Here’s another page from Dad’s 1972 accounts book, but one with a seasonal twist: his Christmas shopping list. I remember some of the gifts listed: the cassette player he bought for my Mum, along with some tapes of her favourite classical music, and the enamelling set they bought me. The latter was another case of me having coveted a friend’s possession and hinted that I wanted one, only to be quietly disappointed on the day when it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. My friend Katie S. had an enamelling kit with a real kiln, and coloured powder that you shook through stencils onto medallions and put in the hot kiln to glaze. Mine was a cold enamelling kit with a sticky fluid for making messy patterns that never quite hardened properly. I hope I managed to conceal my disappointment!
I have very happy memories of Christmas in our house. We had our family traditions: decorations (and the tree) went up on Christmas Eve and came down on 6th January, to be carefully packed away in the loft until the following year, along with all reusable wrapping paper. Christmas morning meant waking to find one of my brothers’ striped rugby socks on my bed, stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas. All the other presents under the tree had to wait until after breakfast to be opened, and we each had to keep at least one until after dinner too. I liked that, still having something to look forward to. Dad kept detailed notes of who had given what to whom, for the purposes of writing Thank You letters, which we did on Boxing Day. TV was banned, with special dispensation for Morecambe and Wise, and we played quiz games and Scrabble. When we were very young my Dad had a reel to reel tape recorder with which he recorded us all opening our presents on Christmas day. I recently heard one of these tapes again and the voices of my long-dead Mum, Dad and Grannie Lane took my breath away. When I get the hang of this MP3 business I’ll try to post the recording on here.
Having older brothers of course meant that I was relieved of my belief in Father Christmas, as he was always known in our house, at a young age. I became suspicious that he was in fact my dad after all, when Mum made Dad a dressing gown out of red towelling just before Christmas. So I forced myself to stay awake on Christmas Eve, feigning sleep in an angelic pose as my door was quietly opened and some rustling sounds ensued at the end of my bed. I peeped out from under my eyelids and one glimpse of the red towelling dressing gown was enough to convince me. I didn’t let on though – I didn’t want to lose my Christmas morning stocking! To me it was one of the highlights of Christmas, and I still recall my disappointment on waking up to my 16th Christmas to find no stocking, my parents having decided I was too old for it. (They were probably right, but still..!)
Another Christmas, aged about 10, I decided my parents should have a stocking too. I secretly set about finding pairs of things to give them – pictures, pens, pencil sharpeners – and crept in to their bedroom during the night of Christmas Eve to place my gifts in 2 neat piles next to each side of their bed. They were surprised, and apparently delighted, to find them there in the morning!
I always enjoyed buying people presents, even as a child. Here is a page from my 1972 pocket money accounts book, from which I have apparently withdrawn 70p for Christmas shopping:
I probably spent this on patterned soaps and writing paper from The Studio, a gift shop on Barnes High Street, for my Mum and friends. Looking at both of these lists, it’s astonishing to see how much cheaper everything was then. Dad’s entire expenditure for Christmas (including “2 cider” – a rare treat!) seems to have come to about £33: roughly what I spent on postage stamps for this year’s cards.
I have another vivid Christmas memory which I think must have been from this year, or possibly the one following. My parents decided that, as well as the traditional turkey, we would have a duck for Christmas dinner. I was horrified – ducks were like pets, we often fed the ones on the local village pond. How could we eat one? I steadfastly refused to contemplate such a barbaric act. It only took me another year or so to realise that the poor old turkey deserved the same respect, even if I had never met one. So that year was my last Christmas turkey, and I haven’t eaten meat since.
Still, I’m a sucker for Christmas, and am looking forward to the annual repetition of some of those old family traditions in my own home next week. But there will be a lot more booze than we ever used to have – and no turkey.