Merry Christmas from Laurel Cottage 2021
“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”
Bertie: “Bobby … Can you tell us a story?”
Bobby: “Of course I can. Just a short one that comes from a very special book I wrote in 1954. My school book:
My Most Happy Christmas.
The Christmas I am thinking about is Christmas 1954.
Two nights before Christmas my sister and I had been hanging up decorations (mostly homemade) bells and balls and other suitable decorations. Also that night we decorated the Christmas Tree with crackers, tinsel, lights and other small ornaments.
On Thursday I had the only thing which I did not enjoy. It was a visit to the dentist. However it did not spoil my Christmas.
On Christmas morning I opened my presents which consisted of a tie and a game from my sister (the tie is now known as Flash Harry), an Eagle Annual from my mother, a “Wonder Book of Aircraft” from my brother and a “Billy Wright” football album from my father.
I went downstairs and found my most treasured present, a bicycle named a “Triumph Sports” made by Raleigh Industries. After dinner I went for a ride with my sister, which took us round Epsom and Ewell.
I will leave Christmas Day as our main celebrating was on Boxing Day. My sister in law and my brother came over for the whole day. We drank most of the drink which is sometimes called booze and played games.
The next week I went to the Schoolboys Own Exhibition which I enjoyed very much.
This was by far my happiest Christmas.”
Bertie: “Sounds lovely, Bobby.”
Bobby: “Those far off Christmas times in post war Britain would be quite a shock to people nowadays. My dad saved at the local off licence all year for his Christmas modest supply of Brown Ale, Cherry Brandy and Babycham. My mum made a Christmas cake and we all had to stir it and make a wish. I wished for a bike. The Christmas tree was about two feet tall from Woolworth. The turkey a tiny chicken. The decorations home-made paper chains. The Christmas stocking a pillowcase. The Boxing Day game with the whole family was ‘Monopoly’, played into the early hours until I won! All in ‘The Front Room’.
The Front Room
No 138 Brocks Drive is a mid terrace house built in 1934, like thousands of others around the fringe of London. The layout was mostly the same. A hall leading to a narrow galley kitchen that led to the back garden. And two living rooms. ‘The Back Room’ and ‘The Front Room’.
The Back Room had knackered old furniture; lino; a table, usually covered with sauce bottles and paraphernalia; a Furnikit sideboard. And my dad’s treasured old valve radio. All heated by an open coal fire. This was the ‘living room’, where ‘That Bleedin Dog‘ stunk the house out.
Sid cooked toast on the open fire that was the only heat in the house. He would sit by the fire, with a fag in his mouth, and fall asleep. The fag continued to burn until it was a long column of ash until his naughty son yelled at the dog and the ash exploded. Ha ha ha!
The Front Room was special. It had a carpet; comfortable chairs; a small sideboard; and an open fire. And nobody went in there. Except Christmas. When the fire was lit. The dog banned. And we played Monopoly. Until I won. Even if it took all night. Television didn’t arrive until 1958.
Those houses are still all there. Many substantially changed. The two rooms knocked into one. I have been in 138 in recent times and the whole ground floor has been rebuilt. Virtually unrecognisable. Back in 1954, The Front Room was sacred.
But, just looking back to those austere times, my dad had saved and saved to buy me that bike. He did the same a few years later for the Elswick Lincoln Imp that became my most treasured possession. He took me to the Schoolboys Exhibition. In the summer, we went up to London to watch steam trains at Paddington.
He absolutely did his best for a son who turned up late in life. When he was 45 nearing the end of the war. He died when I was just 25. I have written about my dad before. Sidney George Ball was a character. And there will be more stories about him. And how could I ever forget that he died on Christmas Day 1969?”
Bertie: “Bobby is the only one left of that family now and it is my privilege, through Mindfully Bertie, to share his simple memories of a childhood in the 1950s.”
Last year we gave you a Christmas music special. It’s really good!
Andrew is in East Preston.
Lighting a Candle for Diddley
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire