A Cosy Christmas at Bridget’s Bicycle Bakery – Alex Brown

J Chapter One ingle bells. Jingle bells. Jingle all the way. I turn the volume down on the radio that’s playing festive favourites and grip the steering wheel of my cherry-red Mini Clubman, inwardly willing the temperamental old car not to conk out before I reach the crest of the steep cliff road winding down to the cosy seaside town of Mulberry-On-Sea. Or worse still, for the double doors at the back of the car to burst open and scatter the boot paraphernalia all over the road. It’s happened before. A few years back when I was going up this very same steep road, my unzipped weekender bag fell out and tumbled away, flinging the contents into the hedgerows and front gardens flanking the road. I ended up having to retrieve my best, and most comfortable, bra from a sailboat moored up on a driveway after an extra keen seagull had swooped down in search of food, only to deposit the bra in the hull on realising that it wasn’t actually edible. And now, with my children, fourteen-year-old twins, Oscar and Olly, and Freya who is six, two guinea pigs called Snuggle and Chewy (on account of his gingery Chewbacca style fur) and Henry, the family dog – a retriever with a wild, curly coat the colour of golden syrup – not to mention an enormous pile of luggage and my old bicycle strapped to the roof, the car is crawling under the strain. ‘Any minute now,’ I say as brightly as I can muster, in an attempt to keep all our spirits up. It’s been a long journey in the chilly winter weather, and it’s starting to get dark now too. We are all tired and hungry and in desperate need of a hot drink, or a large mug of mulled wine in my case. There’s a bottle of my homemade cranberry and orange spiceinfused Christmas concoction in the back and I can’t wait to arrive, get unpacked, and put my feet up in a bubble bath to unwind with a mug of warm wine and one of my baking books. I love looking at the tantalising images of festive orange and cinnamon swirls, or a batch of floury, soft baps enveloped in a comforting mist of steam straight from a hot oven, wondering if I can create the same look as they do in the pictures. Not that I’m a master baker, definitely not – very much an amateur baker – but I like to have a go.

I even did a bread-making course many moons ago, and have the proper food hygiene and safety certificates too, to go with my dream of one day opening up my own little bakery business. I’ve always wanted to take my bread-making skills further, but never had the opportunity to pursue this in the past. Baking soothes my soul, which might sound a bit woo-woo but I absolutely do feel all Zen and serene inside after a good baking session. Plus, forty minutes or so of peace and tranquillity with a baking recipe book behind a locked bathroom door is often just the thing to perk me right up. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children with every fibre of my being but it is fair to say that they can be very full-on and trying at times. I’m often exhausted and spend much of the rest of the time wondering if I’m even equipped to be a proper grown-up parent. Like lots of us, I mostly feel as though I’m making it all up as I go along. Either the twins are bickering or Freya is complaining about it not being fair when she has to go to bed earlier than her much older brothers, or some such other ‘end of the world’ problem is the order of the day. Yes, a lovely hot bath is often a welcome relief to recharge my batteries and get me ready to start all over again the following day. And being a single parent now means it’s all down to me to keep the four of us, plus three pets, alive and thriving. Tucking a chunk of curly chestnut hair back inside my knitted bobble hat, I glance in the rear-view mirror, my freckle-speckled rosy cheeks lifting into a big grin as I hope at least one of my three children will meet my eye and give me a reassuring thumbs up. But poor Freya is leaning forward with an earnest look on her face as she holds on with dear life to a length of bungee cord hoisted over her tiny shoulder, the other end attached to the inside of the car’s back doors as a ‘just-in-case’ insurance measure to stop them bursting open again. And the twins, well… they are oblivious as usual, with the screens of their mobiles glowing mere millimetres from their fixated faces as their thumbs feverishly tap away. Only Henry seems excited, sitting up in the front passenger seat on account of his windy bottom banishing him from sharing the back seat. The twins refused to even get in the car unless Henry sat in the front, and so his tail is now sweeping the blanketcovered seat in feverish anticipation of all the cavorting in the sea and sand dunes he has to look forward to.

It’s extraordinary how, every time we reach this point in the journey, he always seems to know where we are heading and does his exuberantly panty dogbreath thing with his mouth wide open and his tongue lolling out to make the windscreen steam up. ‘OK, handsome boy, nearly there,’ I soothe, giving Henry’s unruly mane a quick, affectionate ruffle before swiping at the glass with the back of my coat sleeve, keen to actually see the road ahead. Safety first and all that. Plus, I don’t want to miss the moment I’ve been looking forward to ever since I came to the conclusion that moving back to Mulberry-On-Sea is the best possible option under the circumstances. Any minute now and the powder-blue art deco building with arched windows and the golden, glittery Christmas window display that is Carrington’s department store, is going to come into view. A landmark synonymous with arriving in the lovely little traditional seaside village with the peppermint-green railings leading down to the harbour and a glimpse of the sea beyond, it’s the place where tourists take their pictures and the locals let out a sigh of contentment, happy to be home. And I can’t wait, even though returning to Mulberry feels bittersweet. You see, I grew up here and first moved away in my early twenties, and it has been far too long since we have been back to visit as a family. We used to come here in the summer holidays and spend six long glorious weeks sunbathing and swimming in the surprisingly warm sparkling sea. But things are different now. Losing your home this close to Christmas time would do that, and so I packed up our whole world inside the car. Apart from Ted, of course. I think of the framed photos and his cartoon caricature sketches carefully stowed in the footwell of the passenger seat beside me, remembering lifting one of the lovely pictures from the mantelpiece to wrap in tissue paper for packing, running the tip of my index finger over the perfect beach scene it portrays: seagulls caw-cawing as they swoop and soar up high in a cloudless turquoise sky; the sun shimmering on the crystal-capped waves as they lull back and forth on the sandy shore; the grassy dunes rising in the background, nestling amidst the row of ramshackle old fishermen’s huts; my late husband, Ted, as a child, making sandcastles and laughing into the camera as Jan and Ken, his proud mum and dad, captured the happy scene that now lives inside the silver photo frame. The other picture is a festive one taken of Ted as a young teenager with a red Santa hat on his head, grinning as he sits on a sledge in the snow-covered grassy slopes that lead down to the other end of the beach where a row of pastel-coloured beach huts hug the coastline. If it snows at Christmas time, it’s a tradition for everyone in the little seaside town of Mulberry to go sledging on the slopes and I’m really hoping we might get to give it a go this year to help create some new happy memories.


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Updated: 24 November 2021 — 02:19

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