Ron's Rambles - December
I remember Christmas Christmas is for children. In the 1930s the religious significance of Christmas was drilled into us in the run up to the day, at school and at home, as it is today I suppose. My parents professed to be Church of England Christians and were believers I think, but they were not regular attenders at the local church, I don’t think they felt comfortable there seeing the church run by those more affluent. Come Christmas day the religious reason for Christmas was pushed into the background, it was a time to enjoy, there was no going to church. As a child I found it very exciting, do children feel the same today? In those days it was a two-day holiday, as it is today of course, if we were lucky it ran into a weekend but, when I was an apprentice in 1940s and 50s, if Boxing day was on a Thursday I had to go to work on the Friday, I don’t think there are many jobs where that is true today, except for jobs serving the public. In those days also, it was a cash economy, ordinary folk did not have bank accounts and credit cards were something that was going to happen way into the future. Few working people had any savings and so finding the money for Christmas presents and festivities was a problem, often needing the last pay packet before Christmas to buy some of the food and presents, much of the shopping had to be done in the last day or two before the big day. Brixton market was so exciting for me with things working up to a fever pitch on Christmas Eve itself. The tradesmen would shout themselves hoarse trying to drum up trade, Woolworths would be jam packed between the counters which were arranged like islands through the store with staff trapped in the centre of each island. Stalls in the market were lit with oil or tilly lamps and there were shops located under the brick arches of the overhead railway (and still are, no doubt), but they had electric lights, one of the roads was actually called Electric Avenue, and still is. The buzz was fantastic (I would hate the crowds and the noise now). There were lots of turkeys hanging up in front of the butchers’ shops, many shops were open fronted with shutters that were pulled down at night. On Christmas Eve you would see people hanging around near the butchers’ shops as the day went into the evening, all hanging on until the butcher brought his price down in order to avoid being left with too many turkeys, so it became a test of wills, the butcher reluctant to lower his price and the customers reluctant to buy until he did. The result was that shopping went on late into the evening, it was inevitable anyway because workers were not allowed to leave work early because it was Christmas Eve, often collecting their pay packet and rushing off to do the shopping. (What a difference to nowadays, I once went to Waitrose in Saffron Walden for some late bits on Christmas Eve, I came out of the store at about 4.30 and mine was the only car in their car park.) Very few people had a refrigerator and nobody had a freezer, keeping food fresh and fit to eat was a problem, the open fronted butchers’ shops were a feeding ground for flies, it was not much better than the shops in Cairo when I was there in the 70s, it bothered me then but I hardly noticed it back in those days in Brixton. It was a marvel that a lot of people weren’t ill, or perhaps they were. My parents always seemed to manage to get the Christmas fare, we had roast turkey and home-made Christmas pudding and home-made mince pies, trifle and sweets and nuts. We children always got a present, not very much but it didn’t seem to matter. One Christmas Eve my mother bought a toy car for me, from what I was told it sounded as though it was a tin-plate car because it was much bigger than a Dinky toy, but it was stolen from her basket, so I didn’t get a present that year. With the crush on Christmas Eve it was an ideal situation for the petty thief. My mother was devastated, but oddly enough I wasn’t, I didn’t like tin-plate cars and would have preferred a small Dinky model, even then I liked models to look like accurate models of real cars or planes. On the big day, after opening presents, we would play until dinner time. A roast turkey dinner was something of a luxury for us and we would stuff ourselves to an amazing extent, followed by Christmas pudding containing the hidden sixpences. After dinner, and my poor Mum had done the washing up, my Dad would never lend a hand at that, we would get together with my father’s parents and my father’s aunt Jean and uncle Fred. We would play games, uncle Fred taught me to play cribbage, his favourite game, I have long forgotten how to play but the scoring was fascinating to me at the time ‘fifteen for two’, ‘two for his heels?’ or was it eels, uncle Fred was a real Londoner, ‘one for his knob!??’. As the day wore on we all became rather more sedentary, we would eat mince pies and trifle, out would come the port, we were allowed port and lemonade, very daring and exciting. Dad would have his drop of whisky, uncle Fred liked his beer but that was after he had had a drop of whisky. Nobody got anywhere near drunk, but uncle Fred had enough to be talkative, he would tell stories from his childhood, sadly I have not remembered one of them, but they interested me at the time, many were anecdotes that amused us all. He also remembered songs from his childhood, way back in the nineteenth century, I am sure many of those songs were cheeky and full of innuendo that went over my head, but they were very jolly songs and he got us all singing the chorus lines. Finally we would be very tired but reluctant to end the day, we might crack walnuts and try to keep the shell halves intact and make sailing boats. My younger brother was probably asleep by this time and eventually we had to give in and go to bed, we were never ordered to go to bed on Christmas day. It had all been a very happy time, we were a happy family. Boxing day was a lovely day, Mum was able to relax from the start, if it was a nice day we might go for a walk, but that was rare, Brixton on a cold wet day was not a pleasant place for a walk. (I don’t remember a white Christmas before the war or much snow at all, but we did have a lot of snowy winters in the 1940s). We would play with our toys, we could play one of the board games that we had or might have had for Christmas, it was just our immediate family on Boxing day. We would have cold meat with fried up left-over vegetable with pickles of various sorts. This was as good as the roast turkey dinner for me, if not better. We still had many mince pies and there was left over trifle, and some meat, all these foods were laid out on the top of a cabinet and just covered with cloths to keep flies off. Some of it would still be there on following days and the room would be very warm, you cannot believe it now. This described just one Christmas but it was typical of our Christmases in the three years before the war, even in 1939 when, along with my siblings, we came home from evacuation, it was not very different, the shortages and the war had not really started and my mother was so pleased to have us home again. My grandfather and his brother-in-law, uncle Fred, were both in France in the Great War from the start, miraculously they both came home, but neither would ever talk about it and both were horrified by the prospect of another war.
In the Name of Religion As most readers will be aware, Aasia Bibi, a Christian, was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy. The prosecution case was based entirely upon the statements of a few Muslim women. There were no independent witnesses. It is quite possible that the women concocted their story because they simply disliked Ms Bibi because of her belief. Aasia Bibi spent 8years on death row but she was acquitted on appeal. The Islamic extremists were furious and have threatened to kill her and as a consequence she has remained in custody, even so she is not safe. Islamic extremists are very numerous and in all walks of life, past history shows that many people that have offended their view of Islam have been murdered. Lawyers that have acted for the defence of those accused of blasphemy have been murdered, it is impossible to trust those deployed to protect, a body guard killed the person that he was supposed to be protecting. Clearly it is not safe for Aasia to remain in Pakistan but the extremists have put pressure on the government to refuse permission for her to leave the country. The fact that the government yielded to such pressure is a measure of the political strength of the Islamists. Poor Aasia is now in a worse position than she was on death row. It is to be hoped that somehow she will escape such a bigoted country and find peace and security elsewhere. Aasia’s situation is nothing new, of course, history is full of tales of unbelievable cruelty performed in the name of religion, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of the Catholics in the UK, the persecution of women as witches deemed to be servants of Satan, are just a few examples. If there is a God He/She must be appalled at what people do. The mystery for me is how anyone can become so committed to a belief that they are prepared to go to war and to torture and kill for it, and what kind of belief could it be.
Footnote on my comments last month on housing The average increase in the price of a house in southern England last year was £29.000. The average national wage was £24,542. Even if the average wage earner was able to bank every penny he earned he would still be getting further away from buying a house in southern England. Building in London is going on apace, but these are all expensive properties yielding big profits to the developers, many public housing estates have been demolished to make way for expensive new builds. More than 435,000 homes in London were sold at a price in excess of £10m, but a significant proportion of expensive homes are underused, many just left empty. Yet still the politicians sit on their hands and do nothing of consequence.
The Afghan footballer I hesitated before trespassing on Dr Nisbett’s territory, but here goes:
The manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers heard of young Afghan footballer that was showing outstanding ability and decided to go to see for himself. When he saw this youngster he was very impressed and signed him up on the spot and brought him back to the UK. First match he decided that he would let the lad sit on the bench but not play. With twenty minutes to go Wolves were losing two – nil so he decided to try the Afghan. The boy was amazing, running rings round the opposition he scored three goals. Wolves supporters and players were thrilled and made a great fuss of the boy, he was excited and said “I must phone my mother”. When he got through he told his mother all about his success and how everyone was so pleased with him. His mother said “I am pleased for you son but let me tell you about my day. Your father is in hospital he has been shot, your sister is in a terrible state, she was assaulted on her way home. And your brother has run off to join some Islam extremists.” The boy was devastated “Oh Mum” he said “There’s me going on about what a great day I have had and you have had all that trouble. I am so sorry Mum” His mother replied “So you should be son, after all it is your fault we came to Wolverhampton.”
With apologies to Wolverhampton which I know to be a good and proud town.