Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Part 2 The treasure chest of Mum's stocking

Somewhere in this treasure-chest of a stocking Mummy would almost certainly place a few sheets of transfers. There were two types available. The cheaper ones were printed about a dozen to a sheet, like postage sheets. We would hastily cut them out, lick our arm, and place the transfer face down on the wet patch. A soggy handkerchief would then be applied to soak the paper backing away, never very successfully, revealing a slimy, far from perfect picture in hues of red, green, and blue. The more expensive type of transfers, which we weren’t always lucky enough to get, had multi-coloured exotic pictures of butterflies and flowers and always produced a perfect result. These transfers were larger, about six to a sheet, and had a silvered coating to one side. We treated these with much more respect and each one was carefully trimmed from its sheet and gently soaked in a saucer of tepid water. It was then very carefully applied to an arm or hand, while we waited for the glorious moment to gently slide the backing paper away, to reveal the secret picture that lay beneath the silver coating.
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.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Christmas magic

Mum and Dad made Christmas very special for us, and I always tried to carry on this tradition by making it so for my own family. This wasn’t always an easy task, as my husband hadn’t been brought up in the same family orientated atmosphere as I had, and I’m sure he often thought I went too far, worked too hard, and was slightly mad.
Whereas I was content to stay up on Christmas Eve until the last mince pie and sausage roll was baked, the turkey was in the oven, the bowls of fruit and nuts laid out and the last Christmas stocking (including one for the dog) was filled. Arthur would want to go to bed at the usual time and ‘do it in the morning’. But then he didn’t have the memories I had spurring him on!
Throughout my entire childhood the Festive Season was a wondrous time. We were often very poor, but oh so happy. I remember one year when the electricity had been cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill. It didn’t stop both my parents working by candlelight, way into the night after all us children had been put to bed.
Mummy would tuck us up and say ‘don’t come downstairs any more this evening: Daddy is helping Father Christmas.’
Dad made handsomely painted wooden toys for the children. Dougie and Bill were the recipients of trains, lorries and boats, while the youngest little girls in the family received doll’s cradles that rocked gently back and forth, complete with bedding lovingly made by Mum.
She sat and sewed till the small hours, so that each of her four little girls (I was, by then, a bigger girl) would have a pretty frilly dress to wear over the Christmas holiday. She made beautiful pram sets for doll’s prams, and baby clothes for the various dollies. One year, Dad built a doll’s cot, which was just like the drop-side cot that my youngest sister Gill slept in. It was painted a pretty pink and Mummy made all the frilly bedding for it. I believe that this was a present for Babs. We certainly didn’t go without, and only in latter years did I realise the sacrifice, time and, above all, love that went into giving us all ‘A Happy Christmas’.
I also received my share of homemade clothes. One year, I distinctly recall Mummy making me a dusty-blue dirndl skirt and a biscuit coloured single-breasted jacket to go with it. How proud and smart I felt that year as I went walking with my friends!
We all had a stocking on Christmas morning, and I still feel a thrill tingling through me, as I remember the excitement of delving into the elongated depths of one of Mummy’s carefully washed and filled stockings.
First out from the top would be a noisy blower with a feather on the end. Then, so that the stocking would stay open enough to hold the little gifts that were tucked into it, there would be a magic painting book, comic, or reading book, carefully rolled up and strategically placed, so that the centre was hollow. Into this tube of colouring or reading matter would be hidden coloured pencils, yo-yos, hair ribbons, dolls, Dinky cars, five stones, pretty beads, toy soldiers, pea shooters etc, depending on if you were a girl or a boy. In between all these wonderful surprise items were bars of chocolate, packets of toffees and, of course, chocolate money wrapped in gold paper and tied in a golden net.
To be continued…