I’ll never forget the day Great Aunt Gladys spontaneously combusted. It was Christmas Eve 1962, I was sitting with other members of my family watching The Black and White Minstrel Show on our new television,when all of a sudden there was a large flash and cloud of smoke from the general direction of where Great Aunt Gladys had been doing her knitting. When the smoke cleared there was just a pile of ashes with her hairnet sitting on top and a knitting needle either side of it. Much as I loved Great Aunt Gladys, I couldn’t help but think that this event could have put a bit of a dampener on xmas festivities, but I needn’t have worried, Great Uncle William, was a bit thrifty and though he was devastated at the sudden loss of the woman who’d been by his side for forty years, he could not help but notice the huge savings on the cremation side of things. You have to remember that it was less than two decades since the war had been raging, obviously I had not been around, but the older members of the family were used to battling through these setbacks, so my mum just got the dustpan and brush out, cleaned up and proceeded to stuff the turkey.
I had started my school holidays a couple of days before and they could not arrive soon enough, for some reason the girls in my class had started this new game of chasing the boys and kissing them, now a few years later when I would have loved this game, none of the girls were interested in playing, well, apart from Mavis Jenkins and that would have been far too much like kissing Champion the Wonder Horse, but when you are ten, the last thing you want is girls kissing you especially in front of your mates. Anyway I was hoping that by the time the next term started they would have come up with a new game.
I had commenced the holidays with a new haircut, short back and sides, the same one I had always had, in fact that was the only one the barber knew how to do. Little did I know that five years after that I would have hair hanging down to my collar at the back and hanging in my eyes at the front, and even littler did I know that forty years later, I would have hair flying out of every orifice but none on my head.
My main concern that xmas, was that I was going through a stage where I wasn’t sure if there was really a Father Christmas, Herbert Nutsworth, the brainiest kid at school had suggested it recently, mind you he’d also suggested that by the end of the decade, man would walk on the moon, so at the time we assumed he was an idiot. I did not want to ask anyone about it, just in case there was a Father Christmas and word got back to him that I was a non believer and he crossed me off his list, but it just seemed to me that there was a hell of a lot of strange people popping in and out of my bedroom at night. There was Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, The Sandman to name a few, not to mention the Boogie man that my mum assured me would fly into the room if I didn’t clean up the mess I’d made. I always worried that they all might turn up at the same time and get in a big fight.
Anyway, it was nearly bedtime and even if I was having doubts about Santa, I was taking no chances and knew that he would not come if I was awake, so I had one last check of the presents I had bought, a Manchester United scarf for my mum, not that she was interested but I thought it would keep her warm in winter and also I could borrow it, a stick of Blackpool Rock for my dad, I’d bought it the previous summer, so by now it was soft enough for his dentures, a packet of Woodbines for Uncle William, he loved a smoke and always maintained they were the reason he was so fit and healthy, and a bar of Fruit and Nut Chocolate for Great Aunt Gladys, well she wouldn’t be needing that so I quickly ate it. Last job for me was to put out a mince pie and glass of milk for Santa, then it was off to sleep.
Some time later I was woken by a crashing sound from the lounge, assuming it was Santa I could not resist a peek, I quietly climbed out of bed and opened my bedroom door. In the moonlight I could see my dad staggering about looking slightly the worse for wear, he sat at the table and started eating Santa’s mince pie, I went back to bed wondering what was going on, moments later the door opened and in walked dad carrying the now full pillow case I’d left out for Santa, he was trying to be quiet but kept tripping over things and going Shush!! to himself .
So that was it, now I knew the sad truth. I never told my brother and sister, as I felt that although I was mature enough to deal with it, they might not be. Also, in a way I was quite relieved as I felt that now, even if the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy etc. all turned up at the same time, at least there’d be a bit more room.
Hair came and went, man walked on the moon, but xmas was never the same again.
Have a good xmas Steve..PS..if any children read this, obviously there really is a Father Xmas and