“Christmas,” said Robin.
It’s always the same with these courses – they always have to be topical!
No – I did not say ‘tropical’ –
‘Oh – the red, red Robin goes…’
Am I going to have Christmas tied up in a box like a parcel fastened with fancy string?
I’m tempted not to mention it at all.
But – Christmas?
Not so always –
Lying in bed –
I was in the small front bedroom that year, for some reason – there was a time when my sister and I slept together in the back bedroom – we wanted the small front bedroom as our playroom –
We’d asked our Mam if we could, and she’d said yes.
We’d read about it in Enid Blyton – there was a picture of it, this playroom, and we’d copied it as far as we could, putting our toys – we had quite a few that were the same as the ones in the picture – dolls, a ball – no soldiers, but – maybe a clapping monkey –
They would come to life, these toys, in the playroom, during the night.
Every morning, when we got up, we’d go to the playroom, and look to see where the toys had got themselves.
But the toys were cleverer than we were – after their night of fun, they always assumed the exact positions we’d left them in.
This particular year, for some particular reason, I was sleeping habitually in the front small bedroom…
The front small bedroom was small.
It was no more than three or four yards long – and not so wide.
The bed was pushed up into the corner, its length running across the window, and its head against the wall that adjoined with our Mam and Dad’s room…
The house was cold.
Downstairs, in the winter, we’d all huddle around the coal-fire in the front room – the door to the kitchen and the one to the lobby were kept shut in the evenings to keep in the warmth.
We had some roaring fires – half-way up the chimney, people would say –
We’d sit there together, the four of us – or the five of us when Nanny was alive – getting red legs from the fire (except our Dad, who wore trousers, of course), hot on our fronts, freezing at our backs.
Upstairs, the beds were heavily-laden with brown and grey blankets – they were Nanny’s, from a time when blankets were grey and brown…
Hot water bottles.
We had a stone hot water bottle that was Nanny’s – it was a cylindrical container with a stopper jutting up from the top, and it was kept in the gas cupboard…
Once in the bed, you could hardly move under the weight.
You pulled the covers right up over your nose – or it might fall off in the night from the cold – and you’d lie there, breathing the fug you made.
This Christmas Eve, I was in the bed alone, in the small front bedroom, under the heavy blankets – but lying towards the bottom of the bed so that my head would be level with the window.
I was cold – freeze battened those window-panes.
I was watching.
I was watching the sky.
I had the draw-curtains pulled open, and I had my head under the net, my pillows propped against the window-sill.
I was nine.
I think I was nine.
They’d been saying at school that Father Christmas wasn’t real – but that was balderdash.
I was going to stay awake until I saw Father Christmas in his sleigh.
I would hear the bells first, that jingling – and then I would see the sleigh and the reindeer – and then Father Christmas himself with his sack of toys.
I would prove that Father Christmas was real. I would see him, and tell everyone.
No one could doubt him then.
I’d even tell our Mam and Dad.
Everyone would have to believe once I’d seen Father Christmas, in his sleigh, pulled by the reindeer across the sky.
Ah! I see him now – as I am driven towards the hospital.
He’s plastered up the front of someone’s house!
Look, it’s two-thirds into November.
And there he is – that old Santa – in razzle-dazzle lights, getting into and out of his sleigh.
And there are three giant snowmen with him –
I don’t mean to be mean, but we had real snowmen in our day – it was really cold when we were young –
Now I’ve done it, haven’t I? Moaning like that…
We’re bound to have a bad winter this year – in retribution – bad for everyone, except for the snowmen.