Archive for December, 2017

A Seasonal Tale 1948’49

December 1, 2017

A Seasonal Tale 1948/49.
By Eddie Blackwell
When I was 10/11 years old before my voice broke, I was in the school choir and I had a reasonable voice, although a bit tone deaf, but I enjoyed singing. It was December 1948, Christmas was nearly here and I decided to go carol singing in the local area in which I lived. I knew all the traditional carols, Good King Wenceslas, Once in Royal David’s City, Away in a Manger, The Holly and the Ivy, O Little Town of Bethlehem, We three Kings, I could go on and on and I’m sure you would still say do you remember this one.
They were great times the war was over your Dad was back home, respect to those that did not return, but all was well with the World. The carol singing was going OK I was hitting the high notes sweet as a bell and the money was rolling in. I must have spent two or three hours doing the rounds, I’d finish off with “A little bit of spice cake, a little bit of cheese, a glass of cold-water, a penny if you please, if you haven’t got a penny then a halfpenny will do if you haven’t got a halfpenny then God bless you.
I did get a glass of cold-water, some sweets, and lots of money. I remember going into Lavender Walk, there was a small courtyard behind the Shepard Pub, Adjacent to where Charlie Atha lived, a row of Cottages can’t remember what they were called. The Cottages were arranged in the shape of a crescent which must have had an amplifying effect on my voice because one by one all the doors opened and people were listening to me singing the carols. Usually I was quite nervous when I had an audience, yet on this occasion I didn’t have butterflies in my tummy it was great. I got a small round of applause after I had finished, and some contributions, so I wished them all a Merry Christmas and was on my way.
I did have some close family who lived in the area, my Gran lived in Ascot street, Mums youngest sister Aunty Eileen lived at No. 144 Devon Street, it was a back to back terraced house which had been subjected to mining subsidence and looked as though it was about to fall-down, the window sills were all crooked and the door was skew whiff, but it was quite safe, and the rent had been reduced, which was an added incentive to live there, then there was Aunty Margaret she lived in Ascot place, which was the street joining Devon Street to Ascot Street, it was a tiny through terraced house with a small front room just big enough to take a half size billiard table, if you can imagine that small. You couldn’t open the front door fully so you had to be slim to get in and out. Well I’d done the rounds and by this time I was getting hungry, so I made my way home.
How did you go on asked my big Sister, I bet you didn’t get anything with your scrawny voice, I didn’t do that bad I said, and I emptied my pockets onto the table and there was well over a pound in coppers and tanners. That’s a lot Dad said the church will be very pleased with your donation. Ups I hadn’t thought about that and after all, the people were giving for Christmas Carols. Well my face must have dropped and Dad was on it straight away, he said I don’t suppose they’ll notice five shillings is missing but the balance goes as a contribution to the church, there’s the Centenary Restoration coming up shortly and they need every penny to repoint the steeple and make it last for another hundred years. Now I had the princely sum of five shillings in my pocket plus my weekly pocket money of a shilling.
Wow six bob I was rich and it was burning a hole in my pocket as it does when your young. The following morning I met up with my friend Kenny Walker and we wandered over the Saville Green wreck down past the Regent Cinema and onto Green Lane looking in shop windows at toys and saying I bags that for Christmas, people were rushing about as they do when Christmas is almost upon us. There was a little sweet shop on the corner of a street facing onto Green lane it was a funny shape almost triangular in the corner there was a hard backed book on display called “The History of the Motor Car” it was expensive five shillings and six pence, I picked it up to have a look inside, and a voice boomed out you’re going to take the print off those pages if you’re not going to buy it put it back. I put it down, I wanted the book but I didn’t have enough money to buy it, and that would mean no money for sweets or anything. Yet Christmas was just around the corner and you always got sweets and things in those days for Christmas. I’d already spent a shilling, and needed sixpence to buy it, but it may as well have been a trip to the moon, I’d no chance of buying it, I’d had my pocket money. Then a thought crossed my mind, what if I could borrow sixpence from next week’s pocket money, I’d have lots of sweets from Christmas which would tide me through and I’d still have sixpence, sounded like a good plan and I really wanted that book, it would be very educational, I’m sure Dad would approve.
Well would you believe Dad said he was skint, Christmas was coming on and he’d been spending his money on this and that for Christmas treats. But Mum came to the rescue, OK she said but I want it back I’m not made of money you know. Off I went and came back with the book. Dad had a look at it and said make sure you read it don’t just look at the pictures, and I don’t suppose you’ll want your Christmas presents now. What had I done, but it was a terrific book, it detailed the types of powered vehicles and their history, Steam, Electric, Gas Turbine and of course the Internal Combustion Engine, giving details of Speed records, and performance. The names of Famous Drivers and their achievements. The illustrations were great, and it was full of technical details, with an artist’s impressions of the Jet Car. It fired my imagination and I’d dream I was a Racing Driver winning lots of cups and medals. The book was a gem well worth the 5/6d I’d spent on it.
The tempo was increasing as it got nearer and nearer to the celebration, excitement and tension was in the air, people didn’t have a lot of money, and made what they could for special treats on Christmas day. Dad had made the Christmas Cakes several weeks before, he always said they needed to stand for a few weeks to mature and settle to be just right on the day, and he was right, and always served the cake with White Cheshire Cheese delicious. Mum would make those minced tarts and pies, and we’d sit around the coal fire with Horse-Chestnuts and Chocolate Brazils, with the radio in the background broadcasting Christmas carols. It doesn’t get much better than that. Although I do remember in later years after I’d returned from National Service. When Christmas Eve was upon us. Mum Dad and I would sit down in the living room, and empty our pockets on to the floor, (I always made sure I’d got plenty of cash on me because Dad was always skint), and then we’d share out equally the money we’d got, and I think for me that was the true spirit of Christmas. To share with each other what you’ve got, even though it may not be a lot, means more than you can ever imagine.
Oddly enough I had this book together with a full collection of Eagle comics from the first issue, in the roof loft at Mum and Dad’s house before I went to do National Service.
When I returned home in 1961, I asked where my collection was. Dad said that whilst I was away Mum had had a clear out and thrown them all away. They’d be worth a fortune now, you never miss what you’ve never had as my Granddad used to say.
I’ve tried to find a copy of the book since Mum had her clear out, but to no avail, obviously without the publishers name it’s very difficult. I’ll keep trying, who knows when my old pal Kenneth Walker makes contact after 65 years you must never give up hope.
Well I hope your all getting ready for the forthcoming festivities, we’ll be having our Nativity scene on display and all the traditional things associated with Christmas trimmings, and were thinking what’s wrong with Egg and Chips for Christmas Dinner.
We were grateful for what we could get years ago.
Christmas was different in those days there was more emphasis on the reason for the celebration rather than today’s commercialization of the event.
We were lucky to get sweets and fruit things that weren’t readily available in the shops in those days unless you had coupons, or connections with the black market, but for that you needed money. I think we had Chicken for Christmas Dinner that year, stuffed with sage and onion, and thought ourselves very lucky. Never the less they were happy days filled with enthusiasm, the war was over and the future was ours for the taking.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.