It was another day on Apple Island. To tell you the truth, it is always a sunny day on Apple Island, because on Apple Island it only ever rains after bedtime and before getting-up time. As you might imagine, the Little Herbs who live on Apple Island like this very much. Well, wouldn't you like to sit around in the sun all day, plucking the occasional apple or other juicy fruit from a tree when you're not playing and making a huge lot of noise or dozing happily in the shade? And if you're Tommy Rub, who is not the most active of the Little Herbs, you can just sit under a tree and wait for some fruit to fall, which happens every day, at precisely 12 noon.
What a life! Friends, sun and plenty! Games to play, fruit to eat (some of it even tastes uncannily like chocolate), and, wait for it, no parents to tell you what to do all the time! Do you know, the Little Herbs have never, ever washed behind their ears. Or gone to bed when they're told. Or helped with the washing up (on Apple Island, you just leave the plates and in the morning they're all bright and clean again).
True, Bessy Balm can be a bit bossy, Babby Balm can be very noisy, Bertie Butter can roll into you if you're not careful, and Bobby Oil can be just a touch too smooth and charming. But there's always Soothing Sal to tell your troubles, and she'll cheer you up in no time with a song or one of her jokes. (Soothing Sal joke: Did you hear about the cowboy who wore clothes made from brown paper? He was a RUSTLER.)
But there used to be one tiny problem on Apple Island. Not a fly in the ointment, as Apple Island is a No Fly Zone. Not a cloud in the sky, as they are also, big word, excluded. No, the problem used to be Christmas. It wasn't white. Christmas Day was like every other day. Sunny. "Why can't we have some snow and ice and roast chestnuts and jingle bells and icy breath and frost and things?" said Babby, who does have a tendency to consider the apple half-eaten rather than half-left-to-eat. This was on Christmas Eve, which you might think a bit late to start complaining, but that's Babby.
All the other Little Herbs tried to cheer her up. Bessie offered not to be bossy for the whole of Christmas Day. Bobby gave her his finest George Clooney impression. Bertie rolled up a tree. Tommy, who is naughty, delivered one of his finest, loudest burps. Soothing Sal asked her if she'd heard about the man who stole an Advent calendar. Babby said she hadn't. He got 25 days, said Sal.
But none of it really worked. So Sal had another idea. Yes. She sent Santa Claus a package by express APS (Apple Postal Service). Inside was some of Bobby's Baby Oil to help him squeeze down the narrower chimneys, some of Tommy's Tummy Rub and Bertie's Bump Butter to help his bursting tummy after all those mince pies, some of Babby's Baby Balm for the tired elves, and some of Sal's Soothing Salve for his sore bottom after riding on that sleigh all night.
Well. No one gives Santa presents at Christmas, do they? He gives and gives, and gets nothing in return (apart from the mince pies and the strong drink. And he can't have too much of the strong drink any more, not after that near disaster when the Gherkin refused to get out of the way over London.)
So he was very touched to receive these gifts, especially as they are usually for mothers and babies (and, of course, because they're really very good!).
In fact, Santa was so pleased that he decided to do a little bit extra for the Little Herbs (which was what Soothing Sal was hoping for, but was too polite to ask).
When they woke up - rather earlier than usual! - that Christmas morning, they found their presents waiting for them, as usual. There was a megaphone for Bessie. For Babby there was a self-help book, "How To Man Up". There was a juicer for Tommy so he wouldn't have to do anything so strenuous as chew. Bobby got a Frank Sinatra CD. Bertie got a toy car (a Roller, of course). And Sal got a letter from Santa. A letter from Santa! That's usually the other way round, too, isn't it?
The letter was short. It said: "Dear Sal, Thank you very much for my lovely presents. It was so kind and thoughtful of you. Now go outside. Love, Santa."
"Outside, everybody!" shouted Sal. "Outside!" Out they went. And what do you think they saw? It was WHITE everywhere! "Oooh!" they all shouted. "Ooh!" They ran about, laughing and playing. All except Bertie, who rolled, and was very big very quickly. Babby scooped up some of the lovely white stuff and threw it at Bobby. Bobby was covered but he didn't care. Because he'd licked it. "It's ice cream!" he shouted. "ICE CREAM!" shouted everyone else.
What more can I tell you? The sun didn't get much chance to melt the ice cream. Once those Little Herbs got going, Apple Island wasn't white for very long. (Babby said she really would have preferred Raspberry Ripple, but Sal said that would have looked a bit worrying.) They also much enjoyed everything else Santa had left for them, including individual Christmas puddings, the chocolate sprouts, and the chestnuts, which were still warm (apart from the ones that were mini-profiteroles). And what better way to exercise all that off than a bit of skating on the river, frozen for the day by Santa?
The pike wasn't very happy, but after they'd made a hole in the ice, he cheered up as much as the pike ever cheers up. I didn't know pikes liked mince pies, did you? (Santa left a few of his enormous supply.) They didn't see much of Bertie after he rolled on to the ice and disappeared round the bend at pace, either.
And that's the way it has been on Apple Island every Christmas ever since. Babby has now started mentioning the absence of a certain sort of egg at Easter, but so far Sal has managed to ignore it. Would you like to hear another of her jokes as your extra Christmas present from Apple Island? Here you go then, with all our best wishes: What do you give a dog for Christmas? That's right, a MOBILE BONE!