I had eventually fallen asleep at midnight, too excited about the morning ahead. It was Christmas Day and I could feel a chill in the air. As I laid in bed, my cold breath flowed freely into the room, steaming up the window behind the bed. The first yawn of the day and I was awake, stretching my arms up as far as I could; clasping my hands tightly I cracked my fingers together, finally bursting into life. After laying there for a few moments, I looked up towards the chink in the curtains above, it was still dark, the moon high in the sky. I turned over, kneeled up and peered through the glass, making a peep hole with my hand so I could see outside. I observed the red flashing lights on the Power station in the distance and looked on with anticipation as the neighbourhood also stirred into action, welcoming in Christmas Day!
My brother was still asleep in the bed next to mine, not even my loud banging could arouse his slumber. Like me, he had been awake long into the night and fell asleep well after I finally shut my eyes. The light turned on in the upstairs hall, Mum and Dad were awake, it was time to get up. I slipped my feet into my burgundy and black checked slippers and grabbed my dressing gown from the hook at the back of the door, quickly throwing it around my shoulders as I made a mad dash for the toilet. All the excitement and the cold crisp morning had brought on an immediate urge to pee. As I put my hand on the latch of the door, pushing it down, I realised someone was inside. “Hurry up, I dying to go,” I shouted, just as Dad came out the door.
Rushing eagerly down stairs, I could see the Christmas lights glistening on the half open sitting room door, inviting me inside. Looking around I saw pillowcases of presents, stockings full of sweets and a bike in the corner, the bike I had wanted and pleaded with Mum and Dad to get me for Christmas, not a Chopper like my friends, but a bright orange/yellow Budgie bike. It was beautiful, sparkling under the lights of the tree, reflecting the bright 70s colour into the room; specs of luminosity flickered around the walls; it was magical and all mine to keep!
With my little Brother finally downstairs, and the turkey cooking in the oven, presents opened and chocolates consumed, we all sat down as a family watching ‘Top Of The Pops’ on television. Mum walked back and forth checking on the dinner, basting, steaming, boiling and stirring the gravy. Dad made his way to the kitchen opening a bottle of sparkling wine, laying crackers neatly above the plates, polishing the best silver cutlery with a cloth. With the table set, Mum called us inside and we sat down to a feast set for a king. Roast potatoes, three roast meats, stuffing, five different types of veg, pigs in blankets and lashing of hot gravy. After a hearty dinner, hot Christmas pudding with thick whipped cream, we finally finished our meal, just in time for the Queen!
Running out of the kitchen, around the door to the lounge I jumped on the sofa, just managing to hear the National Anthem play. This music always sent shivers down my spine, stirring emotions inside, even as a young boy. Watching Her Majesty, before the Christmas Day film was somewhat of a tradition for me and Mother at least, sitting quietly listening to the Queens every word. She never said anything controversial or particularly memorable, but just hearing her voice at three o clock made Christmas day complete.
For the next few hours we played with our Christmas booty before getting ready for an evening at Nan’s. Precious memories of a childhood spent with a loving family; a time of innocence, without a care in the World, enjoying the festive season that seems so long ago today. These times we can never repeat but can look back on with fondness, important events that defined my life, that cut through this World, so bitter, so angry, so full of strife!
Laying on the bed face down, my legs were bent at the knees, kicking the air, excitedly, as I flicked through the pages of Mum’s catalogue. As far back as I can remember Mother had always bought all our Christmas and Birthday presents from the thousand page book that sat in the corner of the sitting room. Mum had asked me what I wanted for Christmas; immediately I headed for ‘Freemans’ to satisfy my curiosity. At eight years old, the book felt as heavy as me, as I grabbed the corner of the binding, dragging it from its home under an occasional table next to the settee. Puffing and panting, sweat pouring from my brow, I managed to get the catalogue up to my bedroom, crawling on my knees, throwing it loudly on the staircase, one step at a time. ‘Do it quietly!’ I heard Mum shout from the kitchen ‘….and don’t fall down the stairs!’
Mail order or home shopping was all the rage at the time. In the late 1970s, families didn’t have an endless supply of credit and money to buy presents or luxury items. Mum and Dad were typical of most; the only debt they had was the installments owed to the catalogue company each month, spreading the cost of Christmas and other family occasions over the course of the year. Growing up as a child this ‘book of wondrous things,’ was a big part of my life. Rather like the internet of today, it was packed with gifts and clothes I couldn’t afford and provided an escape into a materialistic World of inanimate objects and frivolous spending!
I became aware of my sexuality, thanks to the ‘big book,’ always turning first to the men’s underwear section towards the back. While Mum and Dad slept soundly at night, I would gingerly walk down stairs, not making a sound, procuring the catalogue. Sitting away from the door, hiding from anyone who could perchance walk by, I crouched down at the side of Dads favourite chair, knees up to my chin, shivering from the chill of the night. Barely able to see, just the street lamp outside illuminating the glossy pages, I licked my thumb and forefinger, quickly flicking through, constantly alert, looking around, hoping no one was stood behind. Men standing tall in various masculine poses, legs wide apart, sporting 1970s Y fronts and occasional briefs, their bodies on display triggering emotions and feelings normally kept in check. As a young lad this was my first taste of the male physique and despite my lack of real understanding, I was aware that I was different from my peers!
‘Freemans’ offered a glimpse into decadence; designer clothes nestled perfectly with plush furniture and objects that had no use, apart from their ability to look gorgeous placed on a shelf. Even at eight years old, I was making a home, pretending to live in a large sprawling mansion, country cottage or London town house; luxury fixtures and fittings and everything in its place. At the end of each season, I would take Mothers catalogue and spend hours sat upstairs, cutting out my 'favourite things,' sticking them down on paper, creating a montage of my ideal archetypal dwelling. I was a home maker then as I am today and always had a love of delineation, expressing the flamboyant side of my personality, creating a dream to aspire too.
1970s Britain was indeed a colourful place. As a child I discovered much about me, my personality and changing tastes. Through the pages of Mum's shopping directory, reading between the lines, there were links to my future, firmly illustrated at a momentous time; self exploration and an understanding of ones self all part of my childhood agenda, encompassed in a book. ‘Freemans’ offered a sense of belonging and discovery, precipitating my journey into adulthood. A catalogue was just a shop without a high street, but it was more than that: a snapshot in time, an era that no longer exists, a blueprint for the modern age and the commencement of a new chapter. Society in 1979 was a far cry from 2018, seen so vividly in colour, consumerism on display. A little bit of escapism during a period of economic stagnation at the end of a difficult childhood, culminated in the eventual sense of achievement, I finally feel today. Sat here remembering the trading Bible that firmly punctuated my life, has once again manifested memories, that in reality have no price!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.