23rd December 2021 Christmas is upon us once more! The next few days will see many people travelling, mixing with family and friends, some of whom have not been seen since the Covid-19 lockdown. There will be lots of catching up and celebrating, exchanging of gifts and for some, a silent toast to those loved ones no longer with us, but remembered and missed with fondness.
So, I decided, no blog this week! Instead, my small gift to you – a chapter from Monday Is Washing Day: Kathryn – Control and Release. This is the third book in the trilogy and covers from 1965 almost up to date, and is very loosely based on my own life – though of course, it is heavily fictionalised. The family dynamics may be the same, but the people are not.
I hope you enjoy it – I have certainly enjoyed writing it! It comes to you with my very Best Wishes that you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful New Year.
At the beginning of December, it was time to start planning for Christmas. As generous as ever, Mike asked each of the children what present they would like from himself and Audrey. Traditionally, the children took turns to have an expensive gift each year – this year was Melissa’s turn. At eight years old, Melissa was horse mad. She had stolen all the horses from the cowboy and indian set in her brother’s old toy box and played for hours, imagining gymkhanas and show jumping events. Anything horse related was a favourite with her, and of course, her ultimate dream was to own a real live pony so that she could learn to ride properly and take care of it forever.
Naturally, when asked, her choice was a pony, but she knew that wasn’t possible. Horses needed space, grass and stabling. The house at Brighton Street was a red-brick terrace with a backyard but no room to stable a horse. Without moving house, they couldn’t take proper care of a pony. Then, her next wish was a new house with enough land to put up a stable, but she knew, of course, that too was impossible, though she enjoyed the look on her father’s face as he struggled to explain it to her. In the end, she let him off the hook, giggling, “I know, Dad, I’m just joking with you. I know you’d get me a horse if it were possible. The next best thing for Christmas would be a toy horse for my Sindy doll and an outfit for her to wear when she rides it.”
Mike knew his daughter had him twisted around her little finger; she was the most precious thing in his world, and he promised himself that someday, somehow, his daughter would have the horse she dreamed of – but not this year. “I suppose we might be able to manage that, but you’ll have to be good and see what Santa brings you. Okay?”
She put her arms around him in a big hug and said, “Thanks, Dad. It’s really sweet that you think I still believe there’s a Father Christmas. Tim told me years ago that Santa doesn’t exist – but I’ll be good anyway, I promise.”
Mike made a mental note to have a word with Tim about leaving his younger sister with some sense of magic; he didn’t have to be such a realist all the time.
Next up was Kathryn; he wondered what she might be looking for as a gift this year. He asked his youngest daughter, “Where’s your sister? Do you know?”
Melissa rolled her eyes and faked a yawn, “In the usual place, I suppose – she’ll be in the middle room, reading – she never seems to do anything else! B-o-r-i-n-g!”
“You could take a lesson from Kathryn, young lady! Reading is good; it makes you more intelligent,” Mike swatted the girl’s behind as she passed him to go out of the room. “Ask her to come in here, will you, Love?”
“Okay, Dad. See you later. I’m going out to play in the back street. Julie Graham said she was playing out,” and she left the room with a wave. As she closed the door, he heard her yell, ‘Kat! Dad wants you!” at the top of her voice.
He shook his head, muttering, “I could have done that myself! What a kid.”
A few moments later, Kathryn popped her head around the sitting-room door, a worried look on her face. “Yes Dad? Have I done something wrong?”
“No, Love, of course not! Come on in. I just wanted to ask you what you want for Christmas? I know it’s not your turn for a big present this year because you had your bike two Christmases ago and your portable typewriter last year, but I’d like some idea of what to get for you?” Mike patted the seat cushion next to him on the settee.
Kathryn came into the room and sat down, a frown wrinkling her forehead. “I haven’t thought about it, Dad. I suppose David Cassidy is out of the question?”
She smiled, remembering how he had complained about ‘that long-haired lout yowling away, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket’ when the family had been watching Top of the Pops the previous Thursday evening. It was a rare occasion for Kathryn to answer back, but she couldn’t help herself: “but he’s great, Dad, his songs are so beautiful, and he’s gorgeous! You wouldn’t be saying that if it was Andy Williams on there!”
“Yes, I would,” Mike had laughed, “I can’t stand Andy Williams. Now Frank Sinatra – for him, I would stay in and watch the whole programme!” and with that, he had kissed Audrey on the cheek and gone out, saying “I won’t be late” to anyone who might be listening.
Audrey had pulled her usual disgruntled face at his leaving. When was Mike going to settle down to proper family life? When would he start staying in with his family instead of going to the pub every evening? Once he got round to the Vic Vaults, she knew his cronies would all be there, Gordon, Jack, Tommy and Arthur, playing the numerous games of snooker and darts and endless talk about races and betting.
But he was being the family man now, taking his duties seriously, wanting to please the children and give them a good Christmas. Not like when he’d been a child; his granny waiting behind the back door with a shovel in her hand to lamp him one as soon as he got in from school, just in case he’d been bad… No, he wouldn’t think about that now – it was a long, long time ago – ancient history. He would make sure his children would never be treated like that – ever!
Kathryn sat silently waiting for Mike to come back from wherever he was in his head; his face had changed and become stern, but when he realised she was watching him, he shook his head and cracked a smile. “Sorry love, I was miles away. What were you saying? David who?” he started laughing when he saw that she knew he was teasing her. “Seriously though, is there anything you’d really like?”
She thought for a moment, and then a smile appeared when she had an idea, “Yes, I do know what I’d like. I’d love some of those Lakeland Coloured Pencils; you can buy them in sets of six, twelve or twenty-four. And maybe some paper to draw on? That would be fantastic.”
“Is that all? Just some crayons?” Mike was aghast.
“Well, they are Lakeland pencils, Dad. I think they’re quite expensive. But yes, that’s all I can think of that I want.”
“Okay, love, I’ll see what I can do. You can go back to your book now. What are you reading?” he was curious.
“Oh, it’s just one that Tim said was his favourite, but I’m not too sure about it yet. It’s about a dog, ‘White Fang’ by Jack London. You might guess Tim’s favourite book would be about a dog!” Kathryn closed the door behind her, and a moment later he heard the middle room door close as she went back into her imaginary world. He didn’t know if he should be worried about the amount of time she spent alone in that room, though admittedly, it did house the family bookcase.
She was a good kid, though. He knew she did many domestic chores to help out her mum, and she never seemed to want a lot. There were very few dramas where Kathryn was concerned, compared to the stories the men told at work about their daughters, though he supposed that might all change now that she was a teenager.
So, his shopping list was growing; a Sindy horse for Melissa and a set of coloured pencils for Kathryn. He wondered what Tim would want for his present; it was his turn for the expensive gift this year. Mike looked at his watch; he would probably catch Tim down at the allotment at this hour. He would be feeding the hens and settling them down for the night, safe from the foxes and rats that abounded around the allotment grounds, looking to feast upon vegetables and vulnerable domesticated animals. Tim was very careful about getting the hens into the coop at night and ensuring the rabbit hutches were locked and secure.
As Mike pulled up in Flass Lane, at the end of the path that led to the allotments, he saw Tim wandering towards him, pushing his bike. The unpaved ground with its potholes and cobbles was instant damage to a bicycle, and Tim’s was his pride and joy, so he was careful with it. It saved him so much time to ride from home to the allotment every day to see to the animals, morning and evening.
Tim was surprised to see Mike’s car waiting as he reached the main road. He propped his bike against the fencing and got into the passenger seat that Mike had unlocked for him. “Hiya Dad, is everything all right?” he asked.
“Yes fine, lad. I was just on my way to see Gran and Auntie Sadie, but I thought I might catch you here. I’m going Christmas shopping tomorrow. Is there anything in particular you want?”
“I honestly can’t think of anything except do you think maybe I could have the money instead? Now I’ve left school, and I’ll be seventeen on my next birthday, I’d like to learn how to drive, and buy a car. Do you think that would be all right? I’m trying to save up.” Tim looked at Mike’s face, hoping for his approval.
“That’s a great idea, Tim, and a good plan. Better to give you money for something you really want than buy something you’re not bothered about. Okay, I’ll give you some cash – but be sure to put it in the bank and not fritter it away on going about with your mates! Right, I’d better get off. I’ll have to ask Sadie what her two girls want for Christmas too, while I’m at it. I’ll see you at home later on.”
Mike switched on the ignition as Tim clambered out of the car; with a wave, he was off. Tim watched him go, thoughtfully. As far as fathers went, Mike was a good dad, especially considering he was his stepfather. He never made any distinction between Tim and Kathryn, his stepchildren, and Melissa, his biological daughter, except maybe Melissa was a bit spoiled. But then, that would probably be the case with the baby in any family. Tim was cheered by the thought that Mike would soon add to his driving fund. He mounted his bike, happily whistling as he pedalled towards his friend’s house. Mark Carpenter lived just a few streets away, and they would spend the evening listening to music and talking about cars and their next favourite subject – girls!
During the next couple of weeks, Audrey took care of the rest of the Christmas shopping. She belonged to a ‘Christmas Club’ with a few friends; each week, they would put money away to save up for Christmas. It helped to know there would be a decent sum in the pot to buy the things the children needed. Although they weren’t officially ‘gifts’, Audrey would buy socks and underwear and jumpers for them and wrap them up to be opened on Christmas morning. It all helped to make a goodly pile of parcels around the bottom of the tree.
In previous years, she’d had to plan for the Christmas dinner too, but this year Mike had suggested that he take them all out for their Christmas lunch to the Victoria Park Hotel, just a couple of streets away from their home in Brighton Street.
At first, Audrey had been reluctant; she didn’t want people to think she was lazy or couldn’t be bothered, but Mike had persuaded her: “Think of not having to get up at six in the morning to get the Turkey cooking and prepare all the vegetables. Instead, all you have to do is get dressed up in your best and walk around the corner to have it all done for you! And no clearing up afterwards! Doesn’t that sound better?”
She finally gave in and left it up to her husband to book a table. She had to admit, it did sound good and would certainly take the stress out of the whole day. Of course, she would still have to shop for the other food throughout the holiday, but at least it wouldn’t be endless rounds of turkey-based meals; turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey casserole, on and on and on. It would also save the housekeeping money if he paid for the whole thing. And it would show too that the Metcalfes were able to afford expensive meals out – that would be one in the eye for her old ‘friends’ on Barrow Island. They would see that she had come up in the world.
Audrey had been ahead of the game too, for the Christmas season; she had already made this year’s party dresses for Kathryn and Melissa. She’d found the material on one of her shopping trips with Thelma to Preston Market. Thelma had been looking for material for some dresses for Dancing Class, but Audrey had fallen in love with a pale turquoise coloured lurex fabric which glittered prettily in the light, and had found matching chiffon that would make lovely sleeves for the dresses. She was almost tempted to keep it for an evening dress for herself, but it was more important that her daughters looked smart at their visit to the Victoria Park restaurant. It was a pity that Kathryn was so plump – somehow even the smartest clothes never looked as they should, there always seemed to be a seam straining to hold in her bulk somewhere. Still, that couldn’t be helped right now.
Audrey knew that Kathryn would complain at being dressed like her little sister, and she had a point, but the material was so pretty Audrey couldn’t resist it. Besides, she liked to see the girls dressed alike; everyone would know immediately they were sisters – they didn’t have to know that the girls didn’t have the same father! Audrey also didn’t want Kathryn to grow up too soon, although she knew that at thirteen, her daughter would soon refuse to dress like her 8-year-old sister, and Audrey wouldn’t be able to force her to for much longer.
The weeks passed, and suddenly it was Christmas Eve. Once she had sent Kathryn and Melissa to bed, Audrey pulled out all the gifts that still needed wrapping. She had already parcelled up Tim’s presents so that when he came home from Mark’s house at nine o’clock, she was knee-deep in wrapping paper, sticky tape and gift tags. She roped him into helping her with the parcels for his sisters, “Come on, Tim, I could use your help. Otherwise, I’ll be up all night!”
“Okay, I’ll help, but it will cost you!” he laughed.
“You’ll be lucky,” his mother retorted, “you already owe me for buying your presents for your sisters! Here, you can wrap them – there’s a book from you for Kathryn – ‘Veronica at the Wells’ – and a ‘Bunty’ annual from you for Melissa. There’s paper, ribbon and tape on the table. Get stuck in!”
They worked together, chatting until eventually all the items were wrapped, sealed and taped with a silver tag with both the recipient and giver’s names written on. As well as the presents for immediate family, there were gifts for the relatives visiting for tea on Boxing Day.
As Tim stacked the presents under and around the tree, he noticed a large box already gift wrapped and placed behind the sofa. “What’s that?” he asked his mother.
“I have no idea!” she replied, “Your dad brought it home already wrapped up, said it was a surprise for Kathryn, though it’s not her turn this year. He’d already bought her those coloured pencils that she’d asked for, but then he saw this and decided to get it for her. I hope he’s not spoiling her.”
“He spoils everyone!” Tim said, “Did he tell you he’s given me £50 towards my driving lessons in April? That should pay for the whole course. I’m thrilled to bits. What’s he bought for you this year, do you know?”
“Oh, he did his usual thing, gave me some money and told me to buy myself something nice. It’s very generous of him, but it’s not the same as him choosing something himself and surprising me. I’m not complaining, of course, but he could be a bit more romantic sometimes.” Audrey could hear the ingratitude in her voice, but she couldn’t help the way she felt. Sometimes she thought that Mike took her for granted. She shook off the thought, “Well, at least he’s generous with all of us – we’re very lucky. We could still be living on old Barrow without two pennies to rub together!”
Not wanting to get involved in a conversation about her previous marriage to his ‘real’ father, Tim cut her off short, “Right, I’m off to bed. I daresay Melissa will have us all up at six o’clock in the morning wanting to open her presents. Goodnight, Mam.” He bent and kissed his mother’s cheek.
“Goodnight, Timothy. Oh, is that your Dad I can hear now? Is it nearly eleven already?”
Mike came into the room just as Tim was about to leave. “You going to bed, Tim? Good night, see you in the morning.”
Mike settled himself on the sofa. “Have you got it all done, Love?” he asked his wife.
“Yes, I have – no thanks to you, of course. I’d have thought that at least one night in the year, you could stay at home and help me get things ready. It’s surely not too much to ask?” Audrey sulked.
“Oh, come on, Audrey, you know I’m no good at this sort of stuff. You’d only get mad at me for doing it wrong; you know you would! Come on, give us a smile – or you’ll end up on Santa’s ‘Naughty List’!” Mike grinned.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I suppose there’s no point in my going on about it – you take no notice anyway. I’d be wasting my breath. Everything is done, so I’m going to bed. Are you coming up?”
“Yes love, I’ll be there in a minute.” Mike waited until his wife had left the room, then placed a small gift-wrapped box on the mantelpiece. “Let’s see if this surprises you then!” he whispered. As he turned the front room light off, the fairy lights on the Christmas tree glowed, casting soft coloured shadows across all the gaily wrapped packages. “Happy Christmas!” he said as he closed the door behind him.
The next morning, as predicted, Melissa was up with the lark, waking up the whole household. “Come on, everyone, get up! It’s Christmas, and there are hundreds of presents around the tree! Come on. I want to see what I’ve got!” The eight-year-old was bouncing around the landing knocking on her parents’ and brother’s bedroom doors.
Kathryn, still in bed in the girls’ shared room, snuggled under the covers of her bed, “Melissa, it’s only quarter past six! It’s much too early yet. You’ll have Mam and Dad going mad!”
Excitedly, the little girl bounded towards her sister’s bed, “Oh come on, Kat! Don’t you want to see what you’ve got?”
“You know that you’re only allowed to open one small present before Dad gets up, don’t you? And he never gets up before 8 o’clock on Christmas Day. You’ve got hours to wait yet before you can open everything.”
“I know, but… Oh please, Kat!”
“Why don’t you go and bother Tim instead? Leave me alone for a while?” Kathryn pulled the bedclothes over her head.
“Tim won’t come down yet either; I’ve already tried him. He swore at me! Just wait till I tell Mam – he isn’t half going to catch it!” While she was talking, Melissa pulled at Kathryn’s covers. “Come on, Kat!”
Kathryn finally gave in to Melissa’s pleading with a sigh of resignation, “I’m not going to get any peace, am I? Still, I suppose I can get our breakfast sorted out and get everything ready for when the rest get up. Pass me my dressing gown while I find my slippers. And stop pulling me about! I’m coming now!”
As Melissa skipped down the stairs, Kathryn stopped off at the bathroom and made her morning ablutions; then she made her way down to the front room where her sibling was already looking through the assortment of parcels piled around the bottom of the tree. Kathryn switched on the flickering lights and also the electric fire.
It was cold in the big room, and she shivered. One of her friend’s parents had just installed electric heating with large radiators in every room. They used Economy 7, which meant the radiators were storage heaters that heated up during the night when electricity was cheaper, then radiated the heat all day, keeping the room warm. She wished her dad would get some central heating in their house – it was always so cold during the winter. Sometimes during the really cold spells, the bedroom windows would have a coating of ice on the inside, and they would have to have extra blankets and coats on the beds and sleep almost fully clothed to keep warm.
This winter hadn’t been that bad so far, but it was cold enough that when Kathryn went into the kitchen to make breakfast for herself and Melissa, she could see the clouds of her breath in the icy room. She put a pan on the stove and heated enough milk to make two bowls of Ready Brek – central heating for kids, as the TV adverts called it. When the milk was bubbling, Kathryn poured it into the bowls and sprinkled on the cereal, mixing as she poured so it wouldn’t go lumpy; then, achieving the right consistency, she powdered the top of the steaming porridge with sugar. She took both dishes through to the sitting room and made Melissa leave the presents and sit down to eat their food.
“You don’t get to open anything unless you eat all your breakfast!” Kathryn decreed. “You know that’s what Mam will say, so eat up.”
“You’re not my boss. I don’t have to do what you say,” nevertheless, Melissa tucked in. She knew that what Kathryn said was true; Mam was strict about that sort of thing, like always having to finish dinner before you could have pudding. Mam never let you off with anything!
Finally, there was a clatter as Melissa dropped the spoon into her empty dish and she set it on the floor. “Right, I’m going to open one present now, and then I’ll go and get Dad up. Which one are you going to open?” She rushed over and knelt among the bright wrappings, looking for a gift tag with her name on it. She knew there would be lots of boring stuff like clothes, but she was trying to find a toy to play with until everyone else was up, so she lifted and shook various parcels. She could see some larger boxes tucked around the back of the tree, but she knew these would be the main presents and that Dad would want to be there to see them opened, so she left those alone.
Kathryn sat back and watched her, smiling. She could remember being eight, like her sister, and the excitement she had felt on Christmas morning. She was older now, and some of the magic had gone. She no longer played with toys, so she knew that her presents would be more practical; there was no point in getting excited about opening packs of underwear and socks!
Melissa finally selected a present to open. She could tell by the look and feel that it was an ‘Annual’, marked as being from Timothy, so it was unlikely to be anything else. She would save the more interesting and exciting packages until everyone else was up. She tore off the paper and started to read the Bunty annual to keep herself occupied.
Eventually, the rest of the family got up and ventured downstairs to the sitting room. Kathryn went to the kitchen to put the kettle to boil for assorted beverages for her family and came in with a tray of steaming mugs.
“Thanks, Kathryn!” said Mike, “now, where are all my presents?”
“But Dad, you always say not to bother with anything for you when we ask what you want! What if there aren’t any for you?” Melissa teased.
“There had better be, or else no one gets to open anything!” Mike laughed. Quickly, Melissa sorted through the parcels and handed several to him after shaking them to guess what was inside. “Oh, love, you won’t hear socks, handkerchiefs and ties rattling!” he laughed.
With the last of the smaller gifts opened, Tim pulled the larger boxes forward. Melissa knelt next to the one with her name and started ripping off the paper. “Ooh, my Cindy horse! Thanks, Dad!” but as she pulled the packing aside, her face glowed with happiness, “Dad, this is brilliant! Look Kat, I’ve got the stable, riding clothes and all the accessories too! Fantastic!” and with that, she launched herself into her father’s arms in a big bear hug.
Kathryn watched her younger sister with a smile on her face – those toys would keep Melissa occupied for hours playing her favourite games. Then she heard Timothy say, “What about you, Kathryn? Aren’t you going to open this one?” He gestured at the final large box that was as yet unopened.
Kathryn was non-plussed. She had already opened the requested coloured pencils and drawing pads, along with her other presents and had not been expecting anything else. She had assumed that as it was Tim’s ‘big present’ year, this box was for him and hadn’t even looked at it.
She went over and examined the gift tag – “To Kathryn with lots of love from Mum and Dad, Merry Christmas”. She looked at her parents. Audrey seemed as puzzled as herself, whilst Mike’s face held a wide smile of delight at her surprise. “Go on then – open it!” he grinned.
She started ripping off the sparkly wrapping paper and ran a fingernail down the central sticky tape holding the box closed. As she opened it, her heart jumped up to her throat – it was a brand-new stereo music centre! At last, she would be able to listen to her David Cassidy and Carpenters records whenever she wanted to, without having to wait until no one else was using the family radiogram in the sitting room. She wouldn’t have to put up with Tim moaning at her choice of music or turn it off if Melissa’s favourite cartoon had started on the TV. Kathryn was almost delirious with happiness.
Mike’s next question, “Do you like it then?” was completely unnecessary when his stepdaughter turned to him with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you so much! I love it! But I don’t understand – it was Tim’s turn for the big present this year. How come you’ve bought me this?” She looked at her parents, confused.
“Don’t look at me,” Audrey said, “I’m as surprised as you are!” but for once, she was smiling and not cross at all.
“Well, it just so happened that a friend of mine had over-ordered for his shop and gave me a great deal on it. That and the fact that you asked for so little this year, I thought you deserved it.” Kathryn had hugged both her mother and father in delight by this time. “You’ll have to ask Tim to set it up for you, though,” Mike continued, “I haven’t the faintest idea how these things work!”
“It should be a doddle,” said Tim, “just plug the speakers into the back and plug it into the mains. Chippy Carpenter has one very similar.”
“Right, that’s enough messing about! Let’s get all this paper collected up and into the bin,” Audrey said. “This room looks like a bomb’s hit it! It needs to be tidy before we go out for our Christmas Lunch, and we’d all better start getting ready soon, or we’ll be late!” She issued instructions to each of her offspring to perform some task or other, then turned to her husband, still sitting on the settee with a big grin. “And you needn’t think you can get away with doing nothing, Mike Metcalfe! If you think I’m going to hoover around you, you have another think coming!”
“Oh, give it a rest, woman, it’s Christmas Day! I’m sure no one will care if you don’t vacuum on this one day in the year. Besides, you haven’t opened your present yet.”
“What are you talking about? I showed you the gloves and handbag I bought with the money you gave me!” she replied, puzzled.
“Well, it looks to me like Santa has left you something else – what’s that on the mantelpiece?”
Audrey turned and looked, spying the small gift-wrapped box next to the clock. “What’s this?”
“Open it and find out!”
Sellotaped to the top of the gift was a small tag which read, “To Audrey, Merry Christmas, All my love as always, Mike.” She picked at the sticky tape with her nails, keeping the tag intact. This would go with the other small things she treasured, such as a blonde curl from Melissa’s first haircut, in the back of a drawer in her dressing table. She removed the wrapping and found a small black velvet box – a jewellery box. This was indeed a surprise! It took her breath away as she opened the box to reveal a gold band with three glittering diamonds set in a row.
Mike took her in his arms and kissed her. “Happy Christmas, love.”
“Oh Mike, I don’t know what to say!” tears shone in her eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful!”
“I’ve done a deal with the jeweller,” Mike said, “He’s given me a certificate, and every year I’ll take the ring back to him and get a new one with more value attached. It will be the same design; it’s just that the stones will get larger each year by a small amount. It’s an investment, all yours, which will grow in value. If anything ever happens to me, you’ve got a bit of something behind you, as well as the house.”
“Don’t talk like that! I don’t want anything to happen to you!”
“Nor do I, and probably nothing will! But it’s better than waiting for an insurance policy to mature, isn’t it? Diamonds will always be valuable, so it’s a good investment.” Mike smiled wickedly, “Besides, having that means you’ll never kill me for the life insurance! Right, come on, you’d better start making yourself beautiful. You’ve got a lunch to go to in a posh restaurant where you can flash your new present!”
Audrey summoned everyone downstairs at a quarter to one, “Come on, you lot! Lunch is at one o’clock. We don’t want to be late!” She could hear the thunder of feet on the stairs as her brood presented themselves for inspection. The children were surprised at their mother’s good humour – she wasn’t given to showing her emotions, so it was strange to see her with a broad smile.
They all donned their coats and hats and left the house for the short walk to the Victoria Park Hotel. Mike shepherded them into the lounge, where most diners had gathered for drinks before their meal was ready. He organised a pint for himself, gin and orange for Audrey and soft drinks for the children and chatted to acquaintances at the bar.
Eventually, the maitre d’ announced the restaurant was open, and they filed through to the restaurant to find their table, laden with brilliant white napery and sparkling glasses and silverware. Mike held Audrey’s seat for her and settled her into her place, then took his seat at the table next to Melissa.
For once, everyone seemed happy, the present giving had gone to plan, and they all seemed pleased with their gifts. Certainly, Mike hadn’t seen Audrey this happy for quite a long time; even she couldn’t find fault with the day, so far anyway. He would visit his mother and sister this evening, take their presents, and go with them to Mass; that would make his mother happy too.
As Mike raised his glass and wished them all Merry Christmas, and they all returned the salute, smiling at him. He felt that today was a good day, the best he’d had in ages. It was a great start to the Festive Season, and he hoped it would carry on through to the New Year. Perhaps 1972 would be a good one.