The next year, Ford turned up after my parents had gone to the party and spent quite some time planting plastic daffodils in the shrubbery. A petrol station had given them away and they’d had all their friends saving them up.
The Christmas preparations seemed more important than the day when I was a child. Keenly looked forward to, it was always a bit of a disappointment. The decoration of the table was a big thing. My mother used a big white tablecloth and red and green satin – one colour was laid in strips along and across the table and the other was made into big bows and pinned at each person’s place. We had a huge tree in the hall which almost reached up to the top of the bannisters above and vast amounts of food and drink were bought. Tell me, did anyone ever eat those packs of dried figs and dates? And it was the only time of year you ever saw those little lemon and orange half-slice sweets. Everyone bought them in, it was part of the ritual, and they hung about for weeks.
The turkey was massive. It took hours to cook. So did the whole ham, which was boiled, taken out and skinned, sprinkled lavishly with demerara sugar, the fat slashed into diamonds and alternate diamonds decorated with a clove. Then it was put in the oven to caramelise the sugar. It was the best part of the meal, none of us was all that fond of turkey and after my father died we never bothered with it.
With a great deal of preparation to do, the first course was always tinned consommé with sherry added. Then the turkey and ham, roast potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon, several different vegetables – no bread sauce, we never had that. We had mustard and redcurrant jelly though. There was so much food, it bewilders me. None of us was fat and I had a tiny appetite as a child. The appearance of the pudding, boiled for hours, doused in brandy – a sugar lump on top soaked up brandy which meant that once it had been lit the flames lasted well – and brought to the table ablaze. Unfortunately, we then had to eat the wretched thing. None of us liked it much, it managed to be both rich and dry. So was the elaborately decorated Christmas cake. Both were made by our ex-chef, Mr Dyke in Weymouth and my father picked them up on his pre-Christmas run to fetch my grandfather for a holiday and distribute presents to friends. We used to valiantly eat about a quarter of the cake and pudding and spend the rest of the winter breaking them up for the birds.
There was also a whole Stilton of course, which was wrapped in a large white napkin and put on the Stilton cheeseboard, which was large and round with a cover, and attacked with a cheese scoop. That was the other best part of the Christmas food, every bit of it got eaten in time. The rest of the ham was eaten for breakfast every day between Christmas and New Year.
We were allowed to open our stockings of course, Wink and me, but no other presents could be opened until Mummy was ready. In theory, this was noon. It never was, of course, and we waited for hours. Eventually, there was the big ritual of the present opening. Wink and I didn’t have much family, my mother was an only child whose father’s brothers had been killed in the Great War and, although her mother was one of ten, she died at the age of 25 and they lost touch with everyone in the family in the course of the Second World War, having just moved from North Wiltshire to Dorset a year before it started. But we were given a lot of presents by our parents’ friends and every one had to be written down, of course, so that we could write and thank them. Father Christmas always gave a packet of notelets for this purpose.
I’ve run out of time. The rest tomorrow. Toodle pip, darlings