As was his habit on a Monday morning, Everest found he couldn’t resist the temptation of a bag of something or other from a sweet little sweet shop which just happened to be on his route.
“Good morning Master Everest,” trilled Winnie Wetherspoon, the proprietor of Confection Perfection. A familiar smile spread across her ever-friendly face, as her first customer of the day entered the shop.
“Hello, Mrs W., how are you today?” replied the boy, as he took a deep breath of the sugary, caramelly aroma that always made him feel contented.
“I’m fine and dandy thank you, young man. What can I tempt you with today? Strawberry laces? Caramel balls? Toffee gobstoppers? Or will it be your usual bag of aniseed balls?”
“Just the usual thanks,” he replied.
A few pennies exchanged hands and Everest left the shop to continue his journey to school, lightly, and temporarily, encumbered by a small paper bag of his favourite start-of-the-week energy boost.
Everest Pearmain was tall for his age and had not an ounce of fat on him. He had a head of slightly unkempt, dark brown hair, even darker brown eyes and a face that always appeared to be on the verge of a smile. Nothing he had encountered hitherto in his short life had unduly perturbed him and he wasn’t easily spooked by much, apart from odd creepy-crawly thing that looked like it might bite or sting. But, then again, who wasn’t?
He lived on the outskirts of the village-town with his father, Laxton Pearmain, Famous Adventurer (retired). Pearmain senior, had lived a rich and interesting life, and had a tale for every occasion. One his many claims-to-fame, a great proportion of which were almost certainly dubious, was the true story of his journey to the summit of Mount Everest, the first person known to have accomplished the task and survived to boast about it. When encouraged, and sometimes even when not encouraged, he would tell various versions of how he achieved this monumental feat.
What was not widely known, and obviously Laxton was never going to volunteer the absolute truth, was that it was, in reality, a rather haphazardly accidental triumph.
Whilst trekking in Nepal, in search of the mythical Yeti, he unexpectedly found himself at the highest point of the known world, having spent the previous several hours, head down in the face of an incessant blizzard, following the tracks of one of his mountain goats. The annoying animal had skipped off, spooked by something unseen in the mist, with the adventurer’s tent strapped to its back. In such awful conditions, the lack of said tent would have quickly resulted in certain death and that story, and consequently this story, would have ended there.
However, luckily for all concerned, he found the goat, flaked out, close to death and struggling for breath at the top of the mountain. As a die-hard animal-lover he felt duty-bound to carry the goat, plus tent, on his back, down the mountain to where the oxygen was sufficient to revive the poor thing.
As he descended, he encountered his rival Famous Adventurer, Bruce Moriarty, with his entourage of sherpas and yaks, carrying all manner of equipment and supplies and who was really trying very hard to be the first person to get to the top. His reaction on seeing his arch-rival, sauntering down the summit path (probably whistling a jaunty tune to boot) with a goat on his shoulders, is not recorded; probably because he would always be destined to be not very well remembered as the second person to conquer Mount Everest.
Naturally when Laxton’s son was born he named him after the great peak and made it his life’s work to equip his offspring with the skills needed for a life of adventure that Laxton very much hoped his son would seek. Consequently, as a result of his adventurous weekends, Pearmain junior was often to be seen sporting scraped knees and minor cuts and bruises. Once he even turned up at school with a cut on his cheek which had been stitched with cotton by Pearmain senior. The injury, sustained falling out of an unfit-for-purpose climbing tree, caused no end of fascination amongst his friends who were unaware that home-stitching of minor wounds was even a thing.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Everest was always a bit relieved when Monday came around and he could escape to the more leisurely pace of academic life and, more importantly, the company of his friends.
“Hello Cara,” called Everest, as one of those friends burst out from the front door of the Greengrocer’s across the street.
“Morning Ev,” she called back, and crossed the road to walk with him.
Cara Greengrass lived above the fruit and veg shop with her Mum and Dad and her perfect little twin sisters.
Cara, however, was far from perfect and, to be frank, she didn’t want to be. Her waist-long blonde hair was constantly knotted, often unintentionally decorated with traces of vegetation of some sort, and usually roughly scraped back into a straggly ponytail. On special occasions she had been known to wear it in a plait, albeit a scruffy and uneven one. She had a round face above broad shoulders and was as strong as any boy she’d ever come across. In fact, she had been challenged to prove this point on many occasions, usually settling the argument with an arm wrestle.
To date she remains unbeaten.
With socks down to just above her favourite black ankle boots, below shins decorated with assorted bruises and scrapes, she often looked like she’d just run through and demolished a hedge. Mrs Greengrass called her a ‘Dirt Magnet’ and had long since given up trying to make her look nice and tidy. Instead, she lavished all her attention on Cara’s much less grubby twin sisters, who liked nothing more than being spotlessly clean and sweetly scented.
“How was your weekend?” asked Cara.
“Oh, you know, the usual packed schedule of abseiling, tree climbing, camp-making, ambush-avoiding and foraging for food.
“How was yours?” asked Everest.
“Oh, the usual too. Lots of gardening, planting spuds, picking fruit and trying to avoid being forced to play dollies with the perfectly terrible twins.”
“Sounds grim, the last bit that is. Fancy an aniseed ball?” he asked, offering the bag to Cara, and knowing what her answer would be.
“Ooh, nice. Thanks.” She popped the mauve-coloured sphere into her mouth and the two friends continued on their way to school in contented silence, punctuated by the occasional, lip-smacking sound of confectionery enjoyment.
The village-town of Mucklebury sits, unobtrusively, in a river valley, surrounded by fields and woodland in the south-east of the county of Dorsetshire, in this particular version of England.
There are a couple of roads in and out, the railway runs through it, and it is a bit higgledy-piggledy in places. Some of the buildings have seen better days and draughty windows are less of a nuisance and more of a nice excuse to put another log on the fire. The streets and roads are a bit narrow and, really, more like alleyways or tracks to you and me, but all in all it has a certain something that tends to make a person feel happy and contented to be there.
Like the people who inhabit this singular place, it has evolved slowly and steadily, setting its own pace and its own rules, and has largely avoided getting too big for its boots. In and character, it is rather more than a village but somewhat less than a town and most people are very happy to keep it that way, somewhere in the cosy middle, quite content not to have ‘town’ status thrust upon it.
If you managed to work out how to visit the place you would undoubtedly find much that was familiar. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was more like a place from history rather than the present. You might see one or two cars and the odd motorbike during a day’s wandering and lots of little shops selling just one type of thing rather than massive ones selling a bit of everything. There are even curious and exciting places stocking the kind of stuff you didn’t even realise you needed or wanted, until tempted in by the enticing window displays.
The people who live there are, by and large, welcoming types and they seem to have found a way to liberate more of their time. There are only twenty-four hours in the Mucklebury day but, somehow, they appear to be able to stretch out those hours to pack as much existence into them as possible, as if their steady pace of life was able to slow time itself.
You will often see them leaning on gates and fences or up against walls, sometimes chatting, sometimes just watching; or sitting for a few silent minutes on benches or upturned flowerpots in their front gardens, faces tilted towards the warmth of the sun, doing nothing in particular. There is not a lot of rush.
And they do love those gardens. You’d be hard-pressed to find even the smallest patch of earth without flower or vegetable growing in orderly fashion upon it.
In short, life in Mucklebury is reminiscent of a quieter, less complicated time, before people generally forgot what was good in the race to become better.However, unknown to the residents of the village-town, storm clouds were gathering, and complications were on the way.