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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 luxury!
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 Christmas orders.
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 are purchased.
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 mess!”
Wrapping 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 long day.
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 yes-please mum!”
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'.

Colin Weightman


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