Chaos At Christmas – Episode 05

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The next hour or so passed in a blur. There must have been thirty or forty children and all of them were up for fun. They played Follow The Leader, Stick In The Mud and Freeze Tag. They danced the Macarena, the Hokey Cokey and the Conga. They sang Gangnam Style, YMCA and Baby Shark and then some of the girls taught everyone else how to Time Warp. By the time three groaning refreshment trollies were rolled into the sports hall, Ferelith was ready to lie down in a dark room with an ice-pack on her forehead and stay there till Easter.

Fortunately, as the rooms became organised, the children were gradually collected by their parents. In the end, the only ones left were Holly and Bree, the two sisters who had started it all off. “Haven’t your parents got your rooms yet?” Ferelith said. “Let’s find out what’s going on.”

Holly picked up a mini-doughnut oozing cream and chocolate sauce from the trolley. “We got our room ages ago. But we told our mum and dad that we wanted to stay.”

“Can we do this every day?” Bree asked eagerly. “It was fun.”

Ferelith’s smile stiffened a little. “We’ll see.”

Back at reception hall, things had returned to the Manor’s normal state of calm efficiency. Guests were scattered around the armchairs chatting and laughing together but no one was waiting to be dealt with at the desk.

I’m afraid that the sports hall is in a bit of a mess, Erik.

Ferelith continued uncertainly. “A food fight broke out at one point.”

But he just held up his hands. “That isn’t a problem. Clearing away messes is a simple matter; dealing with hordes of over-excited children is something else altogether. I’m enormously grateful to you.”

Lionel appeared at their side. “Is everything alright?”

“It is now,” Erik retorted. “I was just explaining to Miss Ferelith that, by removing those children from the hall, she rescued me from a fate worse than death.”

Lionel glanced at Ferelith in amusement.  “I did wonder when I saw you climbing onto the desk if perhaps the stress had all got a bit too much for you.”

Ferelith grimaced. “It wasn’t really the Manor’s way of doing things, was it?”

“It was quick thinking on your part. And that’s going to be needed over the next ten days. This could be a Christmas unlike any other.”

“It certainly looks that way,” Erik retorted with feeling. “I’ve been told that some of the guests have already started swapping rooms with each other. They’re treating the Manor like a family home, not a luxury hotel.”

Lionel smiled. “I’m sure we’ll cope. We just have to try to be flexible.”

Erik didn’t seem convinced. “I’m 57 years old. My flexible days are behind me.”

“Shall we have a coffee?” Lionel suggested to Ferelith, leading her away. “As it happens, that’s something I wanted to get your views on.”

Ferelith looked at him in confusion. “About being flexible?”

He shook his head. “About giving the Manor the feel of a family home. With our new cohort of guests, that’s actually what we want this week.”

They stopped for a moment by the Christmas tree. Ferelith noticed the expression on her father’s face. “Is there a problem?”

“It’s beautifully decorated,” Lionel murmured. “But it is quite formal. I wonder if we could make it look more like a family Christmas tree.”

Ferelith thought for a moment. “How about personalised baubles? I saw some on Pinterest the other day; wooden decorations with laser-cut messages. We could have separate baubles with each guest’s name on them.”

“That would be perfect.”

“I’ll get onto it. Though it might cost a bit.”

Lionel shook his head. “Don’t worry about that; cost isn’t an issue when it comes to Lyle Cranford.” He frowned. “Though I was also thinking about our big Christmas Eve celebration. With so many children and young people staying, we need to make it more of a family party. I wonder if we should have a visit from Santa Claus?”

“I had a thought about that. I spoke to Carola Ricci earlier, she’s the set designer at the local theatre. She said that if we made a donation to their Christmas charity then she would be willing to turn one of our reception rooms into a Christmas grotto. It should look amazing. I also spoke to Dandy Barham, one of the ugly sisters in their panto. He would be happy to dress up as Santa and hand out presents at the party.” A rueful look crossed her face. “Though he made it clear that he would like to be paid in cold, hard cash.”

“But that would be fantastic. We should absolutely go ahead with both of those ideas.” He looked at Ferelith thoughtfully. “You’re doing good work for us.”

Ferelith grinned.

I’m having the time of my life, Dad.

Just then, a thin middle-aged man in a dark grey suit bustled over to them. “Mr Gwestyr? I’m Franklyn Boscoby. We’ve been in touch via email.”

“Ah yes, Lyle Cranford’s assistant.”

His eyes flashed. “Chief of staff.”

Lionel smiled at that. “This is my daughter, Ferelith. You could say that she’s acting as my chief of staff this Christmas.”

He ignored the remark and pointed at the tree. “This will have to go.”

Lionel blinked. “What?”

“Mr Cranford has an abiding concern for the environment. When it comes to Christmas trees, he insists on live ones in their own pots.”

“But our head gardener went to a lot of trouble to get this tree,” Ferelith protested.

He looked at her coldly. “Then he can go to a little more trouble to find an environmentally friendly replacement.”

Ferelith turned. But it was clear from her father’s expression that Franklyn Boscoby would have his way. If Lyle Cranford wanted a Christmas tree in a pot then that was what he was going to get.

She made her way miserably out into the grounds of the hotel. She had wanted to introduce herself properly to Geraint but not like this. She was the bearer of bad news and, all too often, they became associated with their message.

She found him beside the lily pond with two members of his staff. They were manoeuvring into place a large log on which people would be able to sit and enjoy the peace of the secluded spot. She stood and watched for a moment or two. The weather may have been wintry but he had his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. He seemed to have muscles in all the places that muscles were supposed to be. And it occurred to her that, if there was a sudden emergency and he had to sweep her off her feet, he would probably be able to manage it without any trouble at all. She imagined the scene; her lying in his arms, him gazing down at her, a lock of his hair falling across his forehead which she reached up to…

“Can I help?”

Ferelith gulped. “Hi…yes…” she said hoarsely. He was looking at her with such a friendly smile. It made her a little dizzy, though in a good way.

To be continued…

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