It was exactly ten days before Christmas and this Christmas Jenny Berry felt very grown-up because now she was eight years old. And Grandma Lily said that was quite old enough to do some Christmas shopping of her own. So this year Jenny had written two Christmas lists. One of the lists was the usual one with all the things that she wanted to unwrap on Christmas morning. But the other list was a list of all her favourite people, because this year she was going to buy presents for them all. These were the people on Jenny’s list:
Emily, who was Jenny’s best friend
Emma and Tilly, the twins that lived next door
Baby Wills, who was now one year old
Mummy and Daddy
And, of course, Grandma Lily.
You might wonder where Jenny was going to find the money to buy all these presents. Well, in fact, Jenny had earned it! Ever since her eight birthday, Grandma Lily had been giving her Friday pocket money to save for Christmas. Mostly it was a pound coin but sometimes, if she had done something special at school, like get all her homework right, then it was two pounds. Or even three. And Jenny’s father had also been paying her for doing extra jobs around the house, like tidying Wills’ new bedroom or helping to unload the dishwasher. So Jenny had quite enough money to buy presents for all her favourite people. And tomorrow, which was going to be Saturday, Grandma Lily was taking Jenny to town because there was going to be a special Christmas Market with stalls and jugglers and people dressed up like elves.
Saturday came and Grandma Lily called round just after breakfast to pick Jenny up and drive to the Market. Jenny put all her money in her purse and then gave it to Grandma Lily to look after because Jenny was in the habit of losing things, especially when she was excited and not concentrating. And today she was very excited. Because there were only nine days left before Christmas. Jenny bobbed up and down in her seat all the way into town. And, as soon as she stepped out of the car, she bobbed around in the car park. She could hear Christmas music coming from the Market: ‘Grandma,’ squealed Jenny, ‘listen to the music!’
‘Yes, Jenny, very Christmassy. But if you jump up and down like that you’ll fall over!’ Grandma Lily laughed at Jenny’s excitement. ‘Come on, let’s go and have a look, shall we?’
So they walked down the little side street and came out into the High Street. It was full of people and stalls and loads of noise. Grandma Lily told Jenny to stay close to her or else they’d lose each other and both finish up in Raggedy Lyme along with all the other LOST things. Jenny knew that was a joke, but she held onto Grandma Lily’s arm just in case.
There were Market stalls selling everything. Some of the stalls had hot food and drink and people were walking around eating and shopping at the same time. And all of the stall keepers were wearing Father Christmas hats and clown hats. And there were pretend elves everywhere! One big stall, right on the very end of the Market, had rows and rows of Christmas Trees. Big ones and small ones. Jenny knew that that was where Mr Berry usually bought their Christmas tree. But he always did it on his own because he liked it to be a surprise for everyone.
Jenny and Grandma Lily shopped for a whole hour. Jenny bought a sparkly purse for Emily and four identical mittens for Emma and Tilly, so that they could have two each. And she bought a chunky toy car for Wills. Grandma Lily suggested that Jenny bought a box of chocolates for her mum and dad. Jenny thought that was an excellent idea. The only present Jenny still needed to buy was Grandma Lily’s present, but she was going to ask her mother to take her shopping to buy that one, because she wanted to give Grandma a surprise. You see, Christmas is all about surprises. Happy surprises.
Jenny also chose her own roll of wrapping paper with reindeers and snowmen with carrot noses. She asked Grandma Lily if there was going to be snow for Christmas and Grandma Lily said: ‘Did you put it on your Christmas list?’
Jenny laughed and then she said that her feet were tired and she thought that it was time for hot chocolate. So they both had a large mug of hot chocolate in the Macaroni cheese restaurant. Then they had another quick look around the stalls and after that they drove home in time for lunch.
Mrs Berry had spent the morning looking after Wills and writing out the Christmas cards. She had put a small pile of cards to one side so that Jenny could write them herself and send them to her friends at school and to her aunts and uncles and Grandma and Granddad Berry in Scotland. Jenny asked where her father was.
‘He’s gone to town. You’ve just missed him,’ said Mrs Berry.
Jenny started to bob up and down again: ‘Has he gone to buy the Christmas tree, mum?’
Her mother put her finger to her lips and smiled. That meant it was a secret. Grandma Lily laughed: ‘Christmas is all about secrets,’ she said. ‘Secrets and surprises. Now, shall we help mummy get the lunch ready? All that shopping has given me an appetite.’
After lunch Jenny showed her mother her reindeer and snowmen wrapping paper and the presents she had bought for Wills and Emily and Emma and Tilly. Grandma Lily said that Jenny should bring all of the presents to her cottage this evening when she came for her sleepover. And then she would teach her how to wrap exciting Christmas parcels and help her write out her cards. So why didn’t she get all her things ready and she would call back for her at six o’clock in good time for supper.
As Grandma Lily was collecting her things together, Jenny heard her father’s car pulling into the drive. She ran into the lounge and peered through the window. She wasn’t properly sure, but she thought she could see green branches inside Daddy’s car. She turned to see her grandma standing behind her. ‘Now, Jenny,’ said Grandma Lily, ‘you know that your father likes to keep the tree a surprise. So you’d better not let him see you spying through the window!’
So Jenny hurried back into the kitchen, sat down and started to pack her shopping into a bag. Mrs Berry looked at her and smiled: ‘Remember, Jenny, it has to be a secret.’ Jenny wobbled in her seat and after a few minutes, Mr Berry stepped into the kitchen.
‘Ah, Mr Berry,’ said Grandma Lily. ‘Have you been Christmas shopping?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Mr Berry.
As soon as Grandma Lily had left, Jenny ran up to her room to pack her sleepover bag. But after a while she checked the landing and then ran into her parents’ bedroom to look through the window. She could see the drive very easily from there. And sure enough she could see her father getting ready to lift something enormous out of the back of his car. But suddenly Mr Berry looked up at the window. Jenny ducked down just in time. Then she ran back to her room and carried on with her packing. She hoped her dad hadn’t seen her looking.
When Jenny’s sleepover bag was ready, she bumped it down the stairs and put it by the front door. She could hear her parents talking in the kitchen so she hurried along the hallway, stopping to look first in the lounge and then in the dining room. But there was no Christmas tree in either of the rooms. Perhaps daddy had hauled it into the kitchen. But when Jenny walked into the kitchen, her mum and dad were sitting at the table drinking tea. And baby Wills was playing on the floor. And there was no Christmas tree to be seen.
‘Have you packed your bag?’ asked Jenny’s mother.
Jenny nodded yes. She wanted to ask about the Christmas tree but it was supposed to be a surprise so she couldn’t let her father know she had seen it. So she sat down at the table and drank her chocolate milk and thought about surprises: ‘Mum,’ she said. ‘I still have to get Grandma Lily a present.’
‘Oh, didn’t you find anything for her at the Christmas Market?’
Jenny frowned: ‘But mum, if I’d bought Grandma’s present today she would know what it was and then it wouldn’t be a surprise.’
‘Quite right,’ said Jenny’s father, peering at her over the top of his spectacles. ‘If a person finds out about a surprise then the surprise is spoiled. And that’s not good, is it? There’s probably a whole big room in your Raggedy Lyme magical place that’s reserved especially for spoiled surprises.’
Jenny frowned some more. She didn’t think that was at all likely. Because, even if Raggedy Lyme was true, it was really only for LOST things. Or was it?
Grandma Lily arrived just before six o’clock to collect Jenny for her sleepover. Jenny said goodbye to baby Wills, who could now wave goodbye back to her, and then she kissed her parents and hurried out the front door and into the pouring rain. As soon as she got to Grandma Lily’s cottage she was going to ask her what she thought about the disappearing Christmas tree. Perhaps there hadn’t been a Christmas tree after all. Perhaps she had just imagined it was a Christmas tree in the back of her dad’s car. Grandma Lily had once told her that your mind could play tricks on you. It could make you see things that were not there just because you wanted to see them.
But as Jenny walked past her father’s car, she glanced down at the driveway and saw two sprigs of green lying there. They were covered in needle leaves and they looked just like small Christmas tree branches. In fact, they were definitely Christmas tree branches! She went to pick up one of the tiny sprigs, but Grandma Lily called her to hurry up before she got soaked. So Jenny hurried into the car and fastened her seatbelt.
Jenny decided she couldn’t wait until she got to Grandma’s cottage so, as soon as Grandma Lily pulled out of the drive, Jenny told her all about peeking through her parents’ bedroom window and thinking she’d seen her father pulling a Christmas tree out of his car. And then the tree not being there. And then the sprigs lying beside her dad’s car. And she told Grandma Lily that she was worried that she’d spoiled the surprise. ‘And, Grandma,’ said Jenny, ‘Daddy said that, if there is a place called Raggedy Lyme, then there’s probably a space there where spoiled surprises can go.’
Grandma Lily looked at Jenny in the driving mirror: ‘Well, well,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know your father was such an expert on magical places. We’ll have to ask him all about it, won’t we?’ Then Grandma Lily asked Jenny if she could remember anything in the rhyme about spoiled surprises. So Jenny thought about the rhyme:
There’s a space in a place called Raggedy Lyme,
Full of errors and terrors and wasted time,
Where your lost things can hide, until they decide,
That you’ve earned their return from Raggedy Lyme.’
Then she frowned: ‘I suppose it could be an error, couldn’t it?’ she said. ‘Because an error is a mistake, isn’t it? And spoiling someone’s surprise is a mistake. And by trying to see the tree before I should, I was spoiling daddy’s surprise, wasn’t I? And when a surprise is spoiled it’s the same as it being LOST. Because you can never get a surprise back once it’s spoiled, can you?’
Grandma shrugged her shoulders and said: ‘I suppose, we’ll just have to wait and see, Jenny. We’ll just have to wait and see.’ But Jenny could see that her grandma was trying not to smile. So she started to feel a little excited all over again.
After supper Grandma Lily showed Jenny how to wrap Christmas parcels. Grandma had lots of ribbon and sticky stars and labels and she let Jenny use as many as she wanted. Grandma said it would be best if they wrote the cards tomorrow morning because it was almost bedtime and if Jenny went to bed now there would be time for a long story. Jenny loved Grandma Lily’s long stories. Grandma kept them all in her head. Jenny had always thought that Grandma Lily’s head must be completely full of words and stories.
Tonight’s story was a Christmas story about a girl called Penny who went on an adventure to find a Magic Kingdom where daydreams were turned into Christmas baubles and Christmas puddings were made all year round. It was a great story. And Jenny retold it to herself as soon as the light was out. But that night Jenny fell asleep wondering about her LOST Christmas tree.
When Jenny woke up the following morning, it was still dark outside. That’s because the daytime is very short in the winter and the night time is very long. And Christmas is in the middle of the winter. And just before Christmas each year the days are the shortest of all.
Jenny sat up and switched on her bedside lamp. She could hear Grandma Lily calling her from downstairs. And she could smell bacon and egg and buttered toast. She hurried downstairs and through into Grandma’s cosy kitchen. But there was more than just breakfast waiting for her. At one end of Grandma Lily’s table there was a little Christmas tree covered in Christmas lights and shiny decorations. What a lovely surprise! Jenny thought that her grandma must have decorated it after she went to bed last night. It made Grandma Lily’s kitchen look very Christmassy indeed. So Jenny ate her breakfast and then wrote out her Christmas cards next to the little tree and was pleased that at least there would be one Christmas tree this Christmas.
Later that day, Grandma drove Jenny back home in time for lunch. It was dull and rainy outside. That’s one thing that Jenny didn’t like about the winter: all those dull and rainy days. As she hurried up her drive she noticed that the sprigs of Christmas tree were still lying by her dad’s car. She bent over to pick them up, but just then Mr Berry stepped out of the door to help Grandma Lily with Jenny’s bags: ‘Hello Jenny, have you wrapped all your parcels?’ said Mr Berry. ‘We’d better get them inside before they get wet.’
As soon as Jenny was inside, she pulled off her coat and hurried through to the kitchen. Grandma Lily and Mr Berry followed her in. They were talking about the weather. Grown-ups did that all the time. Jenny hurried over to kiss her mother. Then she looked around her. There was nothing in the least bit Christmassy in this kitchen. Nothing Christmassy anywhere. And now there were only eight days left before Christmas. Grandma Lily started to help put plates and knives and forks on the table: ‘Jenny has been a perfect guest,’ she told Mrs Berry.
‘Good to hear it,’ said Mr Berry. ‘Jenny, would you nip into the lounge for me? And get my spectacles. I think I left them on the arm of my chair. I won’t be able to see what’s on my plate without them.’
Jenny’s father was always leaving his spectacles in the wrong place. So Jenny hurried through to the lounge. But when she opened the door, guess what she saw.
No, not her father’s spectacles!
She saw the best Christmas tree ever.
It was almost as tall as the ceiling and it was covered in lights and bells and coloured balls, and tinsel and chocolate decorations and loads of little ornaments that Jenny remembered from all the years before. It was standing in a brand new Christmas tree stand. And there was a huge silver star right at its very top. Jenny walked right up to it and just stood there looking up at the star in amazement.
‘Surprise, surprise,’ said someone behind her.
It was Daddy. And his spectacles were there, perched on his nose. Mummy and Grandma Lily were standing beside him: ‘Merry nearly Christmas, Jenny,’ said Mrs Berry.
‘And, Jenny,’ said Grandma Lily, ‘something tells me that this is going to be the most interesting Christmas ever!’
And Grandma Lily was absolutely correct. This was the most interesting Christmas Jenny ever had. And it was all to do with Raggedy Lyme. But that is another story …