Christ­mas at Collers

In this lost Noel Streat­feild story from 1960, the au­thor of ‘Bal­let Shoes’ sends four lit­tle city slick­ers to Devon

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - FICTION -

Only two weeks to Christ­mas. The chil­dren came rush­ing home from school, burst­ing with news. “Mum,” said Ge­orge, the eldest, who was 14, “If it doesn’t rain, will you come and see the Re­gent Street dec­o­ra­tions on Satur­day? Ev­ery­body says they’re ter­rific this year.” Pauline, who was 12, looked up at her mother with bright eyes. “It’s so gay out to­day, Mum. The sun shin­ing on the shop Christ­mas trees makes them look as if it was real frost.” “And there’s sim­ply thou­sands of peo­ple shop­ping,” Alis­tair, who was 10, added. “Heaps of them come to Lon­don just to look. Lucky us to live here.”

San­dra, the baby of the fam­ily, was eight. She was so ex­cited her feet danced while she tried to make her­self heard. “Mum!

Mum! Mum! I’ve been asked to two more par­ties, that’s six al­ready and…”

The chil­dren’s mother had been kneel­ing on the floor, pack­ing what her fam­ily sup­posed was a Christ­mas present. Now she got up and they saw it was not a present she was pack­ing, but her own clothes. She was a per­son who hated beat­ing about the bush. “I’m sorry, Ge­orge, Re­gent Street is out this year, and so are your par­ties, San­dra. We’re go­ing away.”

“Go­ing away!” Eight as­ton­ished eyes looked up at her. The chil­dren had been born in their Lon­don home and had only left it for a fort­night each sum­mer. “Go­ing where?” Pauline asked.

Their mother sat on her bed and pat­ted it to in­vite the chil­dren to sit too. Pauline and Alis­tair sat be­side her, Ge­orge and San­dra faced them on their fa­ther’s bed. “It’s Granny. As you know, she’s been alone since Grand­fa­ther died, and now she’s had a fall.”

Of course the chil­dren knew about Granny. They had never seen her, for she and Grand­fa­ther only had a cot­tage with­out room in it for grand­chil­dren, but they re­ceived lit­tle presents for birthdays and Christ­mas, and at Christ­mas sent small gifts in re­turn, usu­ally made by them­selves. When Grand­fa­ther had died, they were sorry be­cause their mother was sad and be­cause she went away for the fu­neral.

But what hap­pened to Granny and Grand­fa­ther was like some­thing hap­pen­ing to peo­ple in a book; it was quite dif­fer­ent from what hap­pened to Dads­mum and Dads­dad. They lived in Lon­don, and at least once in each month ei­ther came to tea in Ham­mer­smith or in­vited the fam­ily to tea in St John’s Wood with them.

It was think­ing of Dads­mum and Dads­dad that first pulled Ge­orge out of the daze his mother’s news had thrown him into. “But what about Dads­dad and Dads­mum? Where will they eat their turkey and plum pud­ding if they don’t come here?” Their mother made a sym­pa­thetic face. “I’ve thought of that. But they’ll un­der­stand. They’ve had us ev­ery year and they’ve got each other, but Granny’s all alone, in a very lonely place.”

It was when their mother said those last words that the full aw­ful­ness of what was to hap­pen to them hit the chil­dren. They had heard a lot about Col­er­ton, lo­cally called Collers, where their mother had lived when she was a child. It was near Ex­moor. Collers had been quite a vil­lage, but now peo­ple had moved away and there were only about 10 in­hab­ited cot­tages left, of which Granny’s was one.

The chil­dren’s fa­ther, who was as com­pletely a Lon­doner as they were, had of­ten made them laugh de­scrib­ing how, when he was en­gaged to their mother, the woman in the only shop had said to him, “Oh my dear soul, you’ll be the for­eigner that’s mar­ry­ing our Anne.”

Pauline did not mean to sound an­gry, but she did. “Not

Christ­mas, Mum! If Granny wants to see you, see her af­ter the hol­i­days. She couldn’t want us to miss the pan­tomime, the par­ties and… well, just all Christ­mas.”

Their mother looked de­spair­ing. “Miss all Christ­mas in­deed! What dread­fully town chil­dren I’ve got. To tell you the truth, I’ve never thought Christ­mas in Lon­don was proper Christ­mas. Any­way, we’re go­ing, so the sooner you make up your minds to it, the bet­ter.”

The chil­dren looked as dis­gusted as they felt. “When?” Alis­tair asked. “The day af­ter school breaks up.”

“We can’t go then,” Ge­orge said, “Dad’ll still be work­ing.”

“I know that,” his mother agreed. “But he’ll be with us on Christ­mas Eve.”

Pauline knew she was be­hav­ing badly, but she could not stop her­self. “You haven’t told us yet why we have to go.”

“I did. Granny has had a fall and can’t get around. She’s been in hos­pi­tal but she’ll be home next week. We can’t have her hob­bling about alone, can we?”

As far as the chil­dren were con­cerned, their un­known Granny was wel­come to hobble alone, but they could not say that.

“Where are we go­ing to sleep?” Ge­orge asked. “You said there were only two bed­rooms.”

Their mother smiled, hop­ing at last she had some­thing to tell them which would please them. “You are be­ing lent the rectory. You’ll eat in Granny’s cot­tage, but for the rest of the time you’ll be on your own. Don’t you think that will be fun?”

Fun! The chil­dren could hardly be­lieve what they had heard. Sleep­ing by them­selves! No fa­ther and mother within call! It might be all right in sum­mer in a nice place with plenty to do, but not at Christ­mas in Collers.

“Per­haps there’s a tele­phone,” Alis­tair sug­gested, “so we can ring you up if we want you.”

San­dra was fond of her food. “I suppose there’ll be things to eat in it. I mean, in case we’re hun­gry in the mid­dle of the night.”

Their mother felt she must have brought up her chil­dren badly. “Oh dear, and I thought you’d be pleased. As a small girl the rectory seemed enor­mous to me af­ter our cot­tage. There was a big hall, I re­mem­ber, where there were Christ­mas par­ties. There won’t be a tele­phone, Alis­tair, I think no­body has the tele­phone in Collers. They use the tele­phone box. I can’t have you starv­ing, San­dra, so I’ll put in some co­coa and bis­cuits.”

Their mother seemed so cer­tain the chil­dren ought to find liv­ing alone in a rectory fun that even San­dra did not say what they were all think­ing – which was that it sounded un­com­fort­able, if not fright­en­ing. While their mother was cook­ing sup­per, Alis­tair heard their fa­ther come in and went into the hall to meet him. “It’s aw­ful, isn’t it, Dad?” he whis­pered.

Pauline tucked an arm into one of his. “Why can’t Granny come here for Christ­mas? She could be pushed in one of those sta­tion chairs up the plat­form.”

Her fa­ther pulled her pony­tail. “Just out of hos­pi­tal! What an idea!”

“Well, an am­bu­lance, then,”

‘There won’t be a tele­phone, Alis­tair, I think no­body has the tele­phone in Collers’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.