Havillands Vocal Harmony.
It was one of those ideas that seemed to be great as it came to you as you were doing the washing up, or trudging around on a paper round. Usually when they are made reality they often don’t live up to expectations.
Jenny was sitting in the tack room, drinking a cup of tea and trying to untangle some old martingales and stirrup leathers that had come out of one of the more elderly tack lockers in the old barn, Gareth was trundling barrow loads of straw to the muck heap. The kids came bounding into the tack room all enthusiasm and excitement.
“We’ve had an idea,” announced Belinda, “We think it would be brilliant if we took the ponies and went out carol singing round the village.”
“Can we Jenny? Please?” begged Wayne.
“I don’t know-” Jenny began and was cut short by the children pleading and grumbling. She continued above the noise ”You remember last year? We had to forcibly remove Meredith from the Vicar’s Brussel sprout patch when he wandered into the garden at the Vicarage when we were singing!”
“Well, that was last year” remonstrated Babs, “We know what to expect this year, oh, go on Jenny, it will be fun and we can collect money for Redwings again.”
“I’m not sure, ...tell you what, ask Gareth, if he wants to do it you can go with him.” said Jenny
The children all stampeded out of the tack room and charged across the yard to the corner where Gareth was presiding over the best kept muck heap in Essex.
When they had all stopped yammering, begging, pleading and cajoling at him in triplicate and once he could make sense of what they were saying, he leant on his shovel and scratched his head.
“I dunno, it sounds like a nice idea but which horses are you thinking of taking on this musical tour of the village?”
“We thought we’d take Lindbergh, Lazarus and Letty,” said Babs “ because they are calmer than the other ponies, plus Aslan is too naughty and tries to search the pockets of anyone who comes to give us any money, and we thought you could ride Conrad because he doesn’t mind noise at all.”
“I have some carol sheets at home,” chipped in Wayne, “ and you could sing too Gareth and we could ask Jenny to play her accordion.”
Eventually Jenny was persuaded to join in with the caper and a couple of days later Babs, Belinda, Wayne, Gareth, Jenny, Helen, Andrew, Fiona and Mr. and Mrs. Greenwood were all mounted up in the Havillands yard on various different steeds who had been chosen not for their good looks but for their bomb proof natures. Jenny was armed with her old accordion for accompaniment and Mr Greenwood had his tuba. This was an eccentric choice of instruments- all things taken into consideration- but it was better than nothing.
Babs and Belinda had tried to colour co-ordinate everyone in festive red and gold. Fiona was muttering something along the lines of “...they shouldn’t pay so much attention to Trinny and Susanna...” but generally the effect was nice. Lindbergh looked the best, the old piebald pony had been shampooed and groomed so his black and white coat was bright and shiny,he had red ribbons in his mane and gold tinsel on his brow band. A former gymkhana pony in his earlier years he was now in retirement at Havillands and was gently exercised every couple of days to keep him fit.
The whole party clattered out of the yard and set off to the village. Once there they assembled themselves on the green, Jenny and Mr. Greenwood tuned their instruments and the whole group began with a cheery carol “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly” The ensuing noise brought several of the people from the surrounding houses out on to the green to see what the racket was about. Babs explained that they were collecting for Redwings Horse sanctuary and a few people dug in their pockets and gave them some change. A couple of people even asked for requests. The twins could sing in harmony and did so to great effect.
Eventually the horses began to get restless so Jenny moved them on a bit to another part of the village. Near the duck pond there was a junction where Cross Keys Lane, School Lane and Orchard Road all met. A convenient triangle of grass made a good stage for the carol singers. Mr. Greenwood started the Carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which sounded quite good on the tuba and soon everyone joined in. Gareth had a great voice and the kids were glad they had asked him to join in.
Meanwhile back at Havillands, not everyone in the stables was happy. Meredith was harrumphing and snorting around his paddock, Gareth had gone out without him AND riding on a different horse! This was a bit of a blow to Meredith’s enormous ego.
The ponies Bilbo and Frodo were equally unhappy, the Twins, THEIR Twins had vanished off for some fun in the village riding Lazarus and Lindberg, this wasn’t how things should be!
Aslan was quite content however, he had managed to unlatch his stable door by devious means and had got into the feed store where he was perfectly happy thank you!
Eventually Meredith could stand it not more, with a deft kick he broke the top rail of the fence and hopped out of his paddock, he released the ponies from their stable. (Meredith’s Welsh cunning made him almost a good an escapologist as Aslan!) he rounded up Aslan who was chomping his way through a big sack of pony nuts and also Saffron who happened to be nearby. Zack the Foxhound- always up for mischief- came streaking out from under Gareth’s caravan and bounded around the small knot of horses yapping and waving his tail in an idiotic manner. Meredith drove the horses and ponies out of the front drive of Havillands and down the road to the village in search of their people.
Elsewhere the carol singers had moved on and were arranged in front of the Church Lytch gate in a picturesque manner. Reverend Ellis had come to join them and Nigel Bosworth, Roxmoor’s very own amateur photographer was trying to take a decent picture to go in the village magazine. Quite a few people had come to see what was going on and the money for Redwings was pouring in. The vicar borrowed one of Wayne’s carol sheets and beetled off to the village hall to make some photocopies of it for the onlookers so they could join in with the carols. In the mean time Andrew, Gareth and Mr. Greenwood started singing ‘We three Kings’ and the general sound wasn’t too bad.
Suddenly the beautiful Christmas atmosphere was shattered, Zack came hurtling into the crowd of people like a furry cannonball swiftly followed by a mini stampede of horses and ponies. There was general pandemonium as people either scattered across the village green, bolted for the churchyard or endeavoured to catch the loose horses. Just at that moment the vicar came out of the door of the village hall and was barrelled into by Aslan who was trying to escape the clutches of little Jade Hollinsworth, she had been watching the singing and was trying to help by grabbing Aslan round the neck and clinging to him with all her arms and legs like a Koala bear! Reverend Ellis was knocked off his feet and the carol sheets went flying everywhere.
In the midst of the commotion no one paid any attention to the young woman with the toddler standing near the chestnut tree.
Jenny and Gareth wheeled their horses round and tried to round up the marauding escapees, Meredith was leading Gareth a merry dance and even Conrad (who Gareth was riding) was getting tetchy and throwing his head about. Gareth was furious and was cursing and swearing but luckily he was doing it in Welsh so no one could understand what he was actually saying except for Meredith.
Belinda had wisely pulled Lazarus out of the wild scrum, because he was so old and a bit doddery by horse standards. She backed him up under the chestnut tree to keep him safe. looking on her eye was caught by her twin sister Babs mounted on the old piebald Lindbergh, Lindbergh had caught a whiff of the excitement and was dancing on his elderly hooves and snorting, he shot into the crowd of confused people and horses, zig zagging in and out of the crush like a bending race. Wayne and Letty were darting about trying to catch the flying carol sheets and Lindbergh followed suit.
Meanwhile Andrew had dismounted and was helping Reverend Ellis up to his feet again. Mr and Mrs Greenwood were making sure no one was hurt. Fiona and Helen had caught Saffron- who put up very little resistance- and were trying to get Nigel to come down from the roof of the Lytch gate -where he had climbed to get a good photo angle- before he broke his neck.
Eventually the horses were rounded up, Meredith was severely reprimanded by Gareth, the crowd went home unharmed, Jade was thanked for her help with Aslan, Reverend Ellis was calmed down and the kids scurried around picking up the litter to leave Roxmoor village green looking respectable. As the Carol singers were about to leave and go back to Havillands someone stepped forwards and spoke to Jenny, it was the woman with the young child.
“Excuse me,” she said “ What’s the name of that old piebald pony?” she pointed at Lindbergh.
“He’s called Lindbergh,” chipped in Babs “or Lindy for short”
“How old is he?”
“I don’t know,” replied Jenny, “He was here when I took over the running of the riding school, and he was old then.”
“Are you from Havillands?” asked the woman.
“Yes,” replied Jenny, “how do you know?”
“I used to ride at Havillands years ago when I was fourteen or fifteen, I used to enter gymkanahs on a piebald pony called Lindbergh, I think this is the same pony!”
The woman said that her name was Melissa, Jenny invited her back to Havillands house, which is the big old country house that Havillands riding school is attached to. Everyone including Reverend Ellis trooped back to the stables. The horses were rubbed down and fed. Melissa was reunited with Lindberg, who was happy to see an old friend. Melissa had stopped riding when she was eighteen as she had gone away to college to do a Chemistry degree. She explained she had married soon after and had a little boy called Joshua. Now she and her husband had moved back to the area, Melissa arranged to come riding at Havillands again, and although she was now too big to ride Lindbergh, she would be able to see her old friend often and bring him an occasional apple or carrot.
Once the horses were settled in their stables or rugged up and turned out in the field and once Joshua had given Lindberg one last big hug, Jenny led the way to Havillands house where a Christmas feast had been set up in the old kitchen by Andrew’s Mum and Mrs. Sommer. There were mince pies, Christmas cake, sausage rolls tomato soup and some very tasty Jamaican ginger cake which Andrew’s Mum had made from an old family recipe (She is from Kingston originally)
Everyone wound up sitting round the old Aga, toasting spiced buns and drinking Mulled wine (or spiced apple juice in the case of the children) it had been an unexpected sort of day but things were never dull, and everyone had found a new friend.