Rosemary and Rue.
Recollections of a Forest of Dean Childhood
Hail ! Smiling Morn !
My dear Mother, during her later years, was wont to sigh and tell us that "Christmas has never been the same since you children were little." As I spear a cherry for a friend's Martini in Christmas Present, I reflect that she was probably right - as usual - and I recollect that fat, oval, quart bottle of V.P. Best British Port which was the only seasonal luxury they allowed themselves in Christmas Past.
Christmas Present has a tree in the corner, with glittering glass baubles and gaily twinkling fairy lights. Christmas Past had sprigs of holly behind the pictures and homemade paper chains festooned around the living-room - well away from the gas-light in the middle of the ceiling. It was the mid-1920's, the pits were closing, and times were hard.
In Christmas Past we were packed off to bed early on the previous night. We had already carolled our way around the neighbours with a full rendering of "While Shepherds" and then chanting our usual little ditty ...
"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do -
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God Bless You!"
We probably collected a few pennies or so - most of the neighbours were no better off than we were and more than half of our calls were "duty calls" in any case, to be rewarded with a pat on the back and a "well done old butty." Christmas Present means, at the best, a gabbled first verse of "Silent Night" - off-key and many wrong notes, followed by a rapid tattoo on the door. At worst, the rapid tattoo comes first with a "D'you want a carol?" Just so that the singer doesn't waste his time, of course. You give in weakly, and proffer twenty pence - or four shillings to us - you wculdn't dare offer less. And you go back again to Christmas Past
Indoors, three of Father's stockings were lying on the table. Proper stockings, none of your nylon ankle freezers; his stockings were hand knitted, thick, warm, and knee-length. We carefully wrote our names on a scrap of paper, pinned them on and hung the stockings up on the brass rail below the high mantlepiece with its crimson plush pelmet, trimmed with bobbles. My hair was bound up in curling rags as a festive gesture to the coming celebrations; the hot bricks were taken from the oven, wrapped in flannel and put into our beds, and then it was "up the wooden hill" with no demur when Father glanced up at the clock and remarked that it was eight o'clock and "time we weren't there."