The weather forecast was correct. Christmas 1946 was going to be a white one. Eight years old Peter Madden was standing at the window in his grandparent’s farmhouse and staring out at the large snowflakes falling and covering the farmyard and barns, and the fields and trees as far as he could see. The snow had been falling on and off now for several days and his grandfather and farmhands had managed to get all the animals that were out in the fields into the Barnes before it had settled too deep. He was very excited as this was the first time he had seen snow falling at Christmas time. As he looked out he saw his grandfather going into the pigsty. He had been concerned about Old Podger, a Gloucestershire Old Spots pig which had been unwell.
Christmas day was in two days time and his grandmother Ellie, mother Susan and himself had nearly finished putting up the Christmas decorations around the farmhouse. Peter’s father, Roy had been unable to get a train from London, where he had been working, due to the bad weather, but was trying to get down by road. His grandmother, a cheerful, good spirited woman who loved this time of year, had been busy baking and preparing food for the occasion, and the smells coming from the kitchen range had been mouth watering. His grandfather, a tough, no nonsense weather beaten man, the result from spending his life out in the open, had been busy out in the barns looking after Old Podger and the other animals and making sure they stayed warm and protected against the winter snow and cold winds, and that they had plenty of fodder.
It was a large farmhouse with a lot of places he could hide in and play imaginary games of soldiers or Robin Hood or a great explorer or whatever his interest was on a particular day, so it hadn’t been too much of a hardship for Peter to have to stay indoors. When his grandfather was around he loved hearing about the animals and the way they were looked after. He had many stories to tell and made them interesting and funny at times.
‘Day dreaming Peter?’ said a woman’s voice behind him.
Peters Grandmother had come into the room to lay the table for breakfast and seen him staring out at the falling snow.
‘Isn’t it exciting Grandma, we’re going to have a white Christmas, just like in my story book.’ said Peter turning and going over to help with laying the table.
Peters Grandmother, Ellie looked over at him as she laid the red and white check table cloth onto the large well used wooden kitchen table and said;
‘We don’t want too much of it though Peter, it’s not good for the animals and the cold winds will blow hard through the barns making them restless.’
‘Good morning Mother. Is Father still out in the barns?’ said Peter’s mother Susan as she came into the kitchen.
‘Yes but he will be in for his breakfast soon. He said he was going to pick up your Aunt Nancy and Uncle Percy afterwards.’ replied Ellie. ‘They can’t walk from their cottage on the common in weather like this, especially at their age.’
Aunt Nancy was Ellie’s older sister and they always came to the farm at Christmas and stayed for a few days. Percy could be funny but his memory wasn’t too good now and did some strange things at times. Aunt Nancy was nearly as bad, but it was interesting to hear her stories of when she was in service with Lord and Lady Denton many years ago. Some of them were quite outrageous, and they could make you blush if you were that way inclined. They still dressed in clothes reminiscent of those worn thirty years ago.
‘You will have to watch them to make sure they don’t do anything dangerous or silly Mum, especially after last year when Percy put too much brandy on your Christmas pudding before we all made a wish; and then Aunt Nancy pouring gravy on her serving of the Christmas pudding.’
‘Yes you’re right there; fortunately we stopped Percy putting a match to it or he could have set the table decorations on fire. But for that it all went quite well. Anyway what are you going to do today?’ said Ellie.
Looking at Peter helping with laying the table Susan said;
‘I thought Peter and I might go down to the village with dad in the Land Rover and have a look at the shops. Maybe we can find some sweets and other items to brighten up our Christmas.’
‘You do that; Peter will love to go to old Mrs Leggett’s shop; she sells everything from sweets to sealing wax. She can always manage to find something extra for the children. I have been told she has some gob stoppers and Humbugs at the back of the shop which she keeps for them. And they get more for a penny from her than from grumpy Mr. Stone at the newsagents.’
Peter looked over at his mother and said;
‘Wow mum can we really get some sweets? She might have liquorice sticks like last time we went there. And I’m really looking forward to going in the snow.’
Just then Peter’s granddad, Jack came into the kitchen with Judy their border collie at his heels having just taken off his outdoor coat and boots in the kitchen annexe.
‘We’ve got a real problem with old Podger.’ He said. ‘He’s getting worse. I need to call the vet. He’s not looking at all well, and he is off his food now which is not like him.’
Ellie turned to Susan and Peter and said; ‘Old Podger is Jacks favourite pig and treats it like his baby. He’s sired many award winning piglets you know.’
Jack went of to phone the vet but came back a few minutes later and said;
‘The telephone lines must be down Ellie. I’ll have to call in on him when I go and pick Nancy and Percy up.’
After breakfast Jack, Susan and Peter set off in the Land Rover. It was hard going but the old Land Rover ploughed its way through the snow and finally made it into the village. Peter and Susan made for old Mrs Leggett’s shop while Jack went to call on the vet.
‘Hello my dears.’ said Mrs Leggett in a broad Gloucestershire voice, as they entered her shop. Mrs Leggett was a rotund, jolly woman with a heart of gold. Nothing was too much trouble for her. During the war she had run the local Naafi van which served soldiers with tea and sandwiches and kept their spirits up with her friendly banter.
Peter’s eyes immediately went to the shelf with jars of sweets along it and pointed out the liquorice sticks and pear drops that he wanted. Susan bought some chocolates for handing around on Christmas day. As Susan looked around the shop she spotted some dog chews that looked a little like liquorice sticks, except they were much longer and harder.
‘I’ll take some of these Mrs Leggett. They will be a nice treat for Judy.’
‘They’re very popular. They keep the dogs quite for ages.’ replied Mrs Leggett.
After giving Mrs Leggett the ration coupons for the sweets they had a look in the windows of some of the other shops and then went to meet Jack.
‘Did you see the vet Dad?’ said Susan as she climbed back into the Land Rover.
‘Yes I saw him alright but he wants me to take a water sample so he can check it when he calls up the farm later. Right well lets go and pick up Nancy and Percy. No doubt they will be standing by their front door all ready to go’
As the Land Rover headed for the common, the snow became deeper. But with a lot of persuasion it finally got to Nancy and Percy’s bungalow. As expected they were waiting ready to be picked up. Nancy dressed in an old grey woollen coat that had seen better days and a knitted woollen hat. Percy looked like he had just come off the fields and was wearing blue dungarees under an old duffle coat and had a flat cap on, and wellington boots.
When they finally arrived back at the farm Jack went straight out to see how Old Podger was and try to get a urine sample.
‘The vet said he would be along after lunch.’ Susan told her mother; ‘I think Dad
is quite upset about Old Podger Mum.’
‘Well he’s had him from a piglet, and as I told you he treats it like a child. He’s always fussing round it.’
Nancy and Percy went to settle themselves in the room that Ellie had prepared for them and an hour later came down to have their lunch. Jack had come back in and was washing his hands in the kitchen sink, and then they all sat down to lunch. After lunch Susan, Ellie and Peter went off to finish dressing the Christmas tree, while Jack went out to check the animals. They left Nancy and Percy in the kitchen to finish their meal. They weren’t as fast as the others.
Ellie saw the vet arrive to see Podger. After about fifteen minutes Jack came out of the barn and went into the kitchen. Ellie then heard a lot of shouting from the kitchen and when she and Susan went to find out the problem Nancy came out of the kitchen all upset.
‘Whatever’s the matter Nancy?’ said Ellie.
‘Jacks just got angry with Percy.’ sobbed Nancy wiping her eyes.
As Jack came out into the hallway Ellie glared at him and said;
‘Now what’s going on Jack? You have really upset Nancy.’
‘Well its Percy isn’t it. I put Podgers water sample in a bottle on the kitchen sideboard ready for the vet and Percy’s only gone and mistaken it for a bottle of pop.’
‘Do you mean what I think you mean?’ muttered Ellie, looking horrified.
‘Yes he’s gone and drunk it. All of it.’
Susan who was standing behind her mother looked over at Aunt Nancy and saw she was
holding something in her hand and suddenly realised what it was. Horrified she went up to Nancy who was now shaking and took the item from her hand. Looking at her she said;
‘Aunt Nancy you haven’t, have you?’ she said slowly, holding the object up in front of her.’
Nancy nodded, and wiped a tear from her eye.
‘But Nancy this is a dog’s chew that I bought this morning for Judy.’
‘I thought it was a stick of liquorice. You know how I like liquorice.’ sobbed Nancy.
‘Oh great.’ said Jack in a loud voice. ‘Not only could Percy start grunting like a pig but Nancy could start barking and bounding about like a dog.’
‘Don’t be so melodramatic Jack. Just go and see if you can get another sample from Old Podger while we go and sort Nancy and Percy out.’ said Ellie.
As she turned she saw Peter rolling about on the floor in hysterics and she and Susan burst out laughing. Poor old Aunt Nancy and Uncle Percy just stood looking dejected, not knowing what to do or say. As Jack went to get another sample he was heard to mumble ‘that sample took me an hour to get goodness knows how long this will take.’ and slammed the door shut behind himself,
They could see through the window that the falling snow was now turning into blizzard proportions. Ellie, with a cheerful voice, then said;
‘This weather could keep us all inside for days. I’ll go and make a nice cup of tea
while you all go into the sitting room and warm yourselves by the log fire and cheer yourselves up. It’s cosier in there.’
Susan thought; ‘Trapped indoors for days with Nancy and Percy? And this is only the first day.’
Peter went off to play his favourite game of medieval knights attacking a castle.