However far flung the family became; they still always came together for Christmas at Grandmas. We had quite a large extended family which was scattered around England. The Burtons from Nottingham, Uncle Brian from Yorkshire and Uncle Jack from Bournemouth, many different strands of the family still in and around London and us in Reading but the focal point for Christmas was always Grandmas house in West London.
Grandma’s house wasn’t big; it was a fairly modest, three bed semi, but most of the family visited the house at some point over the festive period with many staying over for several days around Christmas day.
The philosophy was simple. Christmas at Grandmas was, as she called it, open door; come when you want, stay as long as you want and bring sleeping bags because there won’t be enough beds. On a quieter night, my brother and I got to share a bed, top to tail as we called it, one laying either end of the bed. On busier nights, when there simply weren’t enough beds, the solution was simple; men and boys downstairs, on the floor and women upstairs. No girls, at that time every single child in the family was a boy, much to the disappointment of Granddad.
Right through the Christmas period from a few days before Christmas day to New Year’s Day, the house was heaving. Family staying over, family or friends popping in for lunch, there was always something going on and we often stayed over for the entire period even if our parents had to go home to Reading. The main event though, of course, was Christmas Day.
There was one Christmas in particular where everything came together. All my Christmases rolled into one. Everyone came, most stayed over and, it even snowed.
Now, to absolutely honest, I’m not sure if this is my memory playing tricks on me and creating a ‘Greatest Hits’ Christmas with all the best bits of many rolled into one but I know that much of it’s true as My dad took a cine-camera that year and the film he took has since been transferred to DVD for posterity.
Christmas Eve was always quite a subdued event. This year there were eleven of the family staying over; Brian, Sandra and their two children Stuart and Andrew, Grandma and Granddad, Great Grandma, my Grandmas mother and our own family of four.
The evening was spent quietly, or relatively quietly anyway, playing cards, chatting and getting ready for the next day. One of the great things about my family was that the children were always included in all activities, quite the opposite of times spent with my father’s family. We learnt to play card games like Cribbage, Sevens and Rummy and best of all, Grandma had a dart board in the front room. Whatever we did, we did as a family, something sadly missing from most modern families. If we played cards, the adults patiently taught us the rules. If we played darts, the youngest children would stand on a chair so they could reach the board and, even in one of the dreaded political debates, we could have our input.
I remember one particular debate when Uncle Brian, having one of his communist moments, was arguing with dad how it was wrong that shareholders of a company should get paid for doing nothing and earned money off the backs of the workers. Dad was being run ragged as usual; he never could win an argument with Brian, until I piped up with the point that if shareholders did not get a return on their investment then they would just keep their money on the bank and there would be no company anyway and, therefore, no jobs for the workers.
Brian was stumped! ‘Do you know what son, I’d never thought of it like that’ he said.
Auntie Sandra, Brian’s wife, clapped her hands and laughed ‘I think you’ve actually managed to shut your Uncle Brian up!’
And that’s how it was, we were listened to, we could join in, we could go and play on our own if we wanted to. We certainly never got bored.
And so to bed. Christmas Eve was always an early night for the children as tomorrow would be a long day.