I feel as though I have been writing cards for England. Much better to make a few. So on Friday I went to Mandy's. As always it was a great morning and the conversation flowed along with the coffee. Four cards. Here you go,
None of us can truly remember our childish wonder at Christmas but we can look back through adult eyes with enormous gratitude for the little things which grown-ups did to give us wonderful memories.
For me the infant school party was truly magical. We each took in a cake or something similar which was whisked away from us as soon as we arrived at school in the morning. The morning of the school party was a time of barely controlled excitement. Each classroom had been decorated using the craft creations of the children. One year we made snowflakes to stick on the window, another year was cotton wool snowmen and yet another a host of angels. Crepe paper streamers would be high on the ceiling in a way which I am told would make any fire officer these days need more than an angel to soothe him. Each classroom had a tree usually hung with toilet roll lanterns and there would be a huge banner wishing everyone Merry Christmas.
Lunch was usually a little early and then we were shooed out into the playground so that teachers, school staff and a bevy of parents could set to work. The dinner ladies must have had a hard time with us that day!
Eventually we were allowed back into school for The Party. Games took place in our classrooms and always included Pass the Parcel, Musical Statues and whatever else the teacher could think of.
And finally, the party tea. This was always laid out on long tables in the dining room by the kitchen staff and those wonderful parents. It was less than two hours since lunch but I don't remember being even slightly inhibited when it came to eating my share. Sandwiches, jelly, cakes went down in rapid succession.
At last there would be a lull in the noise and then there would be a huge BANG! Santa and his sleigh had arrived on the school roof! All eyes went up to the high windows around the hall to watch Santa striding along the roof of the adjacent corridor on his way down to an ecstatic band of children.
Soon he came into the hall carrying a huge sack. Had we been good? Of course, Santa, we were always good. He asked his question of the whole school as he arrived and then of each class before he handed out presents. He checked with the teachers that we had indeed been good and we looked anxiously at Miss Higgins and Miss Gulliver as they gave their reports.
All too soon, Santa left and we had a final story before we too were sent home to tell our parents what a wonderful time we had had.
All this took place early in the final week of term. It had to be so that there would be time to eat the rest of the huge cakes our mums had sent for the party.
Throughout my grammar school career I always sang in the school choir, Fortunately enthusiasm was enough qualification, and joy in singing was considered to be more important than innate ability. There were of course a few star singers but the rest of us were there to provide volume rather than quality.
The choir formed almost as term began in September with weekly rehearsals but by early December the rehearsals were several times a week as the music master tore out his already thinning hair trying to get a decent sound out of his motley crew. My recollection was that by the time the carol service came along we sounded more than OK. Best white blouses, neatly tied school ties, and perfectly pressed skirts were required for girls and boys wore their school blazers as well. (And trousers not skirts before you ask.) We had to rehearse getting in and out of position, how to sit when we were not performing and indeed how to stand up and sit down together. I wonder if schoolchildren today would consent to being so regimented.
The carol service was always done three times: twice for parents and other guests and once as the final assembly on the last day of term for the whole school so it marked being let off the leash for Christmas.
There were perks to being in the choir. We would go out en masse (about sixty of us) and go carol singing on few streets around the school which could be great fun and I know it was appreciated by the local residents. We would collect cash for a local children's home but one or two householders would have mince pies or gingerbread ready for us as well.
The best perk however, was the party at the headmaster's house. "Sir" was normally quite a distant figure but once a year he would invite the choir to his home. We would sing for his family and neighbours, his wife would provide a nice supper, then he would provide a shuttle service in his camper van to take us back into town. A wonderful man.
Some weeks ago I told you about my pet unicorn whom I adopted at the November meeting of the WI.
He is a unicorn of style and I always knew that he would be a bit of a show-off. Right from the start he made it clear that he wouldn't be content living with me in a simple bungalow. He needed a public arena in which to prance around.
And now he has found just the place. He's settled himself on a Christmas tree in a festival at Caistor Parish Church. As is fitting, he has flashing lights and is surrounded by hearts sent by fans to tell him how wonderful he is, and pots of tea made by his admirers.
Back in the fifties Christmas Day was a day of feasting to be remembered all year. Everything was home made and it had to be well planned. These were the days before domestic freezers.
The first things which were made each year were the chutneys and pickles. We had a large garden and Daddy grew a lot of the vegetables to be used, for example cauliflower, onions and beans for the piccalilli. Mummy would make quite a range of pickles - plum and apple chutney, pickled onions, tomato chutney, pickled red cabbage among others - and the first jars would be opened around Christmas time although enough would have been made to last the year around. Spices, sugar and vinegar would need to be bought and this was a way of spreading the cost of Christmas.
Next would be the mincemeat. Mother would mix the dried fruit, apples, spices and suet along with a healthy glug of brandy well in advance of Christmas so it had plenty of time to mature. She had a good cold store in the garage (naturally cold, not refrigerated) and with the mincemeat, pickles and jam it would be filling up nicely.
The Christmas cake too had to be made in good time so that it could "have a drink". She would marzipan it herself and decorate it with royal icing. One year she forgot to put glycerine in the icing and the results were spectacularly hard.
But the best bit of food preparation was Christmas puddings. She used to make quite a few as gifts but the big one for our own table was very special. The fruit would be well soaked in brandy a day before the puddings were made and on pudding day she would mix all the ingredients and everyone had to stir it and make a wish. Before our own pud went into the steamer she would put silver thrupenny bits in it, These were precious coins which she would buy back from the lucky finders on Christmas Day.
No child was ever allowed to think that the Christmas present thing was just about getting: it was about giving too.
I had a lovely Grandad. He was quite authoritarian and his word was law but he loved his grandchildren and he was dearly loved by us. In early December Grandad always gave each of us half a crown (2/6) worth 12.5 pence in today's money so that, with a few pence saved from pocket money, we could buy our parents a small gift. I can't remember anything I bought but I do remember the excitement of that special visit to Woolworth's.
My suspicion is that the presents we made at school were much more appreciated. One amazing construction I remember was a vase made out of a jam jar. The jar was covered with many layers of small pieces of newspaper then painted and varnished. I made four bumps on mine and those bumps became four children dancing around the pot.
My first ever school make for my Mother was a simple green felt purse. She used to keep it in her evening bag and whenever she went out she would put a few coins for the cloakroom in that purse and I was always so proud that I had made it. It was only after she died that I discovered that not just coins had gone out in that purse. For over fifty years she had kept in it the note that a five year old me had written, "I love you Mummy."
Yesterday was the anniversary of her death, today is the anniversary of my Father's death. I'll extend that note just a little. I love you Mummy and Daddy.