Thursday 7 December 2017

12 Days of Clink Street: Historical Christmas Childhood Memories

12-days-of-clink-street, blog-tour, christmas, book

Christmas 1924

The baby’s cry pierced the stillness of the Christmas morning. Her mother drew her up from the little cot, tutted and fixed a clean nappy, padding back to bed, carrying her safely cocooned in a warm blanket. The baby’s father turned and, smiling “Happy Christmas,” drew his wife and child into an embrace. He reached out and picked up a small present from the side table, passing it to his daughter who grasped the parcel, revelling in the crunchy feel and rustly sound of paper. “Ah,” said her mother affectionately, “you have to open it,” and she gently guided the baby’s hands. The baby reached in and grasped the wooden miniature cage with a wooden ball inside. Lifting it in the air the baby chortled with delight at the rattling sound which punctured the Christmas morning’s quiet.

For baby Patricia Adela Roberts, Christmas 1924 was a happy, secure and comfortable time of laughter and of singing, of plenty and of love. As were her next four Christmases.

Christmas 1929

On Christmas morning Pat was awake before everyone else, numb nose peeking over the sheet, dancing eyes darting to the foot of her low cotbed. Her parents slumbered on; for her father, a respite from his usual night work. Pat waited, shivering beneath heavy blankets and hearing the downstairs mantelpiece clock chime five times. Slipping out, Pat used the potty extracted from under the bed and the sweet, acrid stench of urine permeated the air. An eon later, the distant back door’s creaking heralded Uncle Barry’s return from the outside lavatory to the room he shared with his father. When six tinny chimes sounded, Pat could restrain herself no longer and called softly, “Mummy, Daddy, he’s come, can I open my presents?” A responding grunt from Daddy, Mummy sitting up and drawing the bed-jacket around herself and watching Pat explore the child’s stocking loosely filled with a small orange, a couple of walnuts, a little ha’penny bag of sweets and, yes, there it was at the bottom. Pat drew the package out, tearing the paper into shreds in her excitement.

the-keeping-of-secrets, alice-graysharp, book

Later, Pat played with the little carved wooden train engine on the parlour floor, her old wheeled duck its solitary carriage, pulling the train behind her on a short length of string. When I see Bill, I’ll say snap, snap, she thought. He’d asked Father Christmas for one from the toy stall at the market, so she’d asked for one too. The wheels slid over the linoleum, Pat circling faster and faster. As she sped around the side of the armchair she slipped and spilled behind it. The door opened and her grandfather strode in carrying a tray, stockinged footed, towards the armchair. A sudden howl, a crash of crockery, thumping and cursing. Peering round the side of the chair she glimpsed her grandfather hopping on one foot and it might have been comical except that this was her personal monster and he turned at her stifled sob, yelling, “You little bitch, you left that there for me to tread on, how dare you do this to me, how dare you?” and he bent and picked up the train engine and duck and hurled them into the bright flames of the fire. With a shriek Pat sprang towards the fire, reaching out, and her grandfather caught her arm as the room filled with her family. The back of his hand made her ears ring, and he shouted, “Send her to her room. Bread and water’s all she’s having today!”

And Pat was screaming as he propelled her towards the stairs, and all the while her parents stood frozen by the force of his rage.

Christmas 1934

Pat was still screaming inside five years later. Only, she couldn’t let anyone know. She couldn’t let anyone know about anything. Like Mummy’s shameful employment which left Pat alone in their new rooms in Helix Road after Mummy and Daddy left for work and before Nanny came home, when the settling of the wood on the landing became a faceless monster creeping along to devour her and every shadow held a spectre from the underworld ready to drag her down into the pit. Christmas Day promised a whole day of togetherness, the one day a year when she felt cocooned from horrors without and terrors within.

This Christmas she hoped for a book by Charles Dickens. Her class teacher had read them extracts from Oliver Twist that autumn and she hoped, oh, so hoped, that a brand new pristine, jacketed hardback copy would find its way from her letter to Father Christmas, so carefully written and shown to her mother before burning it on the living room fire so that the essence of her wish flew up the chimney and across the sea to the North Pole. Bill had told her two years previously that Father Christmas didn’t exist, lording his superior knowledge over her, and then comforting her as she wept in sorrow at the inexplicable loss, yet Pat again enacted the ritual, as if by denying reality, reality itself could be kept at bay.

She awoke slowly that Christmas morning, afraid to look, afraid her parents had thrown away precious, vital income on fanciful frippery, yet desperately hopeful. As she inched towards the end of the bed she saw the child’s stocking there, bulging unnaturally in the middle. Hastily tossing aside the layer of walnuts, Pat grasped the book, peeling the sheath from around it. The scratched dark green cloth-bound cover felt rough to her fingers and a slight aroma of tobacco and mildew arose from its leaves. She didn’t know whether to cry her regret that something shiny new had yet again eluded her or to laugh for joy that at last she had her very own copy of Oliver Twist in her hands.

alice-graysharp, author

Born and raised in the Home Counties, Alice Graysharp has enjoyed a varied working life from hospitality to office work and retail. She currently lives in Surrey. This is her first novel, and the first title in a two book series, she is also already working on a seventeenth century trilogy. Published in the anniversary month of the outbreak of the Second World War and the Battle of Britain. The Keeping of Secrets is available to buy now. For more about Alice and her work, you can check out her website

Do you have any special Christmas childhood memories? Share them in the comments below!

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