Anthony shivered slightly as he woke up, it was freezing. He pulled a warm jumper on over his pyjamas and crept from the room, trying not to wake up Mark.
He picked up some writing paper and a pen and carried them through to the linen cupboard, which had become a regular haunt of his.
He hitched himself up onto the top shelf and pulled his knees up and put a book on his knees, so he’d have something to lean against whilst writing.
24th December 1952
Dear Athene, Merry Christmas Eve!
Is it as cold in Wales as it is here? Judging from your letter about the sheep growing icicles up on the hill opposite your house it’s even colder! Hard luck! Hope you’re keeping nice and warm.
Simon is being a right prat this holiday, he’s now reached the eighth date of Christmas and is going to have to start to get imaginative soon, having covered all the normal dates such as cinema tea shop and park.
Nick took me on the bus into Horsham the nearby town yesterday to do our Christmas shopping. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t much on offer, everything that isn’t in short supply is on the ration, so we had to get creative.
Nick hardly leaves Dad’s study. There is a very firm rule that if he works in there, even if Dad’s not at home he won't get disturbed.
Nick’s got nothing to worry about, he could probably pass those GCE O exams with his eyes shut even if they aren’t for five months. He just worries so much, but I don’t tease him about it like Mark or Simon because it’s just mean.
Mark and Julie have been a ruddy nightmare. I don’t usually mind their dancing, but next term is the school musical, and they’ve been practising their tap dancing in the attic again. Between that and Simon’s loud music blaring it’s starting to give me a bit of a headache.
Mrs Brown keeps on trying to tell me it’s just a migraine from too much reading but I know its really from a combination of tap dancing and Simon’s wireless radio.
Unsurprisingly Nick has asked for a pair of headphones for Christmas to block out the noise, hopefully, Dad will get Simon a pair too and he can plug those into his bloody radio!
We’ve got to stay up really late tonight, as we always go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve into Christmas dad.
Got to go now, it’s nearly time for breakfast.
Send my greetings to the sheep on the hill, Anthony.
Anthony jumped back off the top shelf and went to go and get dressed for the day.
“Morning Marky,” said Anthony as he pulled on a pair of jeans and a warm jumper.
“Is it?” grumbled Mark glaring at me slightly.
“It’s Christmas tomorrow,” he beamed.
“Wake me up tomorrow then,” muttered Mark.
“So when Julie comes around with Gene Kelly am I supposed to tell them you can’t be bothered to see them?”
“You wouldn’t dare!” said Mark his eyes popping open.
Gene Kelly was Mark’s favourite film star, and Mark wanted to be exactly like him when he grew up.
“Do you really want to risk that?” asked Anthony as he left the room.
Mark jumped out of bed very quickly, just in case of the one in a million chance that Anthony wasn’t lying.
Mark raced past Anthony still in his pyjamas and stood at the top of the staircase and looked eagerly at the bannisters which were decorated with fir branches and tinsel.
“Don’t do it Marky!” said Nick reaching to stop his little brother from ruining the decorations.
“Don’t worry I won’t,” said Mark innocently.
“Do it until boxing day,” he added in an under tone.
“On your own head be it,” said Anthony.
“And he means that literally,” laughed Simon, “if that doesn’t deserve a wallop over the head from Brownie what does?”
The four boys headed downstairs were there were five bowls of porridge waiting.
Simon ate his porridge very quickly and nearly burnt his tongue on it.
“Whats your hurry?” asked Nick.
“I’m taking Celia ice skating in Guildford,” said Simon between mouthfuls, “we’ve got to catch the bus.”
“Celia’s been getting a lot of attention,” said Mr Pennington from behind his newspaper, “this is the fifth time you’re taking her out.”
“You keeping track are we?” asked Simon.
Mr Pennington smirked slightly.
“You’re just jealous Dad,” said Mark.
“I like Cels, she’s a lot of fun,” admitted Simon.
“Do I hear wedding bells?” asked Mark.
Simon clipped Mark around the ear quickly as he fetched his coat and scarf.
“Don’t miss the bus back!” called Mrs Brown, but Simon was already gone.
“Hi gang,” said Julie taking Simon’s seat at the table.
Julie was rosy cheeked from the cold and was wrapped up warm in a pretty pink winter coat and a matching scarf and beret.
“What you kids up to today?”
“I’ve got to head into the village,” said Anthony.
“He has to send a letter to his fair lady love!” said Mark dramatically.
Anthony flinched slightly, he knew that Mark didn’t mean anything by it.
“I’ve got to read through some manuscripts,” said Mr Pennington.
Mr Pennington ran Pennington publishing firm up in London, which his father had found before him and was extremely successful. It was assumed that at least one of the four sons would join the business and eventually run the company, but Mr Pennington wasn’t going to force any of his sons into the job if they didn’t want to.
After they had finished their breakfast Anthony and Mark put on their coats and scarfs and they walked down to the village two miles away with Julie.
Well, Anthony at least walked, Julie and Mark, did some kind of half dance half walk, they were putting on a performance for the two families that evening and that was what they’d been practising. So while Anthony walked, they shuffle step tapped their way down the country lanes avoiding the occasional car.
They were fairly well known in the area, there weren’t that many families that lived in the area with children, much less ones that danced around the village like Mark and Julie were wont to do.
The friendly shopkeepers would always wave to them as they walked past, they went into the post office because Anthony had to post another letter to Athene.
“Good morning lads,” beamed the postmaster behind his desk, “was wondering what time you’d be in young Tony, another letter for that young lady in Wales?”
Anthony smiled slightly and handed over the letter before they all went back to the house. Julies house had a fence on the edge of the property that was right next to the main road, so the three of them pulled themselves up onto the fence.
They sometimes played a game called sweet or sour, they had to wave to all the cars that drove past, and if the driver waved they were sweet if they didn’t they were sour if they gave them a rude hand gesture Mark always enjoyed shouting at them.
As it was the main road, there was always at least a car every few minutes so it was never boring.
Eventually, they had to go in for lunch, and after lunch, Julie and Mark spent the afternoon practising in the attic, it was a huge secret what show they were going to be doing that year as they practised most of it at Julie’s house, they only used the attic for tap practice because of the bare floorboards.
Finally, at six o’clock, Simon came back from Guildford.
“How was Celia?” asked Nick.
“Pretty good, we’re going out again in a few days,” beamed Simon, “she’s um invited me round to tea at her parents’ house.”
“She’s what?” choked Nick.
“That’s serious Simon,” said Mr Pennington clearly impressed.
“So, what about the twelve dates Christmas?”
“Well, I’ve only got four more,” shrugged Simon, “tea at Cels’ counts as one, she’s going to help me figure out the other three.”
Not long after this Mr and Fforbes Hamilton arrived.
“Hello Priss, George,” said Mr Pennington greeting his old friends, “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas Brian!” said Mr Fforbes Hamilton as he took off his coat.
“You lot ready down there?” asked Mark shouting over the staircase.
“Ready Marky!” called Mr Pennington.
“If you want accompanying I’m going to need some clue as to what you’re actually doing,” muttered Anthony.
“It’s on the piano stand,” said Mark casually as he came into the room with Julie.
Mark was wearing his Sunday suit without the jacket, and Julie was wearing a simple cut knee length short sleeved white dress. Both of them were wearing their tap shoes. Both of them for some reason were carrying umbrellas which they leant against the wall
Anthony looked over to the piano and saw some music sheets which he could swear weren’t there last time he looked.
“Before you do anything, I don’t want you ruining my carpets!” said Mrs Brown.
Nick and Simon rolled up the rug in front of the fireplace to reveal the uncovered wooden floorboards and leant it against the wall.
“So what’s all the secrecy been about?” asked Mr Fforbes Hamilton as he sat down on the sofa.
It was an annual tradition for Julie and Mark to do a little show on Christmas Eve and the two families were settled onto the sofas around the sitting room apart from Anthony who was sitting by the piano and Mark and Julie who were standing in the middle waiting to start.
“This year we shall be performing,” said Mark.
“Singing In The Rain!” they both beamed.
“Of course you are,” exclaimed Mr Pennington.
“So that’s why you needed the umbrellas!” said Nick in realisation.
Anthony played the overture on the piano whilst Mark and Julie tap-danced, then they did the Charleston to All I Do Is Dream Of You, which was followed by them both singing and dancing to Singing In The Rain, and then Good Morning, and Make Em Laugh.
For the encore, they redid Singing in the Rain.
“Bravo!” exclaimed Mr Pennington as they finished.
“Beautiful as always Juliet!” said Mrs Fforbes Hamilton giving Julie a huge hug as Nick and Simon put the rug back to normal.
Then they all had dinner and everyone went to go get changed into the best clothes before the two families headed to the midnight mass together.
That night at half past twelve the Pennington family were gathered around the fire still in their church clothes drinking cups of hot chocolate before bed. Mrs Brown was half asleep in the armchair, and the boys were all talking excitedly about the presents they were going to open in a few hours.
Anthony though was staring into the flames.
“What’s with all the melancholy Tons?” asked Nick.
“Yeah cheer up little bro, it’s Christmas,” chuckled Simon.
“I’m thinking,” said Anthony.
“When aren’t you,” muttered Simon which earnt him a well-deserved poke in the ribs from Nick.
“Well we’ve been a jolly old time,” said Anthony, “with the Christmas traditions and stuff, and it’s not even Christmas properly yet.”
“And so?” asked Simon.
“Athene’s not going to be having such a jolly Christmas,” said Anthony staring into the flames, “her Dad died last month, and she hasn’t got any brothers or sisters to celebrate with.”
“Hmm,” muttered Mr Pennington thinking something through.