It is Christmas Eve 1959, and all our kith and kin are safely gathered in Brynhyfred for the festivities.
My Uncle Eddie has driven down from London in his Jag, which in 1959 takes all day. No motorways and Seven bridges then, just the long route round Gloucester or the Aust Ferry, 8 cars an hour. He is an engineer and he builds Steel Works for a living, and consequently rather rich. He is also the funniest man I ever met.
My Granny B, my fathers mother, has come up the hill from her house in the town, as has Uncle Lewis and Aunty Madge . There were a couple of close neighbours present too, all invited to our traditional Supper on Christmas Eve.
The tables we groaning under the weight of all the food. In those days getting all this stuff in really did make sense as shops did close for a week or so. There were cooked hams and chickens, joints of Beef ready to roast, a goose for the Xmas dinner, cos none of our lot liked Turkey.
Plus all the things that you never saw for the rest of the year, except Christmas. Oh you all know… Nuts, hazel, Brazil peanuts, all in their shells so nutcrackers to the fore. Dates in funny wooden boxes (bloody hated those!) tangerines, Turkish Delight, pink sickly wobbly stuff coated in sugar, also in boxes. Salted peanuts in sealed tins, you used a sardine type key to open them, and they made this very satisfying Sssss sound when the seal broke and the aroma flooded out.
Then it began to snow. It snowed and snowed then snowed some more, and it was the right kind of snow, the heavy wet type, ideal of snowballs and sledging. Alas it is also ideal for bringing down power lines, which it promptly did, so we were blacked out.
Were we downhearted? Were we hell. We had all this food, the fires were banked with the very best coal, courtesy of live in Gramp Dan, who was a retired Colliery manager. There was plenty of booze and for light, well there was a cupboard full of candles and oil lamps left over from the Blackouts during the War, we were well and truly sorted! We would not be missing the telly (we had one) because then as now, there was fuck all on.
Besides we’re Welsh, and we Welsh love telling stories. Each of the gathered had their favorites that they’d crafted, polished and embroidered over the years. So after the candlelit supper I settled under the table close to the fire with a Rupert the Bear Annual, and listened to my family tell their tales.
First up, as usual, was my live in Welsh speaking Gramp, Dan. He was born in 1882 and grew up in the dirt poor village of Hermon in West Wales, at the foot of the Preseli Mountains. He told of earning extra pennies for the family by taking care of customers horses outside the local pub, the lamb. Gramp loved horses, he wanted to be a jockey but grew too tall, and if he knew the owner was going to be in the pub some time, he would borrow the horse and take it for a ride. Then he did his “how God caught us getting in the harvest on the Sabbath”, and some he’d been told as a lad by Welsh returnees who had fought in the American Civil War. He got a bit of light hearted barracking for that one.
“Oh cummon Dan mun, where’s it going to end? The last time you told this story they were only hiding behind two barrels of gunpowder in the fire-fight, you’ll be adding crates of Dynamite next!”
So Uncle Eddie took up the lead. He’d just been putting the finishing touches to Ravenscraig Steel Works in Glasgow, and sucking on his pipe and single Malt, he told tales of his battles with the commie union leaders, who were trying to thwart him at every turn. I hardly understood a word of it, but like I say he was a very funny man, the room was roaring with laughter.
On and on it went with everyone taking their turn and me listening enraptured under the table, the Rupert Annual long discarded. It was the first time I really realised the power of Love and Family. I was in the presence of people who had not only known each other all their lives, but liked loved and enjoyed each others company, and were having a ball. I felt (that word again) totally and utterly Cwched!
Then at quarter to twelve there was a knock on the door. It was our next door neighbour, his wife had gone into labour and could we ring for a doctor because we had a phone. Well there was much rushing around after that and I was discovered forgotten about under the table, and whisked off to bed.
Come Christmas morning, and after breakfast, we were ushered in next door to see the new arrival.The Mum looked knackered but blissful, the child, a girl, now called Carol (well it’s Christmas innit) was swaddled up in the bottom draw of a sideboard, well she hadn’t been expected so soon so they hadn’t bought a cot yet. Yes I know, very Nativity, but there you go, it happened.
Well it comes to unwrapping the presents time in the Dining room, and it is plainly obvious that my Magic Castle isn’t there. I’m deeply disappointed of course, but a child of my time. I know it’s not Santa but my parents who provide all the goodies and if they said they couldn’t afford it, well that’s just the way it was. I was grateful for the great ones I did get.
After Christmas lunch, at which Granny B was the clear winner (for a little bird of a woman who was ramrod straight in both posture and morals, she couldn’t half pack it away. She ate with the speed of a tank full of pissed off Piranhas, and was usually drumming her fingers waiting for the pudding while the rest of us were still trying to see the bottom of the plate) once again, it was traditional walk it off time. So my Gramp Dan and Uncle Eddie and I went off up the mountain, round down the Watford, back up St martin’s Road and up the hill home. The light was that amazing “see for miles” Winter clear, bouncing and dazzling off the newly minted snow. It was beautiful, but I’m still melancholic thinking of my missing Magic Castle.
It was dusk when we got back and we all went to warm in front of the fire in the kitchen. Then when I’d thawed out, my mum came in and said to me…
“Your father would like to see you in the Dining Room now young man.”
Oh bugger! Young man! not Richard. Young man means I’ve usually done something wrong, but I’m damned if I can think what it is this time! So with great trepidation I headed for the Dining room.
I gently eased the door open a bit, all I could see was the twinkling of the tinsel on the Christmas tree and the winking lights, then as the door swung open a bit more… there it was! My Magic Castle!!!
Dad had put lights in it and behind it and it was shimmering like a mirage. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I rushed it and caressed it and thanked my Dad and mum and the rest of the family who had, by now, snuck up behind me to witness the spectacle.
My best childhood Christmas ever? well it’s got to be close, hasn’t it? That castle was my all time favourite toy. I still have it, it’s at me mum’s. The hollow base come dungeon has several divisions of Airfix troops of various nationalities, plus some armour clad larger scale warriors and some tanks and stuff. And I will cherish it forever.
So that’s my little tale of childhood past in a land that is long gone and will never come again. I feel very very lucky to have been part of it.
And what of the present, and 2012?
Well it’s not going to be a dull year is it?
There’s a Prezza Election in the States, vital to the survival of Western Civilisation. There’s the almost certain crash of the Euro and the domino cascade of Sovereign Debt, oh lots of fun stuff to look forward to next year alright.
So we here at Cats wish you all a love filled cwched Christmas, and whatever happens next, you can bet your boots that we will be taking the piss out of it, giving it a good kicking, or supplying words of wisdom to fit.
Happy New Year Y’all!