These two stories are true, and happened on Christmas Eve, twenty years apart. They both involve my dad, Donald, but the first also involved my mum’s brother, Alan, her brother-in-law Ken, and my mum’s dad, Reg.
Anyone seeing the four men rather tipsily walking home that Christmas Eve through the small village of Harston,would have probably guessed they were on their way home from the pub… in actual fact, the men, three of them aged thirty, thirty-one and thirty-two, and the older one aged sixty, had been to several pubs.
They had crossed the road from where the Matthews family lived in the elegant old house, Newton View, the last house in the village, over to a fine pub, The Old English Gentleman. They’d enjoyed a pleasant few drinks, having had a ‘livener’ in Newton View before they left the women at home. Don was the youngest and had recently married Reg’s youngest daughter, so Alan the oldest of the young men was his brother-in-law. Ken was due to marry Alan’s middle sister and was looking forward not just to Christmas Day, but his birthday on Boxing Day, and his forthcoming nuptials in January.
It seemed a splendid idea to have a little stroll before returning home; it was a brilliant, bright, and beautiful Christmas Eve. They wandered up the quiet High Street and realised they were about to pass The Three Horseshoes. It seemed churlish not to drop in to wish the landlord and the regulars the compliments of the season, so the four went in.
No doubt their conversation included what they were doing at present, Reg a travelling salesman, Alan in the RAF, Ken working at Marshall’s at the airport, and Don was a scientific officer working at the Low Temperature Research Station in Cambridge. No doubt their conversation also drifted back to their years serving their country during the war. All four men, had served, Alan as an airman, Ken on the Russian Convoys, Don a parachutist, and reg for the second time, having been through the Great War, had volunteered for the army again.
It was probably time to go… did they turn left instead of right, did they need a longer stroll home? Did they always intend to visit the last pub on the High Street, The Coach and Horses? Later, and much revived but somewhat staggery, the set off, back up the High Street towards Newton View. For all anyone knows or could later remember, they might have dropped back into the Three Horseshoes.
Finally walking home, Reg suddenly remembered that one thing was missing from the preparations at home… Ida had asked him and asked him to get it, and he had assured her would, reminded her that it should only be erected and decorated on Christmas Eve, that he had it all in hand, not to worry, all would be well… he would buy a Christmas tree…
Except somehow he hadn’t. A muddled consultation took place between the four men… What should be done? Mother and the three sisters were waiting at home, the box of decorations rescued from the attic and new paper decorations made… what to do? Nowhere was open.. only the Old English Gentleman – but sense prevailed, tree over beer…
They had stopped to discuss this by the front wall of a house, like others at this end of the High Street, large, imposing, and set back from the road behind a long front garden… a long front garden full of trees… including what could be passed off as a Christmas tree… the owners would never miss it, they’d never notice it was gone, and if they did, who would think the respectable family from Newton View might know anything about its disappearance…
The practicalities were surpassable, an axe, a chopper, a saw, a knife… pockets were patted and Reg found his penknife. Someone fell over the wall and someone else clambered up then tumbled after him… Reg kept ‘cave‘ and Alan went through the gate. All was in darkness, the few village street lamps had been turned out hours ago. There was much giggling, sssshhhh’s and suppressed curses as people tripped over or walked into things.
Later the front door was flung open and the weary women emerged into the hall to greet their wayward men.
“Ida! You need not worry! We have the Christmas tree!” Reg announced. “Now a thimbleful of White Hart and all will be well!”
The women looked in silence at the mangled branch of some sort of fir tree… most of its needles were gone, stripped as the men tried to rip it from the trunk…
“Merry Christmas, mother-in-law! Merry Christmas Mrs Matthews! Merry Christmas mum!”
Twenty years later, and two hundred miles from Harston In Cambridgeshire, Don, Monica and their two daughters were living on Bleadon Hill near Weston-super-Mare. It was Christmas Eve and Monica’s oldest sister, Audrey and husband had arrived to spend the festive season with the family.
… and it was almost a re-run of that Christmas twenty years ago… Christmas Eve and no tree!
This time there was no trip to the pub – well there may have been later, but reason prevailed. The tale was told and laughed at, the pubs, stealing the branch, its mangled remains, the collapse in giggles of the women who’d waited so patiently for the men and tree to arrive…
No, this time, the ever-resourceful Monica pulled the giant rubber plant (ficus elastica) from its corner, tied ribbons round its pot and it was decorated instead, the one-armed fairy perching happily on the top.
A short story, but a very happy memory!
Here’s a link to the Harston pubs I mentioned:
My featured image is of the Matthews family, without Alan who was taking the photo, Reg, Beryl, Ida, Monica and Audrey, on the steps of Newton View