Our favourite storyteller Simon Vincent has done it again, with a bike twist on a seasonal classic (and we contributed a few embellishments ourselves)…
‘Twas the day before Christmas. The sky was clear and promised another glorious day on the morrow. But Ebenezer Schrader was unhappy. He was always unhappy, but he was particularly unhappy after his long and annoying drive into work today.
“Bah, traffic!” he complained as he climbed out of his SUV. “Why don’t they do something about all these infernal people in their cars?” He continued to grumble as he entered his business premises: Schrader’s Specialist Emporium of All The Coffee.
Bob Crankset, his loyal assistant, greeted him nervously. “Er… talking of traffic, Mr Schrader, could I possibly finish up early this day? It is Christmas Eve, sir, and I do want to be home to prepare for the holiday. I still have to buy my dear son Tiny Allen Key a present. He’s been poorly, but he loves the fresh air, and I hope to pick up something for him on my ride home”.
“Quaxing?!” Schrader expostulated.
“Why, bless you, Uncle, that’s a dreadful cold you have there!” smiled his nephew Axel, entering the shop. “Merry Christmas one and all! I am just dropping by to invite you to our Christmas Party on the morrow, at our new townhouse in the city, mere steps from here. So handy, and we can promenade afterwards and enjoy the Christmas shop windows.”
“Bah, traffic! Bah, parking! Bah, urban slum dwellings!” barked Schrader. “I shall not trouble you at this party of yours!”
The shop bell rang again, and two smiling young men with extravagant beards entered.
“Good day to you, gentlemen!” they said cheerily. “We wonder if you would care to submit on this excellent consultation regarding bicycle parking in the area? Many other merchants are – ”
“Bah, hipsters!” roared Schrader. “My sort of business requires people to park their cars right outside this very door! How preposterous to think we might attract any customers otherwise. Begone, you fools!”
And Schrader returned to his work, furiously tallying the number of coffees each customer would have to buy to justify occupying the single 30 minute parking spot out the front of the shop. No matter how he did the sums, it just didn’t add up. Bah, maths!
Much later that evening, Schrader locked up the coffee shop and joined the slow churn of traffic to head homewards to his 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom home overlooking a garden the size of a cricket pitch. Would it take one hour, or two? One never knew for sure, but it always felt like an age. He cast furious glances at a smiling lady on a bicycle who appeared to have discovered some sort of secret fast lane adjacent to the motorway. “Bah, special treatment! That should be a car lane too, then the traffic wouldn’t be sludge-like,” he muttered to himself.
Home at last, and alone in his echoing mansion that night, after a gloomy solitary dinner, Schrader received a visitation. Not one of his neighbours, as he did not know them – no! It was the chilling ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marin. Jacob was pale and haggard, and draped in chains and jump-starter cables.
The spectre related a sad, eerie tale.
“Schrader! Beware! I, like you, thought only of my car. I drove to work, I drove to the dairy, I drove everywhere… I listened to Mike Hosking… I shouted at people on bicycles.”
Schrader shrank in his bed as the pale figure continued to relate the sad tale of how his lack of connection to those close to him had ultimately led to an unhappy end – a no-lifestyle block, miles from anywhere and anyone, where his only human interaction was with the cashier at the petrol station.
“This is the fate that will befall you, Schrader! But it does not have to be this way. Before the night is over, you will be visited by three spirits. Heed their message and you may avoid the unhappy ending you are surely headed for.”
Shaken, Schrader fell into a deep sleep – but was soon awoken by a childlike phantom that led him to a vision of Christmases past.
Schrader watched in amazement as a scene of childhood joy unfolded. “Oh… my… is that a Raleigh 20? And, and … I do believe that is me riding upon it!” He gazed in wonder at his younger self riding a bike in the street outside his childhood home. Neighbours shouted encouragement and waved as the child passed. A car slowly approached, and the driver wound down the window to say “Ahoy, young Schrader that’s a fine machine you have there!” before moving off slowly down the street.
But lo, who is this that approaches? It is Belle, Schrader’s childhood friend. “Hop aboard, Belle” cries young Schrader. “Let us take a ride to the dairy – my treat!”
Beholding this merry scene, old Schrader finds himself moved to tears, remembering the fun and freedom he had and shared with others in days of his youth. He slumbers again, and tosses and turns in his sleep… and before dawn, he is visited by another spirit.
It is the ghost of Christmas Present, who takes him on a journey to the very heart of the great metropolis. A giant colourful pathway snakes through the city. To his amazement, Schrader sees Bob Crankset and little Allen Key freewheeling and shouting with glee as they negotiate the twists and turns on their bikes. Despite his hardened heart, Schrader is moved by the young boy’s joy, and the family’s shared fun.
Next, the spectre whisks Schrader away to the home of his nephew, where a delightful party is taking place. As Schrader watches the festivities, he notes the delight with which the family unwraps their gifts. Causing the most pleasure of all: a homemade voucher for 10 adventuresome family rides together in various corners of the city.
Schrader begs to stay at the party, but as the spirit fades away, a third spooky figure looms before him: it is the Ghost of Christmases to come.
Now Schrader sees business people discussing the successes of their enterprises, and families praising those who took a stand and created this wonderful community. Schrader is led to an impressive monument bearing the names of many… and – can it be? – he sees his very own name amongst them. The stone marks the start of a path that crosses the mighty harbour – and above the sound of traffic can be heard bicycle bells and laughter ringing out from the happy folk enjoying the path.
“Can this truly be my future?” gasps Schrader to himself – whereupon he is suddenly whisked away, back to his own bed, and falls into a dreamless slumber.
The next morning, Schrader awoke. Stepping out of his house, he saw a small boy biking past on a bike bedecked with tinsel. “What day is it, child?” he asked.
“What, are you crazy? It’s Christmas!” said the boy. “Check out my sweet new wheels!”
“Oh!” cried Schrader. “There is still time!” Overwhelmed with a new sense of joy and determined to enjoy the future, he leapt into action. First, he sent a huge picnic hamper to the Crankset home, with a note saying ‘Take a good break Bob, you have earned it”. Cunningly, he added a voucher for a family rail trail package holiday, a copy of the Kennett Brothers’ new book, and – oh, wonder of wonders – arranged for the delivery of a retro Raleigh 20 for Tiny Allen Key.
A little while later, at the city home of his nephew, the family heard a ringing bell. “Is it carol singers?” asked a young child.
“Why, no,” answered Axel, peering through the window. “It is an electric cargo bike…laden with presents… and – oh, wonder of wonders, it is being ridden by … none other than old uncle Schrader!”
“Happy Cycling to you all!” cried Schrader, as the family gathered round to share in the joys and promises of a wonderful future together: a world where it feels like Christmas every day.
In the years that followed, Schrader never saw another ghostly visitation, but after that day he was a changed man. He gave generously of his time to his city, and installed bike parking outside his Emporium of All The Coffee, and saw his business grow as steadily as did his reputation for adding a human touch to the urban streetscape.
And forever after, nobody understood the real meaning of Christmas more than he. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Allen Key was overheard to say – or something that sounded a bit like it: Goff bless us, every one!