Chaos At Christmas – Episode 07

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Ferelith gazed at her father. “Is this fair on Geraint and his team? They have worked so hard getting the grounds ready for Christmas.”

Lionel lifted his hands. “I appreciate that. But if it’s what Lyle Cranford wants…”

Ferelith nodded. “I’ll let Geraint know that it’s on its way.”

However, she found that she had missed him. Faisal, one of the under-gardeners, told her that he had gone to collect the replacement Christmas tree.

Her eyes widened. “That’s fast work.”

Faisal grinned. “Geraint doesn’t hang around.” But all at once, the smile fell from his face. “What on earth…”

A huge lorry had turned through the entrance to the hotel grounds and was nosing its way up the drive. Ferelith gazed in disbelief as it came to a stop by the front door with a deafening shriek of its brakes. On its side, there was a gaudy ‘Spectacular FX’ sign surrounded by erupting volcanoes, collapsing buildings, exploding planets and a scantily dressed young woman screaming with all her might. It certainly wasn’t the sort of image that the Manor would wish to present to its guests. “You can’t park here,” she protested to the driver. “Trade vehicles have to go round the back.”

He shrugged. “If you want artificial snow at the front of your hotel then this big beast parks at the front of your hotel.”

To her relief, she saw her father hurrying out to join them. After a brief but heated discussion, the driver climbed back into his cab and moved the lorry round to the side of the building where it wasn’t so obvious.

The three-man team got quickly to work. They pulled an extendable tube out of the rear of the lorry. Two of the men held on tightly to the end of it as a rumbling motor started up. They were like firemen with a hose, except that this hose was considerably bigger.

“Stand back, everyone,” one of them yelled. “Winter is coming!”

A spray of white began pouring from the hose. It rose into the air in an arc then scattered and drifted to the ground like real snowflakes. The men began walking slowly across the lawn, turning the hose from side to side. Ferelith picked up a handful of the artificial snow. It was made from tiny strips of very thin paper rolled into pea-sized balls. All around her, the ground was becoming covered in a layer of white. A few guests had wandered out of the hotel and were watching with curiosity. Two children began jumping around in the snow and kicking it into the air.

Lionel hurried forward and called out.

Children, for your own safety, please stand right back.

One of the men raised a hand. “Don’t worry, mate. They’re fine so long as they keep away from the hose.” He turned the nozzle and directed a spray of the snow into the air above the children. They shrieked in delight. Within moments, others were joining them and the lawn became the scene of an impromptu party. As the two men gradually covered the ground at the front of the hotel, even some adults started to join in the fun. “This is so much better then real snow,” one laughed. He was lying on the ground and waving his arms and legs to try and make a snow angel. “It’s not cold and wet.”

Ferelith watched with concern as more people gathered and the party grew noisier. “Shouldn’t we stop this, Dad?”

Lionel grimaced. “I’m not sure that I can. Anyway, our guests are having a good time – isn’t that the whole purpose of them staying at the Manor?” He looked around. “And the artificial snow is effective. We’re starting to look more Christmassy already.” It was true, Ferelith thought, though she suspected that it might not look so festive once it was trampled into the ground. “Perhaps I’ll arrange for the kitchen to do some hot chocolate and nibbles. That might go down well with the younger guests.” He brought out his phone and keyed in a number.

It was amazing how quickly the men finished the job. Soon, the grounds all over the front and sides of the hotel were covered in white and the equipment was being packed away. It was a complicated business getting such a large lorry reversed and turned and everyone had to be cleared out of the way. But then, with an entirely unnecessary honk of its horn, it headed off down the drive and away. Within moments, the snow party was under way again.

A group of shrieking children raced past, throwing handfuls of the artificial snow at each other. Ferelith gazed after them in dismay. They were running all over the flower beds. She hated to think of the damage that was being done. After all the hard work done by Geraint and his ground staff, the plants were going to be ruined.

Ferelith took a sip of the hot chocolate. She almost gasped with pleasure. A rush of flavours was filling her mouth; there were hints of ginger and orange and was that liquorice? It was such a wonderfully rich taste.  “This is amazing, Dina,” she said to the assistant ladling the bubbling elixir into chunky mugs. Dina winked. “Nothing but the best from our kitchen.”

The unexpected treats were going down well with the guests. An eager crowd had gathered around the table which had been set up and many were coming back for seconds. Ferelith didn’t understand how the kitchen staff had managed it. The order couldn’t have been something they were expecting. Yet within fifteen minutes of them being contacted by her father, a silver tureen of the most delicious hot chocolate in the world had been brought outside on a trolley. And with it were wicker baskets filled with Christmassy delights; biscuits iced like Christmas trees, silvery snowflake crunches, glittery spheres which when you bit into them were full of creamy flavours. And at least the refreshments had distracted the young people. Instead of chasing each other all over Geraint’s flower beds, they were becoming intoxicated by the hot chocolate.

Something caught Ferelith’s eye. A flatbed lorry was making its way slowly up the hotel’s driveway. On its rear was a towering potted Christmas tree tethered carefully with ropes. It came to a stop outside the front entrance and Geraint climbed out of the driver’s cab. He gazed at the scene around him, the grounds of the hotel all covered in white, as if stunned. Ferelith’s heart sank; she couldn’t imagine what he was thinking.

He stooped to pick up a handful of the artificial snow as she hurried over. “I’m so sorry about this, Geraint. They arrived after you’d gone; three men in a huge lorry. They sprayed the artificial snow everywhere and then left. I couldn’t believe how quickly they did the job.”

He tipped his hand and let the artificial snow drift back down to the ground apart from one piece. He unrolled the thin strip of paper. “It’s meant to be biodegradable,” Ferelith said hesitantly.

He gave a rueful snort. “I wonder if the worms realise that.”

To be continued…

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