Christmas at Crosshill

Crosshill was the name of my childhood house. It was in Ifield, in Sussex. The house is still there but the name has changed.

In my childhood – I am looking back 60 years – Christmas was very different from the way it is now.

I may not have noticed that shops were trying to persuade people to part with money in the run up to Christmas.  I suppose I was aware that things were done before hand, but when it came to Christmas decorations, they went up on 24th December and they came down on Twelfth Night. We celebrated Christmas, rather than the anticipation of Christmas. These days people seem so pleased that Boxing Day is over and the decorations can vanish.

I am sure we didn’t spend much money – for in our family money was in short supply. Some decorations came out each year. My dad found a branch – we had no space for a tree – and a few pence was spent on those lick and stick paper chains and streamers. Holly and Ivy were found but we never found holly with berries. My dad made them from sealing wax. Christmas cards were displayed but I can’t remember how. The house looked suitably festive, and I loved it in a way I don’t now. I am quite tall (only ordinarily so) and I find things hanging from the ceiling rather oppressive these days. But greenery, on walls I loved and still love.

Back in the early fifties, in an impoverished household, we ate whatever we had. I know my sister hated our ‘luxury’ Christmas Dinner which my dad called ‘mock goose’. I’m told that before my age of memory we had a joint off Aunt Nellie’s pig. But for me, Christmas dinner was mock goose. This was actually a cow heart. I am sure we had the usual fixings with it which were, of course, the vegetables that were local and seasonable – sprouts, parsnips and potatoes. We had a Christmas pudding and the memory of the bomb like pressure cooker hissing away is one of the sounds of Christmas for me. My dad was never very keen on cooked milk puddings but I suspect we had custard. Later my dad took to making rum butter, but we’d have had no money for fripperies like that back in 1953.

At the end of the meal, nuts and nut crackers were put on the table and that was real luxury, and such fun.

But best of all, we had our grandparents staying.

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Here we all are, around the dining table enjoying fruit, nuts and a game of cards. From the left we have Granny, Dad, me, my sister and brother, Mum, and Grandad. I say ‘enjoying’ but I was living through a moment of terror. I worry big time about fire and my dad had deliberately lit one in the room. It was part of his shutter delay mechanism on the camera. It relied on a piece of cotton stopping the shutter from going down and a spring trying to pull it down. A short length of cotton dangled from the main one and this was ignited at the bottom. The slow smouldering fire worked up the cotton until it reached the main piece and as that burnt it broke. The spring won its fight and pulled the shutter. It was ingenious, it worked and we never burnt the house down. But by heck it terrified me.

Later in the day my dad took a photo of Granny and Grandad relaxing in the front room – seldom used because it meant heating it.

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My wife and I are about the age that Granny and Grandad were then. I know I thought they were ancient so I daresay that’s what our grandchildren think of us.

However, if you read this on Christmas Day, we are enjoying family time with them.

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