The toe of our stocking always held an orange, a handful of assorted nuts, and a pink sugar mouse.
A present that arrived on most Christmas mornings, either in my stocking or on the floor beneath it, was a paint box. There was absolutely nothing in the world like receiving a brand new box of water colour paints. The outside of the box was black and so shiny, indented into six cushion shaped squares. The thrill of opening the lid and gazing at the pristine coloured slabs of paint set in two or three rows, and nestling in the virginal white interior of the box, with the paint brush lying stiff and straight just waiting to be swirled into puddles of brilliant colour, took a lot of beating.
A new pencil case was another longed for luxury. These were double-decker boxes of varnished wood. The top layer not only had a lid that slid out to open up compartments for pencils and rubbers, but it pivoted at one end revealing a lower box for things like a six inch ruler and coloured pencils. The first thing I always did was to open the box and take a deep sniff of the lovely aroma of varnish and new wood, a smell that still transports me back to school days.
I received one of these wonderful magical stockings every single Christmas until I reached the age of fourteen. Naturally, the contents were updated to accommodate my increasing ‘old age’.
On the Christmas Eve following my fourteenth birthday, all the little ones having gone to bed, Mummy turned to me and said the words that would change my Christmas forever:
‘Now that you’re fourteen, would you like to stay up and help me fill the stockings?’
Now I really had begun to leave my childhood behind me, and felt very important. I gathered up the stockings, each with a label pinned to it bearing a child’s name, and excitedly helped Mum to fill them up. I certainly enjoyed this task, and went to bed looking forward to the next day.
Christmas morning dawned and the family trooped into the kitchen to see what good old Father Christmas had delivered. I looked along the mantelpiece for my stocking- it wasn’t there! Then it dawned on me: not only did Mum think that I was old enough to help fill them up, but she thought I was old enough not to have one! I was quite shattered and fought back tears that were hurting the back of my throat. I never said anything to Mum but, from that moment on, Christmas morning would never ever be quite the same.