Countdown To Christmas – Episode 06

THOUGH the village was often referred to as “sleepy”, a visitor happening to pass along Helmshill’s few streets one morning in October might have been aware of a barely suppressed hum of, if not activity exactly, certainly anticipation.The community was on a mission and, like the project to build the Millennium Hall, it had fired their enthusiasm and their commitment.The hall itself had rarely seen so many meetings held within its doors, as every organisation, each determined to prove the star of the eventual show, put their heads together to come up with an act that would knock the audience’s socks off.But if the hall was the focal point for any official business, there was only one place where the unofficial business gossip could take place. That was the village store. The post office saw its fair share, of course. But with George or his mum, Irene, obliged to be ensconced behind the protective safety glass, conversations were too often punctuated by Irene (or George) saying, “Eh?” or “Speak up!” It did nothing to keep the flow going. So if there was serious gossip to be exchanged, the village store was the place to be. The topic of the day was, of course, the Show.Present on this occasion were three of the elderly biddies from the sheltered housing flats, two young mums from the mothers and toddlers toddlers currently snoozing in their strollers, for once; Mavis of the marvellous voice, and Ted Hodges, chairman of the Millennium Hall Committee, who had just popped in for a box of teabags.Plus Miss Evelyn Whitby, whose shop it was.She had asked Ted how things were going with the proposed show.“It’s a super idea. It just shows how valuable new young blood is to the village. None of us would have thought of something so ambitious. Good for the girl. Megan, isn’t it?”“I couldn’t agree more. And it’s going very well so far, though it’s early days, of course,” he replied eagerly. “The hall user groups have taken the project to their hearts like they always do, and I think we’re in for a great Christmas show!”“It’ll take a lot of organising, though, won’t it?”Ted nodded as he reached to the side and added a tube of mints to his basket.“It will that. But we’ve established an organising committee to keep things in order. We’ve three months to get the whole thing ready, and by Jove, we’re going to do it!”“Good for you,” Miss Whitby returned as she rang up his purchases. “You’ll have to think about so many different things. A director, for a start. Who did you have in mind?”Ted’s face grew pink.“Well, I thought I might have a crack at that myself.” He raised his cap in a courteous manner. “Ladies.” He exited the store with no idea of the consternation he left behind him.“What does Ted Hodges know about directing a show?” Mavis Prior exploded. “We need someone with flair, imagination and expertise. Someone creative. A professional, even! Not Ted Hodges, with his flat cap and his tweed jackets,” she scoffed.“Now, Mavis . . .” Evelyn Whitby had a soft spot for Ted. He was always the soul of politeness and consideration when he came into the shop. A real old-fashioned gentleman. Not that old, even, she acknowledged. His greying hair and serious manner gave him quite a senior air, but she judged him to be only about seventy.“Ted’s wife was a lovely lady,” she mused aloud. “He’s always struck me as a bit lost since she died. They were so devoted. If he doesn’t direct the show, who will? He’s willing. He’s retired, with plenty of time on his hands. Maybe it’s best just to let him get on with it.”The germ of an idea had taken root in Evelyn Whitby’s mind. It was a little-known fact that she had been quite the star of the local amateur dramatics scene in her home town. Plain and unremarkable in life, on stage she was transformed. A shining presence, one critic had written in the local paper after she had starred as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”.Not a vain woman, nevertheless she had cut out that review and put it in her box of keepsakes.She’d loved the amateur dramatics experience; the way it allowed her to be someone else for a while. Someone more exciting, not just dull little Evelyn Whitby, who had spent too long in a job she hated at the plastics factory where they had made bodies for little girls’ dolls.As she’d worked on the endless production line she had dreamed her days away thinking about the little tea room she wished she could open in a pretty little village in the Cotswolds, selling cream teas and crafts to holidaymakers and weekenders.It was a dream that had never had a chance of coming true. With property prices the way they were in the Cotswolds, she could have saved every penny she ever made and still never have come close to being able to afford it.What she had found she could afford, though, after 30-odd years at that blessed factory, was a rundown little shop in a nondescript village in the Midlands. It was 15 years now since she had moved here and, with a lot of hard work, she had turned the drab little store into a hub of the community.She glanced around now at the shelves stacked with bottles and cans, boxes and packets containing everything the village could possibly need, and felt the usual glow of pleasure at the sight. It was her own little empire, her pride and joy, and that factory seemed a long time ago. If working so hard to establish it had meant she hadn’t had time for amateur dramatics, it had been worth it.


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