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Number 2, Christmasses past, continued.
There have been many things in my adult life which have been wonderful and exciting, but nothing has ever quite attained the magic of waking up as a child on Christmas morning. We usually woke up around four (my lucky Mum and Dad!) but we had been well trained and stayed in our own rooms. Apart from anything else, the only sources of heating in the house were the open fire in the sitting room and the electric radiator in my mum and dad’s room, so you didn’t get out of bed at four o’clock on a winter morning unless the house was actually burning down.

I can still remember the absolute bliss of that moment; turning over and feeling, on the end of the bed, that rustly, long, crinkly weight and knowing that Father Christmas been and you had a stocking! Christmas had begun!! I used to turn on the light and return to bed, waking my sister in the process, and we would both grab our stockings and start to investigate. The house would be silent, dark and cold, and my top half would be chilly while my bottom half was snug. No matter; excitement drove out all other feeling.

I’m always a bit bemused these days when I see the size of the stockings that are sold for children, and as for pillowcases, well…. how on earth do parents fill them? Our stockings were actual stockings, my grandfather’s old rugby socks. He had been a master at Sandhurst and had died before any of us were born, but a little bit of him survived in his stockings on the end of our beds on Christmas morning. It must have been nice for my mum, as he seems from all accounts to have been a rather lovely man. The stockings were a sort of marled brown and had been much darned at the ends with lavender coloured wool. There was space in the toe for a tangerine, which we always had; it was protocol, in strict compliance with tradition, and could never be left out. Otherwise the stocking would be jammed with little presents which led to it being pleasingly misshapen in a way which increased the thrill of anticipation.

There wasn’t a lot of money around in those days and in any event, this was the sixties before the advent of aggressive consumerism, so the stocking presents were often things which had been sent through the post by kind relatives. There was usually a token of some kind, a book token or a Boots token or maybe a postal order, the amounts always strictly calibrated to make sure the three of us got exactly the same. Otherwise it might be Puffin books or bath cubes (bath cubes! Remember them?) or tiny toys or puzzles; a knitting dolly, say, or a pack of felt-tip pens or some plasticine. One year there was a big soft parcel which took up most of the stocking, which proved to be a wonderful knitted scarf and bobble hat set sent by our grown-up cousin Rose. I promptly put them on and looked across to see my sister similarly arrayed in a complementary set as she delved into her own stocking.

The final gift was always a bag of chocolate coins, although there was other chocolate too. I always kept mine for later, but my brother ate his, Christmas being the only time that chocolate before breakfast was allowed. The strict “Stay in your rooms or ELSE!” rule imposed by our parents meant we couldn’t share our stocking opening with him, but once we were up we would go into his room and find him asleep in a blizzard of wrapping paper, surrounded by empty sweet wrappers and tangerine peel, like a small, exhausted and chocolatey spirit of Christmas.

Wherever you are, however you are spending it and whoever you are spending it with, I wish you a very peaceful, joyful and merry Christmas Day. More tomorrow!