I have always loved Christmas, but some memories stand out more than others. Like my father (it was always my father) decorating the lounge. He would hang streamers, which were cut from crepe paper, across the lounge ceiling, sometimes in the shape of a star, sometimes in twisting bands. Occasionally there were balloons. The streamers were reused every year, so were faded and ragged, but oh! The excitement! Dad was a butcher in those days, working around the clock at Christmas plucking and delivering turkeys, so we never knew which night the decorations would appear. I can hear now, that shout of glee, when my brother or sister had been first into the lounge: “The decorations are up!”
Another memory is carol singing. We lived on a council estate in Hertfordshire, and each Christmas, groups of us would go from house to house, singing carols. Sometimes all the lights in the house would go off! But usually, the door would open, we might be asked to sing a specific carol, and then we would be given a few coins. The money went straight into a glove, and when we got home we emptied it onto the table and shared it out. This was the money we earned to buy gifts for each other.
The best singer, by far, was my little brother. He was very short, and had fair hair and big brown eyes, and wow, could he sing! When people opened their door, they were always amazed that there were so few of us, because my brother had the volume of a whole choir.
I remember one year, when I decided to try my luck at the ‘big houses’ on the other side of the busy road. There was a long road of detached houses, and I thought they might have more money to spare than the council estate. I persuaded my brother to go with me, but everyone else refused, saying it was too risky. We weren’t sure how people who lived in houses like that would react. Off we set.
The first house was empty. We sang and knocked, just in case, but no one answered. The second house opened the door. I remember the woman looking annoyed, but she gave us some money, and some of the coins were silver, so that was a good start. It all went wrong at the next house.
We went to the front door, and started to sing. My brother was in full voice, with me as back up and every few minutes I knocked on the door. After a couple of carols, the door opened, and a man stood there, looking cross.
“Who are you collecting for?” he asked.
We had never been asked this before. We sang carols to get enough money to buy gifts; singing in aid of a charity had never occurred to us (I was only 8 years old, at most).
“Us,” I replied, wondering if it was a trick question.
The man told us we were begging, and to go away.
My brother wanted to go home, but I persuaded him to try one more house. He agreed and we went to the next door, and started to sing. Within seconds, the door opened, and the same man stood there! We weren’t used to such big houses, and we had simply walked around to the side door of the same house, not the next house.
“Why are you back?” he grumbled, “I thought I told you to go away.”
“We tried to,” I told him (I was quite brave in those days) “but your house is very big, so we thought this was next door.”
He delved into his pocket and pulled out some coins.
“Right,” he said, “here’s some money, now go away, and don’t come back—and get your foot out of my milk crate!”
My brother, in his nerves, had been using his foot to fiddle with the milk crate next to the door. Somehow, he’d managed to get his shoe stuck in the side, and neither of us could get it out. I remember being torn between giggles and fear, as we struggled to get his shoe out of the milk crate, the man glowering over us all the while. Eventually the shoe was free, and we left. I think we gave up and went home after that.
I hope you make some happy memories this Christmas. Thank you for reading.
Love, Anne x
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