The smell of one-sided toast with melted butter – it was always done on just one side under the grill, crisp and melty. Tea for the grown-ups, milk for us. Sitting by the fire that my grandmother had set when she got up at half six, as she did every morning. The smell of turf; blue smoke spiraling up into the chimney. The little brown chair that was just for me, balanced on the slightly sloping floor of the farmhouse.
Toys waiting patiently in the corner. Santa presents brought from our house to here, and other toys, piled on top – gifts from an uncle who somehow knew exactly what we wanted every year. A doctor’s set to complement the nurse’s uniform that Santa had brought; a much wanted sewing machine to go with the sewing basket that had been under the tree. The Pat-a-Cake game that’s still working today. The tea-set with a pink tea-pot. The Fisher Price record player and the Speak and Spell.
Cartoons and pirate films and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and later The Beatbox. Desperately trying to call in requests on the old black telephone in the study. The smell of leather and faint must; the blotting paper dented by hopeful elbows as we waited for the call to be answered.
Dinner at lunchtime was always a roast; cooking smells filled the house from mid-morning as potatoes were peeled and carrots were chopped. Trifle for dessert, or pudding and brandy butter, and Christmas cake. Eating the white icing, leaving the cake and marzipan behind.
Playing records on the three-in-one sound system – lifting the big plastic lid that protected the turntable; gently laying the LP in just the right spot – Hits 5 and Minipops are the two albums I loved most and remember best.
Visitors in the afternoon; the sound of the creaky door-knob turning; long coats and hats tumbling into the room. Making their way to the fire, rubbing their hands for warmth. Snow outside – sometimes. Walks up the hill across the road, toddler legs knee-deep in the white blanket. Good coats on, and fur-lined mittens. Video footage, now thirty-five years old – no conversations on the earliest tapes, but “When a Child is Born” in the background. When I hear it today, I see snow and sun and the tiny children we once were.
Evening. Running down the hill, calls for tea. Ham sandwiches, then the box of biscuits – always USA, and always the pink wafer. Indoor time. Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, television and new books. The fire burning brightly, twelve hours in. Night-time Scrabble for the grown-ups – in later years we joined in. Then late to bed, in my aunt’s childhood room. The orange bed-spread with embroidered flowers pulled up to my chin – long pillows with blue and pink and yellow stripes. Today’s favoured toys neatly laid out on the chest of drawers; glass and lace protecting the wood. The muffled sounds of the TV and the Scrabble game from the other side of the door, where the fire was starting to wane.
One year we decided we wanted to stay in our own house, and from then on we did. And we entered a new stage and we built new memories. But if I think of childhood Christmases, it’s images of the sloped floors and turf fire of the farmhouse that are conjured up, and the sounds of my grandmother setting the fire in the morning, and the brightness of the snow, and the warmth and the comfort and the joy.
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