Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A poignant Christmas list

Merry Christmas 1948
According to the small pocket diary my mum kept in 1948, when she was 13 years old, her Christmas presents were a handbag, a film book, a pair of fur gloves, a paint box, the novel 'Little Women', six hankies and two brooches.

(Most 13 year olds these days would be baffled as to why receiving six paper tissues constituted a Christmas present!)

The paint box in the list reminds me of a story Mum told of when she entered a painting competition (perhaps using this very box of paints). Having carefully completed her work of art, she was mortified when she knocked over the water pot and it flooded the picture. One of the adults came to her rescue (she lived with her mother, grandparents and an aunt) and managed to mop up the worst, creating an interesting effect across the sky. When she won the competition, she was convinced the disastrous flood had actually improved the painting!

It was no surprise to see 'film book' on the list. Mum was an avid cinema goer. Her diary is littered with names of the films she'd been to see. Sometimes with a comment added, other times with no indication as to whether she'd enjoyed it or not. For Great Expectations, though, which she'd seen earlier that year, she's shared her thoughts. Very frightening, she'd written. Not keen. I know which bit frightened her as she told me about it years later - it was when the convict emerged from behind a gravestone in the churchyard, grabbed young Pip and demanded food, having escaped from one of the rotting hulks moored in the Thames, waiting to be transported to Australia.

Mum's father, Herbert Colley, or Kendal Barton as he was more commonly known (his stage name), was a theatre actor. He often played the part of The Dame during the panto season.

My aunt, Mum's elder sister, recalled him making a puppet theatre for the girls from a box on its side, with cut-out characters glued on to long strips of cardboard. These characters would enter 'stage right' and 'stage left' by sliding them through a gap in the box sides to play out a panto story to an invited audience.

It was something that, in turn, my mum did with my sister and I, and we would spend hours making the theatre and the players associated with whatever pantomime we'd chosen to enact. As I recall, the joy was as much in the making as the performance.

Whatever your Christmas presents contain this year, and whether or not you'll be enjoying a pantomime, either visited or created, do have a very

Happy Christmas
and a successful 2015 in your family history searching.

I look forward to sharing more of my stories with you in the coming year.