I believe in Father Christmas
This year I will celebrate my 72nd Christmas and looking back over those decades I began to think about the many times I waited for Father Christmas to arrive.
My earliest Christmas memories start in the less salubrious surroundings of a condemned house in Hartlepool as my family waited to be re-housed after the war. Father Christmas in those days wasn’t very rich but I was grateful he left a stocking which contained a packet of sweets, an orange and a two bob bit. In good years a toy car might be added. Our Christ-mas tree was quite a bare one in comparison with the extravagant ones sold today but it was always there complete with an angel at the top. The angel was a family heirloom made of horse hair but it disappeared many years ago and was replaced by a star.
By the time food rationing ended we had moved to our new council house, near the hospital, to a house with two toilets, a bathroom and central heating. If our house had changed from the old terraced, poorly lit and cold house “down the town” then so had Christmas.
My dad Stan worked at the local Colliery and would never earn a fortune but he always put the needs of his family first especially at Christmas. I could tell you that at one Christmas I received a football as my main present and the next year the football boots but then that would me, as usual, embroidering the truth. It is a habit I have continued in my many newspaper articles and books if you believe the critics.
But if the presents were small by today’s standards the house was always warm. Dad got a load of free coal every two weeks from the colliery, and Christmas dinner was the highlight of the year. In the early days we would have a leg of mince, but there I go again embroidering. Later years we would have a turkey and one year we nearly had a brace of pheasants.
As a Christmas present from the owners of the timber yard at Seaton Carew, home of the famous canoe man, where I worked as the wages clerk I was presented with a brace of pheasants. I took them home and my old mum explained that you had to hang a pheasant for at least 10 days unlike the monkey which only took a couple of hours.
“Take those birds across to the butcher and ask him if you could swop them for a leg of pork” she instructed. I went to the butchers on my bike with the pheasants strung to the handle bars. The butcher gladly swopped the birds for the biggest leg of pork I had ever seen. I don’t see many phe-asants hung up in supermarkets but no doubt your local independent butcher will be able to get you one by fair means or fowl.
Christmas gradually got better year by year and the stocking was replaced with a pillow case and the presents included a train set, dart board, and clothes. We always received new clothes, which was welcome as “second hand” clothes whilst providing warmth always had a stigma. I remember once being told by a classmate; “That coat used to be mine”. I never wore it again.
Christmas’s were always much colder and you didn’t have to dream of “A White Christmas” as old Bing Crosby sang year after year –it was very often a reality. In the year I was born the snow fell in buckets, towns and villages were isolated and when it melted the floods followed. As the myth of global warming be-came a reality snow at Christmas is as rare as rocking horse poo.
Church always played a great part in our house. Many people in Hartlepool attended midnight mass and near our house the worshippers went straight from the Working-man’s Club to the neigh-bouring St. Thomas More’s Church.
As we grew up my sister Mavis and her husband Bob Harper would join us on Christmas Day and we would play board games and one year darts. Mavis and Bob have been married more than 50 years and I often quip; “You don’t get that long for murder”, with reference to the years I spent in prison, on the right side of the bars of course, as the Prison’s Probation Officer. It was just my little joke. As my friends often remark “That’s an old one John”. Well these days I only know old jokes but I am in good company after all there are no new Elvis songs. But the King did have a Christmas Number One in 1962 with “Return to Sender” as I mentioned in my book “Stars of the Swinging 60s”.
When I left home and started a family of my own I like to think I made Christmas special for my three children. These days they have their own family Christmas’s to enjoy and I am sure you have your own stories to recall.
This year I am having my Christmas dinner in the Devon Arms in Los Cristianos, Tenerife as I have done for the past few years. It is a little break in the sun when I catch up with people from the north east who now live in the Canaries.
I will be back in Hartlepool in 2020 to share more stories about the wonderful people of the north east and their history. In the meantime I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in Los Cristianos and Tenerife a very Merry Christ-mas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
*John Riddle was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. The family moved shortly after John was born, back to their home in Hartlepool. Educated locally John obtained a place at Leeds University Depart-ment of Extra Mural Studies and graduated in 1973.
John returned to the northeast and joined the Probation and After-Care Service. He worked with offenders in the area and “did time” as a Prison Probation Officer at HM Detention Centre Kirkleving-ton, Frankland Maximum Security Jail and the notorious “H” Wing at Dur-ham Prison.
John took early retirement in 1997 to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist and came to live in Tenerife contributing to English language newspapers on the island.
In his spare time, John is a busy, if not prolific writer and has penned numerous books and articles mainly on sport and the history of Hartlepool. These days he writes “not for profit books” and donates any surplus to local charities including the Hartlepool Hospice, Lifeboat, Cancer charities and Dementia charities.
John resides in Hartlepool but can often be found during the winter months soaking up the sunshine in Los Cris-tianos, Tenerife.