A Change of Plans
He had enough spare petrol in the garage that he had been keeping for an emergency. That emergency had clearly just come up.
“Brownie,” said Mr Pennington.
“Yes sir?” she mumbled drowsily.
“Get the chicken and the cakes and all the food stuff in the car.”
“What?” she asked confused and still half asleep.
“Boy’s get your coats and scarves on and help me get the gifts in the car.”
“What’s going on Dad?” asked Mark excitedly.
“We’re going to spread some Christmas cheer,” said Mr Pennington as they all got up
“What?” asked Simon incredulously.
“We’re going to Wales, aren’t we?” asked Anthony his face glowing slightly.
Anthony’s face split into in a grin a mile wide as he ran to fetch his coat and helped load all the presents into the car.
Mrs Brown, Simon and Nick fell asleep on the way to Pembrokeshire, but Mark and Anthony were far too excited to sleep.
Mr Pennington was simply praying that it didn’t get any colder because if it did it might start snowing and they’d never get back home again.
At just gone seven o’clock, they pulled up outside the Pembrokeshire military base, where the families lived.
They drove up to the night guard post.
“Merry Christmas!” beamed Mr Pennington as he rolled down his window.
“Merry Christmas,” said the young private on duty somewhat tiredly.
“We’re here to visit Major Morgan Richards and his family.”
The young private seemed slightly unconvinced.
“We’re friends with Athene!” said Mark excitedly calling out his own window.
“Oh you lot know Athy!” he said in realisation.
“Come right in,” said the night guard opening the barrier to let them in.
On the edge of the base, where a number of small houses for the families. Major Richards wasn’t on active duty anymore as he was in his early sixties but was still involved in the recruitment and training of new recruits.
They stopped outside the right house, and they all climbed down out of the car.
“What if they’re not even in?” asked Mrs Brown.
“We’ll have to wait and see won't we?” said Mr Pennington as he went to knock on the door.
It was freezing, Anthony could see his breath forming in front of him in the air, but he just didn’t care.
A kindly looking woman in her early sixties wearing a flannel dressing gown went to answer the door. Her grey hair was in a loose bun.
“Hello, can I help you?” she asked kindly.
“I’m afraid if you’re looking for the Major, he’s not seeing visitors today.”
“Oh no we’re not here to see Major Richards,” chuckled Mr Pennington.
“We’re here to see Athene,” beamed Anthony.
“And wish her a very Merry Christmas,” finished Mark.
A look of dawning comprehension reached Mrs Richard’s face.
“You lot must be the Pennington’s!” she exclaimed.
“You know who we are?” asked Nick.
“Well of course I do,” laughed Mrs Richards, “Athene writes about you every week, and she writes to young Anthony every day.”
Anthony blushed slightly, which made his cheeks even redder because of the cold.
“Well come in, come in you lot must be freezing!”
They unloaded all the presents and food from the boot and headed into the cottage all chatting and laughing cheerfully.
“What’s all this noise?” asked Major Richards coming down the stairs with a huge smile on his face.
“It can’t be Christmas can it?”
“Merry Christmas Major Richards sir,” chuckled Anthony.
“Are my eyes deceiving me or do I see a young Anthony before me?” he asked with a look of surprise and giving him a hug.
“But why?” he stammered, “how?”
“Tony was feeling like Athene wouldn’t be having the merriest of Christmases,” said Mrs Brown.
“So we’ve come to spread the Pennington family cheer,” said Simon raising his eyebrows. He could think of about five other things he would prefer to be doing today.
“Well I’m glad you did!” beamed Major Richards shaking all their hands and helping them put the presents under the tree whilst Mrs Brown put the food in the kitchen.
“Why don’t you two go find Athene?” asked Mrs Richards, “you’ll know which door it is.”
Mark and Anthony beamed at each other before charging up the stairs to the second floor of the cottage.
There were three bedrooms on the second floor and a bathroom. There was also a trapdoor in the ceiling, which probably led up to the attic.
One of the bedroom doors had a small wooden sign nailed on, which was engraved and read Athene’s Room and had flowers engraved around it.
Anthony went and knocked on the door.
“Just a minute Granny!” called Athene from within her room.
“I’m just finishing my letter to Anthony!”
“You don’t need to bother with that Cariad!” said Mark in his best impression of a Welsh accent.
“And what makes you think that?” asked Athene still not opening the door.
“Because he’s right here,” said Mark opening the door.
It wasn’t a large room, but it wasn’t small either. The walls had been painted a very pale eggshell blue. One wall was covered in a collage of black and white photographs of Athene and her family. There was a small desk which was full of books, and there were even more books stacked in a tower next to the bed.
Athene was lying down on her bed writing a letter, her long auburn hair starting to come out of its plaits from the day before. There was a small double bed, which had a patchwork quilt on top of it, sewn into the middle of the quilt was a large dragon made out of red velvet which had originally been a party dress when Athene was a little girl.
The twins poked both their heads around the door and beamed at her.
“Anthony!” she screamed jumping off the bed disregarding the letter.
She pulled them both in for a huge hug and for a minute Anthony thought she was never going to let go.
“Merry Christmas Athene,” laughed Anthony.
“Merry Christmas Anthony,” she giggled.
“Come on,” said Mark once they finally stopped hugging, “there are presents!”
In all the excitement of seeing each other they had nearly forgotten that Christmas meant presents, and they all raced downstairs.
Mr Pennington had been helping Major Richards build a large fire in the grate in the sitting room.
“Alright then adults first,” said Mr Pennington firmly.
There was a rule in the Pennington house that the adults got their presents first because they didn’t get as many presents.
Anthony and Athene knelt down by the fire next to each other and talked excitedly, whilst Nick and Simon sorted out and handed out all the presents.
Then the kids all got their presents.
Mrs Richards reached under the tree and handed out several slightly lumpy and squashy presents to the five children. Anthony and Athene’s parcels were slightly bigger than the others.
Nick and Simon opened their parcels to find navy blue scarves and matching hats, Mark’s hat and scarf were grey and red striped.
“Cool,” said Mark looking at his scarf, “it’s the house colours!”
“Did you make these yourself?” asked Mrs Brown slightly impressed as she inspected Simon’s scarf.
“Crochet,” said Mrs Richards, “it gives me something to keep me occupied.”
Athene opened her parcel and found a light pink ribbed jumper, with a matching hat and scarf.
“Thank you, Granny, they’re gorgeous!” she gushed giving her a huge hug.
Anthony had been given a bottle green jumper hat and scarf. He was slightly surprised that he had been given a jumper when his brothers hadn’t.
“I didn’t know what colour you liked,” said Mrs Richards, “but you can never go wrong with a good green.”
Then the kids exchanged presents with each other.
Nick and Simon handed Athene and Anthony a parcel each.
Anthony could tell what was in there before he even ripped off the paper, heavy even though it was smallish. Books!
Anthony had been given the collected works of Shakespeare and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Athene had been given the collected works of Jane Austen, and a copy of Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights.
All the books were hardback but second hand because it was hard to find anything new these days.
“We know you two will probably end up swapping books,” said Simon.
“But we thought you might a bit more of a challenge than Arthur Ransom.”
“These are great thanks!” beamed Anthony giving his brothers a hug.
“Steady on Tony!” chuckled Simon, “they’re only second hand!”
Athene was flicking through the black and white illustrations in the Jane Austen.
“Where’s my present?” asked Mark slightly offended.
“Are we going to regret this?” muttered Simon.
“I bloody well hope not,” said Nick, “it’s too late now anyway.”
They passed Mark a strangely shaped package.
He found a large scrapbook.
“I don’t like books.”
“Open it, idiot,” sighed Simon.
Mark opened it to the front page which read Mark Pennington’s Guide To The Stars in Nick’s neat handwriting.
The first few pages were full of newspaper clippings and photographs of Mark’s favourite film stars, Gene Kelly got several pages all to himself including several articles on Singin in The Rain.
There was also a record of the soundtrack for Singin in The Rain.
“We know you already know it off by heart,” shrugged Nick.
“Having seen the film fifty times,” added Simon.
“Thanks, Nick, Simon,” he breathed his eyes lighting up.
“I’ll have to borrow Julie’s record player,” he said excitedly.
Mr Pennington smiled slightly before he handed Nick and Simon their presents from him.
They had several each, Nick had got the headphones he had asked for, along with a five-year diary and a new fountain pen, and a navy blue cashmere jumper.
“It matches my new hat and scarf,” said Nick as he looked at his jumper, “thanks, Dad!”
Simon had gotten a black cashmere jumper, a new pair of rugby boots and a black leather jacket that he had asked for.
Simon pulled off his suit jacket and put on his new black jumper and leather jacket.
“What do you think?” asked Simon strutting around.
“Very swish!” said Mr Pennington.
“The ladies won’t know what’s hit them!” said Major Richards.
“If Celia fancied you before goodness knows what she’s going to think now!” chuckled Nick.
Mark had got a brand new pair of tap shoes, his old ones pinched a bit. Anthony had gotten a copy of The Odyssey and The Iliad.
Then Mr Pennington passed Mark the biggest present in the whole room.
“Are you sure this is for me?” asked Mark looking at the huge box.
“Is there any other Mark Pennington in the room?”
Mark beamed and ripped open the paper and lifted the lid off the box.
“A record player!” breathed Mark.
“You and Julie can now practise your Fred and Ginger act whenever you like,” chuckled Mr Pennington.
“Even got permission for you to take it back to school with you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” beamed Mark.
“And thanks again for the headphones,” added Nick smirking slightly.
“I thought you might be needing them,” said Mr Pennington as he went over to the tree.
“Merry Christmas Anthony,” he said passing him a box, it was smaller than Mark’s box had been and Anthony had no idea what could be in here.
The box wasn’t light, and Anthony slowly opened the box.
“A Camera!” exclaimed Anthony picking it up out of the box.
“That’s not just a camera boyo,” chuckled Major Richards impressed, “that’s a cinecamera, it records moving pictures, up to thirty seconds at a time!”
“Like a movie!” exclaimed Mark.
“It can’t record sound Mark,” said Mr Pennington, “but other than that yes.”
“I thought you might like to record some of you and your friends so you can look back when you’re older, there’s plenty of film, just send them home when you want anything developed.”
“You’re the best Dad!” said Anthony giving him a huge hug.
“Glad to hear it,” said Mr Pennington patting his son on the back.
They spent the day trying out Mark’s new record player and testing Anthony’s new camera.
It was a very strange Christmas day, an assortment of two Christmas dinners and over a dozen hours of driving there and back, but it was a Christmas that none of them would ever forget.