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Backwords: The Toast Is - Christmas Past!

Mike Shaw remembers the Christmas Days of his boyhood.

The Christmas dinner was over, the table cleared and the washing-up done.

It was time to settle down with the nuts and chocolates around a roaring coal fire.

And wait patiently for the next highlight of Christmas Day -- the Kingís radio broadcast.

Iím going back more than 60 years now to the days just before the war when the royal message to the Empire was still a novelty.

To the days when, before dawn, we snuggled deeper among the bedclothes as carol singers from the local Sunday School heralded the arrival of Christmas morn.

And the bandsmenís melodious message later rang out loud and clear with an aptly timed performance of Christians Awake.

It was still dark when we were given the go-ahead to dive into our bulging pillow cases to see what Santa had brought.

Like lots more youngsters, we hung up pillow cases because stockings had become much too small to hold our presents.

On the Christmas Day I remember best even a pillow case was not big enough for the gift I had looked forward to for months.

It was a wooden horse and cart, just the right size for a little lad of four or five to load up with small bottles of make-believe milk and deliver them to imaginary houses around the garden.

Did we bother with any breakfast on that day of all days? I canít recall eating any amid all the hectic preparations for dinner.

Goose was usually our main course special. But donít ask me why, unless it was because I had an uncle who kept them on his farm.

Much more memorable was the Christmas pudding. Because of the threepenny pieces hidden inside which prompted me and my brothers to ask for huge portions that we could never hope to finish.

Even before the washing-up had started we were sorting through the statutory selection box for a suitable chocolate dessert.

Cracking the nuts wasnít supposed to be a parlour game. But it inevitably turned out to be much more hilarious than I Spy or Pass the Parcel.

Mainly because of the difficulties encountered in breaking open the walnuts, hazels and -- most obstinate of all -- the dreaded almonds.

With only one pair of nutcrackers between five of us, other instruments were brought into use.

A toffee hammer, pliers and poker were all employed, I recall, in a desperate effort to smash the shells.

Sometimes, even before the shout of triumph could die down as a shell shattered, despair set in when the result was closely observed.

Instead of a sweet, whole nut lying meekly ready to eat, it was either fragmented into a dozen pieces or was completely flattened with half of it smeared on the head of the hammer or poker.

All hilarity was halted as the magic hour of three oíclock approached.

Glasses were charged and we sat in a silent and solemn semi-circle, waiting for King George VI to deliver his pearls of wisdom.

And woe betide any of us boys who interrupted the Kingís speech with requests for more pop, sweets or nuts.

It was, indeed, an illustration of the mystique and revered esteem which hung over the monarch and his family.

For better or worse, itís nothing like that these days, is it?

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