By Peter Curran
It has come to that time of year again, the distant shape of the Christmas circus looming on the horizon. All that mad shopping, watching the TV on Christmas day. Having a big turkey dinner with all the frills, then tucking into a selection box and maybe a turkey sandwich or two later as well.
One thing that is very hard to do at Christmas, when the whole fiesta of the day is whirling around in its joyous frenzy in front of you, is not to think about Christmas past.
When I was a young fellow, I lived in south inner city London, I was one of nine children of Irish parents.
Mum was from Clonakilty in West Cork; Dad was from the northside of Dublin. They had been in England for years.
The year was 1971, it snowed heavily that Christmas; it was the first ‘White Christmas’ I had ever seen. It also made the house very cold, the only heat we had was the fire place, which was well stocked with firewood that my family used to go around picking up off skips, roadworks and bombsite on the streets of London.
Unfortunately Dad couldn’t really afford to pay for such things, as well as putting a roof over our heads and feeding us, life was not so easy back then.
I can picture it now in my mind, classical music playing on that old 1950’s Bush radio set; they still sell a retro version of the same radio now.
Some of us would be huddled around the fireplace. Dad would tell us stories of when he was a boy back in the civil war in Dublin and all the mischief he used to get up to with his pals in Drumcondra; he was a right old scamp!
Mum would come over and give me an enamel mug filled with steaming Bovril and a lump of her homemade soda bread. I haven’t tasted anything near as good since. I really miss my Mum and Dad, as well as that soda bread.
On Christmas eve, we would go down to the local market in Clapham Junction. Dad would drive his Morris traveller down the hill, and we all piled out with empty bags.
The market was just about to close. Dad went off to pick up some chickens on the cheap, while we went from the back of one fruit and veg stall to the next, taking a look through the items they had thrown out because they weren’t good enough to sell.
We easily ended up with a few bags full of good stuff! It was dark by the time we left, so we eagerly headed home for warmth and food.
I helped Mum to sort all the food out for Christmas dinner, whilst Dad went off up to Clapham Common to cut a branch off a tree. When he brought it back, we would plant it in a pot of earth, then decorate it with Christmas decorations that people had thrown away the previous new year, which we dug out of their rubbish.
One thing we used to do too was cut shapes out of colourful magazines. My mother used to love reading Weekend, a showbiz magazine back then, and the TV Times.
My sisters had copies of Jackie girls’ magazine. We would cut the shapes that would have plenty of colour in them, then hang them on the tree to make extra pizazz. Quite unique in appearance and truly beautiful, well in my youthful eyes it was anyway.
I was shipped off to bed before Santa arrived, full of excitement. I couldn’t sleep, though still ended up being woken on Christmas morning by Mum. I jumped out of bed, didn’t worry about putting my dressing gown on, I had to see what Santa left. I couldn’t believe it!
There at the bottom of the Christmas tree we had made the night before was a large articulated toy truck. I was stuck to it for what seemed like an eternity. I would take it into the bath and reenact a scene from a Michael Caine film I saw on TV before called Billion Dollar Brain (pictured), where a truck sank in the ice. Then I dried it off with tender care and brought it to bed with me. We were inseparable!
Later on that day, we had our Christmas dinner, with a lovely hot fire blazing away in the corner to keep us snug and warm. After that, we went up the common to the swings, where there were a pile of other five-year-olds like me having the time of their lives.
Those days are definitely of a bygone time, and I wish that our kids and grandchildren could just experience a snippet of them. But time and technology wait for no one.
I came back to my Mum and Dad’s homeland, and have lived here for twenty years.
I still make the most of every Christmas now, just like I always have, and I would just love to wish you all the most joyful and wondrous Christmas of all this year and always.