It Was Only A Winters Tale

"Come on kids, time for bed."

"Mu-um!" Amy whined.

"Do we have to?" her sister Zoá« chimed in.

"Yes you do, now scoot; I’ll come and tuck you up in five minutes."

"Can Auntie Maddy do it?" Zoá« pleaded, "Please?"

"Mad?" Helen looked across to her friend for confirmation.

"Okay girls, I’ll be up in five minutes."

"Come on then girls, apples and pears." Helen shooed her offspring to do her bidding

It happened nearly every time Maddy visited Helen and the girls, she always felt a little guilty at not coming more often, especially with Dick away on the rigs leaving her friend to cope with the smaller Chenery's on her own. The two of them had been friends since school, not necessarily close for all that time but friends nevertheless. There wasn't really any excuse for not visiting, it was only just over an hours drive to the Land of Nod from home in Retford but somehow there just never seemed to be time.

There was a mini stampede as the kids ran up the stairs of the tiny cottage to prepare for their adoptive Aunt's impending visit.

"You don't have to Mad." Helen mentioned once her brood were out of earshot.

"I don't mind Hel, honest."

"I’ll make another brew while you’re up there then."

Helen gathered the tea things and Mad crept on stockinged feet up the stairs.

"What are you two up to?"

A double shriek rent the air as the girls jumped at the unexpected voice.

"Maddeeeee!" Amy giggled.

"Come on, into bed."

The girls shared the larger of the cottages two bedrooms there just being sufficient space for two small divans and a chest of drawers.

Amid much giggling they eventually settled under the covers.

"Can we have a story?" Zoá« asked.

"Please?" Amy joined in.

"Hmm, aren't you a bit old for stories?" Maddy suggested with a poker face.

"For ordinry ones but not for yours." seven year old Amy stated gravely.

"Well," Mad played the game, "I’m not sure I can think of one."

"You always do." Zoá« beamed.

"Can it be a Christmas one?" Amy asked.

"Yeah!" Zoá« enthused.

"Let’s see then."

She sat herself on the floor between the beds; past experience had shown one of her stories to go on for a while.

"Once upon a time..."

Helen as usual kept an ear out for the girl’s; it suddenly went very quiet though. She trusted Maddy implicitly but curiosity got the better of her and she quietly made her way upstairs to her daughter’s room but pausing outside. "Once upon a time..." Maddy started, Helen peeked around the door to see Amy and Zoá« already giving their rapt attention to the tale. Maddy was an accomplished storyteller and she was as curious as her children as to where her friend would take them tonight.

“So what do you suggest?” Gabs asked.

The girls were always coming up with some hare brained idea or another, for the breast cancer sponsored run they’d all dyed their hair pink and wore matching tutu’s. Whilst it had been fun and they raised lots of money it took weeks to get rid of the pink dye! That was Pia’s idea; this time it was Anna who was ringleader.

“I was thinking we could do something for the Kinderhaus?”

“Such as?” Nena enquired.

“No more pink!” Gaby exhorted.

“We could collect presents or something.” Steffi offered.

“How about a stall at the Weihnachtsmarkt?” Connie suggested.

“Selling what?” Brid queried.

“I’m sure dad would do us some Christmas cookies.” Con offered.

“We could decorate them!” Nena enthused.

“We could collect gifts as well.” Steffi put in, clearly not wanting to drop her own idea.

“Vote?” Pia played chairperson, “those in favour?”

Seven hands went up.

“That’s settled then, so what do we do now?”

“Well I’ve got training; let me know later what I’m supposed to do.” Gaby got up to leave, not exactly relishing two hours out in the freezing Eifel hills.

“I’ll ring you later.” Connie agreed.

“Tschuss!”

“Bye.”

“See you later Gab’s.”

At least the roads were clear and once past Altenahr the temperature did get above zero. The earlier conversation with the girls got him thinking about his friends back ‘home’ in Warsop, is this really only the Bond’s second Christmas in Germany? So much had happened since the last one, the stuff with Bernie, an exciting year of bike racing and Max. He didn’t want to dwell on that subject too much but maybe some of the lads might want to get involved? They could but ask. The whole charity thing at Christmas was something that had become a Bond family tradition; it was after all the Christmas race over at Gran’s that had seen Gaby’s first appearance in public!

To call this ride training was actually a bit of a stretch, yes it was part of the programme but it was mostly an exercise in just that, exercise. Riding the turbo in the garage might be warmer but heck it’s boring and Drew reserved its use to when the weather really made road riding unpleasant, cold he could live with but rain — well that is not fun!

He’d barely got out of the shower before his Handy started to vibrate and play some ludicrous tune to alert him of a call.

“Bond.”

“Gab’s, you’re in.”

“Well duh!”

Connie could be so daft at times.

“Good ride?”

“Not bad, saw Margot at Ahrbrá¼ck.”

“Nice.”

“So what’s the verdict, what have you landed me with?”

“It looks like the stall is on, Anna’s mum knows someone on the organising committee and she thinks they’ll donate a pitch for free and Dad says he’ll bake the cookies for us at cost.”

“Kewl.”

“Ingrid reckons we should have some sort of gimmick to get the punters in, costumes or something.”

“I am not wearing my Thesing uniform!”

“Don’t be daft; she was thinking of something more seasonal, elves or some such.”

“Ok,” that didn’t sound too bad, “oh I had an idea too, what about getting some of the lads involved, I’m sure Martin and one or two more would give a hand.”

“Oh yeah, you are just so transparent Gaby Bond!”

“I do not fancy Max!”

Connie guffawed down the phone.

“What’s so funny?”

“You, I never even mentioned Max and forgive me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it you that went on two no make that three, dates with him?”

“They weren’t dates!” Drew huffed.

“Whatever you say.”

“Anyway, what do you reckon?”

“About Max?”

“Give over Con, no about asking Martin and co to give us a hand.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Drew being Drew just did as he was told as the girls Kinderhaus Weihnachts Cookie Grotto took shape. As the Ahrweiler market was only open over two weekends it wasn’t too difficult to sort out the manning or girling of the stall, Drew volunteered for Friday night both weeks and one Saturday and one Sunday. Somehow that coincided with what Max could do too much to Connie’s amusement and Drew’s discomfort.

Anna and Brid were put in charge of the costumes, they had all agreed that Ingrid’s Christmas Elf idea would work for everyone — lets face it, you can’t really go far wrong with that in December. Martin and Max, the only male volunteers, worked with Pia, Nena and Steff on the stall itself, the pitch was free but there wasn’t a booth included in the deal. Luckily various relatives pitched in and from what was discussed it would be a dozy! Drew or rather Gaby got roped into the biscuit production and decoration business with Connie.

“Connie.” Brid passed her a bag before continuing the roll call, “Max.”

“Yo.”

“P.”

“Thanks.”

Each member of the team received their costume in turn before our Kommandant addressed her troops.

“How cool is this!” Pia gushed, “so Max and Martin are coming direct from school to set the stall up with their Dad’s, the catering team are coming with Herr Thesing at five thirty, everyone else should be here for six ok?”

“And remember your costumes.” Anna added.

Our little team had come direct from the Gymnasium to suss out our ‘pitch’ and get a coffee, it only seems like last week we decided to do our ‘Grotto’ and it has been great fun. Of course there is a serious side to our efforts so Max set up a Facebox page for our efforts and has been working on getting the word out in advance, I think he said we have over two hundred ‘friends’ so that’s quite good.

“You changing at mine tomorrow?” Con enquired as we walked from the Bahnhof an hour later.

“I guess it would be easier,” I agreed, “I hope it’s a bit warmer, there doesn’t seem to be much in here.” I brandished my costume bag.

“Yeah, we can always wear our coats on top. Thinking about it I might as well take yours now, a bit less for you to forget.”

“As if I would.”

“You don’t have a great record with clothes Fraulein Bond!”

“I can go off people.” I did however pass her the bag.

“That the last one?” Herr Thesing asked.

“Uh huh.” Gabs agreed.

“You’d best go get changed girl then we can get off.”

Connie had already slunk off to become an elf while Gaby helped load the trays of festive snacks into Herr Thesing’s van. She headed up to her friends flat with a spring in her step.

“What do you think?”

Con was dressed in a kind of contemporary elf outfit, the striped leggings were there but worn under shorts and a striped polo neck jumper.

“Well its better than I expected.”

“Yours in on my bed.”

“’Kay.”

Having been lulled into a false sense of security by Con’s outfit Gab couldn’t quite believe what fell out of her bag.

“They have got to be kidding!”

“Eh?” Con enquired from the door.

“Did you know about this?” Gab indicated the garments on the bed.

“Ut uh.”

“How comes I always get landed with stuff like this?”

“‘Cos your cute?”

It was hardly what Drew wanted to hear; over the years it had been a clarion call amongst his friends. He shook his head and with a sigh started to change.

“Well?”

“Mein gott, they’ve stitched you up big time Gabs!”

“No kidding.”

They had given her thick tights and there wasn’t really that much of her exposed it was just that, well it was a fairy outfit, all floaty net and taffeta. They’d even found a pair of sparkly white ballet flats for me to wear.

“I can’t wear this.”

“Are you girls coming?”

“Yes papa.”

“Come on Gab, you can wear your coat.”

The stall was a masterpiece, on one side there were shelves for people to leave their donations on and the other was our sales area tastefully decorated in a gingerbread stylee with added seasonal touches.

“What do you think?” Max enquired.

“Wow.”

“Not sure about this outfit though.” He opened his jacket to reveal an outfit not entirely dissimilar to Connie’s.

“At least you aren't dressed as a meringue.”

“I like meringues.”

“Well this one is for display purposes only.” Gab huffed.

“Pity.” Max sighed.

“Two thousand four hundred and fifty Euros.” Nena declared.

“Kewl.” Bridget stated.

“And we got nearly a hundred and fifty gifts too.” Martin mentioned.

“So when do we do the Santa bit?” Steffi enquired.

“Next Wednesday, they’re having a bit of a party and we’re invited.” Pia advised.

“Ooh we should go in our costumes!” Anna opined.

“Urgh!” Gab allowed.

“So what happened next?” Zoá« sleepily enquired.

“Didn’t Gaby like the fairy dress Maddy?” Amy added.

“Well I think she would have preferred to be an ordinary elf like her friends.”

“But she’s really a princess!” Amy beamed with seven year olds logic.

“All her friends think so.”

“Yes they do.” Helen mentioned from the door, “come on you two, stop pestering Maddy or there won’t be any sledging tomorrow.”

“Sledging?” Maddy joined the youngsters in the question.

“Just started falling, thought I’d better let you know Mad.”

“Yay!” Zoá« exclaimed.

“Come on you two, behave for mummy.”

“But what happened after?” Amy echoed her elder sisters question.

“I think she became a proper princess.” Zoá« stated.

“I’ll tell you next time okay, time to sleep now.” Mad kissed each of them on the forehead before levering herself off the carpet.

“Night Maddy.”

“Happy Christmas Maddy.”

“And to you two, I’ll see you soon.”

“Promise?” Amy earnestly asked.

“I promise, now go to sleep for your Mum.”

Mad slipped past her friend who stayed to do the ‘official’ tucking in bit.

“Thanks Mad.”

“What for?”

“You know.” Helen gave her friend a hug.

“Looking at that out there I think I’d best give the tea a miss.”

“I’ll make you a flask, you got a spade?”

“Dad insists on it, I nearly forgot, I’ve got some parcels in the car.”

“You don’t have to you know, they get enough.” Helen told her friend.

“What kind of aunt would I be and you know I enjoy doing it.”

A few minutes later Maddy had retrieved several gaily-packaged items from her elderly Cinquecento and prepared to say her farewells.

“Oh I nearly forgot, our ‘princess’ is coming over in the New Year.”

“I’ve not seen her for over a year.” Helen sighed.

“We’ll sort it out, maybe she can finish the story herself.”

“Now that’s something I’ll look forward to!”

Maddy Bell 22.12.10



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