A Real Christmas Present
A Lasting Joy
Writing this Hub, reminded me once again that the real joy of Christmas is in the giving of presents not in the getting of them.
Of course it is nice to get a present especially one that you have wanted for a long time, but the joy of that fades very quickly once you get use to having your present.
However, the joy of giving something, especially something that someone was really blessed by, can last for years and even when faded revives quickly by every remembrance of it.
This is one of those joys that are still giving me joy over fifty years later; while what I received that Christmas, I have forgotten long ago.
Back to back housing in the 1950's
The year was 1958 and I was around 12 years old and the time of year was about ten days before Christmas.
It was bitterly cold and my friend and I had gone out around the neighbourhood Carol singing.
The Neighbourhood was a working class area in the city of Nottingham called the Meadows consisting mainly of back to back two up two down terraced houses.
Four shillings collected
At this time it was quite usual in terraced houses to either have plain floorboards or a square of lino on the floor with maybe a home made peg rug in front of the fire.
There was a mixture of people ranging from poor to very poor living in the area but living in this area where everyone was pretty much the same in the same boat as you and living the same way we didn’t realized we were poor we thought we just thought that we were normal.
My friend and I had been out a couple of hours and had some success caroling, in those days they expected two or three full carols for their money, sometimes stipulating which carols they wanted to hear.
We had collected around four shillings in thruppenny bits pennies and halfpennies which we were well pleased with. We were on the last few houses that we were going to carol at because we were getting cold and the Fish and Chip shop was beginning to call us now that we had money in our pockets.
My friend and I had visions of wrapping our cold little hands around a 4d (4 pence old money) bag of hot chips wrapped in newspaper with lashings of salt and vinegar on. If I had a time travel machine that Fish and Chip shop would be one place that I would revisit for sure.
The last Carol
It was the second house in a terrace of houses we went to the back door and began to sing after singing two or three carols we started singing ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ to signal to the house holder that we had come to the end of our carol singing.
As we got to the part ‘Glad tidings we bring to you and your kin’ we began to knock on the back door. The back of the house was in total darkness and at first there was no response to our knocking so we went through the 'We wish you a merry Christmas' refrain again and knocked once more. From inside came a voice telling us that the back door was open and asking us to come in.
Downstairs in these particular houses there were only two rooms the back kitchen where the cooking, eating and much of the day to day living was done and the front room which was kept for special occasions.
The back kitchen was in darkness but we could see a light shining through the cracks of the inside of the door frame so we made our way to the front room door and opened it. There sat a very old lady wearing an old overcoat and blanket wrapped around her legs she was hunched over a fire grate that had only the tiniest of embers glowing throwing out little or no heat at all. She wanted to give us a 1d but she looked so frail and cold that we told her we were only out to wish people a Merry Christmas and that we weren’t collecting money.
No Christmas Cheer
The place looked very untidy and from the light shining through the doorway into the back kitchen we could see that there were dirty pots and dishes cluttering up the draining board of the sink and the table. We asked if there was anything that we could do before we left and she asked if we could fetch some coal in from the coalhouse outside so my friend and I went into the backyard with the coal bucket and opened the coalhouse door.
It was very dark out in the back yard but even so it soon became clear that there was hardly a shovel full of coal in the coal house and what there was consisted of very small pieces and coal dust, my dad would have called it slack.
We would us slack at home to bank up our fire so that it would smolder overnight until you gave it a poke with a poker in the morning where it would burst into life once again.
My friend asked the old lady if she could make her a cup of tea she said please that would be lovely, it was clear to us that she had difficulty moving about.
A Quick Confab
My friend went into the back kitchen and filled the kettle with water and put it on the gas stove only when she tried to turn the gas on there was no gas the meter had run out of money.
In those days most people in working class homes paid for their gas and electricity using a coin meter which you fed using a shilling. We asked the lady if she had got any shillings to feed the meter with, she replied that she hadn’t but told us not to worry she wasn’t really that thirsty.
My friend and I had a quick confab and decide that we had to do something about this, we told the old lady that we would be back shortly.
My friend and I ran to my house which was not far away and we got my mum to change two shillings of our carol singing money into one shilling coins so we could feed her gas meter then we filled a coal bucket with coal from our coalhouse (my dad was a coal miner so we always had coal) the old lady's room looked so miserable without a fire roaring in the grate.
Three Shillings and Sixpence well spent
I went back to the house and I fed the Gas meter the two shilling pieces that we had exchanged for our carol singing money and then I revived the old lady's fire soon it was burning brightly and throwing out lots of heat.
Meanwhile my friend came back to the old lady's via the local Fish and Chip Shop on the corner where she had picked up three sixpenny mixes.
A sixpenny mix is a portion of chips and mushy peas. Mushy peas is a working class delicacy that is popular in the Midlands and North of England and was almost unheard of elsewhere in the country.
If ever you see mushy peas on offer when visiting Britain do yourself a favour and try them they are lovely with mint sauce.
I made a pot of tea and we three sat in front of a warm fire drinking hot tea and eating our chips out of the paper which is the absolutely best way to eat chips.
A Real Christmas Present
My friend and I had about 6d left from our night of carol singing but we got such a good feeling from seeing this old lady warm and so happy.
I think that was the best bit of that Christmas for both my friend and I and we got far more enjoyment spending our time and money that way than by stuffing ourselves silly with sweets and chocolates.
The old lady was not so much happy because of the things that we had bought and done for her though she was happy and grateful for those things, but for her the real Christmas present was the fact that we cared enough to do something for her.
For her it was plain to see that the things came a long way behind the joy she got from our visit just like we got far more out of the tears of joy that the old lady shed as we talked and ate our chips round the warm fire with a now very happy old lady.
The cost? One bucket of coal free because I took it out of our coal house, two shillings for the gas meter, and one shilling and sixpence for the three sixpenny mixes all together three shillings and sixpence. The value of three happy people enjoying each others company priceless.
That Christmas all three of us got a real Christmas present and it was a wonderful memory that still gives me a real warm and happy feeling just like it did back then.
Give me a real Christmas any time