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The Gentle Author’s Christmas

December 25, 2022
by the gentle author

If you need an excuse to escape, why not join me for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on Boxing Day?


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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

30 Responses leave one →
  1. December 25, 2022

    I have read this story several times over the years and it never fails to move me. I was an only child, my childhood claustrophobic, my parents’ marriage loveless. There is much in your story that chimes with mine. Thank you so much for all the beautiful stories over the years. You are an inspiration to me GA. Merry Christmas.

  2. December 25, 2022

    There are many personal memories, especially at Christmas — good, bad and curious. But even the “bad” ones remain in the memory and, as you yourself write, one remembers them and even misses them…. In this sentiment:

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

    Love & Peace

  3. Venetia permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Happy Christmas GA. I loved reading this piece again. It ranks with Alison Uttley’s memories. Forward into the day now – new traditions to be made. Enjoy your day.

  4. Susan permalink
    December 25, 2022

    This was so poignant, sad, disturbing…and well-written.

    No doubt other people have suggested this, but have you ever considered taking the DNA route to discover the identity of your father’s father?

  5. Jane Berry permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Thank you for sharing this. You have brought back some mixed memories of 72 Christmases including those of my grandmother. She greeted Christmas with determination to do everything properly but without the means. As a teenager I took a photo of her wearing a pink paper hat and a look of total dissatisfaction with her life living with our family. I shall now go for a walk by the sea and be grateful for all that I now enjoy. Best wishes, Jane

  6. Sue Merrick permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Thank you for your personal Christmas story, it resonated with me even more because I also grew up in Devon, on Dartmoor. We went there when I was four and lived in a derelict mansion for a while. We also were very poor and that first or second Christmas there the local people gathered together and got my brother and me toys. That was so special.
    I love reading your blog’s and whenever I go into the Spitalfields area I think of what you have posted.
    Have a lovely Christmas xx

  7. Andy permalink
    December 25, 2022

    A very very hard life.

  8. Louisa permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Each year this is so poignant.

  9. Catriona permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Thank you for sending us the best Christmas morning treat!

  10. December 25, 2022

    What an extraordinary story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Merry Christmas from San Diego, California.

  11. Lorraine permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Merry Christmas dear friend GA. You are not without family this Christmas. We are all still here, as ever, and if you keep up writing like this we won’t ever be able to leave for fear we’ll miss the next wondrous story.

  12. Josephine Eglin permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Like my fellow readers I always find this secular Christmas story very moving; perhaps it has a special poignancy for those of us who share no religious beliefs but still have an atavistic desire to seek light and hope during the darkest days of the year. Many thanks Gentle Author, and a Happy Christmas to you and to all Gentle Readers.

  13. Dave Barrington permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Thank you GA for another fantastic year of spitalfieldslife and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family..
    Big Love.
    Dave and Kaye.

  14. Mark permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Haven’t got the time to read it as yet but it’s a wonderful Yule tale, always worth revisiting.
    A working class memory shared with us lucky souls. A very merry Yuletide and thanks for the fish G.A.

  15. Christine permalink
    December 25, 2022

    I read this every year. I am sure that many of your readers can identify with one or more threads in your story. Nostalgic for times gone by never to be lived again even if they weren’t always the happiest of memories. Happy Christmas to you. Looking forward to more GA throughout the year.

  16. December 25, 2022

    Happy Holidays to the Gentle Author and all readers.
    Wishing you a joyous new year, full of health and creativity.

    Onward and upward, from the Hudson River Valley in New York .

    And rumbly purrs to Mr. Shrodinger, from our two cats Simon and Stringer Bell.

  17. Jackie permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Thank you, this is my first year reading about your experience of Christmas, it felt very familiar to me, as I always felt so anxious around my own mother, much to the detriment of my mental health, if you wrote your life as a book, I’m sure it would be so hard to put the book down, your writing conjures up such images in my mind.

    My son is an only child, I’m sure he will remember me, the same as you remembered your parents full of trepidation at the Christmas tradition, I am estranged from my family now, but I have peace of mind and body.

    Happy Christmas!

  18. Kath permalink
    December 25, 2022

    My first read of this. Wonderful. For all the mothers’ family notions the favoured son was ill equipped to deal with real life.

  19. David Antscherl permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Like yourself and Frances Bevan, your story resonates with my own childhood Christmases. With strained family relationships, failed aspirations and disappointments, there was always an underlying tension beneath the gaiety, glint of tinsel and heap of presents. You have managed to distill your own experiences brilliantly in this poignant story, GA. May this Christmas Day be a far better one for you!

  20. Susan R permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Thank you for sharing this once again this year, for all of your wonderful posts, and for your delightful walking tour. Wishing you a merry Christmas, and a very happy new year!

  21. Saba permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Hello GA and GRs, only want to say Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! I am so grateful for this in depth, constantly-changing kaleidoscope known as Spitalfields Life. I have not missed a day since I discovered it about six years ago, and I look forward to 2023. Like holidays past, I suppose, this column brings comfort as it has become a traditional way for me to start the day. So, yo ho ho, and I look forward to days to come. Saba

  22. Miriam permalink
    December 25, 2022

    Dear GA,
    Thank you for your bittersweet memories. I am fortunate to not have had that sense of disappointment within my family – brought up in a fiercely working class and atheist household to boot- Christmas was a curious tradition for my family, really. But my mother liked to do it right. Mateus rose, trifle, overcooked topside and a capon. Never turkey. I suspect my Parents were suspicious of it because they felt it reeked of American Imperialism – even though it was eaten in Britain in the 19th century and earlier. White chocolate mice, my red Ladybird dressing gown, helping to set the table on Christmas Eve with plates and receptacles not seen from one Christmas to another. This included a curious pot that my Mammy informed me was called a gravy boat – that mix of working class aspiration and trepidation that meant it was kept for best. I always felt happy when entering the house and the kitchen windows were covered in condensation – this meant Mummy was hard at work. The kitchen door would open and through the billowing steam she would appear triumphant, bearing plates of tattles, sprouts and the bird. Not a shard of pancetta or a chestnut in sight. It was the 1970s, after all. I still have that butterfly feeling in my stomach at the build up to Christmas even though my parents have been gone these 30 years. It never does fully fulfil my expectations as an adult as it did as a child, but I hope that maybe one year it will all fall into place. But for that to happen though, I would probably have to spend it on my own. A bit of a conundrum. Apologies for rambling on, but your piece made me think of Christmas past. So thank you and a A Guid New Year Tae Ane and A’, when it comes.

  23. Sally Hirst permalink
    December 26, 2022

    Thank you for this story, not fiction, but a very moving set of memories that spark my own feelings about family.
    Your work is rich and enlightening, year round. I enjoy and appreciate it in many ways.
    I wish you good health and contentment and moments of great joy.

  24. Richard permalink
    December 26, 2022

    Merry Christmas
    And Thanks

  25. belinda permalink
    December 26, 2022

    thank you for this it moved me to tears so sad
    i appreciate your candour and gentle objectivity

  26. Nick permalink
    December 26, 2022


  27. Garrick Davis permalink
    December 27, 2022

    A family; vividly and exquisitely rendered.

  28. Naomi permalink
    December 28, 2022

    I’ve only just read this and despite following you for years, it is the first time I have come across it. So evocative and powerful. You have – with huge respect and love – distilled the years of seasonal rituals into the essence of those few family observations and exchanges revealing the dissatisfactions with life, the fears and longings, the grieving for past hopes, the fragility and the pleasures from the simplest of things.

    I would hungrily read more if you ever decide to publish more -either about your family or something of fiction. My tummy is rumbling ..!

    Trusting you had the gentlest of festive breaks.

  29. December 28, 2022

    A really moving account which captures beautifully the mixed emotions that many of us I am sure associate with the festive season, when the pressure to ‘enjoy’ butts up against unresolved tensions. I write this from my bed, having been struck down with a virus over Christmas! Best wishes for 2023 and thank you for all your wonderful posts this year.

  30. Christine Swan permalink
    December 29, 2022

    This is a bittersweet tale. I only had one set of grandparents alive as a child. They lived in Walthamstow and we visited before Christmas Day after we moved to Kent. My Nanny was a lovely, warm lady. I have very fond memories of her. My grandad died when I was 12. I never felt that I knew him as well when he was alive but I have learned subsequently that he had a tough childhood with both of his parents dying young of TB. Nanny’s house was a post-war council house with a linoleum floored-living room and a roaring coal fire. My sister and I were bored silly by the inevitable political talk. Left met centre but the left always won. Very rarely, we were allowed into the parlour – but only on very special occasions and Christmas wasn’t one of them as it was only “us” visiting. I had five sets of aunts, uncles and cousins so the little living room was crammed with voices. We children played elsewhere – on the stairs and upstairs usually. I remember being told that I should NOT go upstairs because of the bogey man who lived there. Nanny told me this was somebody called Old Nick. The only toilet was upstairs so this was a pretty terrifying experience! The rest of the house was freezing – the only heating was in the living room. I can picture each room now as I think of childhood Christmas’s. I have very fond memories of my time spent with Nanny. I also spent time with her as an adult when my relationship with my parents was very fraught. She was very non-judgemental and tolerant and I could talk to her about anything. They were special times. She taught me so much about other members of the family too which have been so helpful when researching my family history. Memories are forever when they are written down.

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