It was finally Christmas Day, and the village of Lower Strangling once again looked like a quintessential Christmas card image, underneath a blanket of pure white snow. It was the highlight of what was otherwise a pretty dismal week.
For the first time pretty much ever, the villagers were at home alone during the Christmas period, because they were banned from visiting their family except for one day, and also the entire country was confined to the stretch of land that was surrounded by the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, the Atlantic, the Irish Sea, and the North Sea. So basically, they might as well stay at home and enjoy the snow.
Inside their aptly decorated manor, and having unwrapped their presents and eaten their home cooked Christmas dinner, the Peterson’s sat in their living room in front of Dave’s laptop…. waiting to talk to the rest of the family over Zoom.
Originally, the Peterson’s were planning to spend their Christmas with Sarah’s parents in their farm in Norfolk, but now they had to make do with talking to Terome and and Esmerelda Lancaster online, much to their dismay.1
After a while, Terome and Esmerelda appeared on screen. The Lancasters and the Petersons said hello to each other.
“Well, we must say how disappointed we are to not be able to have you over for Christmas as we were originally planning,” Esmerelda began.
“Yes, we thought it was pretty pointless driving to Norfolk for the day, and we still get to talk to you,” Sarah said.
“Besides, it’s currently snowing here so we’ll probably go for a walk later,” Dave added.
“Yes, it’s snowing here as well, so we might do the same,” Terome responded, followed by a closed mouth grin.
“I must thank you for the CD,” Esmerelda said, holding up the Emergency Services Charity Christmas Album 2020, featuring voices from the Metropolitan Police, the NHS, and the Fire Brigade, in aid of several charities of the singers choosing. “I’m looking forward to listening to DCI David Mason’s rendition of Make Someone Happy.”
“The Chief Constable of our Police Force is pretty good as well,” Sarah added.
“Well, we look forward to listening to the CD at any rate,” Esmerelda said.
“I suppose I should thank you for book,” Terome said, holding up The Secret Barrister to the camera.
“You’re welcome,” Sarah said, “we thought you might like the book, considering you’re a lawyer yourself.”
“Yes, the best in the country,” Terome responded, “in fact, from what I’ve seen already, there’s a lot she could learn from me.”
“Yes, I’m sure there are,” Sarah said, laughing awkwardly.
“Thank you for our presents”, Sarah said, as she, Dave, Will, and Eleanor held up their presents.
“No problem,” Esmerelda replied. “We hope Will and Eleanor enjoy the books we’ve given them.”
“Looking forward to reading it already,” Eleanor said.
“Me too,” Will responded in agreement.
After about half an hour of chatting, the conversation inevitably turned to politics.
“A complete and utter toss-pot,” Terome said of the current government, “still, if Corbyn had got in we’d all be in the Gulag now. Hacking away at some granite with pickaxes. Will and Eleanor would be emaciated after several months of hard manual labour with little food. But who cares about the suffering of the bourgeoisie? Why would they matter? At long as the proletariat are fine then all’s well.”
“Are you sure that would have happened, Dad?” Sarah asked her father.
“Yes, the man’s a Marxist through and through,” Terome said, “I’m pretty sure he’s a proper red-blooded communist. If he was old enough he would almost definitely have been a Soviet spy. To be honest with you, I think Keir Starmer let him off lightly. If I was him, I’d have had him hung drawn and quartered.”
“TEROME!” Esmerelda shouted at her husband, shocked.
“What? It’s how I feel.” Terome responded.
“Well, Boris won the election, we now have the most COVID deaths and the worst recession in Europe, and the new COVID strain has cut us of from the rest of the world. Maybe we should focus on that instead of the former Leader of the Opposition who’s now an independent,” Sarah said to her Dad.
Terome leaned into his webcam. “At least we got a deal,” he whispered.
After a few seconds, Sarah responded, “yes, at least we got a deal.”
Finally, after an hour or so, Terome and Esmerelda disappeared from the screen and the Petersons sighed with relief.
“I know I shouldn’t really be saying this,” Dave began, “but I’m glad we haven’t spent the week with them.”
Deciding not to agree or disagree with her husband, Sarah “hmm”ed in response.
A few moments later, and it was Dave’s family’s turn to talk to them on Zoom. Terrence and Mary; Dave’s parents, appeared on screen in their 15th Century house in Sussex, and Jeff Peterson; Dave’s older brother, appeared on screen in his house in Liverpool, a Bass Hofner just visible behind him. After a few minutes talking about how they were and thanking each other for their presents, the conversation turned to the elephant in the room; a notable absence.
“I take it you still didn’t find Steve then?” Terrence asked sadly.
“No, I’ve found other Steve Peterson’s who live in Australia, but none of them are him,” Dave replied.
Terrence, Mary, and Jeff sighed sadly.
“We’re never going to see him again, are we?” Jeff asked.
“You two might, but you’d have to find him soon if we are to see him again,” Mary said pragmatically, as she and Terrence were coming up close to 100, and Terrence was becoming increasingly more frail.
“I personally think he’s dead,” Terrence butted in.
The other Petersons gasped at his remark.
“Terrence!” Mary shouted.
“What? He’s in Australia, he’s probably been bitten by some poisonous animal or eaten by a Crocodile,” Terrence explained.
“That’s very stereotypical, granddad,” Eleanor said, “Australia might not be that dangerous.”
“It does have seven of the world’s most venomous snakes, though,” Will added.
Will and Eleanor proceeded to argue but were then broken up by Sarah.
“Well, wherever he is, at least he’s avoided this whole tier business,” Jeff added.
“Yeah, I suppose,” Dave responded.
“I’m sure he’ll crop up again one day,” Mary said.
The others agreed, although none really thought it would be likley.
As the Peterson’s were talking over Zoom, Janet Foster and Jo Whitely talked to Jo’s parents, Ewan and Aileana over Zoom.
“Have you spoken to your father yet, Janet dear?” Ewan asked his daughter’s girlfriend.
“No. I’m done with him. He’s out of my life now, I have no desire to talk to him,” Janet replied tersely, “you are my father.”
“You might feel better if you get in touch with him, even just to wish him a happy Christmas,” Aileana suggested.
“He doesn’t deserve a happy Christmas. He sent me to Whitby just because I didn’t want another Piglet to be killed,” Janet proclaimed.
“You have all the built up anger inside, the only way to get rid of it is to forgive your father,” Aileana said.
Jo placed an arm around Janet’s shoulders.
“Mum’s right, babe. You must forgive him.”
“I can’t, he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven,” Janet exclaimed.
“He acted the way he did because he was struggling to cope with your mother’s death,” Ewan said, having known Janet’s family history ever since Jo introduced her to him.
“That doesn’t excuse what he did,” Janet shouted.
“Ok, ok. Calm down,” Jo whispered.
“It’s just something to consider,” Aileana said gently.
Janet sighed angrily, “can we change the subject please? You’ve sort of killed the mood.”
“Sure, Jan. What do you want to talk about?” Ewan asked.
“Dunno…. serial killers?” Janet suggested, ever the wannabe Detective Inspector.
“Ok, if you insist,” Aileana said.
And with that, a much happier Janet talked to her girlfriend and her parents about a topic she was far more comfortable talking about than her absent father; serial killers and crime, with all the detail.
Meanwhile, John Granger, the owner of the Hangman’s Noose- which was closed over Christmas for the first time since the war- was talking to his daughter Adele and her boyfriend, Grant Corbellings, an investment banker from Goldman Sachs, who was wearing a sharp suit and black wide brimmed glasses.
“The good thing about this tier business is that I got have turkey guilt free for lunch today,” John said.
“Hey!” Adele shouted.
“It works both ways, you got to have a vegan meal without having to worry about me,” John explained.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. It was nice to have something other than an almost burned nut cutlet,” Adele added.
“Ok, I suppose I deserved that.” John said, before they all chuckled.
“Have you spoken your Mum, yet?” John.
“Yeah, just before you,” Adele replied.
“How is she?” John asked, still somewhat curious to know about his ex wife despite not having seen her for 35 years.
“Yeah, she’s fine. Nick believes he’ll get elected in 2024, but I’m not so sure,” Adele said, chuckling.
John chuckled himself, having similar views about his wife’s new husband who still thinks he could be the Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol East despite not being particularly inspiring.
“I suppose I must ask, how’s Nick?” John enquired.
“Yeah he’s fine. Well, I don’t know actually how he is. We couldn’t get him to talk about anything other than Brexit, COVID, and the tier system. Politics is literally all he talks about. I’d rather talk to you about meat,” Adele said.
“Well, that’s ironic considering we divorced because she felt I didn’t stop banging on about the pub,” John said before he, Adele and Grant laughed.
John then looked at the clock.
“Well, I’ll leave you and Grant in peace, then,” said John.
“Yeah. Ok. Hope to see you in the New Year, once we’ve both been vaccinated,” Adele replied.
“OK, see you then, bye,” John said, and they both left the Zoom call.
In their flat in Hampstead, Adele and Grant- real name Reginald- sighed with relief.
“You have to tell him the truth at some point,” Reginald said as he took his glasses off.
“He’d kill me if he found out we’re dating,” Adele said.
“He’s alright with you being vegan, why would he have a problem with me being vegan?” Reginald asked.
“Because you’re a hard-line vegan. You think literally everyone should stop eating meat on pain of death and that all carnivores are amoral,” Adele explained.
“I suppose,” Reginald conceded. “But even then, he’s going to figure out sooner or later that Grant Corbellings isn’t a real name.”
“Maybe, but until then, it’s best to keep the illusion alive,” Adele said before looking out over the snow covered streets.
“The weather’s good, let’s go for a walk down to the heath,” she suggested.
“Ok, fine, we’ll do that,” Reginald replied, “just let me get out of this suit first.”
“Ok”, Adele replied.
So Reginald got changed into something suitable and Adele put on her coat, woolly hat, and scarf and went to the door, as the snow continued to fall all over England, and just for a moment, everything seemed fine.
- Well, to Sarah, Will, and Eleanor’s dismay anyway. Dave thought it was pretty alright, considering the money he’d save on petrol for the 110 mile journey, food, drink, and the countless amount of tourist attractions they would no doubt have visited. He also wasn’t particularly a fan of Terome either, and was pretty sure he hated him. So yeah, it was safe to say he didn’t mind being behind the safe barrier of a computer screen.