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!
Excitement had been building for days; sat in front of the television set, watching the early morning news, I was mesmerized, watching in ore at the people camped out along the wedding procession route. Under tarpaulin, make shift tents, sat in deck chairs, decorated in red, white and blue, they were all waving their union flags, sporting patriotic clothes, draped in flags; a sea of colour, up and down The Mall. Through the streets of London, in front of Buckingham Palace, every available spot was taken as dawn broke over the capital. The cameras were there, Interviewing the dedicated, early arrivals and anyone with a connection to the days proceedings! This was the day The Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer and I like most of the country was waiting with anticipation, happy that our future King had found his bride; this wouldn’t be an experience I would ever forget; a Royalist then as I most certainly am now!
Today was a Bank Holiday, the whole country was able to take part in the Royal Wedding; I was thrilled at the prospect of watching the biggest national event since the Silver Jubilee in 1977. Not everyone was as happy as I, there were those who had no interest in the day and would rather be elsewhere, my Father was one such person.
Dad came down the stairs, he was in a grumpy mood, annoyed at the impending Marriage. As a ten year old boy, I had little concept of the reasons for his irritation, believing it was just a ‘Dad thing.’ I remember my Father talking about wasting tax payers money and the rumblings of republicanism under his breath, as he retorted his customary socialist rant. Dad was left wing in every sense of the word, a point of view that has never changed over the years. As Mother and I sat down in front of the box, Dad paced the room, still moaning about the costs involved in such a frivolous occasion. I however was more than happy, glued to the set.
‘I’m going out!’ said Dad, ‘I’m taking Kevin out for a game of football in the park, where I don’t have to watch this rubbish,’ he continued. I remember thinking to myself, how the park would be full of Fathers, kicking football’s around with their sons, equally miffed about the events running across every TV network. Football was never my thing anyway and I was just happy they were going out, leaving Mother and I at home, enjoying the day. Shortly afterwards, they were gone, with a slam of the front door, cursing the day ahead.
The carriage arrived at the entrance to Westminster Abbey, Princess Diana, gracefully stepped out, helped by her Father, the Earl Spencer. As she walked forwards, alighting the carriage, the train on her dress recoiled behind her. Like a meandering river, it stretched for what seemed like miles, light dancing off the shimmering white silk in the bright glow of the day; she looked radiant, her all too familiar smile beamed under her veil; sparkling tiara on top of her head, twinkling as she advanced up the aisle. I sat there open mouthed, taken aback by the majesty of Monarchy, the pomp and circumstance, the emotion stirring music and a vision of history in the making. This was the day I truly felt a bond with our Royal Family and realised just how important they were in all our daily lives. I felt proud to be British, content at my place in the World.
When Dad got in from the park, I continued to watch the reruns, highlights and repeats on my little black and white portable TV, lying on my bed upstairs. Again and again, I relived the wonderment of the day, cementing my growing adoration of an institution a thousand years old. Princess Diana was a powerful figure throughout my life, someone I was lucky enough to meet much later. Her Wedding was an important milestone for me, because I discovered who I really was, what made me tick and most importantly my connection to the Country I was born in, my home, wherever I am living, here or abroad. The Royal Wedding of 1981 gave all of us a brief escape from the austerity measures at the time. With unemployment high and discontent growing, this was a day to escape and enjoy an occasion that encompassed us all; this was a day that defined an era, this was a celebration that would galvanise a nation.
It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.
The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.
Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.
Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.
Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, wining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.
In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!
It was Christmas 1980 and I was excited; I had asked Mum and Dad for a tape recorder this festive season, an expensive present back then, but something I had wanted after seeing one in ‘Tandy,’ the electronics shop of the time. Early Sunday evening I would religiously listen to the music charts on radio one, as they announced a countdown, of the top 40 songs that week. It was a part of my routine, something I looked forward to every weekend. Being able to record the chart show would be an added bonus; I spend six months persuading my parents to buy me the latest technology, a Bush, single dec cassette player. Fingers crossed I would get one on Christmas Day.
I was up early, probably four o’clock in the morning, gently creeping down the staircase, trying to avoid treading too hard. Step by careful step I finally reached the bottom without a sound; then as my right foot hit the last step, there was a loud overbearing screech. I slipped briefly, as the sound echoed throughout the house; recovering my composure briefly before falling head long into the wall in front; a thud so hard, I hit the floor, laying there, stars in front of my eyes!
Spread-eagle on my back, confused, tired and a little sheepish, I listened for any sign of movement upstairs, luckily there wasn’t any; I jumped to my feat, heart pounding hard and ran into the lounge. The Christmas lights were still on, flickering gently against the wall behind, directing me towards the presents underneath the newly decorated tree. I made a beeline for the box I thought contained my Cassette recorder, low and behold there it was; brand new shiny, black, just waiting to be used. Next to the recorder a packet of C60 tapes and some large brick size batteries. Gingerly, keeping as quiet as I could, I put the batteries in the back of the player and inserted a tape into the dec; starting to record my thoughts for the day, there and then, rather like I do now, blogging my heart out.
I went back up stairs, this time making as much noise as I could, waking Mum, Dad and my Brother; switching on lights, banging doors and generally causing havoc, finally launching into my parents bedroom; tape recorder in hand, documenting events. Laying on the bed, everyone finally awake, we opened the rest of our presents, talking and chatting away to each other, laughing and joking, as families do. These were the special moments in life, the ones I will always recall. Luckily I still have that first tape recording, transferred into digital format, to keep and cherish forever.
My life was complete, recording Sunday afternoon radio in the days before video camcorders and mobile phones; also charting other important events of the day. Myself and a friend from School set up a ‘TV/Radio’ station called JDTV, we would spend hours pretending to be presenters, guests, newsreaders and actors. In the afternoon, when television went into recess, playing light easy listening music, testcard firmly fixed in the background, I would lay in front of the screen, sound on low, recording my thoughts; mimicking famous personalities of the era, pretending to be that presenter from the telly or generally daydreaming, disappearing into another World, away from the stress and strain of daily life at school. When afternoon television restarted once again, Falcon Crest on ITV, I was a member of the cast, acting for dear life, wealthy, successful, a lifetime away from who I really was. Escaping to greener pastures was always a thrill; innocent times full of hope and wonderment, where I could be whoever I wanted to be. These are the memories I take with me wherever I am; remembering with affection the little things, that seemed so insignificant at the time, but worth all the tea inn China today, as I reflect on a childhood, long since gone!
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!
We lived in a close community, on a small social housing development, in the relatively affluent town of Fareham, in Hampshire. Me, my brother, Mother and Father resided at number 6 Nashe House, a bottom floor, two bedroom maisonette, in a development of 16 dwellings. Today was Silver Jubilee day, June 1977; it was windy and raining, typical English weather, and it was one of the coldest, wettest June's of the twentieth century. It was twenty-five years, since HM Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, and the Country was celebrating in typical British style.
Jubilee Day was exciting, it felt like Christmas; hearing crashing and banging outside, shouts and laughter, people milling about, talking and chattering, I ran to my bedroom window. The small lane in front of our block was a hive of activity; people outside preparing for the day's festivities. Different tables, all shapes and sizes; wallpaper, trestle, brown wooden, gate leg, modern 70s Formica, all being laid end to end, creating a slightly unsteady, unsightly looking workbench; odd, mismatched, all different heights. This was a stage for the events ahead; this was our homage to the Queen, our street party surrounded by neighbours and our chance to play a small part on this momentous day.
The tables were duly covered with a sea of table clothes, the Queen's face emblazoned on each setting. Union flags, red white and blue bunting, banners and lanterns began filling the space between each flat, in the small gardens and in the washing area in front of the building. A sea of colour on an otherwise drab, grey day. I sat looking out of the bedroom window, nose pressed against the glass, elbows on the window sill, hands supporting my chin, peering down looking at the mayhem outside. With butterflies in my stomach, I made my way downstairs to join the growing crowd.
The tables were decorated with balloons tied to the back of each chair. Children and adults sat side by side, on the table nearest their door. Local residents started bringing out plate after plate of food and drink – a buffet fit for a Queen; sausage rolls, biscuits, cakes, jelly and ice cream, Swiss rolls, all piled high in front of our eyes. As children, we were awestruck, open-mouthed, exuberant; we had never seen anything like this before. Party hats were handed to each of us, followed by a flag with a photo of the Queen, fluttering with gusto in the unseasonably high winds of the day. The wireless was playing in the background; patriotic music, old school party songs and the National Anthem. We began waving our flags, throwing streamers in the air, cheering and shouting; ‘God save the Queen, God save the Queen!’
With party games in full swing, our glasses were topped up with orange cordial. Face covered in chocolate and a plate of pink blancmange in front of my eyes, I leant back on the squeaking wooden chair, swinging my legs back and forth, satisfied at the day's accomplishments. I don’t recall seeing Mum or Dad, I was too busy playing with friends. I can remember the fun everyone had and the Silver Jubilee mug we were all given; something I haven’t seen for many years. Also, I remember how tired I felt, as evening turned to dusk, and the sun set over the school fields in front of our flat. Finally taken to bed and tucked in by Mother, others older than I, partied the night away. As my head hit the pillow, eyes slowly closed, I could still hear voices and singing outside. I felt happy to have been a part, of such a memorable day.
The Silver Jubilee was over forty years ago now; we have had a Golden, Diamond, and Sapphire one since. I can still remember this day so well, because it was special. It was the first street party I ever went to and wouldn’t be the last. It was the beginning of my life outside the security of home, during my first year of school. Above all it was a joyous time spent with friends, neighbours and family, a part of me so sadly lacking today. Laughing, enjoying the most carefree time in my life; so different, so long ago, the memories remain as vivid as ever, a precious part of childhood, at an altogether different time!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.