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Part 5

6 – Toblerone

There were no Christmas trees this year – not even a green umbrella. Well – there was one Christmas tree, but that was outside the nearby church. The Vicar had got the kids from the nearby Relief Villages to make decorations for it, so it was all very jolly, but it was a bit of a walk to get to it. Arthur did miss decking the halls, though, so him, Yue and Douglas’ daughter had spent a nice afternoon making snowflakes out of scrap paper, and hanging them up using a reel of cotton he’d picked up at work. And then Herc had come back from walking Snoopadoop one morning carrying some sprigs off a holly bush he’d gone past, which had been nice of him.

That first night at the leisure centre, when it was all just starting to sink in, he’d thought about the coming Christmas, and how weird it would be, and it had made him feel all sad. Now that it was almost here, it felt all right, actually. Yes, there’d be no crackers, and no turkey and no Christmas pudding, but he’d be with his mum and his dog, and his three brilliant friends, and there’d be carols over at the church, and there were rumours that the BBC would be coming back on air for the Queen’s Speech – or the King’s Speech, or whoever out of that lot had managed to make it out of The Incident in one piece. And there would be presents! From Arthur, anyway. He’d kept an eye out over the last few weeks when doing clearing work for anything that might be suitable for the chaps he lived with. He’d found a Verdi CD for Douglas, and a Vivaldi CD for Herc… or the other way around, whichever they preferred. He’d found The Rocketeer on DVD, which he knew Skipper really liked but hadn’t been able to find at the DVD Bank yet, and an unopened bottle of some nice shower gel for his mum, as well as some posh toilet paper, which sounded weird, but he knew his mum missed nice smelling soap and soft toilet paper a lot.

He didn’t mind if there wasn’t anything for him, this year. He was just excited about the other chaps opening their presents… even if the presents were found and the wrapping was nothing but old newspaper without any sellotape. On Christmas Eve they all went to the church with the Christmas tree – even though none of them were particularly churchy people, normally – and they did carols. That night he found it as hard to sleep as he’d found it on normal Christmas nights, back when they’d had presents and Quality Street and Baileys and Die Hard.

When he woke up, the first brilliant surprise was that the telly was back. Just BBC1, and just repeats of old Christmas specials interspersed with occasional emergency broadcasts, but still, it was really great. He sat in the dark and watched The Two Ronnies’ 1980 Christmas Special while he waited for the others to get up.

Douglas was looking very pleased with himself when he surfaced, which was usually a good sign, these days. It didn’t exactly take very much coaxing for him to tell them all that this was because his day off on the 23rd had been spent with newly scavenged fishing equipment in the Avon, which had resulted in a bucket stuffed with two tench and a fine bream. It wasn’t turkey – it wasn’t even salmon – but it was fresh and it was enough to give all five of them, Zoë and her mum plus the Rens and the Donalds from across the corridor a nice dinner for a change, and no Arthur, he had caught the fish his self, so they were going to jolly well share this with who he wanted to, this time, and they’d just have to give fresh fish to the people in refugee camps some other time.

Arthur hadn’t said anything. He liked fish. Well – he liked it the way Douglas cooked it, anyway. He got the others to open their presents – it was brilliant. The chaps laughed a little bit at the loo roll for his mum, but she gave him a big hug. Then he walked Snoopadoop and came home and watched the 2009 Doctor Who Christmas Special while Douglas cooked, and then Mr Ren and Mr Donald brought their table over and they pushed them together, and Douglas’ daughter and ex wife came, and they all ate dinner together, and the fish was really tasty, even if it was just with tinned potatoes and tinned carrots. Mr Ren had managed to get hold of a bottle wine while he was out on a clear-up. There wasn’t exactly much to go around, but it was still nice to have.

When they’d finished and they were all wondering what to do next after Arthur’s suggestion they play charades had been shouted down, Skipper cleared his throat.

‘Um… I got presents too, but I thought maybe we should wait until after dinner for them?’

He got up, and disappeared off into the bedroom.

‘It’s not much,’ he called out, ‘but… well, it’s Christmassy, and I thought Arthur might like it.’

He came back out again holding a box. ‘I had a flight out to Dublin to pick up some aid workers last week, and they gave me some Euros to get myself something to eat while I was out there, and… well. It wasn’t dishonest as such, because they didn’t say what sort of food it should be or when I should eat it, and, well. Not the first time I’ve gone without a meal, won’t be the last, and it was worth it, I reckon…’

He set the box down and opened it. The six golden triangular prisms inside might as well have been diamonds.

‘Wow!’

‘Goodness, Martin.’ Even Arthur’s mum sounded impressed. Skipper turned a pleased shade of pink and crooked a smile.

‘Wow,’ repeated Arthur. ‘I mean – wow. Toblerone!’

‘I think some of you might have to share,’ added Skip, a touch apologetically.

‘Sharing is fine – we’re all so used to it now that anything else would probably feel out of place.’ Douglas clapped a hand on Skipper’s shoulder. ‘That’s quite the haul for the old dog pack. We’ll make a hunter gatherer of you, yet.’

‘Dogs don’t gather,’ said Douglas’ daughter. ‘We’re more like… like cavemen, huddling up to the fire in our dwellings in midwinter.’

‘We don’t have a fire,’ Arthur’s mum retorted, ‘we’ve only got a radiator.’

‘Huddling up to the radiator, then.’

Arthur unwrapped one of the Toblerones, snapped of a triangle and popped it into his mouth.

It had been months and months since he’d eaten any chocolate at all, and this was sweet and creamy and chewy and crunchy and just Christmas. A mouth full of Christmas. He closed his eyes and melted a little into his chair, savouring every glop of nougatty chocolate that oozed thickly around his gums. This was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. He was only brought out of his reverie when the telly was suddenly turned up to the strains of the National Anthem.

‘Hey,’ called Mr Ren happily, jabbing at the remote. ‘The Queen’s still alive!’

Part 7
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