As a child in Chandler’s Ford, Christmas was a special time for my family and me, albeit mostly during WW2, as I was 5½ at the outbreak.
I was, to all intents and purposes, an only child (my sister, Jean, died from Scarlet Fever aged 7, 4 years before I was born), so, I guess, understandably, I was ‘spoilt’ (so I was often told).
I can remember going with my parents into the woods in Castle Lane, off to the left towards Chilworth from the sharp bend, to collect holly, as well as mistletoe if we could find any.
This was done on foot, of course, as not many people had cars in those days. Even if they did, they probably couldn’t get petrol anyway.
It was then back home to start decorating the ‘live’ (as opposed to today’s plastic models) Christmas tree my father got from somewhere.
Will the fairy lights finally work this time?
It was my father’s and my job to put up the tree in the front room and decorate it with various baubles saved from previous years, plus a couple of new ones bought each year.
I remember my father very carefully taking the fairy lights out of their box, where they had been diligently stored in a drawer in the bureau, and ‘draping’ them over the tree. They were then plugged in and switched on.
Often, the twelve light set didn’t work, due to a bad connection (they were screw in bulbs) or a burnt out bulb. Whatever the problem, it was a laborious, but fun, process to remove each bulb in turn and replace it with a ‘known’ good one until everything worked.
Sometimes of course there was more than one dud, which proved more of a challenge for my father, but the lights were always fixed.
Christmas shopping at Woolworths in Eastleigh
At some stage, my mother and I would sit at the dining room table making paper chains, from coloured strips of paper purchased, usually, from Woolworths in Leigh Road, Eastleigh.
(I do not know if we came across Benny Hill there, but he must have been there on one or more of our visits to the store).
I remember I made the ‘paste’ from flour and water for gluing the paper strips – great fun!
Once made, my father, mounted on a wobbly set of wooden steps, would drape the paper chains from the picture rails, diagonally from the corners across the dining room and lounge room (also known as the front room), supported in the middle by the pendant light fittings.
Hanging up holly and mistletoe
Holly was attached to the picture rails at various points. Mistletoe was hung from the light pendants in the hall by the front door, as well as in the dining and front rooms.
We had folding wooden doors between the dining and front rooms, which were opened at Christmas time to give more space and easier access to the tree and the presents sitting beneath it.
Helping mother in the kitchen
My assistance, such as it was at such a tender age, was sought by my mother in the kitchen, where we made mince pies, chocolate truffles, coconut ice, marzipan dates, cheese straws, hard sauce * and stuffing for the bird.
The bird was invariably one of our hens that had passed its laying days . My father could not bring himself to kill it, so a neighbour was called in to take it away to do the ‘deed’ and bring it back so my mother and I could pluck it and dress it.
My second-hand Christmas toys
Christmas Day always started early for me, long before my parents were up. Santa Claus always somehow managed to leave me a stocking containing nibbles and ‘bits and pieces’ of a festive nature (designed, of course, to keep me occupied whilst my parents continued to sleep until a respectable hour for grown-ups).
Presents were not opened until after the traditional Christmas lunch, and although I cannot remember in which years I got what, I do recall most of my toys were second-hand, as it was hard to buy new during the war, but they were still fantastic to me.
I remember Meccano (much better than today’s Lego, as there were nuts and bolts, spanners, screw drivers, gears and clockwork motors), ‘O’ gauge Hornby clockwork trains, as well as Just William books (all of which I still have, although minus the paper sleeves), Biggles, Gimlet and, yes, even Worrals books.
I remember the excitement
I still remember the excitement as my father handed out the presents.
My first set of wheels – although summer when the photo was taken, it was a Christmas present.
(This photo was taken at Meadow Grove in Chandler’s Ford, about 1938, by my father with a Kodak Box Brownie using 127 black and white film.)
The years passed, marriage and our own children came, and later their children and more recently their children, but the spirit and excitement of Christmas remained.
What is Christmas in Western Australia like?
The move to Western Australia in 1966 brought about changes to the Christmas celebrations.
The changes were mainly in the weather, as here it is summer at Christmas and temperatures in Perth can reach the low to mid-40s, although they are usually more in the mid to high-30s.
These temperatures are not really suited to sitting round a dining table eating a traditional Christmas roast.
In 1966, Christmas Day was spent on the beach with newly made friends and neighbours. The Christmas lunch, consisting of crayfish and salads, was kept in eskies packed with ice to keep it cold.
This was quite an experience for us ‘£10 POMS’ as we were affectionately known by the locals.
More usually, Christmas Day here is spent outside, somewhere with cover from the sun, with either a cold meal or a barbecue.
Wherever you are when you read this, we wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that 2016 brings only goodness, happiness and good health for you.
Doug (and Wyn) Clews
What’s Hard Sauce?
Is Hard Sauce = Bread Sauce? NO!
Hard Sauce is also known as Brandy Butter and goes with Christmas Pudding and/or Mince Pies. *
Here is a recipe, in case anyone is interested:
Brandy Butter (Hard Sauce)
Makes about 8 servings
- 1 1/8 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange zest (Optional)
- 2 tablespoons orange juice (Optional)
- 4 tablespoons brandy
Place butter, caster sugar, (orange rind and orange juice if using), and brandy or cognac into food processor and mix until smooth. Pile sauce into serving bowl and refrigerate. Remove from fridge about one hour before serving.
Of course, there weren’t any food processors at the time, so it was all mixed by hand in a pudding basin (that was my job, and, naturally, I had to do several taste tests).
Nor were there fridges in those days, so it went in the pudding basin, covered of course, onto the concrete floor of the pantry (along with our butter, milk and indeed anything else that needed to be kept cool, particularly in the summer)
Note: Thanks to Allison Symes for co-editing this article. (Janet)
Article Series by Doug Clews
- My Memories of ‘The War Years’ in Chandler’s Ford: 1939 – 1945 (Part 1)
- My Memories of ‘The War Years’ in Chandler’s Ford: 1939 – 1945 (Part 2)
- My Memories of ‘The War Years’ in Chandler’s Ford: 1939 – 1945 (Part 3)
- My Memories of ‘The War Years’ in Chandler’s Ford: 1939 – 1945 (Part 4)
- My Memories of ‘The War Years’ in Chandler’s Ford: 1939 – 1945 (Part 5)
- My Memories of ‘The War Years’ in Chandler’s Ford: 1939 – 1945 (Part 6)
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