The doghouse – Christmas – 1

My father and his lifelong friend, Ford, shared a similar sense of humour.  At one time, my father subscribed to a DIY magazine – not serious stuff around the home but carpentry projects for amusement rather than use.  I’m pretty sure it was an American magazine, but have no idea of its name.  Actually, Daddy was quite keen on woodwork and made various things at one time.  For example, he made several large wooden planters to go along the terrace.  But for the Christmas issue one year there was a Santa Claus scene, complete with Father Christmas, sleigh and presents, reindeer etc, all cut out of plywood.  So Daddy made it.  Must have taken weeks.  And on Christmas Eve, one of our friends always held a big party to which *everyone* was invited, so he waited along the road until he saw Ford and Bunty’s car leave and drove down, with Mr Weavers the gardener, and they spent the next hour or so erecting the scene on their roof.  Father Christmas himself was halfway down the chimney.  Then of course he and my mother went on to the party, fashionably late.

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

11 comments on “The doghouse – Christmas – 1

  1. Paff Rine

    One of your previous Christmas posts sticks in my mind so clearly Z, that I make every effort not to emulate your mum!

  2. Jane and Lance Hattatt

    Hello Z:
    So much of this is so very familiar, particularly the noting down of who had given what in the way of presents, never opened until after The Queen’s speech on the wireless at 3.00pm, in order that the ‘thank you’ letters, to be started on Boxing Day, would not be overlooked or forgotten. Looking back it all seems so regimented.

  3. Z

    Yes, I’ve written about this before, Paff – but I can’t be bothered to look it up to check what I said! I’d better, I suppose, and not repeat it exactly. I know I’ve remembered something I never mentioned before though. Hope I still remember it tomorrow…

  4. georgie

    Oh the thank you notes-what a bear. Mom was really focused on my promptly writing thank you notes. One year I tried to write them up ahead of time with blank spaces to fill in after getting the gift. Either I was very lazy or very organized….

  5. Z

    Although now, when many children don’t write them any more, the giver feels a bit unappreciated. It was such a chore wasn’t it? Yet looking back, it shouldn’t have been. Writing on Boxing Day certainly was the best thing, when you still felt grateful and not guilty, leaving it until January made it a dreadful experience!

    I’m looking back 45 years, BW, quite different from anticipating by 3 months. But sorry x

  6. Z

    True, dear heart. Though preparations for Christmas are allowed to start at the beginning of December.

    I’ve been amazed at how thinking about it has unearthed memories I didn’t know I had.

  7. mig

    To this day, I have a block about thank you notes.
    Oh and it was me that ate all the dried figs and dates, I loved them. And the sugared oranges and lemons.
    Mum used to do a giant turkey too and one year, she and Dad dropped it in the kitchen sink and it broke in half. All the Aunties and Uncles waiting in the dining room! They decided to put it back together and say nothing and I don’t think anyone noticed.


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