I have in a box on top of the wardrobe, along with three ancient teddy bears, a little artificial Christmas tree, green branches with red berries set on a little red wooden block. My mother bought this for my first Christmas, of course I don’t remember that as I would have been only four months old. My first real Christmas memory is standing on a street corner, in Leicester where I was born, clutching a toy which I had been asked to donate to another child whose family couldn’t afford presents or perhaps it was going to a child in an orphanage – I just remember a large vehicle stopping and a man taking the toy – I can’t remember what toy it was. Not that we were a well off family, far from it, but my father had a job with the city council as a patisserie chef cooking for Lord Mayor’s functions and city events so at least we had a regular income.
Cut to Shirebrook in Derbyshire and my grandma’s house. I wake up, upside down in a small bed on the floor of grandma’s bedroom. I am hot, sweating, bright pink and the skin is peeling from my hands, grandma is trying to untangle me from the twisted sheets and cool me down with a damp flannel. I have Scarlet Fever. In the room next door my mother lies ill with an allergic reaction to sedatives administered by the doctor. Grandma, widowed only the year before, now has to cope with a newly widowed daughter and a granddaughter who had lost her father. I think I’ll forget this Christmas.
On to the village of Scarcliffe in Derbyshire. Mum has married again and we have left the city behind and I’m now attending a small village school where there are only 35 pupils. I am to be an angel in the school nativity play and the day of the dress rehearsal dawns. It is a very cold morning so Mum dresses me in warm clothing including the regulation vest and liberty bodice over which are my school blouse and pinafore dress topped off with a thick, home knitted, doubled breasted, cardigan. The teacher places a white sheet with a hole for my neck over these clothes and then adds a halo and some huge paper wings. I am then lifted on to the top of the stable. The rehearsal goes on and on, the headmistress makes us sing the same carol over and over, I feel hot and slightly strange and very hungry. The next thing I remember is coming round and finding myself laid out on a dining table in the school hall, teachers flapping round me. Apparently I fainted, fell off the top of the stable and scattered the shepherds and their flock across the stage – no one was physically hurt – just my pride. Thank goodness it was only the dress rehearsal and not the actual performance.