Archive for December 24th, 2008

Christmas time in old Pontypool

December 24, 2008

I’m writing this on Christmas Eve and remembering all those Christmases I spent in Pontypool as a child. It really was a family occasion and I always loved it.

I’m not a smoker; I haven’t smoked for years, but I started very young; to be exact it was 75 years ago tomorrow that I started at the age of three. When we lived at Wern Terrace, and for many years after, Christmas Day was always spent at Osborne Cottage where we always had lunch, tea and supper with all the family and generally a few friends as well. I remember how crushed we all were as we sat around the table.

In those days there was no central heating and it was customary to have just one open coal fire in the living room where all our meals were eaten and where all the activities took place, particularly in the colder weather when we didn’t go outside much. This meant that, on Christmas morning, the fire would be laid but not lit as we would not be there for most of the day to enjoy it.

My father, like most men at that time, was a smoker (there was no evidence to show how bad it was for everyone’s health) and at Christmas time he would smoke the odd few cigars. On the particular Christmas Day in question he threw his cigar butt into the fireplace as usual, but, there being no fire, it remained there still lit. I was in the room at the time and, when my father went out, I picked up his cigar butt and had a few puffs. My consequent coughing and spluttering drew the attention of other family members and my very first “secret smoking session” was discovered.

A  few minutes later I felt sick and dizzy and, I was assured by my family, that I turned several different shades of green; I felt dreadful! The long walk to Osborne Cottage in the fresh air helped slightly but, for the rest of the day, I could hardly stand the smell of cigars which some of the family were smoking, and my appetite was but a shadow of its usual self until supper time when I has just about recovered.

But parties at Osborne Cottage were not generally tarnished for me in this way and I just loved the occasion with all the party card games and party tricks such as “Egyptian Writing” and “The Wand is Passing” which my own grandchildren now love to see.

Boxing Day was usually spent at Harley House when all the family descended on the Gregories in the large dining room above the shop. They had a huge table there so it was the ideal place for a party. After tea it was the custom for all the men to go into the small room at the back of the house where we played darts for a couple of hours.

For some days afterwards there were parties at our house, (which meant the luxury of having a fire in the parlour or “front room”), and also at some of the houses of my aunts and uncles. At all these parties, except during the war when food was scarce, there was always a good supply of fruit, nuts and sweets which we all loved.

No one in the family had a car – few people did – and there were no buses on the routes we travelled to our parties, so long walks were the order of the day. We were used to this even as young children so we didn’t mind as long as it didn’t rain. Unfortunately the weather was not always kind and I well remember one Christmas Day when walking home to Wern Terrace from Osborne Cottage, it just poured down. As we walked along Wainfelin Road past St Albans Church the water was pouring down the steps and onto the road like a waterfall. We were all glad to reach home and dry out.

There weren’t all that many toys available in those days so that a common present at that time would have been either a two-and-sixpenny book or a similarly priced selection box containing a variety of bars of chocolate.

I particularly remember one Christmas at Wern Terrace when my parents bought me a clockwork train and also a warm dressing gown. I can see the picture now as I watched the little red train going round and round on the small circular track while my mother and father were doing their best to get me to stand still while they tried the dressing gown on me. 

One event which has saddened me this Christmas is the demise of Woolworths. It played such a large part in the lives of me and my friends. After Christmas we generally had some cash which we’d received by way of presents and we would spend ages in Woolworths looking at the large selection of goodies available and set out on the flat display counters. I shall always remember one particular dark evening just before Christmas when I was allowed to accompany the rest of my family and we saw Woolworths about eight o’clock in the evening all lit up. I’d never seen it that way before. Now it looks as though the lights will soon be going out in Woolworths for the last time.

In closing this post I would like to wish all visitors to my blog a very happy Christmas.

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