Hello again readers and may I wish you all a very Merry Christmas 2013. It is the afternoon of Christmas Eve and all is now calm. The Christmas shopping is over, topped up by quite literally last minute shopping at Aldi and Marks and Sparks. The fruit and veg was being sold at half price at the former and we just missed half price frozen turkeys – which sparked a Christmas memory from many moons ago. Our new house is looking festive, festooned with Christmas cards and decorations and our very modern white Christmas tree with red lights! A wreath is swinging about on our front door, buffeted by high winds being blown in off the moor. The fridge and freezer is packed to the gunnels, if we get snowed in I reckon we can survive for at least a month. We have enough drink to stock a small bar! I have bought presents for my wife and daughters ( but havent wrapped them yet!). All is now ready for the festive season, yet something is wrong, something haunts me, something is not right. I know what it is……tis the ghosts of Christmas past!
More than any other time of year, Christmas is when I miss my family and by this I mean my extended family. Having reached my 60th birthday this last year I am very much the elder statesman, indeed the oldest of my generation. There is but one of the older generation above me. My parents passed 23 years ago. I cannot actually recall the last time I spent Christmas with my extended family but it was likely the late 70’s , possibly the early 1980’s. Since then I have spent Christmas with my wife then in 1986 and 1988 two new additions to the family came along – my daughters. If I am to be completely honest the best Christmas memories are the older ones. Yes indeed it is magical to witness the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of your children and see their faces when they discover the gifts left for them by Santa. It was fun to leave out a half munched mince pie, a gnawed carrot and a half drink glass of sherry on the fireplace, making out Santa did it. But that wasnt my Christmas, it was my children’s. So at this time of year I think back to what was, how it used to be, these are my memories, this is what Christmas meant to me…….
I cannot recall my very earliest Christmas but by the late 1950s my mum and dad and younger sister Pat were living in Pyatt Street in the Meadows district of Nottingham. In those days things were very different, Christmas only really lasted two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. My sister and I wrote out our present lists to Santa then placed them on a ledge at the back of the fireplace and then magic took them off to the North Pole. Christmas Eve Santa came but children were not allowed to see him so it was off to bed very early. In the morning the sacks or should I say pillow cases placed at the foot of my bed would be full of toys. I recall one Christmas being very upset as in the morning my sack was nowhere to be seen but my sister’s was full to bursting. I asked my dad why Santa had not been and he said – look under the bed! Sure enough there it was, sack and presents. He said Santa had played a trick on me but looking back I think my dad must have had a few extra drinks that Christmas Eve. I cannot recall the presents in any great detail but I know from the photograph included with this blog that Christmas 1960 produded a full cowboy outfit, including hat, breaches, waistcoat and two metal six-shooters in holsters that could fire caps. Though the presents might vary, some items were in the sack every year without fail; an orange, some loose nuts in shells, a selection box of chocolate bars plus a bag of gold coins ( chocolate coins in gold paper!) I also recall books, Airfix construction sets, Meccano, some boxed game or other and maybe colouring pencils. That was Christmas Day but on Boxing Day came a family gathering. We all walked up Meadow Lane to my grandparents in Cosby Road, Sneinton. Here we would be joined by aunts and uncles and my cousin Richard. There would be all kinds of drink available here and the children were allowed to sample some “cocktails”. I quite liked the Heering Cherry Brandy and Lemonade, Sherry and Lemonade was nice but Advocaat and lemonade better still. The grown ups had the harder stuff with the men with the beers and lager and ladies on gin and orange or port and lemon. My mum let me have the cherry from her port and lemon, it tasted great, leading to a lifelong passion for cherries I reckon! There would be food a plenty, mostly cold meats like ham, tongue with a good selection of pickles but also some Pork Farms pie. Uncle John used to make his own pickles slicing cucumber and onion very thinly then soaking all in vinegar. Pudding might be trifle made by our gran or it could be any kind of tinned fruit covered in evaporated milk. These early Boxing Day gatherings were when the family were all together, laughing, joking and telling stories.
1962 saw the coldest winter for many years arrive late on Boxing Day. This was also the first year that the family gatherings in Sneinton were switched to a family home and ours was first. Our terrace house had more space downstairs, a kitchen, living room and front room. This allowed for food and drink in one room and fun and games in another. This was the first time we had the space to indulge in such silly games as pass the ballon with your knees, who can blow up a ballon then burst it first, pass the orange with your neck etc. The food and drink and banter flowed as usual. That evening another custom began – going off to watch Notts County when they were playing at home on Boxing Days. In September 1963 my family moved to Bakersfield Carlton and as usual Christmas Day was spent at home but Boxing Day was celebrated at my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Sheilas house. In 1964 we returned to old house in Pyatt Street as my Uncle Des and his new wife Alice had bought our old house. In the mid to late 1960s I definitely recall having chicken for Christmas dinner. I know this for sure for our cat Sandy was allowed a special treat; the giblets that used to come stuffed inside the chicken ie heart, kidneys and neck etc. Christmas food in the 1960s was nothing like today, nor was it available in such huge quantities. Chicken was considered a rarity and a treat!
My parents moved house again in September 1971, moviing to West Bridgford when I was 18 and I had a new Christmas experience that year – the Christmas Job! I worked for a couple of weeks for the East Coast Finance Company with old school friend Stephen James. Here I discovered a new Christmas tradition – being allowed home at dinnertime on Christmas Eve which just meant everyone spent dinnertime in the pub! The family gatherings continued on Boxing days but the food was slowly changing; the turkeys had arrived! Christmas Eve 1973 was quite memorable for one thing, or should I say three; turkey! By this time my mum was working for the Asda in West Bridgford. By chance both myself and sister Pat obtained Christmas jobs there though rarely saw each other. I had to work late on Christmas Eve as my job was in the warehouse at the back of the shop. Just before finishing work the manager told us all to collect our Christmas present on the way out – it was a frozen turkey. I raced home, eager to suprise my family with an unexpected bonus. My mum smiled as I walked into the kitchen proudly clutching my frozen turkey. “So you got one as well did you?” she said as she pointed out two more in the fridge. That was the famous three-turkey Christmas and turkey has been a solid fixture for every Christmas dinner since.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s the family gatherings in one of three homes had come to an end. Children had grown up and moved on but a new tradition began. We started to gather instead at a pub right by Trent Bridge ( now called the Riverside). I say we, it was mostly the males of the family, the females were back home slaving over a hot turkey! Drinks, jokes, beer and banter were enjoyed from opening time until around 2.30 when we all went to our various houses. By roughly 2.45 I was back in West Bridgford tucking into a turkey dinner with all the trimmings,including mums proudly home-made chestnut stuffing. Christmas pudding and custard would follow then drinks in hand we went into the lounge to watch the Queens speech roughly around 3.15pm. By this time myself and my father were well and truly stuffed and invariably the consumed food and drink combined with the droning voice of the Queen conspired to form the most amazing sleeping draught! Those were the days, but it is not the food or drink I miss, not the giving or receiving of presents or cards, it is the people. I have included in this blog a photograph taken on Boxing Day 1960 at my grandparents house in Sneinton. At the front are three children. Left is my sister Pat sitting on my mums knee. Right is my cousion Richard sitting on his mums knee. I am the cheeky chappy in front, snarling at the camera and all dressed up in my “Cowboy Joe from Mexico” outfit. All of the really important people in my life are in this photograph save one, my wife to be as then was. How sad to realise that only four of us now remain and only one, Uncle Des from the generation above.
Yes I am haunted but not really by ghosts, haunted by memories yet grateful for the times we all spent togther. My life would have been the poorer without the people in this photograph. So I raise a glass and toast the many happy Christmas memories I have. The memories would be nothing without the people, and Christmas without people just doesnt seem right.