Today's Advent Calendar swoops across the pond, and is courtesy of my friend Christina Wilsdon. Chris introduced me to this book (in fact she gave me a copy). It's F K Brown's Last Hurdle, and it's the story of Kathy, her brother Ned, and her horse, Baldy. Chris calls him a work-in-progress, and that's exactly what he is.
It's a lovely, lovely book. I checked on the book selling sites, and it is, thankfully, reasonably easy to obtain over here. I can highly recommend it. Here's a lovely Christmas excerpt, which captures both the comfort and excitement of family tradition, and the bliss of getting a Christmas present that is so well suited to you it fulfils a need you didn't even know you had..
"Christmas Eve arrived in a blur of anticipation and happiness. She and Ned, after supper, stamped through the house carrying lighted candles and singing carols at the top of their voices.
'It came upon a midnight clear...' Ritually they walked into every bedroom upstairs and around among the furniture even though the rooms were empty. Their parents were still downstairs getting ready for their usual Christmas Eve hot chocolate and cake.
'Noel, Noel..." they sang, clumping down the stairs, Kathy first and Ned following with their shadows wavering across the wall, now thin and tall, now fat and squatty. Ned's voice quavered and broke in a squeak on the highest 'Noel' and they both shrieked with laughter.
Mrs. Nelson came out of the kitchen to join their singing, and their father put down his newspaper to march around the living room, singing 'Silent Night.' In great excitement they all hung their stockings from the mantel over the dying fire. Mrs. Nelson brought in the hot chocolate while Mr. Nelson put on a recording of the Westminster choir singing carols. They sat around the fire, too happy to talk.
As always on Christmas Eve, Kathy was sure that she had not slept at all, yet she found herself awakening to the sunshine streaming through the window and the realization that this was Christmas Day. She and Ned raced downstairs for their stockings as their parents, in bathrobes and slippers, stirred from their room to join them.
The living room was suffused with sunshine and warmth and filled with excited cries and screams of pleasure. Kathy was sure that she had never been so happy. In the pile of packages beneath the lighted tree there was a black saddle blanket with a golden star on either side for her, and a big new horse book with fine illustrations and exciting photographs of horses in action. After the celebrating calmed down somewhat and her mother busied herself getting breakfast, she leafed through the book idly until her attention was focused on the section, a whole third of the book, dealing with the training and showing of jumpers. Her eye was caught by a sentence in the prologue to the section: 'Many fine potential jumpers are ruined beyond rehabilitation by a faulty approach in their initial training while, conversely, many potential jumpers are never discovered for lack of any approach at all.'
That's it, Kathy thought excitedly and, oblivious of everything going on around her, she sat down on the floor and began to read."