Christmas Shopping in Regent Street


 Christmas shopping in London with Mum and Dad – what a drag! Of course, I didn’t want to go, so I was hanging back, dragging my heels. By the time we got to Hamleys in Regent Street I was sulking.

“You just stop this nonsense and behave,” Dad snapped.

“Wait here and watch the robot cat demonstration, while dad and I go upstairs,” Mum said, giving me one of those ‘stay put’ looks. ‘As if,’ I thought. “Do you understand Jimmy?”

“Yeah,” I mumbled.  ‘They probably want to buy my Christmas present,’ I thought. They didn’t say that of course.

“Hello,” said a small voice behind me.

When I turned round, there was this pale little boy with blond hair, wearing a very yucky old-fashioned blue sailor suit.

“What do ya want?” I said, looking down at him cynically.

He was very white, this kid, but then he blushed bright pink and started looking around uncomfortably at the busy shoppers.  He told me his name was Charlie and that his granddad had a toy shop just around the corner.

“So?” I said offhandedly.

“Do you want to see it?” he asked me shyly.

“Okay,” I said – well, I was bored. So off I went with this Charlie to see this shop, forgetting all about mum and dad’s instructions to stay put.

Charlie led me down a side road away from Regent Street and everything was suddenly quiet. The rush and bustle of Christmas shoppers and the brash Christmas lights – which were really naff this year – just faded away.

Then we came to a small old fashioned shop lit by candles and gas lamps and as we entered there was a distinct smell of burning, so strong you could almost taste it. ‘Probably from the gas lamps,’ I thought.

But it was great – old-fashioned but interesting. There were tin solders, wind-up trains, and building sets with real tools.

‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘this is neat.’

There was an old man standing behind the counter and he came forward to meet us.

“My grandfather,” Charlie said, and the old geezer smiled at me, beckoning me to come into the shop.

Charlie’s granddad was short and thin and wearing an ancient leather apron. He was nearly bald, with a round shiny tonsure like monks have. His white fluffy hair was quite long, with side burns that came down low on his cheeks. He looked incredibly old – probably about 80 – and very frail. But he had strong features and a big nose and sticky-out ears.

I noticed that his eyes were blue and they twinkled, but there was something dark behind his welcoming smile. He wore glasses with old-fashioned little wire frames and the glass was very thick. The glasses perched on the end of his nose and they looked as if they were in danger of falling off any minute. In fact there was a cord around his neck attached to them.

He wore a dark, old-fashioned shirt with the sleeves rolled up. An ancient leather apron was tied over his cord trousers, and his feet were encased in a pair of shabby old bedroom slippers.

The apron was brown, tatty and worn, with lots of pockets – all of which seemed to have tools or a tube of glue or paint brushes sticking out of them.

When he turned to welcome me into the shop, he seemed to glow in the gas light and then become faintly insubstantial. When I shook his hand it was extremely cold and I automatically drew back from his touch.

His hands fluttered in the air as if restlessly looking for something, then he picked up a hammer and started nailing together a little marionette toy.

There was a strong smell of sawdust, glue and paint, and an old mouldy sort of burnt odour, but I was soon distracted by the contents of the shop. All around me were hundreds of toys, teddy bears and dolls. There were shelves of books and little models of cars and trains of all shapes and sizes.

This ancient granddad offered us some fizzy drink and cherry cake, which was delicious, and then we played with some toy soldiers. I loved the ones with the bright red uniform jackets and black trousers.

Suddenly I realized a lot of time had passed and that my parents would be worried.

I felt I could hear mum calling “Jimmy, Jimmy.”

“I must go,” I said.

“You can stay if you want to,” the granddad said. “You can play with Charlie; he needs someone to play with.”

The shopkeeper seemed to glide around the shop. He never looked at what he was doing; he just reached for things as if he instinctively knew where everything was. And he didn’t take his eyes off me; it was creepy.

“Show Jimmy the automaton Charlie,” he said.

I was spellbound by the clown as it rocked backwards and forwards, clapping its hands. With its bright colours it looked like something from another world. I felt as if I was being hypnotized by the thing, and it was so fascinating I had to drag my eyes away.

The old shopkeeper stood very still, watching me, as if he was calculating to himself how he could keep me there.

“Poor Charlie has been so lonely since the fire, and he needs some company his own age; someone to play with,” I heard him say quietly.

Suddenly they didn’t look so friendly any more, this spooky old man and the pale blond boy. I ran out of the door still clutching the old toy soldier, but I tripped and dropped it.

After I left the shop, I hurried back into Regent Street. The busy road and all the people doing their shopping seemed much more real. I turned, expecting the boy to follow me. I shivered with relief when there was no-one there, just the empty street.

My parents were standing in front of Hamleys looking for me and calling my name. They looked very upset. ‘Now I’m for it,’ I thought.

“Where have you been?” said dad, his voice rising in anger.

”We were so worried,” said mum, tears in her eyes.

I told them that I had met this boy and he had taken me to an old shop. “And it had all these super old-fashioned toys and his granddad gave me a drink and some cake, and we played with toy soldiers,” I explained.

“What? Show me,” said dad.

So I led them around the corner to where the strange old shop had been. But it wasn’t there anymore. Where the shop had stood, there was a modern wine bar.

“But…!” I said in confusion.

“I think we had better go home,” said mum.

“But mum, what about Charlie and … and his grandfather? They were there.”

“Don’t lie to us Jimmy. We asked you to stay put. I don’t want to hear any more of your stories. I can’t believe it,” dad said. “How could you wander off like that?” My father was fuming. “Your mother and I were frantic.”

“I did meet them,” I said stubbornly. Then I turned back towards where the shop had been and there in the gutter was a flash of red. I leant down and there it was; dirty and charred, but distinctive – a little model of a toy soldier. I grabbed it up and stuck it into my pocket as my mum seized my other hand and pulled me away.

“I know what I saw,” I mumbled grumpily to myself; the smell of burning still in my nose.