Saturday, 13 December 2008


I thoughtI would have a little break from my own story, and give you a Christmas present. Here is a tale written especially for the season. Enjoy XXX

The old man sat in the corner of the ‘pull-in’ café, his hands wrapped tightly around the mug that had once held strong, brown, steaming hot tea. His eyes held a look that said his thoughts were a hundred miles away, and his fingers had yet to tell his brain that the empty mug was no longer keeping his hands warm.
“Come on Dad, you can’t stay there all night”
The café proprietor pushed a cheese roll that had seen better times across the counter.
“Here, for God’s sake, take this and go find yourself a place to settle for the rest of the night.”
It was Christmas Eve and so, perhaps, unwittingly, the gift of a stale cheese roll really was for God’s sake thought the old man. But he doubted it. However, he rose slowly and unsteadily to his feet, and shambled over to the counter where he picked up the offering and stuffed it into his over-coat pocket.
With a grunt that could have been interpreted as thank you, or sod you, he made his way out into the cold, bleak, night.
The wind cut through his thin coat like shards of ice, even though he’d tied a length of rope around his waist in an effort to keep it out. His feet were wrapped in old newspapers and stuffed into boots that were too large, and did little to keep him warm. Clutching a black plastic bin liner containing all his worldly goods, he shuffled along the street looking for a likely doorway to shelter in.
He must find somewhere soon. He was so tired, and his chest was playing him up again. Each breath he took rasped in his throat and then wheezed out again on a cloud of steam.
He recalled that around the next corner was an old disused entrance to a London Underground station. He’d once shared a bottle of dubious alcohol with an old tramp at that very spot. He wondered where the old fellow was now. How terrible it was, to be a tramp at Christmas time. Of course, he wasn’t a tramp, just a traveller temporarily down on his luck. Still, he knew what it was like to be without a bed or a good meal.
The railway entrance suddenly loomed up from the frosty darkness and thankfully ‘the traveller’ made his way to the back of it and huddled as deeply as he could into the corner. An old newspaper that had blown in on the wind was soon tucked around his legs.
He reached into the depths of his coat pocket and, rummaging for several seconds, finally pulled out the stale, and somewhat fluffy, cheese roll, which he proceeded to devour with much grunting and lip smacking. When the last crumb had been wiped from his lips he gave a long agonising sigh, and rested his head against the wall.
His mind began to wander as he tried to remember when life had been good. Back in his childhood days it had been very good.
Tom, (how long it had been since anyone had called him Tom), and his elder brother Will had lived with their parents Sarah and James, in a stone-built cottage on the Cornish coast. Such happy days! Will had been gone many years now. The war had changed their lives and broken his mother’s heart. But before that time there had been, oh, so many days of wine and roses.
Christmas was the best time of all. There would be a huge wood fire in the open hearth, and the logs would sing and spit as they burned and glowed in the candlelit room. The tree would have been dragged into the cottage on Christmas Eve by his father and, when Tom awoke on Christmas morning, there it would stand in all its glory. Tinsel and candles and chocolate shapes, sticks of striped candy-canes and glass baubles all a gleaming. Tom’s young hands trembled with excitement.
The wind changed direction and came whipping and whistling into the doorway where Tom lay. He was so deep in his dreams that he hardly noticed it. He stretched out his cold trembling hands to warm them at his imaginary fire.
There were many festive traditions in Sarah’s house, but the most important to Tom was the tradition of pulling the first cracker to welcome in the turkey. Each year it would be James’ task as man of the house, to carry the large turkey surrounded with roast potatoes into the dining room, but not before the given signal!
All Christmas morning Tom would eagerly await the removal of the first Christmas cracker from the box that stood on the sideboard. Every year it was the same. His mother would snip the string holding the crackers in place and remove just one.

“Come along Tom, time for you to herald the start of our feast. This is a very important job for a very important lad”.
So saying she would hold out the first cracker of the season and they would pull it together. As the cracker exploded, Tom’s father would strut through the door holding the turkey aloft, and they would all cheer.
In his dreams Tom could feel the soft crepe paper of the cracker in his hand. He looked up into his mother’s beautiful smiling face and knew he could never be this happy again. He pulled on the cracker; saw his father coming towards him. His mother took his other hand in hers as they waited for the joyous Christmas happening.
In the cold crisp light of Christmas morning, Constable Blakely walked his beat. A few homeless souls still snoozed in their cardboard boxes, but most had already made their way to the ‘Sally Army’ hostel to hopefully cadge a Christmas dinner. He spotted Tom still curled up in the corner of the old Underground station doorway.
“Wakey, wakey! Dad, it’s Christmas day.”
Tom didn’t stir. Constable Blakley leaned over him and carefully nudged him with the toe of his shoe.
“Poor devil, he’s dead! What a miserable and cold way to go.”
The newspaper had blown onto Tom’s face during the night, and as PC Blakely gently removed it he was amazed to see a serene smile on the old man’s lips. One of the old man’s hands was stretched out; palm uppermost, and clutched in Tom’s other hand was half of a pulled Christmas cracker.

A very merry Christmas and a truly happy, healthy, and peaceful 2009 to all my blogger friends

Leeta X

Saturday, 6 December 2008


Four months after our wedding I celebrated my twentieth birthday. I was no longer a teenager and, to mark this great event, Arthur bought me a television set. Not many people owned television sets in the very early fifties, and certainly no one in our entire family had one. It cost us fifty-four pounds and we were so proud of it. It stood like a sentry in the corner of the room. The cabinet was walnut and went solidly right down to the floor, and the screen was the largest that could be bought. Until 1951, televisions had nine-inch screens, but our new Pye model had a tremendous twelve-inch screen! The indoor aerial had to be placed wherever you could get the best picture.
Each evening, we would hurry home from work, have our meal, and settle down excitedly waiting for the transmission signal, to start. Up would come the Oranges and Lemons theme music, heralding about three hours of ‘scintillating’ entertainment.

The first programme we ever saw was a game of table tennis played with a commentary by Wilfred Pickles. We sat with our eyes glued to the miniscule ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth on the blue tinged, twelve-inch screen. After that came the news, which was repeated two days running. On Sundays there was no fresh news at all, only a repeat of the entire previous week’s newsreels. Considering that programmes were limited to about three hours a night, we didn’t appreciate having to sit through a whole hour of stale news that we had already seen twice. All drama was repeated twice each week, so that, if you saw George Orwell’s 1984 on a Tuesday, it would be transmitted again on Thursday. Television programmes were transmitted ‘live’, that meant if the transmission staff weren’t ready or if a camera broke down (which they did quite often), one was forced to sit and watch, yet again, the calming (and utterly boring) potter’s wheel turning or the sun moving slowly and relentlessly across fields of corn. There was also an intemission film of a combined harvester at work. In all my years of viewing, I never found out what the potter was making, or saw the field completely harvested. Sometimes these intermission films would go on for ten minutes or more, while frantic television technicians tried to put things to rights.
Often it was quite funny to see things that we weren’t supposed to see. Microphones and booms suddenly appearing in front of a scene or an actor’s face, were not at all an uncommon sight. I’ve seen people crawling about on hands and knees under tables, scenery collapsing, and ‘brick walls’ shaking when touched; all part of the fun of early television. Once, during a quiz game, we heard an off camera voice say in a loud stage whisper: ‘Not so easy with the marks!’


During the fifties there were two major television cooks who regularly appeared on TV. One was Fanny Craddock and the other, Philip Harben. Philip Harben was the cookery equivalent of David Bellamy, so full of enthusiasm and fervour that, to see him fry a sausage was like watching the launch of a space shuttle!
He did, however, meet his match on one occasion. For some reason, there were technicians crawling about on their hands and knees beneath the table that was being used for his cookery demonstration. The table rose up and heaved about on the travelling backs of the technicians. Philip Harben leaned heavily on the worktop with both forearms, trying to hold it down, and continued his recipes through clenched teeth, as if nothing was amiss! I think the most spectacular faux pas that I witnessed in those early television days was during a Peter Cushing play about the Abominable Snowman. The scene was set on the cold, blizzard swept Himalayan mountainside, outside the cavernous entrance to the Yetti’s lair. As we sat with baited breath, awaiting our first sighting of the Abominable Snowman, from the depths of the dark cave trundled a television camera on a dolly, being pushed by a cameraman resplendent in earphones! Woudn't have missed it for worlds!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


Life in our new flat was a mixed blessing. Once we were behind our door, we were blissfully happy, but things on the other side of the door were a bit wearisome.
For example, having a bath would take up an entire evening. Firstly we had to inform Miss Jones in the room next to ours that we would be using the scullery for that purpose, as she would not have access to running water or the cooker while we were bathing. Next, we had to fill every utensil we could find with water, which we would then boil on the stove and empty into the bath, until it was deep enough to have a reasonable bath. Since there was no heating, we didn’t hang around any longer than we had to, but it was still a very tedious and lengthy business, and one not to be repeated more than once a week!
Another slight fly in the ointment was Laura. We did go up and sit with her every now and then, but it was very hard going. We didn’t know her very well and so had nothing to talk about. We also found out that her age and blindness inhibited small talk. She rarely moved from her bed, and could see nothing, and so had no concept of time. It was not unusual for her to get out of bed in the middle of the night, fumble her way to her piano, which was almost alongside her bed, and give us a tune. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a decent rendition of an old time music hall song played at a reasonable hour, but it was always ‘Abide with Me’ played at about two or three in the morning! Not much fun when you had to get up for work, particularly as we used to get a reedy, vocal version of the hymn at the same time, for good measure.
Arthur and I both disliked Mrs. Bottacelli. Her husband wasn’t bad, but he seemed downtrodden and didn’t have much to say about anything to do with the house or us. She treated us with contempt and made us feel inferior to her and her family.
Each week, we would come up from the bowels of the earth, climb the stairs to her flat, and knock on her lounge door. She would keep us waiting for a while, then open the door, but never invite us over the threshold. It made us feel like tradesmen at the back door of Buckingham Palace. Having taken the rent and the rent book from us, she would make us stand there while she went back into her lounge and entered the rent into the book, before handing it back. There was never any idle chitchat and we would be grateful when it was all over for another week. Sometimes she would have company, which made it even more degrading. We always thought she knew she was on to a good thing as far as Laura was concerned. We assumed that, when Laura died, which couldn’t be far off – the house and any money would be theirs to do with as they liked. We thought that she looked after Laura only half as well as she could have, considering what she was getting out of it.
Miss Jones owned a cat, and we thought it would be nice if we had one too. We bought an adorable, little, black and white kitten, which we fell in love with immediately. Since we lived in the basement and had access to a sunken back yard, we were completely cut off from the rest of the house. This meant that the kitten would not have contact with anyone except Miss Jones and us. However, when Mrs ‘B’ found out about our pet, she said it would have to go, as we weren’t allowed a cat and it would become a nuisance. How I hated that woman, but she was the boss and we needed her room, and so I tearfully gave up my little kitten. In spite of all this, we were so happy just to be together, and married.