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The Gentle Author’s Christmas

December 26, 2020
by the gentle author

It has become a tradition to publish this memoir of my childhood Christmas each year

Over successive Christmases, as I was growing up in Devon, I witnessed the disintegration of my family until today I am the lone survivor of the entire clan, the custodian, charged with carrying the legacy of all their stories. Where once I was the innocent child in the midst of a family drama unknown to me, now I am a sober adult haunted by equivocal memories of a conflict that only met its resolution in death. Yet in spite of this, whenever I examine the piles of old photographs of happy, smiling people which are now the slim evidence of the existence of those generations which precede me, I cannot resist tender feelings towards them all.

I was an only child and, though I wished for playfellows occasionally, I do not regret my childhood solitude because the necessity to invent my own amusement gave me my life as a writer. Since there were just the three of us, I had quite separate relationships with my mother and my father, and I never perceived us as a family unit. My father’s parents and my mother’s father died before I was born, and so it was only when we went to visit my grandmother at Christmas that we were forced to confront our identity as part of a larger tribe.

Even the journey to my grandmother’s house, a mere forty minute drive over the hills, was fraught with hazard. As I lay in bed surrounded by my presents newly-unwrapped on Christmas morning, I could hear my parents in the kitchen below discussing which was the greater risk – of skidding on black ice on the upland roads or getting washed away in floods surging down the valleys. Though, throughout my entire childhood, we never encountered any mishap on this journey, even if the emotional dangers of the visit were immense.

In the week before Christmas, my mother would have her hair ‘done’ in hope of passing her mother’s inspection on Christmas Day and as we climbed into the car, even as she closed the door, she would be checking in the mirror and repeatedly asking, “Do you think my hair looks alright?” Complementing my mother’s worry over her hair was my father’s anxiety over his engine. As the owner of a series of secondhand wrecks bought on the cheap, he was reluctant to undertake any journey that involved an incline, which proved to be something of a problem in Devon. Consequently, journeys of more than a few miles were uncommon in my childhood and our rare summer holidays were taken at seaside resorts less than twenty miles from home.

While my parents sat consumed by silent dread in the front of the car on Christmas morning, I was naively entranced by the passing landscape, with its bare fields sparkling in the frost or puddled by rain, and the old cottages punctuating the hedgerows. Over the years, I grew to know this journey intimately and experienced a child’s delight in the transformation wrought upon the landscape by the changing seasons. Yet the final steep descent into the small town of old stone buildings where my grandmother lived was always accompanied by a corresponding rise in tension. My father’s palpable anxiety about black ice coinciding precisely with the approaching ordeal. Invariably, we arrived as late as he could manage and, parking in the yard in the back of grandmother’s house, pass through the wooden garden gate and walk slowly down the path in trepidation to arrive at the kitchen door.

Inside the house, my grandmother would be discovered at the scrubbed wooden table, beating something vigorously in a mixing bowl, smoking a cigarette and still dressed in the fur coat and velvet turban she wore to church that morning. One memorable Christmas, she cast down her wooden spoon as we entered. “You look a fright, Valerie! What have you done to your hair?” she exclaimed, advancing and running her fingers through my mother’s hair to dishevel it. My mother ran through the hallway, up the stairs and along the passage to lock herself into the bathroom, as she re-entered the emotional drama of her childhood in the place where she had grown up.

It was the last house in the town, a late-Victorian villa at the end of a line with only fields beyond, and I was entranced by its gothic architecture. The stained glass porch with colourful encaustic tiles was the threshold to a dwelling which contained mysteries from the years before I came into the world. This was an effect compounded by the hallway, with its ancient grandfather clock whose chimes conjured an atmosphere of stately gloom and dark wooden staircase ascending in a spiral to the upper rooms where the ghosts of the past dwelled. Halfway up the stair hung an old oil painting in a gold frame of sailboats emerging from the mist like apparitions coalescing from the miasma of time. Yet even this also contained a mystery of its own, since I was led to understand that there was another painting that might be discerned beneath this nineteenth century nautical scene, which had been overpainted upon a seventeenth century Dutch interior.

Dominating the hallway at Christmas was my grandmother’s spectacular annual display. Each December, she arranged winter foliage in a gleaming copper jug upon the oak hall table as the climax of her year’s endeavours in competitive flower-arranging. When the carpet crunched beneath my footstep once, I lifted it to find beech twigs pressed between sheets of The Daily Telegraph. My discovery occasioned a complex explanation of the alchemical magic of standing beech branches in jars of glycerine to preserve the leaves which might then be flattened beneath the carpet until November, when they could be sprayed gold to serve as the flourish in my grandmother’s festive arrangement of holly, scots pine, ivy, and Christmas Roses.

Of equal fascination to me were these Christmas ‘roses’ which were like no other roses I had ever seen and grew close to the ground beside an old wall in my grandmother’s garden. With their curious, pale wax-like petals which came into flower when all the other plants died away, I believed they were unique to her and their extraordinary qualities were an expression of her mastery of nature itself.

My grandmother occupied a prominent position within her immediate community. It was a status that was confirmed when she undertook the role of Elizabeth I, enthroned upon a float in the town carnival, outfitted in a starched lace ruff and a dress of embroidered velvet and satin spangled with pearls. The other members of the Women’s Institute dutifully enacted the supporting roles of ladies in waiting, clad in second rate outfits and offering obeisance to their omnipotent monarch.

Naturally, she had conscientious reasons for wrecking her daughter’s hairstyle that Christmas morning. The act was an expression of the burden of responsibility that fell upon her and she could not avoid it. She had been brought up to be particular, educated into the expectations that are the birthright of the privileged, and she wore her fastidiousness as a badge of honour. As the youngest daughter of a declining aristocratic family without any inheritance, my grandmother gamely overcame the obvious disappointment in her marriage to a bank manager and still hoped to reassert the fortunes of her noble line by marrying my mother off to local land-owning gentry. She felt it had been churlish of her daughter not to co-operate.

Yet my mother’s most cherished possession was a copy of Cicely M. Barker’s ‘Book of the Flower Fairies,’ inscribed by my grandfather “To the little girl who loves all the wild flowers” and she dreamed of going to university to study Botany. She had no interest in cultivating the attentions of boorish yeoman farmers. Instead she escaped, climbing over a wall with her suitcase at night and fleeing from the typing and secretarial college where she had been sent when the possibility of higher education had been denied her. Running away to the nearest market town, she took a room in a lodging house, found employment at the local library and married my father, who was the handsome centre-forward in the city football team and worked as an engineer at a foundry.

Consequently, my mother’s marriage was the death of my grandmother’s social aspirations. And since my grandfather gave up his position as a bank manager to go on the stage, pursuing an energetic career as a conjurer in vaudeville that led him to an early grave, she became a lone sentinel of her class. Mercifully, the bank granted her the right to stay in the house that he had rented from them on favourable terms, leaving her domestically secure yet struggling to keep up appearances for the rest of her days.

She displayed no photographs of my mother or my father or me anywhere lest visiting Rotarians might see them, but once a year she invited us over at Christmas as an act of Christian charity, thereby ameliorating her own sense of loss. The truth was that, even in relation to my grandmother’s straightened circumstances, we were the poor relations. My father laid out the bills next to his pay packet each week and often wept in helpless anger when his meagre earnings as a mechanical engineer were insufficient to cover our modest living expenses. One day, I came home from school for lunch only to discover my mother in despair because her housekeeping money had run out and we had nothing to eat. Yet at Christmas, we wore the best clothes we had and, maintaining solidarity, did our best to keep up appearances and resist my grandmother’s insinuations.

Once emotions had subsided and I had persuaded my tearful mother from the bathroom, we all convened in the drawing room for an aperitif. My Uncle Richard would be arriving back from the pub full of cheery good humour after drinks with his friends in the amateur dramatics and the cricket club. Seizing this moment to light another cigarette, “Would you like a glass of sherry?” my grandmother announced, filling with sudden enthusiasm, before adding with a significant glance in my father’s direction, “I think I have bottle of beer for Peter.” Reminding us of her impoverishment since the early death of my grandfather who indulged her aristocratic spending capacities, “We’ve had to cut back this year, I haven’t been able to do as much as I normally do,” my grandmother always informed us, catching my eye to indicate that I should not expect much from her. With saintly self-control, my father would open a newspaper with a sigh and take a seat by the fire, doing his best to maintain dignified silence in the face of this humiliation.

It was my grandmother’s custom to deliver her turkey to the baker on her way to church on Christmas morning and collect it again after the service, almost roasted, so that she could finish it off in the oven at home, thus permitting her to give full attention to the serious business of vegetables and, of course, the pudding. Shedding her fur coat when it came to moment of serving, she nevertheless maintained her hauteur in a well cut tweed skirt, silk blouse, pearls and crocodile court shoes, with only the addition of an apron casually slung around her waist to indicate her culinary responsibilities.

My uncle sat at the far end of the table, facing my grandmother at the head, while my mother and father sat together on one side and I sat opposite them beneath a mezzotint of Jean-François Millet’s ‘The Angelus.’ I sometimes wondered if this sombre image of a pair of down-trodden peasants praying in a field reflected my grandmother’s perception of my parents’ life. When I gazed across the table, I could see my mother sitting under a print of George Frederic Watts’ ‘Hope,’ depicting a blindfolded woman trapped on a rock in a rising tide while plucking upon the single string left on her makeshift harp. In spite of their obvious sentimentality, both of these pictures demonstrated stoic attitudes in the face of adversity which suited my grandmother’s temperament and circumstances.

Placing her cigarette carefully between her pursed lips, she leaned forward with intense short-sighted concentration to slice the turkey on the table in front of her. We each passed up our plates and, when it came my father’s turn, she would cast her eyes down the table to him and my uncle would catch her eye before reaching out to give him a playful shove. “Are you a breast or a leg man, Peter?” he asked with a chuckle and a lewd grin. This annually repeated gesture was a source of enormous amusement for him and my grandmother, but a cause of deep embarrassment for me and my mother and father.

I can only assume this jibe was a reference to my father’s supposed sexual prowess, as the only possible explanation they could entertain for my mother’s attraction to a man beneath her class. They did not wish to appreciate that my mother’s curiosity about life beyond their limited social milieu had opened her eyes to recognise sympathetic qualities in people of all kinds, rather than simply to assess the social status of new acquaintances.

It was only after my father’s death that I discovered he had been born as the illegitimate child of a young housemaid who contracted tuberculosis and had no choice but to give him up for adoption. Then, at the tender age of just eleven years old, denied a proper education, he was put to work in a foundry. As an adult, his disadvantaged origins were such a source of shame that he chose never to reveal the truth even to my mother.

Among his own mother’s surviving letters that I found preserved in a padlocked box I broke open after his death, I read her account of being committed to a sanatorium on Dartmoor where patients were exposed to the elements in a belief this treatment could clear their lungs of infection. “I don’t think I shall be home for Christmas. Must tell you it is a bitter cold place here in winter. We sleep out in the open, and when it rains it comes right in and you are not allowed to shut any doors and the wind nearly blows you out of bed,” she wrote in an unlettered cursive hand.

When I read these letters, I wondered if her words from so long ago haunted my father at these Christmas feasts. “I don’t know what sort of Christmas they spend here,” she confided in a note written from the sanatorium in the months before her death, “Have you made your Christmas pudding yet? I hope you will send me a little bit to taste. It will seem more like a Christmas to me if I can taste a bit of pudding.”

Accompanying the letters was my father’s birth certificate, confirming his father as ‘unknown.’ This single word contained a personal tragedy which grew into a lonely secret. His desire to overcome this deep sense of shame became a motivating factor which led him to marry my mother. Just as she wanted to escape the pretensions of her family, he wanted to better himself by taking a step up in the world. In this sense they fulfilled each other’s desires perfectly, even if they wanted quite different things from the union and their contrary wishes were a source of occasional conflict. This was the nature of their marriage.

“I always wanted to be a close family,” he confided to me once in a moment of weary confession, “but they weren’t having it.”

After my grandmother had carried in the flaming pudding, the crackers had exploded and my mother had done the washing up, we were able to escape the house for an afternoon walk through the cool air in the damp lanes to recover our senses. Returning for tea at dusk, I would take this opportunity to slip away from the fireside, leaving the adults to their conversation and climbing the staircase to explore the dusty attics at the top where my grandfather’s stage properties and conjuring tricks were stored. In these chilly abandoned rooms, I discovered a wind up gramophone and was happy to wear his silk top hat and play alone among the mirrored cabinets until it was time to leave.

As a child, I was spared the pain that my parents endured when confronted with the social disparity of their marriage by my grandmother. “None of these people have ever worked a day in their lives,” my father repeated to us in the car, every year on the way home, venting his vituperation at last and drawing further tears from my mother. In spite of the tensions of the day, she was always reluctant to leave her childhood home that held so many happy memories buried beneath the recent conflict.

On one of the last Christmases before my grandmother died, when I returned for the holiday from college, she insisted that I play her at Scrabble. It was already late in the day. We had had our tea and cut the Christmas cake, and we were preparing to leave. My father, who hated driving in the dark, was getting worried about the possibility of lethal black ice on the upland roads. Yet I knew my mother realised that this was a challenge I must not walk away from, even though my grandmother was county Scrabble champion of several years standing. She had memorised all the obscure yet permitted words, using unlikely letters and winning high scores. At eighty years old, she needed to prove her mind was still as sharp as a razor and she wanted to find out what I was made of too. It was a rite of passage.

Once my grandmother and I were set up on opposite sides of the dining table with the Scrabble board between us, my parents retreated to the drawing room in silence, unable to bear their suspense at the outcome. Although my grandmother generously offered to share her list of permitted words with me, I declined. I did not want her help. By now, I knew the weight of history. In fact, I would not even compete with her. Instead I chose to apply my creativity to contrive the most ingenious words I could make with my letters, without pursuing a high-scoring vocabulary or keeping an eye on the score card total. Although I knew it was a test, I persisted in the thought that it was a Christmas game.

I won. My mother and father entered and stood in the doorway with blazing eyes of unspoken elation. Withholding her emotion and describing it as ‘beginners’ luck,’ my grandmother commenced another game immediately. I maintained my non-competitive strategy while she played to win. This time, my grandmother won. Yet when we added up our scores in both games, which ran into hundreds, we discovered we had both won exactly the same number of points.

It was a strange moment of intimacy and mutual vindication. A certain truth had been revealed by Scrabble, even if it was an epiphany capable of entirely contradictory interpretations. My grandmother believed it confirmed that, in spite of my mother marrying my father, the family spirit persisted in me, while my parents believed she had been taught a lesson and could not look down upon us any more.

My uncle never left his childhood home or, to my knowledge, ever formed any significant emotional relationships beyond his immediate domestic world. Brought up with aristocratic expectations, he was a dilettante who stood apart from life, never working but passing his time in amateur dramatics, county cricket scoring and collecting jazz records. He suffered from meningitis as a child and my grandmother doted on him, favouring him over her daughter. She waited upon him until she died, knocked over by a swinging coal house door one dark winter’s night shortly before Christmas when she was eighty-four.

At the funeral in January, my uncle asked my mother, “Would you like to take anything, Valerie?” Eschewing the valuables in the house, she found a trowel and unearthed the cherished Christmas Rose, transplanting it to her own garden where she nurtured it as a living memento of her mother.

After the death of my grandmother, my uncle was left to fend for himself. He did not know how to make a bed or boil a kettle and he let the house go to pieces. He ate only microwaved frozen food and grew so fat that he could not bend over to reach the floor, living ankle deep in rubbish. The last time I visited, I discovered he had worn a path in the carpet through to the floorboards in the drawing room between his armchair and the television. Meanwhile upstairs, in his room on the first floor, he had worn the mattress through to the springs and, entering the next room, I found he had done the same in there too and in the next.

I remember telephoning him to break the news that my father had died. “Well, I never did like Peter,” was his immediate response. Eventually, an organised gang of thieves broke in and stripped the house – when he could no longer get out of bed – and he lay there helpless as they carried the silver, the grandfather clock, the old Dutch painting and the rest of the family heirlooms out to the truck.

There was only one childhood Christmas when we did not visit my grandmother. It was the year that a particularly virulent form of gastroentiritis struck. My mother, my father and me, we were all afflicted with flu and lay in our beds on Christmas Day, engulfed by fever and drowsy light-headedness engendered by lack of food. I recall lying awake with my cat in the half-light of drawn curtains, clutching a hot water bottle, and feeling overwhelmed by the weary languor of my body. Yet at three in the afternoon, we convened in the kitchen in our dressing gowns and we drank a cup of hot water together. I think it was the sweetest drink I ever tasted and I cherish the memory of that day, isolated together in our intimate cell of sickness, as my happiest childhood Christmas.

As years pass, each Christmas conjures the memories of those that came before it, until eventually the experience of recalling these memories of the past overtakes the present. Then Christmas becomes a time which contains all the former Christmases gone by. Apart from my flu Christmas, I can barely distinguish any particular years and, looking back, all those visits to my grandmother blend into the one eternal childhood Christmas which I have described here.

When I grew up and left home, I always returned for Christmas. Now that I live in the city and no longer have any relatives left alive, I have no family obligations at Christmas and I have no reason go back to Devon. Yet I miss them all, I even feel nostalgic about their fights and their angry words and I cannot resist the feeling they are all still there – my parents in their house, and my grandmother and my uncle in their house – and I wonder if they are having Christmas without me this year.

Wood Engravings by Reynolds Stone

54 Responses leave one →
  1. Annie S permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you GA for that very moving account of your family Christmas.
    I think it’s only when we get older that we can understand better the complexities of family relationships and the reasons for people’s actions.

  2. Amanda Bush permalink
    December 26, 2020

    How extraordinary, the reminiscence of the bank manager turned magician.
    A moving memoir.
    I hope you are having a very happy and secure Christmas.

  3. John Price permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you, beautifully written, candid and insightful on the nature of being an only child and of family trauma. Families are hell. We are born alone and terrified, die the same way, and most of the people we encounter in between are deeply unreliable. Most, not all. Understanding brings comfort and joy. Thank you again.

  4. Ros Dick permalink
    December 26, 2020

    I have re read this many years running and it is very touching
    How the past has such long tentacles into our hearts
    I won’t quote the great gatsby but we all know the feeling!
    Best wishes to you Gentle Author

  5. December 26, 2020

    Bank manager turned magician, how wonderful! And what a blow for your grandmother. In spite of the sadness of your account, there are lines that made me laugh. Something similar happened on my mother’s side Have a great day, G.A.

  6. Paul permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you. that was an engrossing and enjoyable start to Boxing Day.
    I hope the relatively late time of that posting compared to your usual 6am was due to a Christmas Day well-spent.

  7. December 26, 2020

    Thank you, Gentle Author, for a truly poignant Christmas story from your childhood. I enjoyed reading about your family, you brought them to life, and you could write an individual story about each one. Perhaps you have and I have not noticed them.

  8. Chrystabel Austin permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you so much for this very moving piece. You bring your memories alive for us all and they have been even more important in these last few difficult months. Much appreciated and wishing you a Happy New Year

  9. Rosie permalink
    December 26, 2020

    A moving memoir. Thank you

  10. December 26, 2020

    So moving and so interesting. I felt as if I was there watching your past Christmas’s. Also John Price below is so right in what he has written . Very best wishes to you ando Scredington.

  11. Sally permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you Gentle Author. That was wonderful. Would you consider an autobiography?

  12. December 26, 2020

    It was lovely to read again this most moving memoir -thank you for posting it. Although my family circumstances were different, it also captures some of the strangeness of only child Christmases, when you feel that everyone other than you and your family is celebrating Christmas properly.

  13. December 26, 2020

    One of the most enjoyable memoirs I have read and one that deserves re-reading. I too, was an only child but I had grandparents on both sides until I was in my early teens. However, I have no recollection at all of any Christmas and now I wonder if I am suppressing anything. I know I did not like my paternal grandparents who lived in our town, but I loved my maternal grandparents who were farmers and lived in the country, but why can I not remember one Christmas? Happy New Year to you and thank you for years of enjoyment reading your blog.

  14. Joe Studman permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Move over H E Bates, Laurie Lee, Charles Dickens and all. There’s a book here waiting to top the best sellers list.

  15. Amanda permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Top marks for making me feel truly grateful for this solitary Christmas as an only ‘child’ with no longer any living relatives.

    l snuggled cosily on the sofa with my own really delicious banquet prepared in the kitchen to help myself whenever l pleased and with no running commentary whether the hour or the dish were appropriate:

    ‘You are not eating that NOW are you? Oh my goodness all that garlic at midnight!’

    No, no more bubble bursting.

    l did not miss my childhood Christmases setting off for my caustic grandmother’s house feeling the tension of my dutiful parent’s trepidation and the predictable melodramas on arrival.
    Like yours, dear GA, my parents often reduced to tears.

    l learnt, perhaps too late from their powerlessness , how certain individuals subliminally infantise their offspring so that they never make a stand to live the life of their own choosing.

    l do not miss as an adult having to guiltily split Christmas Day between visiting my own parents and my partner’s long distance parents, to not hurt either, stuffed to the gills with 2 delicious feasts, but not our own intimate celebration.

    And as John Price correctly observes above, those we meet in the interim can indeed be deeply unreliable and this year l graciously declined a neighbour’s invitation, knowing full well it may be withdrawn should their whimsical plans change on a sixpence.

    And l was right, l saw their car pull away around 10am for their day elsewhere.

    Hurrah – l HAD learnt from my parents disappointments and l allowed nothing to alter my upbeat, contented mood by having no expectations from others.

    l settled under my velvet blanket with Charles Dickens in a comforting stream of warm sunlight, counting my many blessings.

    One of them the uniterrupted pleasure of reading this blog.

  16. Yvonne Gill permalink
    December 26, 2020


  17. Marilyn Lee permalink
    December 26, 2020

    A wonderfully written story, worthy of Dickens ! Conjures up the atmosphere of a long ago Christmas which was obviously enjoyed by none of the participants ! How sad for that small boy and his parents. A very happy New Year to you, Gentle Author, and thank you for your interesting daily stories.

  18. December 26, 2020

    Thanks a lot for this Christmas Story!

    *** MERRY CHRISTMAS! ***
    *** JOYEUX NOËL! ***

    Love & Peace

  19. Sheila Crowson permalink
    December 26, 2020

    I so enjoyed reading your memory of Christmas past. You draw a vivid picture of what seems like a joyless Christmas, but the memories of which you still treasure. A real picture of the class system.

    Like you, Gentle Author, past Christmases blend into a generalised memory, with snapshots of a young uncle bashing out the latest pop song on the ‘joanna’, and each family member contributing their usual recitation or song to the voiced joking disapproval of the rest, and, of course, my pleasure of receiving the usual Rupert annual. All those present have passed on, and so no-one to share memories with.

  20. Howard Lewis permalink
    December 26, 2020

    A bittersweet tale which was touchingly rendered. Family life brings many challenges and not just at Xmas!

  21. Janet Reading permalink
    December 26, 2020

    What can I say in response to such a masterly piece of writing? As a newish reader I am am full of admiration and the visions you conjured up in my mind will linger on.
    Thank you.

  22. paul loften permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you. Such a well written memoir that I suspect evokes and awakens long forgotten feelings and memories within all of us.

  23. Valerie Huggins permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you, so wonderfully written as ever. I have recently found myself looking back to my vicarage childhood and my “escape” as a young adult as I have never have done before, perhaps because few new memories are being created this year. Let us all hope that 2021 brings us all happiness and kindness amid the loneliness and terror.

  24. December 26, 2020

    A wonderful story! Unfortunately, I don’t have enough English to describe my feelings, so I just wish you, a wonderful author, a merry Christmas.
    And my paternal grandmother, born in 1879 and died in 1967, kept diaries all her life. They were published in 2011 and I love to reread them! It’s like a family Bible for me.

  25. Adele Lester permalink
    December 26, 2020

    A memorable read, made even more so by the fact that I’m sure it rang true in one form or another for many of your readers.

    I think, based on these reminisces, a book is called for!

  26. Kirsty permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Astonishing: such a vivid, compelling, sad account. So well done, layering the child’s perceptions with those of the adults then, and the author now. Isn’t it extraordinary, how resilient children are, sometimes. Thank you.

  27. Linda Granfield permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you for this, GA.

    Every Christmas there are ONLY three pieces of literature I ‘listen’ to: my husband’s rendition of “The Night Before Christmas,” a wonderful CD reading by Dylan Thomas of his “A Child’s Christmas In Wales,” and your “The Gentle Author’s Christmas.”

    As the humble publisher of the “Spitalfields Life” books, would you consider issuing a recorded CD reading of “The Gentle Author’s Christmas”? That would be something splendid for your readers/”listeners” to look forward to in 2021!

    An illustrated, book edition would also be a welcomed option. (These b/w pieces are lovely.)

    All best wishes for a safe and healthy new year!

  28. December 26, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a beautiful, poignant memory of your childhood Christmases of yore. So true – “Where once I was the innocent child in the midst of a family drama unknown to me, now I am a sober adult haunted by equivocal memories of a conflict that only met its resolution in death.”

    How sad that your grandmother’s disappointed expectations for your mother colored her marriage life. Most of us have similar stories with variations on circumstances and events.

    Beautifully written piece and well worth sharing again at Christmas time each year.

  29. Georgina Briody permalink
    December 26, 2020

    This is the first time I have read about your Christmas memories and, like you, was an only child. Reading your account brought back instant recall of mine and, whilst my earlier years were relatively good, the latter years were very difficult as I coped with an ever increasing difficult situation. It’s only now I’m beginning to relax and think of Christmas as a happy time. I do not wish to think back too often, so, GA, thank you and wish you the very best.

  30. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Yes – always a good and poignant read at Christmas. I do hope you will get down to writing your whole life’s story at some point – perhaps the next lockdown would be a good time to do it?
    I’m sure Schrodinger would enjoy the long times spent at the writing desk…

  31. December 26, 2020

    Dear Mr G.A.,

    At last an opportunity to thank you for your wonderful writing, never valued more than in this sombre year of lock down. You convey a continual feeling of hope in describing the lives and courage of ordinary people demonstrating great courage throughout their often difficult lives. This is the first time I’ve read the account of your poignant and heart wrenching Christmases which I loved. I hope your parents were happily married: each took a leap of faith in choosing each other which showed courage and imagination. A very Happy Christmas- if there was any justice, the pleasure your columns bring should ensure you a mention in the New Years Honours list. From a GR (Gentle Reader) Frances Donnelly

  32. Ruth Fleming permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Thank you so much for sharing this story of your family Christmas times. I can relate totally to the bittersweet flavour of all the tensions and family angst held under a thin veneer of pretending what a good time we were all having. Your story has made me realise that we were not the only family with skeletons in the closet, and I am grateful for that. I love Christmas now but still feel better trying to celebrate it my own way, rather than with forced jollity. And like you, I miss my relatives who are no longer with us even though they caused me consternation when I was a child. I hope that you have a good Christmas this year Gentle Author, and a happy and safe New Year.

  33. December 26, 2020

    I am imagining you in your grandfather’s silk top hap dancing in front of his magician’s cabinets in your grandmother’s attics. I often wonder about the sparks of memory that remain with us: both good and bad, and just everyday. Your family stands on your shoulder making you who you are, and we are all so lucky to share in your storytelling gift. All good wishes this Boxing Day Gentle Author.

  34. Herry Lawford permalink
    December 26, 2020

    What a beautifully written vignette.

  35. Sue permalink
    December 26, 2020

    As moving as ever. Thank you for the memories.

  36. December 26, 2020

    Thank you Gentle Author. While this is sad, it is also deeply illuminating and brings back many memories of my own challenging childhood. I commend you for your honesty and brilliant writing.

    Have a good Boxing Day!

  37. Neil permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Very poignant and moving. You’ve recreated your world and their world so vividly. Thank you for sharing. Your family live on through your words.

  38. December 26, 2020

    Thank you.

  39. Dianne Mitchell permalink
    December 26, 2020

    Dear Gentle Author, thank you for sharing your Christmas memories. I am in tears at this moment. And remembering my childhood Christmases, inspired by your story.

  40. David Antscherl permalink
    December 26, 2020

    I can only echo and agree with Linda Florio’s comments, G.A. I’m thankful that we all survived and have hopefully thrived, despite fractured family relationships. I’m reminded of Philip Larkin’s poem on the subject, which I won’t quote here.

  41. December 26, 2020

    What an intensely personal and moving story to share with us. I feel honoured to be part of that confidence. Thank you.

  42. Pamela Traves permalink
    December 27, 2020

    So Wonderful and Beautiful Christmas!! Thank You So Very Much!! Merry Christmas to All!!??????⛄??

  43. December 27, 2020

    Very moving. I wish I could get myself to tell the truths of my Christmases as a child. And then the miserable wretched yearly endurance of the earlier years of my marriage. Where I usually begin is the compromise set of rituals my husband, Jim and I, finally devised for our last 14 years together. He died October 2013 and I carry on with my daughters, some semblance of that. You have told yours beautifully and fully. Thank you.

  44. Anne Montes permalink
    December 27, 2020

    Thank you for this loving, sad tale. I am truly touched.

  45. December 27, 2020

    Thank you, GA, for your real Christmas reminiscence. So bittersweet it brings tears to my eyes. I am hurtled back in time to my family’s festive and unfestive functions here in Australia.

    I do enjoy all your stories and meeting or farewelling the Spitalfields characters.
    Long may you reign and fight for Spitalfields.

  46. Isabel Flynn permalink
    December 27, 2020

    PS: Loved the germane wood carvings too

  47. December 27, 2020

    A beautifully told story that I felt I was walking in every space with you.
    Thank you

  48. Geoff Frewin permalink
    December 27, 2020

    Beautiful writing, as I sit here on the 27th December reading this, it brings back so many Xmas memories for me of family,relatives and of a time and place …like my family now long gone.
    Thank you so much.

  49. Jenny Newall permalink
    December 27, 2020

    Thank you so much for this beautiful private story.

  50. December 27, 2020

    I am sad for that young child, and all that your mother suffered.

    You have faithfully spoken her story so well.

  51. Ron Bunting permalink
    December 28, 2020

    That reminds me a lot of Christmases sometimes with our family ,except my family is enormous . Mums mother had 17 kids, Dad had four sibling’s. Now the family is so big it requires a Gedcom file to keep track of who is related to whom.
    But the old enemy time has revealed so much of where we come from, ggg grand parents who were freed African slaves, Some were descended from Huguenot refugees and lived in Spitalfields, Hackney and Clerkenwell, And mums mother, Married to one of the last full blood Maoris in New Zealand but who lineage can be traced directly back to Nobility, who were deeply involved with the Tudors.
    Have you ever explored your Grandmothers life story? My own grandmother died in 1943 from TB as did one of her sisters and a younger brother. Your grandmothers letter mirrors my own Grans experience in her last days at a sanitorium in New Zealand. Even sleeping outside on the verandas .Yey an uncle,arrived home from being a POW during WW2 in the late 40’s having been cured by the then New drugs available back then.
    Happy new Year!

  52. Richard permalink
    December 30, 2020

    Thanks, as always.

  53. mlaiuppa permalink
    December 31, 2020

    Now that you have no genetic family left, you are free to create your own with the friends around you. Share the stories and pass on some of the family heirlooms and traditions.

    What ever became of that rosebush?

  54. Krissy Underdown permalink
    January 7, 2021

    What superb writing – I was transported to another time and place so effectively. I love this Gentle Author – the subtle humour, the poignancy of the situation. The opening parents’ concerns about driving reminded me of my parents’ wrangling over timings and whether the turkey was cooked or not in an era when the huge bird seemed to go into the oven at the crack of dawn and the smell of brussels being boiled to death filled the air. Thank you so much – Dickens couldn’t have made it any more evocative.

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