Christmas by Craig Deeley
It is the end of November, in the year 2039. A 25-year-old woman takes a moment from her birthday celebrations to talk to her grandmother.
“Nana, do you remember the day I was born?”
“Oh, yes. It was Black Friday. I was lying on top of a TV in its box, screaming, while an old lady tried to drag me off by my leggings. It was such a magical time.”
Where did Black Friday suddenly spring up from? I know it’s an American custom, but before 2014 I wasn’t aware that we had it. And why are people acting as if it’s always been a thing? For some people their first Christmas memory will be seeing their dad on the TV news snatching the last Frozen doll in the shop from the hands of a toddler. Technology, social media and the fact that supermarkets open their ‘Seasonal Aisle’ in August mean that people now have many more Christmas memories to choose from.
My first Christmas memory is illustrated in these pictures. They were taken when I was around 3, at a kids’ Christmas party in the Devonshire Arms pub, Winson Green. My granddad Harry Deeley was Father Christmas, which is strange because he was nothing like Santa in his build or levels of jollity. I assume free beer was promised if he agreed to do it. Which may also explain why he appears to be asleep.
The picture below shows the entertainment for the evening. It was a ventriloquist dummy like Chucky’s dad, who yelled out “DON’T YOU LIKE ME?” whilst his head was spinning. I may be smiling on the picture but luckily I was clinging on to my mum.
Growing up, my Christmas memories all seem to blend into one, because they all followed a similar pattern. The festive season would officially start 2 weeks before the big day when my dad would go into the loft to bring down the artificial tree that, still managed to shed its needles. Not because it was realistic, but it was so old the needles had just given up. Paper chains made of the most flammable crepe-type paper would be attached with drawing pins from each corner of the living room ceiling, meeting slightly off-centre near the light-fitting. Our tree lights had 2 settings: on and off. Tinsel would be stuck in the shape of a bow on each door. I would even decorate the corner alcove of the kitchen where our dog, Mac, used to sleep. I used to make him Christmas cards from his imaginary family and stick them on the walls of his corner den, around his blanket. I would read them to him. Because I knew a dog couldn’t read. I wasn’t an idiot.
Every single TV advert on Saturday mornings was for games and toys. Woolworths would launch their Christmas ad featuring a host of celebrities like Lionel Blair, Pat Coombs and Olive from On the Buses. I would start planning my Christmas wish-list from around September, flicking through the toys section of my mum’s Gratton’s catalogue, and say to her that the Operation game I wanted was a bargain as it was only 10p for 50 weeks.
As kids, my siblings and I did very well for presents, usually having more toys and games than we know what to do with. I made sure even the dog got a gift, always a packet of meaty chews, but after a few years he came to expect them so I couldn’t really get anything else. I was never greedy for big presents, and I often preferred ones that involved making things myself and being creative. Or a fake tongue.
I never had a Chopper bike like many of my contemporaries, but I did have a Grifter. It had gears on the handlebar-grip, like a motorbike. And you could fold the mud-flaps on to the tyre so it sounded like you were riding a motorbike, but this melted very shortly afterwards as they were made of plastic, so the motorbike similarity ended with the handlebar gears.
We were allowed to take our favourite presents to visit our grandparents’ house late morning for an hour or so. Christmas was the only day when my granddad didn’t have his lunch at 10.30am. We would then go home again to tuck into our traditional Christmas lunch of a gigantic turkey with all the trimmings (11 veg) in the afternoon.
We always went back to my grandparents’ in the evening when other members of the family would also turn up. Christmas was one of the few times of the year that we were allowed to use the front room: the ‘best room’, which had a stereogram/record-player, and a drinks cabinet similar to the one pictured, but mostly filled with small bottles of Babycham, Cherry B and Snowball that no one actually liked or drank; my nan’s thinking being that if people drank them, she’d just have to replace them.
The evening would be loud, shouty, boozy, there would always be a few arguments, kids hitting each other, someone breaking one of their toys just after getting it out of the box, and we’d always attempt to start a game of Monopoly but never finish it. I have never finished a game of Monopoly. My nan would throw walnuts. It was kind of a tradition. The tradition never included taking them out of the shells first, sadly. My granddad would do a trick where he would clack his false teeth together.
My auntie would stick a bottle of salad cream down her slacks and pretend it was her willy. It was all very silly and lovely. They were very happy memories, but times have to change. Family members pass on, others drift away and we all grow up. It’s all about making new memories with new members of the family. It’s not the same as it was, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s just different. Make new traditions but keep some of the old ones too. Anyway, I have to go. I’ve just remembered I’m in the middle of a game of Monopoly from 2009 and it’s my go.
Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2015!