Thursday 23 January 2014

Xmas 1981 and the Goldfish

With us, Mother plus friend and children plus friends, we'd be ten for Christmas. It might well have been more but due to limitations (builders, plumbers, plasterer and unfinished kitchen) we stopped there.
Our jolly boys, the builders, moved in to No. 2 shortly after we'd stacked the final suitcase; and promptly took over the kitchen. We subsequently operated from the extension bedroom, which for reasons unknown housed a stainless-steel sink and draining-board. The previous owner, in reply to my puzzled 'Oh. A sink. And draining-board?'  had simply replied  'I always feel it's rather useful to have a sink in a bedroom, don't you ?..'And at that time it suited us well as with a small kitchen table, the chairs and the elderly gas cooker 'left' in the original kitchen and soon re-sited,  we were able to  muddle along until downstairs was workable.
November-and with energy and staying power in short supply, having promised ourselves to 'Make up for it next year,' our 25th  wedding anniversary was celebrated quietly, No party - just a meal for two and a trip to the theatre : the words 'Harvest Supper' strike a limited chord ...obviously not very memorable. But what a hurdle...
Christmas '81 promised to be white, the first spread of pristine, snowy loveliness appearing overnight, sometime in late November. Yesterday's grassy rectangle, as yet unmarked bar a few bird tracks, now sparkled brilliantly in the rays of bright morning sun streaming through the branches of the tall  Plane trees, apparently one of the few arboreal specimens sufficiently hardy to survive the pollutants of the Industrial Revolution. In a rare moment of inactivity, I stood gazing through our grimy study window, speculating the future.
Admiration for the Christmas card  vision however, rapidly disappeared  as, despite the delights of a super-efficient central heating system, the increasing snowfalls led to more and more inconvenience. The builders were  - well builders - and as is their wont, liable to vanishfor hours 'For supplies'  leaving, if I was lucky, one lone worker (always 'I' as G., relishing his new job,disappeared promptly at 8:30am to his palatial office at the Tower (what I wouldn't have given, then, for an office). But by week 3, desperate for a workable kitchen for Christmas, my ultimatum finally sank in. 'No worker leaves this house accompanied or all teas, coffees, bacon butties, or Friday bottle of vino will cease .OK?...' In reality they were good boys and fun, but the kitchen and downstairs loo had to be operational by Christmas and the present arrangement, useful though it was at the time, replaced.
With various rooms re-carpeted, our remaining boxes and furniture appeared on 18th December at 7pm, delivered by two large vans from the Brighton repository, both vehicles having broken down en route, along with one of the van heaters. The shivering, but stoic crew, thawed out with hot soup, had gratefully accepted our offers of a hand with the unloading and two hours later were back on the road. They'd done a great job, never once complaining when G. returned several items 'For the next house auction' with a puzzled
'Why on earth did we store this?' Amongst the returns were four lawn mowers...Four mowers. To this day, one of life's little mysteries
With the certainty increasing by the hour, that our lives were fast approaching their end, No.2 gradually took on one of its own, lending itself to the red bows and mass of greenery I'd thrown up everywhere. By 22 December, G's birthday, having dressed the tree, we wandered off to celebrate in a friendly local restaurant, joined by Dom and Charlotte, now working in London and Simon, further afield in Brighton where he beavered for a publisher. The festivities loomed and in less than forty-eight hours there would be ten of us... Short of turning  into the Christmas fairy, I'd no idea how - or indeed if - it would all gel. But with chimneys swept and the thermostats lowered, we lit our first real fire, switched on the tree lights and after a king-sized fish-pie in the as-yet-undecorated-but-heaped-with-candles dining-room,  managed to make the Tower by 11:30 for the first of many moving and soothing Christmas Eve midnight services.

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