Pictures to come later
Slow cooked turkey and all the trimmings. Christmas 1940s style is worth a digression perhaps. These memories will be on the cusp of the decade really so 48 to 52 ish. By this time we were not quite so badly off and mum, and dad enjoyed entertaining so inevitably we would get 'the family' visit on Christmas afternoon, overnight to Boxing Day usually.
Pre-Christmas mother was very busy and I can recall heavy sessions with butchers and other shopkeepers as she "worked "them, no other phrase suffices. It was not until later I got the full flavour, when some secrets were shared by the kids of the victims. But 'that Gina' – my mum – was well known for hard bargaining and flirting. Yep, true. Whatever, we had good meat and veg for the festivities. Much beer was acquired too, in barrel. But the wine ration was frugal by today's standards. Some Sauternes for the ladies and a drop of claret for the men. Some fruit wines would also show up, which I was always glad about since I nicked more than a few portions, unaware it was even alcoholic. Which not all was probably.
We had to make most of the decorations – multi-coloured paper chains for the most part. We would spend evenings coiling the paper into chains and licking the foul-tasting glue that secured them. Colours were limp, pastel. A few Tom Smith specials would be lovingly unfurled from former years. Everything was strung from picture rail to picture rail or to the central light fitting.
A tree was acquired. It always came home with dad on the tube from somewhere in London – I now know that most of our stuff came from the Houndsitch warehouse where anyone with a police warrant card was guaranteed a good price and a few freebies. Nah questions arsked guv'nor. No, nor none offered neither, copper or no copper! I recall a particularly splendid set of Christmas tree lights – 24 glass lamps all in the shape of Christmas characters: santa, elves, uncle holly; and symbols: stars, crescent moons. They would be true antiques now I guess – and very dangerous no doubt. None of this would go up far ahead of the big day.
One year dad splashed out on a table centre. A two foot long ocean liner called the Queen Mary but even I knew there were too few funnels. It had six strings leading from it. The idea was each one was gripped by someone at the table. On the word they all pulled. The attached crackers fired, the structure opened and gifts hats and jokes were delivered. Father had failed to notice, as mother did later, that it said clearly on the label: Suitable fore the larger table party. The crackers were extraordinarily loud, hot and smokey. The liner opened up so fast and so well that quantities of food, glassware and stuff was propelled rapidly into our laps. The smoke cleared to a scene of mild but significant destruction. Mother's sharp reaction was: "Trust you to start the blitz all over Timber!". But we did laugh.
Also before Christmas came the tour. This motor-borne assmbly of family members at first came to visit us since we had no car. Uncle Ashley did and with Auntie Iris (dad's sister) and cousin Chris and with or without Auntie Kit and Uncle Stan would drive them from Enfield to arrive with parcels. Theyb would be given cake, sweets and sherry with a pint or two for the driver. We kids loved it since it was another bunch of poresents for us.
Later, when we had a car, we undertook this arduous task – all the way to Enfield! It was arduous for us kids however since the car, a 1939 Ford 8 Y-type, was small and space limited. Arduous for mum and dad too in a way since we would visit both aunt's houses, two houses of friends and end up along Frobisher Road with pretend aunts. And each stop would involve at least one sherry for mum – the driver – and a scotch for dad; happily at that time not qualified to drive. Had he been I fear I might well not be here to write this.
Notice that pretty much the whole of dad's family lived in London back then. Only mother's family were more spread – her aunt Dorrie in Cardiff and Laura in Lewes, not far from mother's birthplace at Newhaven, East Sussex..
Later on Christmas eve was also parents time. Much drinking, many visitors, much noise. Kids alolowed to stay up late until 9-10ish (we would be awake by 4 a.m. opening parcels!). Mother would be helped by sherry in her preparation of the next day's feast. A turkey the size of an ostrich – I recall 24 pounders – would be stuffed both ends, trussed and thrust into the oven on a low gas for hours on end. No timers hence the late insertion and it was an all night job. The fact that we now know that all that stuffing meant it started out loaded with health risk mattered little. By the time it got to plate nothing could possibly have survived. Not even flavour. And certainly no moistness. Yet it seemed magically good.
Meanwhile the men would return from the pub - yep, more booze - to help prep veg probably aided by yet more ale. And we kids would pretend to be asleep when the pillow cases laden with presents – the contents of innumerable brown parcels secreted all over the house by mother – were hung from our bed ends. Any large parcels were stood close by. And a stocking was provided. In my very young days the presents were not grand, although plentiful. And not always new - hand-me-downs were common.
We hardly slept of course and were utterly forbidden to make the slightest sound before 6 a.m. - the clock was the focus of our attention but I do not recall it ever reaching 6... Sometime around 4 a.m. we would commence operations. The stocking we were allowed to attack. We were also allowed no more than three parcels before the parents arrived, bleary eyed and hung over. These could come only from the pillow case – NOT the floor. At the foot of each stocking was an orange – a fairly rare treat back then. Mother would have bought one that was a very tight fit. The idea was that we would take ages to release it thus preserving a few more golden minutes of shut eye. But by age 7 I had a penknife and the ruse failed utterly. Various sweets and small gifts would be in the stocking, often home-made since sweet rationing lasted until 1953. And, from about 51, Roger joined me in the selection of the permitted trio of gifts to be opened early. If we chose luckily then the ordnance of three only would survive – if not at least one more and maybe two would also be opened, at risk of some aggravation from mother. By this time the noise level had risen and the clock crept round to say 5 o'clock. Artificially cheerful mum and grump-laden father would appear and the serious business could commence. Minutes later father would disappear, followed soon after by the clank of the overhead cistern. Mum would look sharply up, and tighten her thighs for a few more minutes. 'Open the window, did we?' she would ask in what I later came to know was a Welsh-pattern grammar picked up from her sister in Cardiff. I just wish I had known then what I know now – it was hilarious but only to the knowing. But it was all huge fun without the knowledge of irony.
Christmas day breakfast was, like the rest of the festivities, large. The bantams would provide, Exner the butcher would have been wrung dry of bacon and mother would once again inform us all how delicious mushrooms were – and eat ours and Dad's leftovers with evident relish. Father would do his best to ensure that all three downstairs fires were going well. Play would follow, while various friends would call in delivering small pressies for us and sharing large drinks with mother and father. Mum's mum would arrive, with or without Grandpa – more on that anon – and in all probability one or other of dad's sisters and their family would arrive.
And so to the meal. The adults would be sat around the dining room table. It was not large and so a second small table would be set for us kids. With visitors there would be six to eight adults and probably four kids - we two and some cousins. The table would be set very posh by opur standards. Glasses for wine. Crackers. Maybe even napkins. There would be no starter in those days so it was straight to the main event - the turkey would be carved at table - how there was room I struggle to recall. And dad di not carve. He claimedf that for all his years at boardings school he had carved every day in the dinging hall. So mum would 'do the honours' as it was always called. Piles of potatoes, brussels, carrots, cabbage along with the usual sausages, bits of bacon and chunks of forcemeat and Paxo stuffing would be passed around. Gravy would be applied and mirclously it would all be hot.