The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

CHRISTMAS has always been a time for children, a time when parents try to make everything as magical as possible for them.

Although my parents hadn’t much money to spend on buying toys, they always managed to make it special in other ways.

RAISING CHRISTMAS SPIRITS: Christmas past at Staincliffe Hospital as the nurses make sure the children's ward have a lovely Christmas tree and that their young patients have plenty of presents.

RAISING CHRISTMAS SPIRITS: Christmas past at Staincliffe Hospital as the nurses make sure the children's ward have a lovely Christmas tree and that their young patients have plenty of presents.

Many of my generation, especially those from big families, got little in the way of toys on Christmas morning, but we still remember how wonderful our Christmases used to be.

We remember the laughter, the excitement, the glorious food which we never had at any other time of the year, like trifles, spice cake, stand pie and pickled red cabbage.

Our house shone and sparkled over Christmas with freshly laundered curtains at all the windows and a new home-made “pricked” rug, which on Christmas Eve, was ceremonially laid in front of a blazing coal fire.

Throughout the house there was always the tangy smell of tangerines which had been part of our Christmas present, and a big dish of walnuts and Brazil nuts, never seen in the house at any other time of year.

We could never crack the Brazil nuts because we didn’t possess a nutcracker and dad always ended up smashing them with the flat iron which meant not only the shells were smashed to bits but the nuts inside as well.

Most of the expense of Christmas was spread throughout the year by mother joining Christmas clubs at various shops and putting in a certain amount of money each week. No credit cards in those days.

When the money was totted up it came to quite a nice amount but it was nearly all spent on food rather than toys.

It went to the butcher, the grocer and the little shop at the bottom of our street which sold chocolate selection boxes.

There was never any stress rushing around buying Christmas cards and worrying about whether you’d forgotten anyone, because people like us couldn’t afford the cards let alone the stamps.

It was still a time for children and we were made to feel special at Christmas, especially the little children who were ill in hospital.

Look at the picture above and you’ll see how our local hospital would be trimmed up and Christmas trees erected on the wards.

And every child received a present, donated by various charitable organisations in the town, and the nurses wrapped them up and distributed them among the children.

Some weeks ago, one of our readers, John Croft, of Thornhill Edge, answered my call to readers to share childhood memories.

John was the first to respond and sent me his childhood memories of the different seasons of the year, some of which I have published already..

But I saved his memories of winter and those of the weeks running up to Christmas just so I could include them in my column this week.

Although John is much younger than me, he does remember parts of his childhood which were similar to mine. He remembers how cold the house could be without central heating, frozen up window frames and icicles everywhere.

He also remembers what Christmas was like and how many of his presents had been made by his father in the cellar in the run up to the big day.

Here are some of his memories which include the joy of Christmas morning:

“I Don’t know whether the passing years cloud the memory but I seem to remember the summers were always sunny and it snowed every winter.

“Winter meant sledging, snowball fights, eating soot-flavoured icicles, watching bed sheets frozen on the washing line like giant poppadoms, beds weighed down with blankets, bedspread and eiderdown.

“Ice had to be scraped from inside bedroom windows so you could see outside. We wore short trousers, and our wellies always left a chapped ring just below the knee.

“To thaw out frozen fingers we’d place them in warm water and then suffer the most excruciating pain afterwards.

“We couldn’t get near the fire on washdays because of the clothes horse standing in front with steam rising from the damp clothes draped around it.

“If I was at home on washday, I had to agitate the clothes in the big zinc tub by turning the paddle to and fro.

“Then it was into the mangle, three settings on the rollers from high to low, and you could hardly wind the handle when a sheet was being fed through by mum

“Every Christmas we bought our paternal grandparents a present. I always bought a cigar for granddad and a lace hankie for grandma, and we’d take them up to their house on Christmas Eve.

“ Granddad would give us a drink of “pop”, which was in fact Andrews Liver Salts, and he’d stir it vigorously into a glass of water whilst saying “drink it all down in one go”.

“In the weeks before Christmas, dad would keep disappearing down the cellar to make forts, garages, a table tennis table, etc for us.

“One year he secretly painted up my first two-wheeled bicycle which he’d bought second-hand for ten shillings from the local milkman.

“On Christmas morning there was always a stocking filled with an apple, an orange, nuts, a puzzle, a bar of chocolate and some shiny pennies. Then it was downstairs to see what else Santa had brought, usually a Beano annual , or perhaps a couple of dinky toys.

“Christmas dinner could be a joint of pork, a rabbit, or one of Dad’s chickens, if it had stopped laying.

“One year my uncle, who lived in Birmingham, arrived unannounced on Christmas Eve, bringing with him a huge turkey. What a treat for us and a tearjerker for mum.”

I would like to take this opportunity of wishing everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. Also to thank the people who have kindly shared their memories with me, not yet all published but will be soon.

Anyone wanting to send in their memories, just email tresham3@gmail.com.