Christmas past

The Memory of Christmas past
Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

This post is by Val Chapman a reminiscance of her childhood Christmas.

It was never going to be the same again. My father had died suddenly just 3 months ago and although the festive season was upon us, I was feeling somewhat less than cheery.

It made matters worse that it was his birthday on Christmas Eve, and so it seemed that I had been dealt a double blow. The shops seemed to be full of things that dad would have loved to have received. Usually it was a struggle to find suitable gifts for my dad, after all, what do you get the man who has everything?  Knowing my dad would appreciate the joke, one year I found the answer to that question and gave him a bottle of antibiotics!

Of course it wasn’t just me.

My mum was understandably devastated and although she put on a brave face, she had little to no interest in anything.

My children, her grandchildren, were a godsend to us both on those dark days, and made us both realise that life does indeed go on.

I am now at the same age my mother was when she was widowed, and I took some ‘me time’ for a little reminiscing.

“It’s ok, I’ve got my gloves. Let’s get going.”

I looked up at my dad and took his hand.

“See you later mam”

We both gave her a kiss and she shushed us out of the house before turning back to busy herself with the Christmas dinner preparation.

This was our usual routine on Christmas morning. My mum sending us off to my Nana’s house, while she peeled potatoes, chopped carrots, made Yorkshire puddings and did everything that made for a perfect Christmas dinner.

I found out years later that mum had always regretted that decision, declaring that “children should not be taken away from their toys at Christmas”. One reason why she never let me bring my children to visit at Christmas. Oh it would have been very different if we had lived close to one another, and could have just popped round for a couple of hours, but as it was it was a 6-7 hour round trip, it meant at least one night’s stay.

A trip we did every 2-3 months, except at Christmas. The very time when families are supposed to be together. So why didn’t they come to us?

Well, mum once again declared that ” you would all have a much better time without us getting in the way”.

I can’t deny it hurt a little at the time, but she was a bit of a ‘home-bird’ and hated travelling. Nor can I deny that actually, she did have a point!

So, there we were, dad and I walking the two miles or so to my grandparents house. Dad didn’t drive, probably couldn’t have afforded a car even if he did, and of course, there were no busses on Christmas day.

I never minded, it always seemed to be snowing, but that is probably just my wishful thinking, and I was spending time with my dad.

I was definitely a ‘daddy’s girl’, and he in turn adored me.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mum too. She was amazing, wonderful and a credit to her firm but fair miners daughter upbringing.

We walked down the path which runs alongside the semi-detached houses, and borders the playing field. Looking across this field we could see the sea, grey and threatening as it usually was at this time of year..

Before long we were at the main road. There were a few people about, often children who had just had a new bike from Santa, determined to ride despite the snow.

We walked beside the road for about a mile until we reached the railway crossing.

It was a place my father knew well. For all of his working life he had been at the docks and spent part of that time riding on the wagons which transported coal from one of the local pits to the docks where it was loaded onto ships to end up who knew where.

Crossing over the line, it was a fairly easy walk to my Nana’s house, past the Londonderry Arms where they were probably getting ready for another busy Christmas, and then turning right, with our destination straight ahead, just before the local working men’s club. A place where later my grandad, at the age of 97, and the oldest member, would be the guest of honour at its re-opening.

There were already some cousins there and we children delighted each other with stories of what Santa had left for us, and handing out presents for my Nana and grandad.

We didn’t seem to have been there for very long before we had to leave for home, with a promise that I would be good for my mum. We always took home a box of liquorice all-sorts, a gift to my dad from his in-laws.

Dad was the only son-in-law who was handed a present at Christmas. It was given by way of a “thank you” for the little jobs he did for them, fixing the toaster, putting up shelves, plumbing in a washing machine when the old twin tub gave up the ghost, that sort of thing.

As the ‘favoured’ son-in-law, my dad was also given the job of ‘first foot’ on New year’s Eve, being ushered out of the house before midnight and with a lump of coal for luck in his hand ready to re-enter once the church bells had struck. So whilst the rest of us were laughing and celebrating in the warmth, poor dad was outside, freezing cold and on his own.

Dad checked that I had fastened my coat up properly and we said our goodbyes and set off for home.

The terraced houses lining our route, normally blackened thanks to the coal dust which settled on the walls, took on a beautiful festive look with glittery snow settling on the tops of garden gates and privet hedges.

Getting back to the warmth of home and the welcoming smell of Christmas, the celebrations could start properly for our little family. Playing, eating, watching television. More or less just as I do today.

I often wonder what my Nana would think if she could see the piles of presents my grandchildren woke up to on Christmas morning. Would she be proud that her family were doing so well that they could afford all of these gifts, or horrified at the expense and ‘show’? I have no way of knowing obviously, but I suspect it would be the latter.

 

So yes, in a way, Christmas isn’t the same. But in many ways, thanks to children and grandchildren, it hasn’t changed very much, and I still love it, almost as much

 

Val Chapman

A favourite Book

This piece is by Tessa Thomson and tells of her love for a favourite book.

Trilby gold
Trilby by George Du Maurier

After my mother died, when I was about 3 years old, I was discharged from the hospital where I had been since contracting septicemia at 9 months. I was taken to live with my grandparents. When I was about 8, I was introduced for the first time to my two half-sisters, Margaret and Anne, who were twins and had been living up to that time in a children’s home. They had reached 16 and their time at the home had come to an end, and they were now to fend for themselves. They stayed with my grandparents for a very short time but both were quite wild and wanted to be up and away to the bright lights of London. From photographs that I have found over the years, it seems that the twins did visit my grandparents during their time at the children’s home and the group photos show me to be about 4 or 5.

I had no more contact with my sisters until I was about 12 when Margaret came to see my grandparents. Margaret, by now 20 was living and working in London although I have no idea at what. But amazingly she bought me a book. It was called Trilby and was written by George Du Maurier. My grandparents home was devoid of books unless you count my grandfather’s Zane Gray western paperbacks.

It was a substantial book for a 12-year-old and it took some years before I appreciated its dark overtones. The cover of the book was a luscious green and the pages were edged in gold. It had a few illustrations. One I remember to this day was of Svengali, the one character in the book that stirred my young imagination the most.

Trilby was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was originally published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August 1894, then in book form from 1895. It sold 200,000 copies in the United States alone.

The book is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though the book features the stories of two English artists and a Scottish artist, one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a rogue, masterful musician and hypnotist.

Trilby O’Ferrall, the novel’s heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relationship between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small, though a crucial, portion of the novel.

Trilby Hat
The Trilby Hat

The novel has been adapted to the stage several times; one of these featured the lead actress wearing a distinctive short-brimmed hat with a sharp snap to the back of the brim. The hat became known as the trilby and went on to become a popular men’s clothing item in the United Kingdom throughout various parts of the 20th century.

Rebecca
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

The book became my constant companion. Every few months I would dip into its pages. When I was older Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier became another treasured book and my favourite film. Asked by my family what I wanted for my 70th birthday, I remembered seeing an advertisement for a watch called Rebecca made and styled by Ben Du Maurier, George’s great-grandson.

Rebecca Watch
The Rebecca Watch

 

Tessa Thomson

The Coronation

Elizabeth_II_&_Philip_after_Coronation
Elizabeth the second and Prince Philip Coronation portrait (Credit: Library and Archives Canada/K-0000047)

 

This piece is written by another of our Wordsmiths Sandra Hughes. I suppose the subtitle might be something like unintended consequences.

First public embarrassment (that I know of)

Or

Mum’s love of fancy dress

Or

THE CORONATION

The first humiliating fancy dress for me, was as a baby when my mother dressed me as

‘Baby Bunting’-

For those unfamiliar with the Nursery Rhyme-

‘Bye Baby Bunting

Daddy’s gone a-hunting

Gone to get a rabbit skin

To wrap the Baby Bunting in.’

Fortunately, it was not a rabbit skin I was dressed in. My mother, an intelligent, imaginative, resourceful woman, played with the word ‘Bunting.’ She made me a costume out of what looks like a flag (heaven help her if she mutilated a Union Jack) red, white and blue, which of course was decorating everywhere for the occasion. A hat, with ears, completed the ensemble.

We then joined with many other local children and mothers, celebrating the Coronation, of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, I hasten to add. This year, we found a photo taken at the event.

Last year, whilst helping my Mother sort through boxes, we unearthed said Baby Bunting costume.

For reasons known only to herself, my 24-year-old daughter decided she wanted to keep it. I just hope any future grandchild is not going to suffer the same ignominy as I did. You can work out how old the costume is.

I now confess, I followed in my Mother’s footsteps and often dressed my children in fancy dress on holidays and for school. These days, it is much easier with costumes in shops or online. However, my eldest daughter has continued the family tradition, but gone too far greater lengths than I ever did, kitting her children out in some amazing outfits she has made herself. (she is quite competitive!).

Looking at the group photo of the Coronation Party was quite emotional, contemplating how long our Queen has reigned and wondered what happened to all the people, seeing my grandmother and mother, no longer with us. A wonderful occasion, where everyone came together to celebrate.

Sandra

 

 

OH! BOY

Buddy_Holly_cropped
Buddy Holly in 1959 (picture from Wikipedia)

Jan’s piece is about a recent U3A trip to a Buddy Holly tribute concert. Many of us of a certain age remember Buddy Holly with a mixture of nostalgia, gratitude and sadness, gratitude for his music evoking for many of us a fondly remembered youth, a time of optimism. Sadness that such a talented young man along with J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson  and Ritchie Valens died so young, all three were in the same plane. A sadness echoed later by the death in similar circumstances of Otis Redding.

Oh! Boy

 Last Wednesday Bill and I went with a merry bunch of U3Aers on a charabanc to Northampton to see “The Buddy Holly Story”.

       Leaving Whittlesey at 10.30 am and arriving in Northants at 11.45am left us plenty of time to look around  the town and have lunch as the show didn’t start until 2.30pm.

On our walkabout, we noticed a small, old fashioned pub called the Wig and Pen. Ambling back, we wandered in looking for lunch. Inside was a long bar on one side and opposite were small wooden round tables with stools, in front of cushioned bench seats for people to sit and enjoy their pub grub. At the far end, up three steps was a smoking area with wooden tables and chairs in a modern style, (me, being me didn’t appreciate that fact even though there were ashtrays on the table, Bill pointed it out to me later). 

The Wig and Pen Northampton

     We sat down and were immediately attended to by a delightful young waitress who was pleasant and helpful. Suddenly we were startled by rain falling on a wide area of corrugated plastic roofing above us, making a deafening noise like rounds from a machine gun.  We remarked to the waitress that we hoped it would stop before we left as we hadn’t come prepared for rain.

She replied with a laugh that we needn’t worry about that as she would give us an umbrella from behind the bar. Apparently, they have quite a collection of forgotten brollies. Fortunately, the rain had stopped when we left.

The show was excellent. It told the story of Buddy Holly’s musical career, how he started and his rise to fame, eventually becoming a worldwide success but only for a short time as he died in a plane crash in February 1959 aged 22 years.

One time Buddy Holly was invited to perform in Harlem. In those days it was unheard of for a white man to play to a black audience. Two black ladies who were present at the time laughed rolled their eyes and told him “You’ll never get off that stage alive. They’ll eat you.” Buddy just shrugged “A gigs a gig” He performed. The audience was stunned when he first went on stage but by the time he finished they were completely won over. A small victory for racial integration.

The young man playing Buddy Holly was exceptional, as were his three “Crickets”. I was quietly singing along to the songs remembered from my youth as I think so were plenty of others. The whole cast danced and sang with energy and enjoyment.

At the moment in the story when Buddy Holly dies the curtains were closed and a lone guitar was spotlighted centre stage for a few moments.

Then the finale which was fast and furious, pounding out favourites hits and encouraging the audience to join in. Some members stood up, waving, clapping their hands and singing along. I’m sure a lot of us had our own memories of the fifties. I  was fourteen years old and had just discovered jiving. Oh Boy! did I enjoy dancing.

As we left the theatre happy and contented, I wondered if the lead singer, when he was playing his heart out in the finale, giving the music and dancing his all, whether in his mind’s eye he wasn’t seeing us but imagining the bright-eyed, young girls who would have been swaying, swooning, screaming, crying  at the front of the stage of his idol Buddy Holly.

 

Jan Cunningham

Book Launch Yesterday At U3A

A fantastic new post from Wendy Fletcher.

Wendy book signing.
Wendy signing copies of her autobiography The Railway Carriage Child at the launch in Whittlesey

At the U3A meeting in Whittlesey yesterday I did a book signing session for my first book, The Railway Carriage Child. Over 100 members attended and the afternoon was a great success. I hope that is encouraging to all would-be writers who may be having doubts about stepping onto the public platform with their own creations

 

The Railway Carriage Child now in print

Wendy's Book
Wendy Fletcher with her first print copy of The Railway Carriage Child

About two years ago I joined the local U3A Writing group as its third member. At my first meeting in Whittlesey’s Not Just Cafe, I was able to read a chapter from Wendy Fletcher’s autobiography. It was unfinished and hadn’t a title but it was for me a work of exceptional quality. Today the first-ever print copy was delivered to Wendy she brought it to the Writing Group (Whittlesey Wordsmiths) meeting opened the envelope and together with Wendy, we had the first sight of it.

This is the foreword

Against a backdrop of the Cambridgeshire fens, lies the

small market town of Whittlesey. Here are many features

of historical and architectural interest, including two

medieval churches, a 17th century Butter Cross and rare

examples of 18th century mud boundary walls.

Less well known, but still quite remarkable, are the pair of

Victorian railway carriages which stand just outside the

town.

Originally built for Great Eastern Railways in 1887,

they have been home to Wendy’s family since 1935.

Now, for the first time, Wendy shares the fascinating

story of her childhood, growing up as a Railway Carriage

Child in the mid to late 20th century.

With a wonderful memory for detail, she paints a

picture so vivid that we are there with her.

Through the eyes of an exuberant child, whose

imagination outpaced her years, we meet the characters

central to her life: an ancient Granny, still governed by the

old fen traditions of an earlier era, a domineering Mother,

a long-suffering Father, and Grandfather who died before

her birth but still inspires her dreams.

With the humour of hindsight, Wendy brings alive a

time when life moved at a gentler pace.

The final chapter follows Wendy as she returns to live

in the carriages as an adult, continuing the renovation and

preservation, to ensure that they survive for another

generation of her family.

Words Unspoken

This post is by Wendy Fletcher.

She shares her thoughts on people watching and how the way they interact with each other and their surroundings. These thoughts inspire her stories that form from the pictures in the mind’s eye. An interesting piece, an observation on observations.

Wendy’s new book, The Railway Carriage Child is launching soon for details follow this blog or follow the link to her site at the end of her post

 

man and woman sitting on bench
A young couple enjoying each other’s company Photo by Andre Furtado

 

I started watching people having conversations and wondered what they might be saying to each other.

Poetic licence allowed me to record these conversations without ever hearing a word.

Body language played a big part in this.

Were the couple on a bench leaning in close?

Were their knees touching?

Did they hold each other’s eyes as they talked?

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Another couple in a restaurant looked far more distracted. He pushed his vegetables around with his fork. She wiped her mouth nervously with her napkin.

person walking with puppy near trees
Photo by James Frid on Pexels.com

A man with a dog sat in the park. Every time he threw the stick, the dog bounded back, dropped it readily and waited for a fuss. The man leaned over and gave him a hug; not just a pat but a real hug.

Here were characters for a story.

Without eavesdropping, without intruding, I could incorporate their unspoken dialogue into an imaginary scene.

Maybe the young couple were being drawn closer together by some adverse reaction to their relationship. Did they face opposition from parents who perhaps thought them too young for a serious commitment?

Could the older couple in the restaurant be those parents, could they be disagreeing about handling the situation?

And the man in the park; probably Granddad, lonely after the death of his wife, relying on the closeness he feels with his dog, but about to realise how much his wise words are valued by his family as he steps into the role of mediator; to listen to the concerns of his daughter and son-in-law, to feel the pain of his grandson, torn between teenage love and parental concern.

Yes, the idea is growing. I can meld together this family of characters who have never met.

Now I just need to go and write their story.

Wendy Fletcher

Wendy has a blog feel free to visit it Wendy’s blog

 

Soon to be published.

The Railway Carriage Child
The Railway Carriage Child