Laying on my back, barely visible in the garishly patterned carpet, I could see the reflection of the Christmas tree in the television screen; multicoloured fairy lights illuminating the window behind. Mum had decorated it a few days before, real glass baubles, family heirlooms, kept in a black biscuit tin, in the cupboard under the stairs; each one carefully wrapped in tissue paper, stored neatly away for next year. Below the tree, the stand was wrapped in bright orange crêpe paper, a row of silver tinsel along the top. At its apex a fairy sat looking out across the lounge, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. She was expertly made from a toilet roll, consisting of paper wings and delicately placed head - made from paper mache. Appearing rather worn, after several years of use, she perched precariously leaning to one side, looking every inch her age. A splattering of glitter and some multicoloured home-made paper chains, produced at school and over a hundred Christmas cards filled the room. The ceiling was full of magic; shimmering lanterns, stars and foil garlands, gently swaying in the heat blowing through the hall. I loved this time of year; bright lights, sparkling decorations, smiling faces. Everyone seemed happy, alive and enjoying the festive cheer.
I could hear Mum in the kitchen, preparing tomorrow's feast; the biggest turkey I had ever seen. The smell of stuffing, drifted into the lounge; I sniffed the air, licking my lips. On top of the G Plan coffee table, sat a large unopened tin of Quality Street, as big as a drum. Next to it, a box of Milk Tray and some After Eight Mints. A packet of figs were already open - the cellophane wrapper placed next to the box, pierced with a wooden stick, covered in sweet, sticky, sugary syrup. Rolling over, I made a beeline for a packet of Twiglets, I spied from the corner of my eye. I was always a ‘savoury boy,’ still am, preferring Marmite covered crackers to an orange centred cream. Quickly I placed a handful in my mouth, before Mum walked in the room. Chocking briefly as a stray twig went down the wrong way. ‘Are you alright in there?’ Mum enquired, as a cough turned to a splutter. I replied as best I could, covering my mouth with my hand, placing a cushion over my face to dull the noise. Suitably composed, I hid the open box, behind the sitting room chair; wiping the crumbs from my lap, rubbing my mouth with a sleeve, I laid back down.
It wasn’t long before Mum walked through the door, looking at me straight in the eye. Guilty as charged, I looked upwards, away from her gaze, grinning sheepishly, half closing my eyes. Mum stood there with her hands on her hips, shaking her head, with a twinkle in her eye. It was Christmas Eve after all, nothing could put a damper on that.
It was nearly time for bed, just an hour of entertainment before shut-eye. I always loved Yuletide television, sat with family on Christmas Eve. Dad in his favourite chair, me next to mum on the settee, lights dimmed low, just the flickering tree in the corner and Bruce Forsyth on the box. The tin of Quality Street was finally opened, no longer on display. As a child I loved the multicoloured wrappers, holding each one up towards the lights on the tree, watching the bright colours shimmer through. Golden Cups were my favourite, filled to the top with caramel, which I used to suck out of the middle, after biting off the top.
By 8 PM, filled with chocolate, warm and cosy, my eyes slowly started to shut. Carried up to bed shortly afterwards, tucked in and kissed good night. By three o'clock in the morning I would be running downstairs, amazed by the mountains of presents, filled pillowcases and stockings full of sweets. Celebrating Christmas day, surrounded by family was a joy; party games in the evening at Nanny’s, a sip of eggnog and extra helpings of turkey and Christmas log, are enduring memories of an idyllic childhood, bringing finality and closure to the best day of the year!
The television set took ten minutes to warm up, once it was turned on. In the meantime, it was time for a hot, strong cup of tea; lose leaf PG Tips, sold in small boxes with collectable cards inside; I had been accumulating the cards for a few years, drinking a mug whenever I could. I sat with my back against the settee, knees brought up to my chin, occasionally taking a sip from the mug at my feet. Mother came into the lounge, with a plate of Rich Tea and Custard Creams, to dunk while watching the evening news.
Dad was stood by the lounge door; he wasn’t happy. “That bloody woman,” I heard him mutter under his breath. This was the day Margaret Thatcher won the General Election, on the 4th May 1979. Dad had been up most of last night watching the election results roll in and was feeling kind of cranky. When Dad was in one of those moods, I knew to leave well alone. I was aware that he didn’t like Mrs Thatcher, but had no idea why; I just laid there fixated on the television set. I realised early on Mrs T was going to be special; as she got out of her car and started waving at the waiting crowds, you could see the leadership qualities in her eyes. Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s first woman Prime minister and I grew up with her on my television, nearly everyday. She was there throughout my childhood and teenage years; she was a big part of my life.
Dad had always been an activist, who made me understand the importance of civic duty and voting year after year. He was a candidate in local elections and canvassed tirelessly, delivering literature, come rain or shine. We lived in a predominantly Conservative area, where my fathers views were not appreciated; always a source of contention at home. Like Dad, I inherited his love of politics, though we didn’t always see eye to eye. From an early age, I would sit up until the early hours of the morning, relishing the excitement on Election night; even attending ‘the count’ with my father at the Town Hall, in Fareham where we lived.
It was April 2nd 1982, once again I was glued to the TV set, this time for a very different reason. Margaret Thatcher and her Government had declared war on Argentina, for invading the Falkland Islands. I was perched on the rug in front of the fire, unable to speak; I thought the World was coming to an end. The only war I had ever heard about was the Second World War and I mistakenly believed we were heading for another gargantuan conflict; I couldn’t believe what was happening. I could hear Mum and Dads voices in the background, but my mind was else where. Everything appeared fuzzy; I felt aloof, in a place of my own. I could see the Prime ministers face on the television, but I couldn’t understand a Word, blocking out everything she said. The occasional shout and cheer just about audible over my own dismay and worry, as I tried to comprehend just what was going on in my own head. Slouched to one side, cross legged, head bowed low, still and motionless; I periodically looked up for divine inspiration. This was it, we were all going to die and I was more scared than I ever had been before.
Of course we are all still alive; there were countless challenging times ahead and Mrs Thatcher stayed in power for another eight years. Many more evenings would be spent sat in front of the Television, listening to the other woman in my life; apart from my Mother and The Queen that is. As a child I was surrounded by independent, outspoken women and I admired Mrs Thatcher for her robust fighting spirit. I didn’t always understand her politics, especially as a young boy, but invariably looked up to her; beguiling, dazzling in a World on the brink. Margaret Thatcher was a leader like no other; her enduring quality a link to my childhood. Whenever I recall events from this time, she is the catalyst that jogs my mind; the formidable and strong, invincible, never wrong; the woman, who lived, in the Television set.
The tartan trolley was full to bursting, as I helped Mum haul its contents up Highlands road. Over the zebra crossing we strolled past the Post Office and around the corner, waving to the lady in the chippy as we walked by. Bent forwards, we turned into Coppice Way, stopping briefly to retrieve a stone that had become lodged between my socks and shoes. After a quick shake of my sandals, we turned into Nan and Grandad’s drive. Grandad’s racing green Land Rover was still parked outside; he hadn’t left to take the dogs out for their weekend walk. Saturdays were always busy at my Grandparents house, people in and out for most of the day!
I jumped up, as high as I could, opening the side gate, lifting the latch. We were greeted by barking dogs; lurching forwards they laddered Mum's tights. Licking my face, I was knocked to the ground and a bag of shopping from Gateway was spilt all over the terrace. After a few tears, Mum wiped my face with a tissue, she kept in her sleeve. A cuddle, kiss on the forehead and a tap on the bottom later, I got up, helping Mum pick up the scattered items. I placed them precariously on the old bench, that sat in front of the conservatory window, facing a small, well maintained garden. Birds were singing in the aviary; Tina, Nan’s cat was laying in the sun, yawning, stretching her claws and Grandad was in the garage putting the finishing touches to a walking stick he was making for his afternoon walk. I could here Nan in the kitchen, pots and pans clanking, as she made cakes on a Saturday afternoon; the smell of baking slowly drifting around the garden.
Nan was stood behind the breakfast bar, mixing bowl in hand, beating eggs vigorously with a whisk; not an electrical appliance in sight. Momentarily distracted as we walked through the door, she smiled; eyes sparkling, she put down the bowl. I ran over, putting my arms around her legs; she lifted me up as high as she could, kissing me on the lips as I swung back towards the floor.
Mum scooped me up, placing me on a stool; I sat there watching Nan as she finished the last cake of the day. Slowly she poured the fusion into a tin, banging it down on the bar; evenly spread, she finished by sprinkling brown sugar on top. With a wink, she passed the bowl over to me, to lick the leftovers inside; it was sweet, tasty, leaving my face covered in the sticky mixture. Once again Mum took a tissue, this time from her bag, wiping my face, shaking her head, tutting, ‘you are such a messy boy!’
Grandad had finished in his workshop, walking up the garden path, whistling as he went. The dogs were getting excited, it was time for a walk. Ambling into the breakfast room, he grasped his tweed cap, hanging on the back of a dining chair, grabbing the leads hanging near the door, shaking them with gusto, ‘Come on, come on, time for a walk.’ Two hounds barking, tails wagging, salivating, whining, bouncing up stealing the reins from Grandad’s hand.
‘Are you coming then,’ enquired Grandad? I nodded my head, cautiously slipping down the stool. Bye bye Mum, bye bye Nan, running excitedly outside, followed by two mercurial dogs - boisterous and unruly. As I reached the gate, tightly gripping a wrought iron post, Gramps came up behind me, clutching my waist. Dangling from under his arm he walked me up the path; opening the back door of the Land Rover he threw me inside, dogs clambering in afterwards, panting loudly. Door firmly shut, no seat belts required, we were off for a Saturday afternoon trek in the Forest of Bere. Collecting pine cones, leaves and sticks, we walked through the undergrowth, climbing trees enjoying the perfect fresh air fix!
It’s that time again, the worst part of the year, a day I always dreaded - competing in Sports I couldn’t stand, in front of family and friends. Today was hot, very hot; as a big kid, taking part in our schools annual sports day, activity was the last thing on my mind. Sat in my classroom, I could see the caretaker, walking up and down the field, with one of those old-fashioned oil filled mowers. As usual, it kept stopping and starting, spluttering back into life; the smell of petrol fumes drifted into the class. I coughed as the vapour hit the back of my throat; eyes watering I asked to use the toilet. Standing in the lavatory, I was alone with my thoughts. Placing both hands on either side of the sink, I lowered my head, looking down towards the plug hole and sighed. Leaning over, my right elbow slipping down the side of the porcelain, I gently turned on the cold tap. Cupping my hands, I filled them with water, taking a sip, throwing the excess over my face; this was going to be a long day!
The classroom was buzzing, a hive of activity, everyone excited about the day ahead; everyone except me that is. I went and sat back down at my desk and finished putting on my PE kit. My teacher, looked over from the front of the class; I turned and looked away. Briefly glancing back, she smiled, stood up and walked over to where I was sitting. She knelt down on the floor and told me not to worry; straightening my legs, pulling up my crisp white socks. I took out a pair of new, untouched plimsolls from my bag and Mrs Brooks helped me put them on. Gently tapping the side of my leg, she encouraged me to stand up - shoulders back, chin up, it was just another day.
People were arriving outside, Mums, Dads, Brothers and Sisters, all lined up neatly behind the rope fence erected around the field. Classroom tables were placed at either end of the freshly cut grass, trophies and ribbons neatly arranged. It was time to go and make a fool of myself once again. Walking outside, I was in a dream, floating on air. I imagined myself far away, from the cheering crowds, all the while scuffing my feet along the floor, hunched back, head bowed, not looking ahead. I heard Mothers voice in the crowd and looked upwards, waving briefly, placing my arms down to one side, walking slowly across the field.
Sitting down I waited to be called - butterflies were fluttering unabated in my stomach. Fidgeting, scowling, I focused on my feet; then all at once, my name shouted from across the arena. Red-faced, I made my way towards the track - eight of us lined up side by side, none of us wanting to play our part. A sport for the afflicted, a competition for the physically challenged - the dreaded egg and spoon race. The whistle went, and I began the undignified crawl to the finish line with two left feet. Bumping into a fellow contestant halfway along the course, I fell to the ground, grazing my knees, grass stains adorning my shorts. All the while the whole school looked on, fixated on me, no one else, just little old me. Hobbling across the finish line, I was patted on the back by Mrs Brooks “never mind” she said, as I was presented with a green ribbon, for endeavour, for trying hard, to make me feel better, to ease the pain. Forever green, that was me, never red or blue, just plain old green; could do better, must try harder, there’s always a next time - I was invisible once again!
Laying flat on my back in the grass, looking upwards, the sun was high in the sky. I tried to focus, just enough, to run in the opposite direction, but to no avail. Everything was hazy, pulsating back and forth, a fog descending across my line of vision, rippling outwards distorting the surrounding panorama. Gently, I lifted my head from the ground, using my elbows as leverage, steadying my ascent. Pain shot down the right side of my face; sharp, intense. I gritted my teeth together tightly, as the throbbing shot across my jaw. My right elbow collapsed as I rolled to one side; slipping down the hill hitting my head ever harder, I began to tumble downwards. Rolling faster and faster, I hit the bottom with an abrupt thud, smacking my forehead on a wooden bench, placed strategically at the end of the playground, breaking my fall. Dazed and bewildered, I hesitantly opened my eyes; I could see the misty green hue of the hill above. Without moving my head I looked over my right side, I had fallen on my arm. A trickle of blood from underneath my wrist, flowed slowly onto the paving slab, where I lay unceremoniously, bedraggled and unkempt. I was numb, incapacitated, there was no pain, just confusion and shock. Gradually my eyes rolled backwards and everything went dark.
I woke suddenly, sitting bolt upright, grabbing my head with my hand as I did so. Rubbing it carefully, I tried to find the source of the pain; a rather large lump, tender to touch and tingling, was smarting from the impact at the bottom of the hill. I glanced downwards, there was a bandage on my wrist, blood was beginning to soak through the gauze; I could feel the wound bubbling underneath. My shorts were dirty, the right-hand pocket ripped and dangling, held on only by a sliver of lining below. My tank top was covered in grass, and those sticky corn like darts we used to find in the undergrowth, while building a den in the fields surrounding the school. I placed my head gently back down on the bed, furtively looking around the small room. I spotted the School nurse in the corner, her back turned to one side. She was a large lady, friendly but firm; her grey hair was tied back in a ponytail, accentuating her rather gargantuan face. She wore no makeup or jewellery; flat shoes, wrinkled stockings and a large bobble cardigan over her nurses uniform, held together with a small watch pinned to her chest, completed her look. Her chubby hands were rustling in the drawer in front of her, finally producing a small black bottle and some cotton wool. Turning to face me, she smiled, walking over to my side.
Looking up at her, I began to cry; Not uncontrollably, just a small stream of tears flowing down my cheeks. She raised her eyebrows, shaking a finger in front of my face, tutting in her wake. Placing the small bottle on the table next to the bed, she removed a hanky from her sleeve; wiping my face vigorously, she sighed, repeating the words, ‘No no no, we don’t do that!’ I pushed her away, again and again, annoyed at her continued persistence. After the third attempt, she tapped the back of my hand, rather taken aback, I closed my eyes tightly, avoiding her gaze. A swab of iodine to my brow, some butterfly stitches to my arm and a quick wash down, I was ready to fight another day! Aware of my limitations, I never again ended up at the bottom of the hill; A hard lesson learnt at the beginning of the day.
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.