Woolwich & Districts
Contented Memories of a Young Boy
growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Saving my pocket money for buying presents, instead
of the usual weekly indulging myself buying sweets from the
corner shop, and actually feeling very excited about what I
was going to buy with my sparse stash of saved up pocket money.
At school the class excitedly making simple paper chains. Cutting
sheets of different coloured paper into strips and then gluing
them into circles and interlocking them into chains, mixing
the different colours as the paper chain grew longer and longer.
The sheer pleasure of seeing these paper chains hung up and
transforming the drab classrooms into a multi coloured magical
fairy grotto, and all this achieved by our own handiwork too.
Mum, busy as ever, shopping, struggling, happily, up that hill
each day with bulging shopping bags, and me, a little wee fella,
giving mum a hand by holding on to a shopping bag handle and
sharing its heavy weight. Bringing home the extra large chicken
and the huge turkey, the large pre ordered cooked ham, along
with the oranges, tangerines, Brussels sprouts and other veggies
for the Christmas feast. All paid for by mum's Co-Op Christmas
savings and her Divi payments! The fresh peas, to be shelled
by us kids sitting out in the back garden, ever bundled in scarves
and jackets to stay warm, happily popping the pods and spilling
the peas into a large saucepan that we sat around; at least
those peas that survived from popping into our mouths first.
Wonderful smells wafting enticingly from the oven-warmed scullery
at all hours of the day and night, along with busy, busy sounds
of mixing, stirring and whipping of ingredients in large china
mixing bowls. Sultanas, currants, glazed cherries, spices, and
sticky coloured fruit peels, “.....can I have some, mum?”
Fruity smells of jellies melting in moulds of hot water, flour
covered table tops, cake tins lined with margarine wrapping
paper, half full of soft cake mix ready for the hot oven. Wooden
mixing spoons covered in delicious sweet tasting sticky cake
mix,....“Yes, you can lick the spoon”.......sheer
Bottles of cream from the milkman, and watching him quickly
sip his hot cuppa, as he chats to mum on the front porch, telling
tales of how very busy he is, with the load of so many extra
Plumstead High Street and Lakedale Road shop windows all lit
up and overflowing with glitter and tinsel, sparkling Christmas
gifts, and special yule-tide goodies.
The Department stores in Woolwich bulging with the wonderful
sights, sounds, and smells, of Christmas. Clear glass jars of
different coloured bath salts, and exotic bubble baths, also
available in neatly wrapped cubes or fancy shaped bottles. Pastel
coloured soaps, scents and perfumes from afar, in strange geometric
shaped bottles, everything tied in fancy ribbon bows and a myriad
of other colourful smelly things. Brightly coloured toys, to
look and wonder at, but alas never to be owned, except in a
dream. Christmas carols filling the air, as large fancy brass
tills are rung. The compressed air filled tubes shoot encapsulated
receipts and money back and forth overhead, as gifts and goods
The wintry Trek across Winn's Common, to the silence of Bowman's
Hollow, to hunt for some prickly holly branches, with the best
display of red berries.
Further expeditions to the small valleys in Bostall Woods to
find the best and largest prickly cases to be stomped on and
gather the shiny brown sweet chestnuts inside and to find the
largest pine cones. Once home, they'd be rolled around in poster
paint, and then sprinkled with glitter. To be hung up and around
the mantlepiece, or on the tree ??? “Who made all this
up warm and going out into the dark night air with your mates,
to trudge around the hilly streets Carol Singing. Minding to
never kick the empty milk bottles, as we boldly gathered in
a stranger's porch, and then, nervously knocking on his door.
On hearing a sudden movement from inside the home, we'd start
to sing “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”
all the while resisting a very real urge to sing, “When
shepherds washed their socks by night all seated round the tub,
a bar of Sunlight soap came down and we began to scrub!”
Then, when the door opened, and our small smiling faces were
greeted by those of older years, we'd change to the most angelic
version of “Silent Night” that was ever heard. Then,
later, counting up the many coppers, thru'penny pieces, sixpences,
or with luck a shilling or two, and dividing it up equally,
all to be added towards our other monies saved for presents.
Going shopping to choose and buy Christmas presents, and the
long and careful consideration of price and value of the item.
A packet of hair grips for Sally next door, a flannel and a
bar of fancy smelling coloured soap for my sister, a comb for
my brother, handkerchiefs for dad, a box of lavender bath cubes
and a comb for mum........... Buying Christmas gift wrap paper
and coloured labels and wrapping up the presents when no one
was allowed to look and see what was being wrapped up, or else!
On Christmas Eve this innocent young boy writing his secret
message in large infant scrawled letters, on a piece of paper.
My most desired requests would then be carefully placed up the
chimney of my bedroom's green tiled fireplace, carefully lodging
the note in the cast iron damper that was situated in the chimney
flue. This surely could never be missed by Santa Claus on his
way down the chimney that very night. Of lying in bed, near
my younger sister, quietly talking and sharing, as our young
eagerness and excitement grew at the expectation of receiving
our wondrous presents on Christmas morning, at long last so
very near, as our eyelids grew ever heavier, after such a long
Christmas Day and Christmas dinner, rich Christmas pudding and
cream, warm mince pies, fancy wrapped toffees from a big round
tin, seen only on this special day of the year.
The annual family gathering in our front room, only used on
these special occasions and the treat of a Christmas variety
show, from the accumulator battery-fed valve wireless.
A bright flickering coal fire and the smell of chestnuts being
roasted in the ashes, under the fire grill. Everyone jumping
and then laughing as another chestnut explodes with a loud BANG!
Breaking open the rock hard brazil nuts and walnuts with the
nutcrackers, and mixing them with the hazel nuts, peanuts, sultanas,
wedges of tangerines, and Smiths crisps, after you'd untwisted
the blue wax paper containing the salt and shook it well into
the crisps. Cold meats for tea, with jelly and cream, Mackintoshes'
lemonade or orangeade to follow, more warm mince tarts, and
a really full belly..........“More jelly and cream?”.........“Oh
Playing outside in your road after Christmas tea and sharing
with your neighbourhood mates about what you'd received for
Christmas, what they received, and just how many goodies you'd
been eating. Then later, with our fading eyes, and tired bodies,
playing with your new toys before bedtime, after being allowed
to stay up so unbelievably late. But after all, it was Christmas!
Simple happy days for a child born a 'Common kid'.