Friday, April 3, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #9 (final part)

The woman in the bright blue suit

Netherneither End has something special that most other towns of its size don’t have: a university. This meant that there were lots of people in the town whose job it was to think new thoughts and to help other people learn new skills and ideas. And this inspired lots of local people to have creative ideas about business and how to help others. The town buzzed with new businesses and shops.

Many students graduated from the University in Netherneither End and went on to big companies and senior jobs around the world. Roxie did not know this at the time, but the woman in the bright blue suit was one of those students. She had many lovely memories of being in Netherneither End as a young student. And as it happened today, she would be able to do something rather wonderful for the town.

Roxie settled down in her seat and placed Strumbold next to her. She was very tired and fell asleep almost immediately as the train shuddered and started to pick up speed as it travelled south. She slept and slept. The countryside whistled by the windows. The train stopped at stations and Roxie carried on asleep. Strumbold began to worry that Roxie might miss her stop.

And then the train slowed down. It began to crawl along. Very soon the train stopped altogether. All the passengers looked at each other and wondered what was happening.

The train manager made an announcement. “I am very sorry everybody but there is a big problem up ahead. Another train has broken down and it is going to take hours to move it. We are going to stop at the next station and there will be buses for everyone. As you might expect, this will take a few hours to organise. I can only apologise but this is outside our control. We will do our best to get you to where you need to be, as soon as we can.”

Roxie slumped in her seat. She was never going to be able to make the Teddy Bear’s Picnic on time now. “There’s nothing we can do, is there Strumbold. Sorry that I could not get you to the picnic. This has been such a mess!”

“What about the woman in the bright blue suit?” whispered Strumbold. “Do you remember what Toot said earlier this morning? Just as you were saying goodbye to her? I saw the woman in the first class carriages as we got on”

Roxie thought and then remembered. “OK” she said “let’s go and talk to her. I have nothing to lose!” Roxie marched off towards the first class compartments and found the woman in question. She sat down opposite her. The woman looked up, a little surprised.

Roxie breathed in. “Hallo, my name is Roxie Riverbloom, and I have come to you for help. I don’t quite know why, but I think you can help me. And I really need some help right now. You see, I am the Town Mayor of Netherneither End and I simply have to be at the annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic in two hours time. The town and all of the children will be so upset if I am not there. And it’s a long story, but I will have to resign as Mayor, if I am not there. Can you help? Please?”

The woman in the bright blue suit looked at Roxie for a long time.

A very long time.

And then she said “Roxie, thank you for asking me for help. I once studied in the university in your town and learnt lots of wonderful things. And that learning helped me get to where I am today: I now run a very big business making children’s toys. My name is Beatrix Bickington and it would be my absolute delight to help you. There’s a seat in my helicopter with your name on it. I am being picked up at the station in half an hour. I will get you to Netherneither End and the Teddy Bear’s Picnic on time.”

Roxie almost cried. A short while later she, Beatrix and Strumbold were flying fast back to the town.

At the park in Netherneither End, everyone had come along. The Teddy Bear’s Picnic was usually very popular but this year even more people had come along. All the Town Councillors were there. The Town Clerk was there. Heather and Vaneather were there with Roxie’s children and Bonniebow. They had brought Bonniebow of course. She was looking forward to seeing Strumbold again. Even Puxley Biddlestone had taken the morning of work to watch the picnic. She was high up in her horseshoe chestnut tree where no one could see her. But she could see everyone.

It was now only a few minutes before 11 o’clock and everyone was checking their watches. Where was the Town Mayor?

Cllr Pompous McDoom, who was standing on the river bank, loudly proclaimed “well, she has well and truly done it this time. We won’t forget this!”

The town clock began to chime. Everyone was silent. Even the blue river seemed to slow down. And then in the distance, there was a strange sound, something like a phwup, phwup, phwup… sound.

And then over the trees appeared the Town Mayor on the end of rope, suspended from a helicopter. In her arms was a teddy bear. And around her neck was the Mayor’s Chain of Office!

Carefully she touched the ground and undid her harness. Suddenly everyone stood up and was shouting, cheering and clapping! Cllr McDoom had stepped back and fallen into the river with a splash. Nobody noticed except for Puxley, Bonniebow and the Town Clerk. They all smiled a little. Cllr McDoom just sat there looking very wet and bedraggled.

Roxie gathered herself and then gave this short speech.

“Welcome everyone to the annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic! It is so lovely to see you all, especially all the children with their teddy bears. This is my teddy bear, the Mayor’s Bear! He is called Strumbold and he helps me lots and lots! I know I cut it very fine, but I made a promise to be here. And I keep my promises. And as you can see, I have found the Mayor’s Chain! And so again, everyone can be healthy, wealthy and happy here in our wonderful Town. So please enjoy your sandwiches, cakes, squash and cups of tea.”

Everyone cheered and clapped again. The picnic went on until the warm early evening. Lots of games were played. And all felt so happy to live in such a wonderful town.

It was just the best Teddy Bear’s Picnic ever.

A quiet end

After the picnic finished, Roxie promised her children she would be home soon. She had to take Strumbold back to the Town Council chamber.

She carefully placed Strumbold onto his high shelf and sat for a moment in the Mayor’s chair.

“Thank you Strumbold. I could not have done this without you. Your magic did the trick! The Chain was found and everyone enjoyed the picnic. I am so very grateful to you.”

“I didn’t do any magic” said Strumbold “all I did was ask you a few questions and remind you of stuff you already knew. You did the magic, Roxie. Not me.”

Roxie rubbed her chin and ran her tongue around inside her mouth while she thought.

“I guess you are right. But thank you all the same!”

“You see that’s the thing, Roxie. If only every person realised that they can do magic. It’s only people who have the power to make our world even more magical than it already is” said Strumbold quietly. 

Roxie went home. Waiting for her on the kitchen table was another poem

The blue river flows
Worries are washed downstream 
The blue river flows 


The end

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #8

The woman in the lift at the station

The journey the next day was long but anything but tedious. It began as you would expect: a big breakfast, lots of memories and endless goodbye hugs before they finally climbed into Sooshalla’s car.

Her car was fairly old and made some strange noises that you don’t really expect in such a vehicle. Or indeed in any kind of vehicle. Very occasionally it sounded like one of those fireworks that scream overhead. More often it sounded like an old food mixer attempting to knead dough but not really succeeding. And then there was the odd ‘pop!’ which happened when you were least expecting it. Roxie, didn’t like to say anything, she was hitching a ride after all. But they had made it all the way to Scotland from Netherneither End and she felt confident that they would make it back again.

And she was feeling light and breezily happy watching the motorway miles slip by until there was a new sound. It was something like saucepan lid rattling on a stove, followed by what can only described as a loud, long sigh.

“That doesn’t sound good” said Soosh. Luckily they were just passing a service station and they were able to turn into it and parked up as quickly as they could.

The car kept sighing for several minutes. Roxie turned to Soosh. “Do you know what is up?”

“Well”, exhaled Soosh slowly “I don’t mean to worry you, but the last time this happened, the car was off the road for a week.”

“Gosh! That sounds expensive and inconvenient. Good job you have breakdown cover” said Roxie spying the sticker on the windscreen.”

“Well, you know how they always seem to bump up the price when you come to renew membership. And you can usually talk them down.” Soosh paused. “This year that didn’t quite happen like that…”

There then followed lots of phone calls, a little bit of arguing, quite a lot of walking around the car park, some cheese sandwiches and probably too many cups of coffee. Six hours later, Roxie was beginning to get worried. Very, very worried. She was now beginning to wonder if she would get back in time for the Teddy Bears’ Picnic the following day.

Strumbold had nothing to say except “You’ll get there Roxie, I know you will”. He said it several times, albeit in different ways. It was beginning to be a little irritating in the circumstances.

“Why are you shouting at your Teddy Bear?” asked Soosh as she climbed back into the car with another cup of coffee. Roxie gave her a long look and just shook her head.

“OK, so what’s the plan?” inquired Roxie.

“Pretty soon, we are going to be picked up and taken to a nearby garage. I will stay with the car and we will drop you off at the train station. I have been looking at the train times and if we get there by 7pm, there’s a train that will get you back to Netherneither end by 9.30 in the morning. There is a short delay at Crewell,” smiled Soosh with her head on one side.

“It’s not ideal,” said Roxie through clenched teeth “but if it’s the best option, then let’s go for it!”

Of course, the pick up truck got to the train station with only enough minutes to spare to buy a ticket. But nonetheless, Roxie was travelling south on rattly local train a few minutes later. She had her bag, she had her rucksack, she had her Chain of Office, she had Strumbold and she had hope! She clung onto that hope like it was a length of rope holding her off the edge of a cliff. Mayor Roxie would be opening the Teddy Bears Picnic tomorrow!

The night had turned quite cold by the time time Roxie had got to Crewell station. It was approaching midnight. She knew she had to find somewhere to sit and wait in the warm for the train to Netherneither End. The train was due to set off at 5.30 in the morning. She had a long way to go yet.

The train station was emptying of everyone as she arrived. All the other passengers on her train were scurrying off to retrieve cars, hire taxis or meet friends who were picking them up. The station staff all seemed to disappear as well, behind doors marked private. Roxie shivered a little with the cold and a little with worry about what she was going to do for the next five hours. She looked at the signs in the station but none of them said ‘waiting room’. There were plenty of cafes and newsagents, even a gym and a hairdresser. But they were all shut. There was no waiting room and it was getting colder and colder.

“Oh Strumbold, any ideas?” she said out loud. No one could hear anyway. Strumbold stayed silent. He was not that keen on train stations. Lots of bears got lost in train stations.

And then Roxie spied the only enclosed space she could find that was probably the warmest place around: a solitary lift from one platform to the connecting overhead walkway. There was no one else about so she went inside and tried to keep warm. The floor looked a little sticky and rather grubby so she squatted on her overnight back and planned on waiting the night out. Roxie was not happy but what else could she do. The only way to get home in time for the picnic was by train. And that train was hours away.

She had phoned the children earlier in the evening to check everyone was OK. They were having a fabulous time with Heather and Vaneather of course involving lots of cake, stories and an odd card game that they had invented together. She told the children where she was spending the night and before she could count to ten, Samalan had written her another one of his poems.

The trains are asleep
Dreaming of sleepers and tracks 
And clackety-clacks 

She smiled now as she recalled “kissing” them all good night and settled down to wait for the morning.

Around 2am, a short woman with a tired but friendly looking face and grey overcoat joined her in the lift. She smiled at Roxie and Roxie smiled back. She knew she ought to feel a little worried but oddly, she wasn’t. There was something about this woman that felt very peaceful and calm. For a long time neither of them said a word. And then Strumbold coughed. The woman looked up and immediately Roxie coughed again to hide the fact that it was Strumbold who had made the noise. They made eye contact and the other woman said “my name is Toot Barnden, what’s yours?”

Roxie hesitated but then thought that they were both hiding in a lift away from the cold, they must have something in common. So she replied “hallo, my name is Roxie, Roxie Riverbloom”.

And with that they started talking about so many things. They shared many interests. They both liked quilting although Toot hadn’t done any for a very long time. They hated the fact there was no waiting room. They both had a sister and brother. And their conversation went on for a long time. Then dawn began to break and Roxie knew her train was coming soon.

“Toot, thank you, I have so enjoyed getting to know you. If you are ever in Netherneither End, please look me up. We can have a cup of tea together”

“It would be my pleasure Roxie. Perhaps if you can, give my love to an old, old friend of mine who lives in your town. Her name is Puxley Biddlestone. If you haven’t met her already, I am sure you will one day.”

Roxie thought that was a name she did not know. But she thanked Toot again and said she would look out for Puxley.

“Just one more thing, Roxie. If you have a problem today, talk to the woman in the bright blue suit. She’ll be able to help,” Toot informed her. Roxie thought she was looking at Strumbold for part of the time she said this.

“Thank you”, said Roxie, somewhat confused. “I am hoping there will be no problems today. I had my fill yesterday!”

And with that they parted and Roxie climbed onto her train. Roxie was beginning to think lots about what she was going to say later when she opened the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. So as she walked quickly through the first class compartments to her seat further down the train, she did not notice the woman in a bright blue suit.

But Strumbold did.

go to part nine

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #7

Is the Chain of Office there?

“Nishan” said Roxie “it is so wonderful to be here. The present I sent you, I assume you have not opened it yet?”

“Of course not” said Nishan “you know me and surprises. I love them!”

“Of course. But could I borrow the parcel a second. I just need to tweak what is inside a little”

Nishan looked curious but retrieved the parcel from a nearby cupboard. Roxie tried not to go upstairs in too much of a hurry. She sat on the bed of the spare room where she knew she would be sleeping. After carefully placing her travel sewing kit next to her, Roxie slowly peeled back the sticky tape to reveal the cushion. Delicately, she unpicked the stitching and reached inside.

Strumbold was watching. Roxie held her breath.

And then her fingers came into contact with something hard and metallic. Then slowly, slowly, she managed to extract the chain and brush off the stuffing that was hooked to it in a few places.

Trembling, Roxie held the Chain for a long time. Two tears of relief rolled down her cheeks. “Oh Strumbold, thank you! Without you, I would not be here”

“Without you, I would not be in Scotland!” rumbled Strumbold. Roxie grinned and let out a long happy sigh. Soosh walked into the room.

“You’ve got it then! How fantastic is this. We are both celebrating our big brother’s birthday tomorrow, you can show everyone your Chain and we get to be home in time for the Teddy Bear’s Picnic!” said Soosh joyfully. They then both collapsed on the bed giggling and tickling each other. It was like they were children again.

She let her children know that she had found the Chain, but not to let anyone else know yet. All the children were happy and promised to keep things quiet until she got back home.

Later on, Roxie got a text from Samalan and smiled broadly

The chain never knew
That it was gone or missing
It knew where it was

Soosh and Roxie could not wait for tomorrow and their brother’s party.

The best day

The next day was one of the best of Roxie’s life. Nishan loved the cushion. Everyone admired the Chain of Office and joked about having to bow. The food was plentiful, spicy and sweet. The party was full of fascinating people with interesting stories to tell. There were crazy moments such as when everyone decided to dance on the lawn to “Mr Blue Sky”, waving their arms in the air. In the rain.

And there were quiet moments too: Soosh and Roxie held Elodie-Fay’s hands as she told them about the medical treatment she’d had a few months ago. All was well now. And the hugs they shared healed things even more.

Finally, as the evening relaxed down, Nishan got up to make a speech.

“Well, I feel so incredibly fortunate. I have now spent 50 years on this beautiful planet with the most adorable family and friends. I am sad of course that my parents are not here anymore. I have the most wonderful wife, who is the love of my life, who keeps me on the rails while making every moment we are together golden and glittery. And my two sisters who irritate me and delight me in equal measure. Of course I jest, they are much more irritating! And all of you, my dearest friends, who have come from far and wide to be here. I wish this party could go on forever. I love all you folks so much! Sometimes when people get to my age they have a midlife crisis and wonder about the meaning of life. But no crisis for me. The meaning of life is really not hard is it? It’s about love. It’s always been about love! So let’s toast: to living, to loving our family, our friends and everyone! Love is all you need!”

“Love is all you need!” exclaimed everyone

And with that, the Beatles song played and everyone sang along. Roxie and Soosh hugged. Everybody hugged! What a birthday party!

As they climbed into bed a couple of hours later, Roxie said “You know it’s funny. If I hadn’t have accidentally sewn the chain into the cushion, I wouldn’t be here and I would have missed everything. I have been so stressed about losing the chain but in an odd way, it was maybe one of the best things to happen to me. It is funny isn’t it. You never really know what will happen next.”

“True” said Soosh “But I know we have a long and fairly tedious drive ahead of us tomorrow. But hey, who knows what could happen!”

“Who knows” whispered Strumbold...

go to part eight

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #6


Roxie sat back. She knew what she had to do. Luckily her sister was driving to Scotland that afternoon and so there was no time to waste.

Roxie’s sister, Sooshalla, lived close by in a small village. She worked as an editor of school textbooks, usually the science ones. She lived alone with her very ancient tortoise (Darwin) and her black cat (Newton) in a small cottage with an unruly garden and a mysterious bluey-green pond. She got out her phone. “Soosh! I am coming with you to Scotland! Don’t leave without me!” she almost shouted down the phone.

“That is wonderful Roxie! Nishan will be so, so happy to see you. I am excited already. But why the change of plan?” said Sooshalla gleefully.

“It’s complicated, I will tell you on the road trip! See you soon!”

Next she had to tell work. She picked up her phone again. “Hallo George. It’s Roxie. Look I am sorry, but I am going to have to take a few more days off. I have to sort all this out. I will take all the days from my annual leave, of course. I promise I will be back in on Monday”

George was her boss. He had been in the travel business for more than 20 years and was approaching retirement. He went to the same hotel in Ibiza every September for as long as Roxie had known him. He smiled and joked lots. And whilst he could be tough when he needed to be, he knew how to run a small business and manage people well. “It’s OK Roxie, I understand. Everyone in the town wants you to sort all this out. And we know you will. See you Monday.”

And lastly, she had to work out what to do with the children. She had a plan, but this involved a visit not just a phone call.

Next door to where Roxie lived were two women called Heather and Vaneather (well, her real name was Vanessa but Roxie’s oldest had struggled with the word and the mutation had stuck). They had lived in the same house for as many years as Roxie could remember. Heather and Vaneather had met many years ago and decided to run the sweet shop in town. They were loved and known to all the local children and their parents. Roxie’s four children loved them. As each one grew up, they got to know there was always, and would always be, a ‘cwtch bach’* waiting for them on the big floppy sofa in their front room. (Heather is Welsh and a ‘cwtch bach’ has no real English translation. “It is just a small safe spot where nothing in the world can hurt you and everything will be OK” she often said.)

Roxie knocked on their front door.

Vaneather opened it and beamed. “Roxie! How lovely to see you. Are the children with you? Come in for a cup of tea. Heather has just made some Victoria sponge with enough raspberry jam and butter cream to give a doctor a heart attack. And whose teddy bear is this?”

Roxie smiled. “Thank you, the children are at school. But it is about them that I have called. I need a big favour” she said as she stepped into the cosy sitting room and sat on the big floppy sofa, already feeling warm and safe as a result.

Vaneather looked at her seriously. “The answer is yes, of course, Roxie. Anything for you and your children, you know that. Now what is it?”

Roxie explained as much of the story as she could, leaving out the bits with Strumbold of course.

Heather came into the room with a tray of tea and cake. “Roxie has to go to Scotland for a couple of days. And so, we are looking after Jessina, Samalan, Jakomin and Roshanara. How wonderful is that!” exclaimed Vaneather.

“That is going to be so much fun,” said Heather. “And tell me, Roxie, how long had you had a magimistical bear?”

At that moment, Roxie’s mouth was full of cake so she had a few seconds to think about what to say. She swallowed. “Not long” she said quietly, “how did you know?”

“We have one too. She’s upstairs on the landing and keeps a close eye on us. How do you think we managed to run a sweet shop so successfully for all those years. We had a very, very special and magical adviser. There isn’t time today, I can tell. But when you get back, we will introduce the two of them together. What is your bear called?”

Roxie breathed in. “Um, he told me his name is Strumbold”

“Hallo Strumbold”, said Heather looking straight at him. “When you get back from your trip, I will introduce you to Bonniebow. She is very old and quite a character!”

“Thank you” said Strumbold “I look forward to meeting her”

Everyone smiled, including Roxie who wasn’t really sure what was happening. The world felt like it was spinning just a little faster than usual.

She went home and telephoned the schools. She left notes for all the children and instructions for Vaneather and Heather on fridge about food and so forth. She packed an overnight bag and carefully placed Strumbold in her rucksack so that he could see out. She had already texted all the children to let them know what was happening. Nobody else needed to know, she thought.

By two o’clock, Roxie and Soosh were speeding up the M40 heading north. It was going to be a long drive. But they had stories, music and each other. The miles slipped by and the sky was darkening as they finally approached the town in which their brother lived.

Nishan opened the door and stood there for quite a long time, just smiling with his arms outstretched. “Both my little sisters, how fabulous is this!” And they all hugged. And they laughed. And then they hugged some more.

In the kitchen was Nishan’s wife, Elodie-Rae. “So lovely to see you both! I thought you weren’t coming Roxie. But hey, we need an extra pair of hands! And having a Mayor present for the party will make it even more special. Did you bring your Chain of Office?”

“Yes and no” said Roxie as she glanced at Strumbold in the corner where she had just put him down.

* Cwtch bach is pronounced 'Cooch (hard 'ch') Barch (soft 'ch')

go to part seven

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #5

Strumbold lends an ear and a paw

The Mayor’s Bear always has pride of place in the Town Council Chamber, sitting high up on a small shelf overlooking the meeting table. Roxie had placed Strumbold there after she had brought him back from the charity shop.

Afterwards, with everything else happening and her worries about the chain, Roxie quite forgot about the brief conversation she had with Strumbold. Indeed, if she did recall it, it seemed like a dream to her. “Seriously, stuffed bears don’t talk!”, she had reasoned with herself.

But Strumbold had been watching, listening and thinking about everything. Remember Strumbold is a magimistical bear. Strumbold knew about the lost chain. He knew about what had happened to Roxie after she had admitted to losing it. And Strumbold knew that he had to help her. He was just pondering how to do this.

A few days later, the Town Council held its special, extraordinary council meeting. All fifteen councillors, including Roxie, arrived looking very serious. Cllr Pompous McDoom probably looked the most serious of all.

Roxie opened the meeting. There were no apologies for absence (every councillor was there) and there was just one more item on the agenda:

“This council notes that the Town Mayor has lost the Chain of Office. This council notes that this Chain of Office is over one hundred and twenty five years old. This council notes that in all that time, no previous Mayor has ever lost the Chain before. The council notes the extreme concern expressed by our townsfolk about this loss. This council resolves to ask the Mayor to consider her position.”

Roxie knew what this meant. They were asking her to resign. They could not make her resign but they could make their views and disappointment very clear. Painfully clear.

The room stayed very silent, everyone was waiting to see what Roxie would do. Her head was bowed, as she struggled to think of what to say.

And then Roxie heard a low, woody voice “I think there is a way I can help you to find the chain. Be courageous. Be confident. You are a great Mayor and you will leave your mark on this Town”

Roxie looked up with start. The other councillors all looked startled too. “Sorry” she said, “did somebody say something?” The looks of startle changed to looks of concern (except Councillor McDoom who was still looking like a dark rain cloud). Nobody else had heard anything.

“Town Mayor, are you alright?” inquired the Town Clerk, over his thin, round spectacles. “No one else has spoken.”

Roxie took a breath and made one of the bravest decisions of her life. “OK, I know what you are all thinking. And I know what you want me to do. And trust me over the last few days, I have been on the edge of giving everything up… Mayor, Town Councillor, the whole shebang! I am desperately disappointed in myself and I feel like a complete fool. How could I lose the Chain of Office!?!”

All the other councillors were now leaning forward, waiting to hear what she said next.

“In four days time, at precisely 11.00 in the morning, it is the annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic in the park by the river. It is an event that I know that everyone in the town looks forward to, especially the young children. It’s that time of year when everyone feels so happy to be a part of this town. And I want to be there, as Mayor, to welcome everyone. And I want to promise them, as all previous mayors have done that everyone can be healthy, wealthy and happy in this town, our beautiful town. And I will be there as Mayor to do this. And if I have not found the Chain by then, I will resign the following day.”

The room went quiet. The other Councillors looked from one to the other. There was some shrugging of shoulders, some raised eyebrows, some sucking of teeth and some deep sighs… Cllr McDoom looked at no one and no one looked at him.

“I propose the motion is put” thundered Cllr McDoom “does anyone second me?” And nobody did. That was the end of the meeting and all the Councillors left the room.

“I’ll lock up” said Roxie to the Town Clerk. He left too.

So Roxie was left all alone. Well, not quite alone. “You better have a very good idea, Strumbold. Because right now, I have run out of gas.”

“Come back tomorrow morning” whispered Strumbold with his low woody voice. “We’ll find the Chain in time.” His eyes twinkled at her.

Roxie locked up leaving Strumbold in the dark. “Trouble is, I am not sure how” he whispered to himself… Somehow, he was going to have to make Roxie remember what had happened.

Roxie remembers

Roxie arrived fresh and early at the Town Council Chamber. She hoped it was not too early but then thought: Strumbold is a stuffed bear and he probably doesn’t even have breakfast! But Roxie had had a good night’s sleep, the first in a long while. Somehow, and she didn’t really know why but she trusted Strumbold. She trusted that he would be able to help her.

Carefully she took Strumbold down from the shelf and placed him in front of her. His eyes twinkled.

With a deep but optimistic sigh, she said “Well Strumbold, here we are, where is the chain?”

Strumbold paused a while and then he asked a couple questions and patiently waited for Roxie’s answers.

“Firstly” he said, “do you know the last time that you had the chain?”

Roxie thought about this. She had of course, gone over and over this question. So many times. But when she had done this it was more to do with where the chain might be rather than simply thinking of the actual time.

“Well it was three weeks ago. I came back one evening after opening a new clothes shop in the town. I had on my best black long dress which I hung up next to my sewing corner. I had noticed a small bit of the seam needed fixing. I knew I had my chain then. And that was the last time. Three days later when I went to look for it, it was gone. It wasn’t in the special drawer I was carefully putting it each time after I had worn it.”

“I had to play the annual skittles competition in the market square without it. Nobody noticed as everyone was too busy drinking wine and beer, talking about their holidays and their families. I spent hours and hours the next day looking for the chain. It had to be in the house. Somewhere! It had to be there! But it wasn’t.”

“Secondly'' said Strumbold “who and what left the house during those three days? Think carefully”

“I went to work of course, and the children went to school. I have already hunted through all the bags and rucksacks, and all the clothes worn by everyone. Every pocket, every zip has been searched several times.”

“Did anything else leave?” insisted Strumbold.

Roxie sat back, with her hands over her mouth and looked at the ceiling. Quite a few minutes passed. “It wasn’t rubbish day during those three days and any way, I already checked through the bins. Nothing. Nothing else left the house. Oh Strumbold, I have been over and over this in my head so many times. My hands are almost in blisters with all the searching I have done. So many times. So many times! Can’t you use some magic or something!?” Roxie plunged her head into her hands.

Strumbold just looked softly at her. “Anything else?”

Roxie looked at him and almost scowled with frustration. That same question again! But she knew he was trying to help.

And just then, she remembered...

“Well, I did send a parcel to my brother in Scotland for his fiftieth birthday. Sadly I could not get to his birthday party tomorrow, it is just too far to go. So I made him a special quilted cushion with pieces of material to remind him of our childhood together. There is a piece with a swing that looks like the one we used to play on, and another bit with a cat that is identical to the one we had growing up and, oh, lots of things. It is really special and he will love it.”

Strumbold’s eyes twinkled.

Roxie looked back at him.

Suddenly her mouth went dry. And the tips of her fingers tingled a bit. “Oh no!” she exclaimed. “Oh no, no, no, no, no…! The chain is in the cushion isn’t it? What am I to do?”

“I’ve never been to Scotland” said Strumbold, humming an old Scottish folk song.

Go to part six

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #4

The town discovers that the Chain is lost

With only just over a week to go to the picnic, Mayor Roxie Riverbloom was asked to award the certificates to some trainee teachers at a local primary school. She was delighted of course. Her father had been a teacher and she always wanted to do everything to support and help teachers. But she knew five important things:

1) They would be expecting her to wear her Chain of Office
2) The local newspaper journalists, photographers and dozens of local people would be present
3) The Chair of Governors of the school was, of course, Councillor Pompous McDoom
4) She still had not found her Chain!
5) And Roxie did not know what to do!!

Of course she accepted the invitation. And then she worried. And worried. A little later on after tea and the children had gone to bed, she worried some more. She read stories to Jakomin and Roshinara. She listened to Jessina’s worries about the day and heard another poem from Samalan. She got everyone to brush their teeth and went back downstairs.

“Good night everyone” she shouted back up the stairs. “Sweet dreams!”

She stared and stared at the rug on the floor of her sitting room, hoping that either a solution or the Chain would magically appear. Neither did.

By morning, several cups of tea later, Roxie had a sort of plan. She had decided to wear her most glittery dress, a very large red hat and extraordinarily shiny high heels to the event. She was hoping that everyone would admire what she was wearing and no one, especially Councillor McDoom, would notice the lack of her Chain.

Early in the evening she arrived at the school looking like a film star. She felt great but nervous. She had her speech in her handbag. This was going to work, she tried to convince herself.

She walked, slightly quickly, into the school hall and almost fell over her ‘favourite’ person. “Councillor…” (she almost said McDoom) “how lovely to see you. What a wonderful occasion this is, celebrating the new teachers that your school has trained. Teachers are so amazing aren’t they?!”

Councillor McDoom glowered. He was really good at glowering, Roxie thought. He was good at brooding too. As she was wondering how he could make money from his glowering or brooding on TV or something, his booming voice broke into her musings.

“Town Mayor, Councillor Riverbloom” he said in a low grating, gravelly and slightly strangled voice “where is your Chain of Office? Surely you knew that the teachers and the children here would be expecting you to be wearing it?! Indeed, I am expecting you to wear your Chain of Office. Where is it? Precisely!?”

Roxie had never been very good at lying, especially under pressure. She wilted and her shoulders drooped. “I don’t know” she said sadly. “I can’t find the Chain of Office. I have lost it somehow, somewhere! And I am very sorry. Really sorry” Her voice trailed into a whisper.

For a moment, nothing was said. Roxie felt the silence booming and throbbing in her ears.

And then Councillor McDoom bellowed “What?!” Everyone standing nearby drew breath and backed away a little. The newspaper reporter started writing very quickly in his notebook. The photographer raised her camera and Roxie felt pinned to the floor by the biggest, brightest flash she had ever seen. The room stayed very quiet, for a long time, apart from a ripple of quiet muttering fanning outwards.

Roxie coughed. “Well”, she grimaced, “the show must go on.” She walked towards the stage hoping that Dr Who’s Tardis would suddenly arrive and take her away from all this. (But it didn’t because that sort of magical time travel doesn’t really exist.) She gave out the certificates to the graduate teachers and said her goodbyes. She left wondering what she was now going to do.

The next day was worse. Far, far worse. In fact it was probably one of the ten worst days in the history of Netherneither End. And probably the very worst day in Roxie’s life.

The worst day

Jessina, Samalan, Jakomin and Roshinara looked at her over the breakfast table. They had all heard the news which had reached across town in a matter of hours via social media.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Jessina. “We could have helped you find it” said Samalan and Jakomin almost in unison. “Are you sad, Mummy? Can I help?” said Roshinara. And so the conversation went on. Roxie’s cornflakes tasted like cardboard.

Jakomin went off to play piano. His music was usually very lovely and melodious. This morning it was not so easy to listen to as he punched the keys angrily. Samalan came back with a poem:

The chain is somewhere 
Somewhere knows the chain is lost
We must ask somewhere 

Roshinara gave her lots of hugs and Jessina just looked at her, shaking her head sadly.

The telephone rang. Roxie had never spoken to a national newspaper before and the reporter was really very sweet and pleasant. She was so sympathetic. Indeed, she was much, much nicer than the newspaper headlines that came out a few hours later.

“Mayor loses the heart of her town” it said. But the worst headline simply said “Oops” with a picture of her looking startled in that ridiculous hat, dress and shoes combo. What was she thinking?

Then as she was heading off to work, she got a text from the Town Clerk, asking to see her at lunchtime. The Town Clerk also let her know that six councillors had already written to demand an extraordinary council meeting in three week days time.

Work was no easier. Several of her regular customers came in, just looked at her and shook their heads. Another came into the shop to book a holiday to Greece and said loudly “I am not going to be served by her, she might lose the booking!”

The travel shop manager told Roxie to go home and have a rest. Which she did meekly after she had been to see the Town Clerk. Mr Cedric Appleplum, the Town Clerk was a kind but serious man. Today he was doing his best to be both.

Somberly and solemnly, he informed her that the Chain of Office was over a hundred and twenty five years old and could not ever be replaced. They would have to use the council’s insurance policy to buy a new one. But she had lost something very important, very historical and very special.

“I should tell you” he said “that some people in the town believe the Chain of Office brings health, wealth and happiness to everyone in the town. But that is just superstition, of course” he said looking gravely at her over the top of his spectacles.

Roxie did not have to be told this. Every year, when the new Mayor was made, part of the ceremony always involved the words “And with this Chain of Office, the Mayor of Netherneither End will always ensure the townsfolk will be healthy, wealthy and happy. Hurrah for the Mayor! Hurrah for the Mayor! Hurrah, Hurrah!”

She could almost hear those ‘hurrah’s echoing inside her head like a tinny pop song on a broken radio.

“I want to help” the Town Clerk said gently “but I think only you can solve this.” She knew he was right.

What was Roxie to do?

Go to part five

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Mayor's Bear #3

Strumbold and the Mayor of Netherneither End meet for the first time

Roxie had to carry on with life, of course, with or without her Mayoral Chain. She kept hoping that the Chain would turn up. She also kept hoping that no one would notice. And if they did, she had an excuse ready.

“Town Mayor” said Councillor Pompous McDoom, one evening at a council meeting, “Where is your Chain of Office?”. (That was not his real name of course, but that is how Roxie thought of him. Her nickname for him helped her to cope with the usually unhelpful, grumpy and miserable things he would say in council meetings.)

“It’s safe and sound in a very special place” Roxie explained without actually lying. She just wished she knew where that special place was!

“Was I meant to wear it this evening?” she asked innocently? Her cheeks went a little rosier, than usual.

“Well no, there is no need, but past Mayors have sometimes done so” huffed Councillor McDoom, not noticing her cheeks.

“Well I am the present not the past Mayor, and I will wear what I want, when I want” said Roxie defiantly, and just a little bit nervously.

That evening she went home, worrying even more. She knew she had to find the Chain in time for the annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic and it was now only just under two weeks away. What was she going to do?

One thing she knew she had to do was to find a bear to take to the picnic. It was the tradition in Netherneither End that every new Mayor would bring a new stuffed bear to the annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Roxie decided she would find one the following day in her lunch break.

When she got home from the council meeting, all the children had gone to bed. Samalan had left her a poem on the kitchen table:

Sometimes when you think
There is nothing more to think
You just turn around

Roxie often wondered what Samalan thought about all day. She sat down in her wide and comfy armchair and pondered on the Teddy Bear’s picnic.

Past Mayors had always gone out to buy a new stuffed bear. Roxie decided that instead, she would look for a second hand one as that felt more special to her. The next day Roxie went round all the charity shops in the town looking for a bear. She found lots of jigsaws, sets of three wine glasses and many, many books but there were very few stuffed toys. And then in the last shop she came across two stuffed bears sitting together high up on a shelf at the back.

One bear was beautiful, her fur was bushy and bright like burnished gold, and she had arms and legs that could move. Roxie picked her up and cradled her. She was a very lovely and cuddly stuffed bear with a huge smile. Roxie knew that she would look wonderful sitting in the council chamber on the small shelf reserved for the Mayor’s Bear. She was about to go to the till and pay for this bear when she glanced back, looked at the other one and turned around.

The other bear was smaller and a little less shiny and not quite as fluffy. This bear had obviously been loved a lot. But this bear would not look so good in the council chamber. Roxie knew she had made the right decision and she was about to turn back to the till when something rather odd happened.

The bear’s eyes twinkled. Roxie blinked. Perhaps the sun outside had reflected off a lorry window but it was a grey day and there was no bright sunlight. She looked again. The bear’s eyes twinkled, again.

Roxie took a breath, and ran her tongue around inside her mouth while she thought. She carefully replaced the bear she was going to buy and picked up this one, the one with the twinkly eyes.

“That will be five pounds”, said the shop assistant. “Thank you” said Roxie, “I think he is just what I have been looking for.” And she tucked the bear under her arm and left the shop.

Roxie was walking back to work when she heard a small woody voice. “My name is Strumbold”, whispered Strumbold, “thank you for picking me”.

She stopped and stared at the bear, with all the hairs on her neck vibrating. “Well” she whispered, “I think it was you that picked me”.

Roxie smiled nervously but happily. Somehow she knew this was the start of a very big adventure. But she did not quite know just how big it was going to be!

And she didn’t know just how important Strumbold was going to be when the whole town found out that the Chain had been lost.

Go to part four