Author: Matthew Woodhouse
Xmas 1945 was a memorable Xmas for me. Xmas in England, about six months after war had ended, was memorable for more than one reason, and a somewhat different memory normally associated with a childhood Xmas.
For one thing food was not plentiful , and of course rationing was still in effect. Xmas fare was rather meagre and for most of the population, a turkey dinner was unheard of. However, a break from the popular “rack of Spam” could be had with a nice plump chicken. That is, if it was ordered from the local butcher in October, to be picked up at Xmas time.
A normal Xmas day at our house would be with my Mother and Father (Barbara & Matt), myself (little Matthew aged 10 1/4) and my five year old sister Norma. This year was to be different (and how!). My mother decided that we should extend invitations to some other relatives to join us for Xmas dinner.
So we invited Uncle Jack and Aunt Dorothy along with their four month old daughter (Marion). Also joining us was Uncle Oswald(Ossie) and his new girl friend Vera. (In fact I believe the only girl friend he ever had). And, to mother’s delight, Ossie offered to bring the chicken already prepared and ready for mom to pop into the oven. Xmas Day, mid morning, our visitors arrived, welcomed one after the other by my rather proud mother.
Then it started! And I (being a good observer like all 10 1/4 year old boys) sensed a rather fun time in the air. Now, “Ossie” enquired my mother, “where is the chicken”? Oh boy, Ossie had left the chicken on his kitchen table, and left the house without it. He quickly stated that he would return right now and get it. It was only 15 minutes or so to his place by bus and, although they were still running on Xmas Day (as they are of course the main means of transportation, along with bicycles) they were on a reduced schedule. In any event, Ossie raced out of the door, leaving his rather shy new girl friend Vera.
Whilst waiting for Ossie (and the chicken) to arrive, Aunt Dorothy thought that it would be a good time to change baby Marion’s nappy (English for diapers at that time). She removed the very soiled diaper and called to Uncle Jack to pass her one of the diapers they had brought. ! “Where did you put them” asked Jack. “Well”, said Dorothy “you brought them”, “I didn’t bring them” said Jack, “You did”. “No I didn’t, you were supposed to do that”.
At this point the observant little Matthew (10 1/4) sensed that things were about to get more lively. Now, in steps Mother, the usual rescuer. “I have a couple of towels we can cut up to size that should last until you get home”. Aunt Dorothy said she would help and handed the baby (sans diaper!) to Vera to hold. (Ah, thought little Matthew, I wonder...).
Now was the time for the famous Murphy of Murphies Law to step in. Now everyone knows that babies, when they need to pee do not notice or even care that they have no diaper, until.... “Oh noooooo” from Vera, and that told everyone the bad news. Now little Matthew (10 1/4) had anticipated this event and could contain himself no longer and was rolling on the floor laughing, until, out of the corner of his eye, spotted his mother advancing from the kitchen waving an ominous looking rolling pin. I only just made it to the bathroom in time and locked myself in until things quieted down. When I did return my mother of course had everything under control.
Mother the hero again, “You can borrow one of my skirts Vera, while your skirt is drying in front of the fire”. Now, I should mention at this time that Vera was quite tall. Taller than Ossie, so about five foot ten I would say. Mother of course was a couple of inches short of five feet. So although mothers skirt was about five sizes too large for Vera it did lack quite a bit in length. This of course was duly noted by little Matthew (did I mention aged 10 1/4) who promptly placed himself directly, but not too close, in front of Vera’s chair. My eagle eyed Father of course was quick to notice (I think he had that spot picked out for himself) and with a cuff around my ear banished me to the furthest corner of the room. Then, the return of Uncle Ossie!
He was standing there looking rather sheepish, head bowed. “Ossie” said my mother. “Ossie” again, “where is the chicken”? “Well” said Ossie, “I did get it from my place and after I got off the bus, just at the top of your street, I was attacked by two dogs. Rather big and angry dogs”. Mother - “So where pray is the chicken?” Well, said Ossie “While I was fighting one dog off, the other one stole the bag with the chicken and ran off in the bushes. Then the other dog ran after him”. My mother was more than a little, shall we say, miffed. “Are you telling me that you were mugged by two mad dogs”?
Well, now reality set in and we realized that we had no meat in the house of any kind for our Xmas dinner. All of the shops were closed and no chance for any meat at all, and we were getting a bit hungry. Never fear, Mother to the rescue again. We did have lots of potatoes and enough eggs. So – Xmas Dinner 1945, was eggs and chips! And of course the traditional brussel sprouts (although not very palatable with eggs and chips). I do think that most of our guests rather “went off” brussel sprouts.
It was some weeks after that, for the record, that Ossie admitted that he had got off the bus and as it sped away, realized that he had left the chicken on the bus. So he thought that the story he concocted about the dogs was probably more forgivable.
Now, after the dinner, and it was time for our visitors to leave, it was my Father who noticed that Vera was missing. She apparently had slipped away unnoticed, never to be seen again. As far as I can remember, Uncle Ossie never had another girl friend ever. Nor, of course, was he ever invited by my Mother for dinner again.
Father did attempt to pacify Mother by promising that the next week, New Years Day dinner will be very different. All prepared and cooked by Father then Mother would need only to relax & do nothing, and that he would even do the dishes and washing up.
Well, good luck with that thought little Matthew (10 1/4 years old), but of course that is another story for another time.