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U3A Writing: Under Cover Of Darkness

Lesley Ward tells of family Christmases

Petrol was very short during World War Two. Farmers were a priority group, but the use of their cars was strictly controlled. In our part of the Welsh borders daytime trips during the week did not arouse suspicion as there were livestock markets in one or another of the neighbouring towns every weekday. Evening trips were out during the summer, but it was surprising what took place under cover of darkness.

It must have been in 1941 that my mother hit on the idea of having a meal for the extended family on Christmas night instead of, as had been the custom, at midday on Boxing Day. My father’s four sisters were all married to farmers and lived within a radius of three miles. As we had the biggest dining room and the most children (four at that time), it was natural that everyone should meet at Brompton.

All the aunts insisted on helping with the catering and turned up about six o’clock with huge cast iron pots full of carrots, swedes and sprouts and trays of mince pies, trifles and cakes.

The pots were placed precariously around the cool plate of the Aga, while my uncle carved the two geese with knives he had spent hours that afternoon sharpening. My youngest aunt always cooked the second goose. She was five feet two and staggered in with it while her husband cleared the children into the dining room.

Father got us all seated at the three tables necessary to accommodate us – usually more than twenty as, by this time, our elder cousins had girlfriends.

A production line of various aunts and honorary aunts stood at a trestle table put up specially for the occasion. Each helper brandished a serving spoon to put the accompaniments onto each plate as it was handed from my uncle.

My mother was always the last to sit down, and I remember waiting impatiently for her to finish her first course and to begin serving the Christmas puddings, which had been simmering all afternoon.

The younger children had trifle. Lysbeth, my cousin, just ten months younger than I, was told she was not old enough for pudding, but I was allowed to have some. I felt very grown up!

Next came the washing up: two people washing and four drying. Mother and I sorted out the cutlery and crockery into the aunts’ baskets and piled up our plates to be put away later.

It was my father’s job to stoke the fires, one in the dining room and one in the sitting room. Then we assembled in the dining room for coffee, mince pies and carol singing.

This pattern continued until the early sixties, and with my eldest sister and some of the cousins having children, we were more than thirty. There was an additional fire in the billiard room which the men took over, and we didn’t see them for the rest of the evening!

The party finally broke up after the 1962 Christmas when my sister and her family were stuck in a snowdrift on the A5 for hours. Being packed in with the presents, the two children were unable to move!

Ross on Wye U3A

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