Memories from the East-End
We never had candles, they were too dangerous. We had some very old traditional baubles though, but they were pretty lethal if they broke - they were made of very thin blown glass. They were really beautiful - some concave with hollows in them, made to catch the light. I think they were one of the few things that my parents salvaged from the nice, big, posh, end-of-terrace 'ouse they had in Brecknock Road before the Luftwaffe got at it - they were probably after the railway again at Junction Road.
By the time I came along - nine months after my dad was de-mobbed - we had rooms in Sandwich Street, Kings Cross.
The first Christmas lights I remember were quite large and all different shapes: bells, Chinese lanterns, stars etc., then later on we had the ones with LES Lilliput bulbs in all different colours. We also used to buy concertina-type paper Chinese lanterns and put them over some of the lights.
The lights were wired in series, and I remember the great fun we used to have watching my very frustrated dad trying to find which one had come loose or blown when the whole lot went out!
We also had a kind of tinsel that dangled down like icicles. It consisted of thin strips of lead foil!!! Let your kids suck it and they're idiots straight away!! I can remember the smell of it on my hands after we'd put it on the tree.
I always sort of knew there was no Santa Claus. I think my mum told me very early on. It didn't take any of the magic away though.
I used to wake up early and then pretend to be asleep so as not to spoil the fun, and then 'wake up' to find quite a sizeable pile of presents at the foot of the bed. Including grandparents there were eight Bregas and Seven Millers generously contributing …and no, I didn't get bags of river sand from the former and flour from the latter!
Sometimes there was a pillow case full of stuff and there was always a ready-made Xmas stocking with small novelties, bags of nuts and some fruit.
After we moved into our first “Caaancil flat” in 1952, we were on the ground floor and one of my fondest memories is of the Salvation Army choir and brass band coming round and playing carols on the lawn outside our windows - sometimes in the snow. People used to give 'em tea etc. to warm ‘em up! It's a shame they don’t have sufficient members to do that sort of thing any more.
The first Christmas dinner I can remember was spoiled by the turkey being very dry; I can still remember the taste and I couldn't have been more than three. Perhaps the butcher mistook it for a very large pheasant! It was still good though.
They always were, with my dad having been an Army cook and my mum the daughter of an Italian chef. I even enjoyed the sprouts or cabbage. I've never understood why kids don't like greens. It's probably because parents expect them not to like them and try to force them. I still get through huge amounts of sprouts at Christmas, so much so that I probably make a significant contribution to Greenhouse Gases.
Our traditional evening meal was a bit unusual. We started with Christmas cake and then when that had gone down, it was bread (usually Hemmings) and butter with big lumps of Gorgonzola cheese (cheese was very cheap in those days. No EEC!) We had pickled onions, and sometimes Branston Pickle. Then we'd finish with tinned peach slices or mixed fruit in syrup. Today's versions in juice are much healthier.
We'd sit around the table and pull crackers, put on the paper hats and play all sorts of games… until we got a telly - then we’d down with plates balanced on the arms of the armchairs. The carpet used to get a fair bit of what we were supposed to be eating then!
I do this on Christmas evening but with a mixture of lime juice, herbs and Tahini for the cheese or M&S Hummus, Garner's pickled onions - the only ones that taste anything like the ones we used to have then - and olives with wholemeal or rye bread. Strong cheesy taste again.
Sometimes we used to have chestnuts. In Sandwich Street we had a solid fuel range so it was dead easy to roast 'em on that. In Godwin Court and here, we used to balance them in a row along the front of the fire grate, burn our fingers turning them round and try to get them off when they were done before they caught fire! The long winter evenings used to simply fly by!
Watching the Queen's speech was always an occasion. My dad was extremely patriotic in those days too, but I don't remember him ever standing to attention for the National Anthem afterwards like Alf Garnett!
Sometimes we'd have visitors, but usually we'd do the rounds of the grandparents on Boxing Day and most of the other relatives would be there.
Smells, colours, board games, radio and television bring back so many of my Christmas memories, with them feeling so special it’s no wonder we try to re-live them year after year and pass them down through generations – tradition can be a wonderful thing!