Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

A Christmas Tale Pt. 2

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!

22 Comments

  1. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    As I may not be looking at too many blogs over the festive period, may I take this opportunity to say thank you for an excellent body of thought over this past year, I greatly enjoy, CCIZ

    It is amongst perhaps two dozen that I look at more or less daily, so thank you and Merry Christmas

  2. Westerlyman says:

    Well worth waiting for. Merry Christmas.

  3. Long-term reader, very occasional commenter, nut just had to say that I really enjoyed that jaunt down memory lane with you!
    More reminiscing, please!

  4. Lynne says:

    That’s a wonderful story, RAB. My favourite and most played with toy was a pair of roller skates I received for my ninth birthday. Anyone who bought me a doll was placed on my shit list. I was a diehard tomboy who preferred those plastic guns that shot dried peas. Still am except I graduated to something much bigger that turns flying clay into brightly coloured plant pot drainage.

    My other half and I are spending Christmas without the son unit this year. He moved into his own place last week and we won’t see him until some time next week. Seems strange not having him mooching around to see what’s going on with the crimbo stuff and to snaffle tidbits from the kitchen. It’s his birthday tomorrow too. Yeah, yeah. Bad timing on my part.

    So, a quiet crimbo for us.

    Have a good one folkses. See you all soon. :D

  5. Kevin B says:

    A lovely story RAB and a Happy Christmas to all the Cat counters and the commenters.

    And in the words of one who is in my thoughts this Christmas, Rejoice, Rejoice.

  6. Bod says:

    Not much to add, except, Have a Happy Crimble, y’all.

  7. permanentexpat says:

    Lovely! Blessings.

  8. Sam Duncan says:

    Bit late, considering it’s actually all over for Cats himself, but Merry Xmas folks.

    Great story, RAB. (And it looks like they started as they meant to go on at Ravenscraig.)

  9. Stonyground says:

    The story telling aspect of this post reminded me of an old work-mate and of my father in law, both of whom have some stories to tell.

    FIL’s best story is of a guy on a plane flight who found something alive crawling around in his in flight meal. Once back at home he wrote a strongly worded letter of complaint to the airline. In return he received a letter of abject apology, we are so sorry that your flying experience was ruined, every possible care is taken etc. So convincing was the letter that he actually started feeling guilty about having made a fuss about such a trivial matter. Unfortunately the letter came with an internal memo attached which read ‘send him the beetle letter’. All who have heard this story now refer to standard insincere apologies as ‘beetle letters’.

    Work mate used to be in the British Royal Air Force and told us of his RAF base and the officer who had to deal with complaints from members of the public about the conduct of some of the trainees at the base. One of his stock phrases was ‘I don’t understand it, he’s one of our best men’. Ever since hearing this story, anyone at our workplace who screws up in a spectacularly stupid way is labelled as ‘one of our best men’. At one time we even had a plastic ‘one of our best men’ trophy that we awarded to the year’s best idiot.

  10. Lovely story, thank you so much. Wishing you all the best for 2012.

  11. GW says:

    A worthy finish to the story. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    My favorite area of recreational study is England from the time of Aelfred through . I grew up in love with castles but, being across the pond, only got to play with the ones I built out back. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Kent and go into Rochester Castle. Honest to God, it was like turning back the clock to age 12. My friends had to use a crowbar to pry me out of there.

  12. GW says:

    Excuse me, that should have been Aelfred through George III.

  13. Rob F says:

    Merry Christmas Nick, Cats, Rab and everyone else.

  14. RAB says:

    Well thank you one and all for your kind comments on my little story, I shall endevour to do more in the New Year.

    GW, as you like castles so much, have a look at this…

    http://www.wales360.co.uk/castell_coch/

    And do goole Castles of Wales, and absolutely brilliant site, with fab pics and facts.

    And big big thank you to Cats. He sent me some new posting software before xmas, that makes posting easy peasy for computer a clutz like me. It works like a dream big fella, ta muchly!

  15. Paul Marks says:

    A different world – in some ways not so good as now (lack of key bridges and so on), but in other ways better.

    My own “Christmas” family is long gone – we used to have Christmas in my grandparents house in Lancing Sussex (they moved down from London when they retired).

    Of the various people who attended those Chistmas events I am the last one to be alive – and have been since 2000 (my father was the last to go – odd as he was older than a lot of people who were there).

    I hate still being around – but obviously not enough to do anything about it.

    Still we did not have an open fire and tales from someone who knew people back from the American Civil War!

    Careful of the Rothbardians RAB – as I bet those Welsh volunteers faught on the “wrong” side, under the “mistaken” impression that the war between the blue and the gray was about slavery.

    I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas (or whatever).

    And I certainly hope you all have a Happy New Year.

  16. Tim Newman says:

    Careful of the Rothbardians RAB – as I bet those Welsh volunteers faught on the “wrong” side, under the “mistaken” impression that the war between the blue and the gray was about slavery.

    Knowing the Welsh, they arrived in the middle of the war by mistake having got lost looking for the North West passage believing it to offer a quicker route to New Zealand rugby tours, and fought on the side of those whose pubs stayed open the longest for precisely that reason. And whenever a particularly fierce battle was concluded, they would stand about saying “Tidy!”.

  17. GW says:

    RAB: Thanks for the link and the site. I’ve now added several more sites to my long list of places to visit before I pop off the mortal coil.

  18. RAB says:

    You’re welcome GW.

    As I recall Gramp’s story, the Welshmen involved in the Civil War tale, were seamen, blockade runners. West Wales has a long maritime tradition, they would probably be more aquinted with New York or Hong Kong than Cardiff or London. They’d probably made a few bob too, and come home to have a Swank. No sniggering at the back there! Swanking is serious business for a Welshman. We like nothing better than to make a bit of money in foreign parts, then go home and show off how well you and your family have done in life. ;-)

    My Gramp used to do it shamelessly. He attended a Welsh speaking Bethal Chapel in Caerphilly, and one Christmas asked his son, Uncle Eddie to pick him up afterwards. I went along for the ride.

    So we pull up in the Jag about 100 yards from the chapel. “There’s plenty of space right outside Uncle…”

    “I know there is boy, but I know your Gramp. We park here. Wait and watch…”

    The service ended and the congregation began coming out, including Gramp and his cronies.

    “Just look at the old bugger Richard” say my uncle, “see, he’s puffed himself up to his full height and he’s doing that thing he does with his walking-stick, just waiting for me and the Jag to pull up outside so he can sweep majestically down the steps and waive to all his pals as he gets in, heh! well I’m not playing, the old bugger can just walk down here instead!”

  19. Daphne says:

    I certainly don’t have a Christmas memory that comes even close to that wonderful story, RAB.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope you, Nick and Cats all had a wonderful Christmas.

  20. RAB says:

    Thank’s daphne, a great compliment coming from your good self.

    Well we had a good one. The food was amazing, the drink incomparible, especially the vintage Port, and some cousins came in on Boxing Day, can’t say fairer than that.

    I’m sure the rest of the crew did too. Nick terrorising Manchester or Newcastle or probably both, Cats on a beach with a BBQ, Sam hiding in horror of Hogmanay, Paul twirling his moustache waiting impatently for the end of Civilisation… yes I’m sure we all enjoyed ourselves alright. ;-)

  21. Julie near Chicago says:

    RAB,

    Here it is the last tag-end of February and I’m only now reading your memoir of a warm, wonderful, magical Christmas…and I’m so happy that you chose to share it with us. And beautifully written it is, besides.

    Thank you so much…may all your Christmases be filled with warmth and magic and joy.

    :>))

  22. RAB says:

    Oh flattery will get you everywhere Julie, and thanks so much for the compliments. There will be a few more stories soon I hope (when I can get the bloody scanner to work so I can do the pics) one of my student days in Nottingham. Watch this space! :-)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: