Viscountess Boudica’s Christmas
Let it be said that if anyone in the East End knows how to keep the spirit of Christmas, it is the Viscountess Boudica of Bethnal Green. At this time of year, her tiny flat near Columbia Rd is transformed into a secret Winter Wonderland where the visitor may forget the chill of the gloomy streets outside and enter a realm of magic, fantasy and romance in which the Viscountess holds court like a benevolent sprite or fairy godmother, celebrating the season of goodwill in her own inimitable style.
Boudica had already been at work for weeks when I arrived with my camera to capture the Christmas spectacle for your delight, yet she was still putting the finishing touches to her display even as I walked through the door. “You see these bells?” she said, reaching up to add them to the colourful forest of paper decorations suspended from the ceiling,“I bought them in Woolworths in Tottenham for 45p in 1984. When I think of all the people they have looked down upon – if only these bells could talk, they’ve seen it all!”
Evidence of the season was apparent wherever I turned my eyes, from the illuminated coloured trees that filled each corner – giving the impression that the room was actually a woodland glade – to the table where Boudica was wrapping her gifts and writing cards, to the corner where a stack of festive records awaited her selection, to the innumerable Christmas knick-knacks and figures that crowded every surface, and the light-up reindeer outside in the garden, glimpsed discreetly through the net curtains. “This is thirty years worth of collecting,” she explained, gesturing to the magnificent display enfolding us, “that set of lights is older than I am.”
In common with many, this is an equivocal time for Viscountess Boudica who does not have happy childhood memories of Christmas. “It was hell,” she admitted to me frankly, “We didn’t have any money to buy presents and, in our family, Christmas was always when fights and arguments would break out. The reason I have so many decorations now is to make up for all the years when I didn’t have any.” Yet Boudica remembers small acts of kindness too. “The local shops used to save me their balloons and give me scraps of fabric that I used to make clothes for the kittens in the barn – and that was the beginning of me making my own outfits,” she recalled fondly.
“People should remember what it’s all about,” Boudica assured me, linking her own childhood with the Christian narrative,“It’s about a little boy who didn’t have a home. They should think of others and remember there’s poor people here in Bethnal Green.” Naturally, I asked the Viscountess if she had a Christmas message for the world and, without a second thought, she came to back to me with her declaration – ”Be kind to each other and get rid of discrimination!”
Boudica contemplates her Christmas listening – will it be Andy Williams or Jim Reeves this year?
“Whenever I hang up these bells, I think of all the people they have looked down upon over the years”
Wrapping up her gifts.
Filling her stocking
Nollaig Shona Dhaoibh!
Drawings copyright © Viscountess Boudica
You may like to read my other Christmas stories