one. You know the score, black dress and apron carrying around trays of dinky canapes or bottles of fizz. This bash is to thank their loyal staff and local tradespeople and the vicar of course. Look we better go. It must be nearly time for the Smythe-Robinsons to hand out their presents. Just remember to curtsey when you get yours!”
Maggie didn’t know if Sally was being serious, but realised her leg was being pulled when Sally winked at her.
Gordon was deep in conversation with Jez when they returned to join the men which surprised Maggie. He considered people like Sally and Jez as dope smoking hippies who drove clapped out vans with no MOT or insurance and often chained themselves to trees. Maybe the two of them did smoke the odd spliff or two but as far as she knew they didn’t have a clapped out van but then she remembered the ancient Land Rover parked outside.
Maggie looked around the room and caught sight of the Major talking to a young man in his twenties that Maggie presumed to be his grandson. Leaving the others chatting about which wood makes the best charcoal, she went to say hello to the major.
“Mrs Thornden how lovely to see you and don’t you look a picture. Let me introduce you to Owen, my grandson. He’s a very clever young chap and takes after his parents.”
Maggie shook the young man’s hand “Are you an architect too then?”
Owen laughed. “Not for a long time yet. I had an extended gap year before going to university. Did the whole back packing around the world bit and worked for a while in Oz.”
“So will you work with your parents when you qualify?”
“I don’t think so. I Love them as parents but to have them as my boss is a whole different ball game! I hear that you’re doing a fab job reading Grandpa’s favourite books to him. He gets me to read to him too but complains that I read too fast. Isn’t that right Gumpy?”
“I most certainly do not. You make an excellent reader and a joy to listen too” chuckled the old man giving his grandson a pat on the back.
Suddenly everyone’s attention was focused on the sound of sleigh bells coming from outside. Maggie caught a glimpse of the vicar. Did he just do an excited little clap?
“Sorry about this” whispered Owen “My parents are ninety five percent cool, stylish and sophisticated. Tonight is when you’ll witness the very uncool other five percent. Look out the window.”
Outside, fake snow was gently swirling and falling onto the terrace. Around the lake twinkling lights shone from the trees joined by twinkling model deer. It was quite magical and Maggie couldn’t help but join in with the oohs coming from most of the people in the room. She noticed that Gordon was looking a bit annoyed and was still trying to carry on his conversation with Jez who was obviously not listening to her husband.
Besides her Owen cringed. “Wait for it. Any moment now I will be totally disowning my parents!”
It occurred to Maggie that she hadn’t actually seen their hosts for a while.
Someone called out “Here they come!”
From the top of the drive an open topped car was slowly making its way towards the house. Driving the car was Father Christmas and sat next to him was Mrs Christmas.
“Are they your….”
“….parents? Afraid so. They’ve been doing this for as long as we’ve had to wear Christmas jumpers. If I’m around they always bring out an elf costume, insisting that I play along but there’s absolutely no way that I’m dressing up as an elf!”
The car had made its way around to the back of house. Nearly everyone in the room was waiting in excited anticipation.
Suddenly the door burst open in entered Father Christmas carrying a sack full of gift wrapped boxes. Next to him was his very glamorous Mrs Christmas wearing an extremely short fur trimmed red skirt, black leather bodice and over the knee black patent boots. All she needed was a whip!
“Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas everyone” boomed Santa “My elves tell me that you’ve all been good boys and girls so let me look in my big sack and see if there’s something special for you.”
Maggie had wandered back over to Gordon who was looking totally bewildered by what he was seeing.
Father Christmas proceeded to give out gifts to all of the guests in the room. Wrapping paper was torn off and discarded. The men received fountain pens and the ladies sniffed their expensive scented candles. Owen appeared with a black sack and picked up the detritus from the white oak floor.
When the sack was empty Father Christmas removed his beard and hat. Simon waited for the chatter to die down before speaking.
“Before you all leave I just want to say on behalf of my family a big thank you for coming tonight and we hope
that you’ve all enjoyed yourself at our little annual Christmas gathering. We hope that you like your gifts. They are just tokens of our appreciation for your continued support to our family and we really are so grateful for everything that you do. I know that I also speak on behalf of my father who is so well looked after by Sally and Maggie. Have a safe journey home and there’s just one thing left to do. Are you ready..one…two..three…”
With that everyone cheered MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
It was obviously the cue for the party to end and for everyone to go home!
Maggie and Gordon had said their goodbyes and were on their way home.
Gordon waited until they’d reached the end of the long drive and turned onto the main road before speaking “Well, that was probably the most bizarre party that I’ve ever been to. For a start, why the ridiculous jumpers and then the whole Father Christmas bit with his sidekick dressed as a dominatrix. What was all that about?”
Maggie pretended to be shocked “Since when did you know anything about dominatrixes? I always had my suspicions that you weren’t really going to bowls evenings!”
“Shucks my secret is out! Wonder what you’d look like dressed in latex. You could be my very own Miss Whiplash!”
Maggie really was shocked this time “Gordon Thorndon, what’s got into you! Have you been smoking Sally’s wacky baccy?”
“So that’s what that smell was. I thought that I recognised it. Do you reckon that Mr and Mrs Kinky Christmas had a few puffs beforehand?”
“Maybe. It just goes to show really that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The Smythe-Robinsons are obviously loaded, successful and seriously stylish people and yet they do tacky too. It was tacky wasn’t it?”
Gordon laughed “Oh yes, seriously tacky! Does this mean that I need to buy a Christmas jumper?”
“Does this mean that we’re going next year?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
Maggie smiled and leant forward to turn the heating up and then snuggled down in her seat. It wasn’t long before she fell into a contented sleep. Gordon smiled to himself and started humming Jolly Holly Christmas whilst outside real snowflakes gently fell.