Paperchains and Nelson’s Eye: Christmas Days at Nan’s remembered

2-vintage-christmas-wrapping-paperMy earliest Christmas Days were spent at Nan and Grandad’s.  Until I was six, my parents and I lived upstairs in my grandparents’ three-storey house (a railway house – Grandad was a train driver).  After we moved out, we made the trip across Brighton, but that was no problem because the buses ran on Christmas Day.

There was always a crowd of us for Christmas Day, including my aunt, uncle and cousins from London, whom I couldn’t wait to see. The same decorations came out year after year; paperchains strung across the ceilings (licked by me in the preceding weeks – I must have been high on glue by the time Christmas came!), shiny paper stars, crumpled with age, and a small fake tree from Woolworths with red berries on the ends of the branches.  The tree took pride of place in the front room window upstairs while we were downstairs in the basement, making full use of the small living room – called the kitchen – the dining room at the front, and the scullery at the back.  This arrangement was old-fashioned even then.  Looking back, it seems incredible that Nan cooked Christmas dinner for us all on the ancient gas stove in the scullery, with none of gadgets we seem to need now to make the simplest meal.

It wasn’t just the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, either.  The Christmas cake andwalnuts-558488_960_720
pudding were made weeks before, mince pies and sausage rolls baked on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day tea was almost as big a meal as dinner.  With tangerines, nuts and sweets in plentiful supply, I remember the day as being one big feast.  I disgraced myself one Christmas tea-time.  Nan asked me if I liked her Christmas cake.  ‘It’s a bit puddeny,’ I announced.   I’d heard my mother say that of course.

A point to note here:  my mother did not like Christmas, a fact she made all too plain.  She didn’t like her father much either.  Also, at some point in the proceedings, at least one of the London contingent would have misbehaved.  One year, the oil painting in the attic of Moses in the Bulrushes was used as a dartboard after a go at the cherry brandy. Our Christmases may have looked idyllic on the surface, but underneath, tension ran like wires through cheese.

As a treat, I was allowed a small glass of port and lemon.  I don’t suppose there was much port in it but I thought it was marvellous.  This early introduction to alcohol had me in disgrace again when, being taken to visit another aunt around Christmas time, I was asked what I would like to drink.  I didn’t hesitate. ‘Port and lemon.’  My mother was mortified and tried to cover up my faux pas.  I think I only got the lemon that time.

chineseAt Nan’s, when we weren’t stuffing ourselves silly, we played games. Dominos, draughts, snakes and ladders, all emerged from years-old boxes.  There was a game called Chinese Checkers.  I never did understand how to play it – I don’t think any of us did, and there were pieces missing anyway.  There were other sorts of games, too, and these, miserable child that I was, I found no fun at all, but it was Christmas and I had to endure them or be labelled a spoilsport.  One of these involved being blindfolded and sat on a chair.  Then you were lifted up, everyone calling out how high you were going, until bang, your head hit the ceiling and you screamed.  At least, I did.  It wasn’t the ceiling, it was a plank held above your head when you were only a foot off the ground.  Then there was Nelson’s eye.  Blindfolded again, your finger was guided into the soft squidgy eye, to much hilarity all round.  I never found it the least bit funny to be shown half an orange when the blindfold came off.

No Christmas would have been complete without Grandad enticing me and my cousins to crawl into the cupboard under the stairs to find what ‘treasures’ we could in this glory hole.  Once we were in, he would hold the door shut, trapping us in the airless pitch dark, until we became hysterical.  This trick wasn’t confined to Christmas, but we fell for it, every time.  Well, we didn’t want to spoil Grandad’s fun, did we?  What with the blindfolds and the entrapment, is it any wonder I’m a fully paid-up member of Claustrophobics Anonymous?

Grandad did have one party trick I loved, and would ask him to do, over and over.  It was simply this: he would cut a brazil nut in half and set light to the cut side, turning it into a magical, miniature candle.

Our day ended with the adults playing cards and my cousins and I lolling around, half asleep, clutching our favourite present from Father Christmas.   Mine one year was a black doll.  To my mother’s puzzlement, I’d longed for a ‘black dolly’ and was overjoyed when I got one – I must have been a very PC child, that’s all I can say.  This plastic beauty was dressed in orange knitted clothes, which, funnily enough, were the same as those I’d seen my other grandmother (Dad’s mum) knitting for the babies in Africa. Pure coincidence, of course  😉

Merry Christmas, all!


Deirdre’s latest novel, Never Coming Back, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 8th December.  Order from Amazon UK here:   or from







Wednesday Wondering – These are a few of our favourite (Christmas) things

It’s only fifteen sleeps till Santa and, in a whirr of shopping, decorating and parties, I can pretty much guarantee that this two-week period will whizz by.

Christmassy Elephant

Christmassy Elephant

Have you got your tree up? I like to put ours up the first weekend in December and, as 1st December was a Monday this year, I managed to just sneak it into November. I have a 7-year-old daughter and we were going to see Singalong Frozen on the Saturday morning so my excuse was that we’d be in a Christmassy mood and putting the tree up would be a nice thing to do that afternoon to continue the Christmassy theme. Those who’ve watched Frozen will know it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas but hubby seemed to have forgotten that! To be fair to him, he didn’t put up much of an objection. I think he’s happy to let me go for it that weekend providing his only involvement is getting the tree and ornaments out of the loft. That suits me; wouldn’t want him messing with my artistry 😉

Collectible Gund Bear

Collectible Gund Bear

Do you go for a theme on your tree or do you have an eclectic mix? As a child, I remember our tree being a mix of different-coloured glass baubles and decorations that my older brother and I had made at school. We had lots of tinsel and lights and the lounge and through-dining room would be decorated with those gold/silver/coloured decorations which folded away flat but pulled out to create a very posh-looking streamer. Balloons adorned the corner of the room and I remember hilarity playing ballooning-ton with my brother and dad, and also lots of giggles when the inevitable one long balloon and two round balloon combinations were pinned up.

Since having my own tree, I’ve liked to go for coloured themes. My favourite colour is purple but colour trends in the shops seem to come and go. In the very first year that I had my own home and own tree (1997), there wasn’t a single purple bauble to be found so I went for blue and gold. Typically, the next year there was a purple explosion so I had to take advantage and get a stack of purple baubles and decorations. I didn’t like purple and gold together, though, so I needed some silver ones. Obviously! I still have all of these but the collection has grown somewhat. Hubby had a load of gold and purple decorations when we met, and we’ve acquired shocking pink, green and autumnal shades (browns and oranges) since. We have a small tree in the bay window of our dining room which is at the front of the house and therefore on display and I vary the colour combination on this. It’s blue and silver this year. In the lounge (at the back of the house) is our main tree and I’ve gone for red for the past few years. I developed a fondness for red and cream material decorations a few years ago and, over a two-year period, I kept purchasing them until I hit a point where there’s barely enough branches on the tree for them all! Hearts, birds, even elephants (not exactly Christmassy yet somehow look it).

Pudgy Santa

Pudgy Santa

Most of my decorations are ones that have a colour-theme and were purchased because I like them rather than them having a meaning as such but there are a few that are extra special. I have a gorgeous intricate Gund miniature jointed teddy bear. She was one of a series of six that I sold when I had my teddy bear shop. They were very expensive (£19.99) but sold to collectors rather than as a casual tree decoration. For some reason, this one wasn’t very popular but I love her because she reminds me of Christmas in the shop.

Boofle Collection

Boofle Collection

I adorn the room with a stack of Christmas cuddlies too. I have a snowman collection that I love and the really pudgy Santa was also a shop item. He’s so soft. I stocked a few cuddly Santas and I have no idea why the others sold but this one didn’t as he was far nicer. Probably didn’t sell because he was destined to come home with me! The other cuddlies that are particularly special are my Boofle collection, brought for me by hubby and/or daughter over the past few years. Even though he’s not a bear, I absolutely love Boofle and the related characters.

As you’ve probably guessed from this spiel, my question to the Write Romantics this month was:

What’s your favourite Christmas decoration and why?

I’ve already told you mine so here’s what some of the others had to say:

Jackie says …

image1The Christmas decoration I wanted to show you appears to have disappeared which is a shame because I’ve had it since I was a child. My mum tells a story that we children were given a choice as to whether we wanted a cake or to choose a Christmas decoration each. All of us (five altogether) apart from my elder sister Heather, chose a decoration. She chose a sugar bun but, of course, once she’d eaten it wished she had her own decoration and wailed and hid behind the sofa as we each hung our bauble on the tree.image2

But anyway, my plastic, spiky Christmas man is gone, so I’ll have to say, this funny lady always makes me smile as does this podgy Nativity set, mostly because they all look so perplexed as if they have no idea what is going on.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Rachael says …

IMG_3272-editedOver the years, my Christmas tree has been adorned with a multitude of children’s school and homemade decorations, which I’ve loved and treasured. As the children got older and less inclined to glitter and glue moments, I bought a few new decorations for the tree each year.

I love the golden bells and the little wooden train I bought a few years ago. I haven’t put the tree up yet, so they may have to move over and make way for something else!

Sharon says …

images (11)When I was little, my mum and dad didn’t like to put the Christmas tree up too early, so we were nearly always last in my little group of friends to have all the decorations up.

We had a real tree, and it was an exciting time when I’d get home from school to find the tree in the garden ready to go in the living room, and Mum and Dad rummaging around in the loft gathering up all the baubles and trimmings.

In those days, we had paper trimmings that draped round the walls. Looking back they were pretty basic but at the time we loved them and thought they were beautiful!

images (10)Decorating the tree was a big deal. My mum was in charge, and my dad’s only real job seemed to be testing the lights. Invariably they weren’t working and he’d have to go through each bulb, checking to see which one had blown.

There was always a cry of delight when we came to our favourite ornament. Mr Snowman was a bright, shiny blue bauble with a white moustache stuck to him and a pair of googly eyes and a glittery hat. I don’t know why we called him Mr Snowman because he didn’t look like a snowman at all, but that’s what we called him and the moment he was lifted from the box to hang on the tree was the moment it felt that Christmas had really arrived. Sadly he was broken many years ago and no other ornament ever took his place.

10348230_677260322391210_3363303826154990053_nThis year I’ve purchased a new decoration for our tree as a momento of the amazing year I’ve had. I spotted it in a shop last week and it’s a little red felt hare. As the pub in my fictional village is called The Hare and Moon, and the blog I launched is The Moongazing Hare, it felt very special to me to buy it, this year of all years, so I think it will become a treasured family favourite for the tree in years to come. He is already pretty special to me! J

Deirdre says …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf there’s one thing we have in super-abundance in this house, in the loft to be precise, it’s Christmas decorations, mainly things for the tree. How we’ve ended up with so many I’ve no idea; they just seem to have arrived. We vary the theme from year to year – blue and silver, red and gold, pinks and purples, throw-it-all-on-and-hope-for-the-best – but whichever phase we’re in, three items come out every year without fail.

There’s a dear little wooden stocking which my son Chris made in CDT at school when he was eleven, with a hole drilled for the string to go, and a wooden parcel to go with it. They’re meant to be tree decorations but as the parcel never made it to the hole stage we stand them on a shelf instead.  Chris is nearly 40 now…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my younger son, Luke, became old enough to go Christmas shopping on his own, he bought me a china robin. It’s not out of the top drawer, quality-wise (I think it came from the pound shop) and as robins go it looks somewhat underfed, but he chose it especially for me and I love it. It’s not strictly a Christmas decoration but you don’t want robins hanging about all year, do you, so out it comes at Christmas to be stood up with the stocking and the parcel.

The boys don’t ‘get’ sentiment. They think I’m potty to keep hold of these things year after year but I’ll never be able to bring myself to throw them out, and besides it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

Helen R says …

When I moved to Australia back in 2000 I had all my Christmas decorations shipped over. My family thought it odd – why didn’t I just buy them in Melbourne? For me, Christmas decorations are so special every time they are unwrapped at the start of the festive season. It’s so exciting to see all those delicate ornaments or the decorations made or given by family and friends that I will use to decorate the tree.

FullSizeRenderWe are still waiting for our shipping to arrive in the UK from Australia so I don’t think I’ll get all my decorations in time this year unfortunately. Perhaps an oversight on my part and I should’ve sent a box sooner, but never mind…inside that box will be some real favourites of mine. I remember the first Christmas in my little house in Norwich and I bought a Santa on Skis which makes me smile every year. Then there are the decorations that my girls made at kindergarten and then school…some with their photos aged three and four which are so cute.

My Christmas tree never looks like a designer, colour coded tree straight from a catalogue, but to me Christmas is about the personal touch and the many ornaments that I’ve collected over the years make it really magical.

Last week I bought three new decorations for my collection…their significance every year will be that they were the first decorations we bought for our home in Bath 🙂

Over to you … We’d love to hear your memories of Christmas. What baubles or decorations did you love then and which do you love now?

Merry Christmas everyone!

Jessica xx

The Wednesday Wondering – Christmas is Coming!


It’s a Wednesday which can only mean one thing … time for the Wednesday Wondering. Last week we took a slight break while we launched NaNoWriMo for the Write Romantics and caught up on the writing aspirations of those not participating but, this week, we’re back to the usual format.

It’s Christmas Day six weeks today. That may either scare you or excite you depending on how you feel about Christmas and where you are with your preparations. With this in mind, this week’s question was posed by Rachael:

How are your Christmas preparations going?

Which of The Write Romantics are early birds when it comes to Christmas shopping and which ones are rushing around in a panic on Christmas Eve? Let’s find out …



I’d like to think I’m an organised person but I could never be one of those people who start shopping in the January sales for the following Christmas. Where would you put everything for a start?

I tend to see post-Bonfire Night as an acceptable time to start shopping and have actually done about half of mine already this year. This is very early for me but the reason behind it is simple: I’ve started working 7 days a week. Sadly I lost my job in July and haven’t been able to find work since so a friend suggested trying to get a seasonal job. I managed to secure 2 and work in a local garden centre (with the most amazing Christmas decorations grotto ever) on a Thursday-Sunday and Thorntons Café on a Mon-Wed so I had to start early. From this point forward, though, if it can’t be bought in the garden centre, Thorntons or online, it’s not going to happen!



Christmas preparation and shopping has so far consisted of one shopping jaunt to London with youngest daughter to see what’s around. Eldest daughter wants a Macbook Air (in your dreams) and Youngest daughter wants a puppy (yeah right!)

Sadly my brothers and sisters live too far away to even see them at Christmas (Wales, Dubai, Sydney, Chester) unless there is a reason for a mass family get together. This does make Christmas present buying easier, though, as we gave up buying presents a long time ago unless we do meet up.

I normally end up having a frantic ‘Big Spend’ a few days before Christmas, realising I’ve left it far too late and throwing caution to the wind.

Hopefully Christmas will be at ‘Nanny Jacks’s’ house this year (mother in law) as she has just had a super duper, ‘John Ladbury and Company’ kitchen fitted (I’ve not even seen it yet) But we’ll all bring food along as there are now fourteen of us on that side of the family.

Last Spring I found a big bag of Christmas chocolates and stocking fillers that I’d forgotten about, so note to self is to remember where I’ve hidden things this year.



I’m always a bit last minute about Christmas.  Every year it has a tendency to creep up on me and then I go into a last minute buying frenzy. I do genuinely like shopping on Christmas Eve as it can be quite festive, the shops are fairly empty and the panic focuses my brain!  This year I know I’ll be as last minute as ever.  So far all I’ve done is buy an advent calendar for my nephew.



We have a few family birthdays in November so Christmas always takes a back seat until they have passed. However, I did just order the Santa letters for my daughters and my aim is always to finish all Christmas shopping before the end of November before the shops become unbearable.

As for the food plans, it’s always a full roast for us even though we live in Australia where many people have buffet lunches. I can’t get my head around that! I must have my turkey, my gravy, my pigs in blankets, my tacky crackers to pull!

Last year we made a gingerbread house but this year we’re thinking of a yule log. And there’s nothing quite like eating the huge feast and listening to Christmas music whilst drinking champagne! Then it’s time for a dip in the pool…fingers crossed it’s nice weather this year as last year it rained all day 😦



Christmas? Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but right now the mention of it sends shivers down my spine.  Life is crazy busy at the moment, but I have promised myself that I will start thinking about Christmas properly, and getting stuff organised, once my daughter’s 12th birthday is over and done with this weekend.  She has nine friends sleeping over on Friday night and the amount of One Direction merchandise I’ve been forced to buy must mean that I am responsible for at least ten percent of their collective wealth!  Wish me luck and roll on Monday, when I’ll start the Christmas shopping, honest…



I read today that it is just 42 days to Christmas!! I never mind cos I usually do my shopping both early and late. In order to manage our frugal budget I’ve already done my present shopping. I raid the summer sales for goodies to put away till Christmas. This year at the very end of her sale Emma Bridgewater reduced some lovely mugs to £5 each post free! I bought a dozen. They are seconds, but I barely notice the difference. I also got some lovely girlie things from Joules. It ends up there is often a theme for my pressies and everyone get similar, but as long as its good one, I don’t mind.

Food wise we wait till Christmas Eve to go to Waitrose, when they reduce all their fresh stuff to rock bottom prices. We are well aware that this could go either way, we could either find that its all gone and we’re left raiding the freezer for whatever is at the bottom. Since it’s just Andy and I (our daughter goes to her dad’s) it’s ok. We wouldn’t dare risk it if we had children at home. It’s quite fun. So far we’ve struck lucky and had some nice things that we would never have bought at their full price but so far, we’ve done well.

That done we’ll raid the woods when we’re walking the dogs for holly & ivy, polish the brass and copper so it shimmers and gleams in the candles we’ll also light, and job done, so they say!



When it comes to Christmas shopping I’m a starter/stopper. I had a mini-blitz in early October and clocked up several complete pressies, even got the wrapping paper out of the loft intending to wrap as I go along (I hate wrapping!) and now, typically, I’ve come to a standstill.  Nothing is wrapped, of course.  Mind you for my ‘boys’ I do rely on them sending me lists and those won’t come until the eleventh hour if I know them!



All year I save towards Christmas, so that it isn’t that painful hit! Then around October I set to and make Christmas puddings and cakes. This is as far as my planning for Christmas stretches.

Without warning, it creeps up and I find if I don’t pull my finger out, I will miss those overseas last posting dates. Once that panic is over I go into denial again, until the first Christmas card drops through the door and I really do have to write mine. It’s also when I drag the decorations from the loft and put them up in their usual places. Each year I tell myself to get new and exciting ones – but it doesn’t happen.

After that, well it’s major panic as I hit the town, trying to get all those gifts. I guess, deep down, I just love the panic of Christmas!



Hmn Christmas shopping. Every year I’m full of good intentions and say I will start early so I don’t have a last minute nervous breakdown and do I? Nope, I have however bought a few gifts but not nearly as many as I would like. I have five children and a granddaughter to buy for plus nephews, nieces, mum, dads and on and on it goes.

I really envy those people who are organised and those who don’t have to buy for lots of people.


Hope you like the festive photos taken at my house last year. I absolutely adore Christmas decorations and we actually have 3 trees! This may sound greedy but our lounge is at the back of the house so we have a main tree in there but I love to see trees in windows so we have a smaller one in the bay window in the dining room at the front of the house. Then Ashleigh has a pink one that she decorates. I make wreaths and flower arrangements each year and generally go completely overboard with festive teddies, fairy lights and niknaks. Takes me hours and hours!

Do join in and let us know your plans … 

Julie xx