Thursday, 10 December 2020

Mr and Mrs Jugg’s First Christmas

 

 

Dawn Knox

champagne

 

With a gasp, Sydney stopped rummaging through Betty’s knickers and withdrawing his hand from the underwear drawer, he slammed it shut with his leg, the blood rushing to his cheeks in a guilty flush. Thankfully, it had only been Treacle, Betty’s loathsome cat, who’d silently slipped into the bedroom and rubbed against his leg. Sydney’s heart beat wildly and he thought his eardrums would burst but at least it hadn’t been Betty who’d found him. It would be hard to explain why he was groping through her knickers. If she jumped to the wrong conclusion, he could hardly defend himself with the truth which was that he knew it was her secret hiding place and that he was snooping. 

“Go away!” he hissed at Treacle who dodged his kick and jumped onto the bed. Sydney glared at him. The cat wasn’t allowed in the bedroom, let alone on the bed but at least if it stayed there, it wouldn’t rub against Sydney’s leg and risk giving him a heart attack. Pulling the drawer open again, Sydney slid his hand inside under the tiny, silky garments and found what he was looking for. It was a booklet. And he suspected it would reveal what his Christmas present would be, since on several occasions, he’d seen Betty with the red brochure which she’d always slipped under something when she noticed him. This morning, she’d guiltily slid it into her drawer when he’d entered the bedroom.

It was Sydney’s first Christmas as a married man and if he’d foreseen his life would become such a minefield, he suspected he might not have turned up at the altar. Or if he had made an appearance, he’d have – as his disreputable brother, Toby, had urged – ‘scarpered’ before the wedding ceremony.

True, until now, marriage had been unexpectedly satisfying, but how could a former confirmed bachelor have realised that his choice of Christmas present for his wife was about to be judged not only by Betty, but by her Aunt Edie – who resided in a local retirement home, and in his view, took an unhealthy interest in their marriage – as well as Florrie Fanshawe, Betty’s best friend.

They’d both dropped hints that his first Christmas married to Betty should be marked in some special way. Even Betty herself had given him the impression she was expecting something outstanding. But Sydney didn’t want to spend a fortune just to impress Aunt Edie, Florrie Fanshawe or even his wife. Expensive gifts were a waste of money in his opinion.

He’d finally settled on a deep fat fryer. Not too expensive, as it was on offer in the local supermarket and very practical because Betty definitely needed one. As he’d told her more than once, her chips were always soggy. In fact, he’d been on the point of buying one, when Florrie had spotted him in the checkout queue in Asco’s, with the box tucked under his arm.

She’d laughed uproariously, telling him her initial thoughts were that he was buying Betty’s present. Then added, “But of course, a man of the world such as you, Sydney, would surely know it’d be an insult to offer a household gadget, to his wife for Christmas, especially their first one together,” she’d added. 

He’d assured her he had no intention of giving it to Betty for Christmas and wondered how he might put it back on the shelf without Florrie seeing.

 “I expect you’ll buy her something personal,” Florrie had said with a wink.

Sydney had no idea what something ‘personal’ might be. He’d noticed a sign in the Basilwade Pharmacy for personal items and had scoured the shelves.  Perhaps a back scrubber? Or toenail clippers? he wondered. But they looked so cheap. Perhaps you could get gold-plated toenail clippers? But some inner sense told him this wouldn’t do. Unfortunately, his inner sense was fairly clear about what wouldn’t be appropriate but was remarkably silent on what would. And sadly, however hard he pleaded, his inner sense remained stubbornly uncommunicative.

But now, if he could discover what Betty was going to give him, he might have a better idea of what to get her. 

He looked at the booklet. On the front cover was a photograph of a hot air balloon hovering over a mountain top.

Awesome Adventures,

Delightful Days for Daredevils

Treat your loved one to a Spectacular Stunt or an Extraordinary Experience for their special day.

Sydney’s knees wobbled. Surely Betty couldn’t have bought him a trip in a hot air balloon! He felt sick. It all looked peaceful enough, floating across the azure sky. But Sydney couldn’t bear heights. The first rung on a ladder was high enough for him although from time to time in his job as a plumber, he had to climb to the dizzying heights of the top, which made his head spin. That was as much of an adrenalin rush as he was prepared to endure. The thought that anyone would pay money to force their glands to squirt out hormone was inconceivable.

He turned the page to see someone dangling from a parachute, drifting down across a country scene. The trouble with floating and drifting through the air was that within the blink of an eye, ‘floating’ and ‘drifting’ could turn into ‘plummeting’ and ‘crashing’. He turned the page to find two people scuba diving. There was no way he was going underwater! He had enough trouble as a plumber, keeping water under control. He definitely wasn’t going to stick his head and the rest of his body underneath it, that was merely asking for trouble.

Enough was enough! He slammed the booklet shut. The thought that Betty was going to buy one of those packages for him made him wonder if perhaps she wasn’t as happy in her marriage as he’d assumed.

Sydney didn’t want to see any more. He tucked the booklet back under Betty’s pants and ineffectually moved the undies around with his finger and hoped they looked like they had before he’d started. He closed the drawer and waved his hands angrily at Treacle who merely opened one eye, looked him up and down and then closed it again; the tip of his tail tapping gently against the duvet. Sydney had no doubt that if Treacle could speak he would later tell his mistress exactly what he’d witnessed. Dratted cat!

What on earth was Sydney going to do now? It was worse than he’d thought. Not only did he still have to think up a present to satisfy his wife, his aunt-in-law and busybody Florrie Fanshawe, but he also had to endure the indignity – if not downright danger – of a frightful day. Perhaps he could stage an accident? Yes, that was it! He’d pretend he’d fallen off his ladder and that he’d sprained his ankle… No wait! His ankle and his wrist. He had to be incapacitated so he could avoid whatever Betty had booked.

But he still had no idea what he was going to buy Betty.

He wondered if perhaps his brother, Toby, whose advice and judgement he usually avoided, would have some idea. He was desperate and after all Toby had been married several times, so surely, he must have some idea? On the other hand, the fact Toby had been married so many times, was probably an indication that he didn’t actually have a clue. But Sydney was desperate.

“Jewellery,” Toby said, “especially diamonds. And would you believe it, a mate o’ mine has a diamond necklace he’d be willing to offer for a knockdown price. He needs to flog it pronto. So, what d’you say?”

“I don’t think so, thank you very much,” he said primly. Toby’s friend was unlikely to have acquired the necklace legally and Sydney certainly didn’t want Christmas dinner to be disturbed by a police raid. That definitely wouldn’t be what Aunt Edie or Florrie had meant by ‘make the day memorable’.

In the end, he’d gone into Spladgett’s, the jewellers in Basilwade High Road, and had bought a tiny, gold heart on a chain and had agreed with Mr Spladgett that it would be a good idea to have Betty’s initials engraved on it. After all she hadn’t been Mrs Jugg for very long and if she had anything which had been personalised with her old initials she definitely didn’t have anything with her new ones. It had cost him more than he’d intended to pay but what price was peace? And if she was as dissatisfied with their marriage as her gift suggested, he needed to win her favour. Also, he was hopeful it would keep Aunt Edie and Florrie off his case until next year. Next year! His heart sank at the thought of going through this again. Well, he’d worry about that later. But first things first. Christmas Eve was going to be the day when he staged his accident.

 

What a nuisance!  Sydney’s timing had been dreadful! Betty couldn’t imagine what he’d been doing climbing a ladder in the bathroom on Christmas Eve. He’d told her he was going to fix a leak under the sink. Apparently, Treacle had been behind Sydney when he stepped off the ladder and in the confined space, the human-feline tangle had bounced off the sink, the bath and the toilet. It had been a series of unfortunate events which no one could possibly have foreseen. What a shame, Betty reflected, that Sydney and Treacle hadn’t hit it off when she’d got married. But at least now, man and cat avoided each other, so hopefully there wouldn’t be any further accidents.

But despite the unexpected trip to Accident and Emergency at Basilwade Hospital for X-rays, the dressing of multiple scratches and the application of a plaster cast, Sydney had survived – and seemed uncharacteristically cheerful. His happiness was infectious and now Betty was looking forward to her first Christmas as a married woman and wearing her present from Sydney.

She’d happened upon the box which had been hidden under piles of socks in his underwear drawer and she hadn’t been able to resist taking a peep. What an adorable heart on a chain and it was engraved with her new initials. How marvellous! She repeatedly practised her surprised look in the mirror for when she opened the box on Christmas morning. It wouldn’t do for Sydney to know she’d already found it.  

Sydney was sure to love his present too. He’d be so thrilled! Although it might be tricky getting him up the gangplank with a broken leg. Perhaps she ought to postpone the day? She fervently hoped not. But surely, once he’d got on board, it would be easier. After all, he’d only have to get to their table and then he wouldn’t have to move again until dinner was over. Thank goodness for the Awesome Adventures, Delightful Days for Daredevils company and their ideas. Of course, the Days for Daredevils weren’t Sydney’s cup of tea. But the more sedate Extraordinary Experiences were just right.

How romantic it would be gliding along the River Thames while they dined. And then, when she judged the moment was right, she’d tell Sydney about his real Christmas present. She placed her hand protectively on her tummy. Of course, he’d have to wait a few months until it was delivered but it would be well worth the wait until the day Baby Jugg arrived. 

 

About the author 

For more stories from Basilwade – ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, by Dawn Knox published by Chapeltown Books available here http://mybook.to/TheBasilwadeChronicles

And now, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’, by Dawn Knox, published by Chapeltown Books available here mybook.to/TheMacaroonChronicles

 

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