This is a true story and a favourite story about my dad Donald, probably in 1947:
Donald was due to visit his girlfriend Monica who lived in the small village of Harston, just south of Cambridge where he lived. It was Boxing Day and Donald was going to cycle over, probably through the city centre but maybe along the backs of the colleges, with the view across the river Cam to Kings College chapel. It was only about seven miles so a half an hour’s ride at the most.
On the way he would drop in to see various people to wish them the compliments of the season, and his first stopping off was not far from where Donald lived with his family in the Portland Arms, at the home of his best friend’s parents. They were lovely people and welcomed him in; would he like a Christmas drink, they asked? They didn’t drink alcohol themselves but they had a bottle for guests.
It was such a kind thought, and Donald wanted to raise a glass to his dear old friends… a glass as it turned out, of rum, all they had to offer. Not being drinkers they had no idea of quantities and poured a full tumbler. Nothing daunted, Donald sat and chatted and drank until it was really time to move on to his next port of call. So bidding farewell to the dear old folks, he mounted his bike and set off to visit his aunty and uncle, Ginger and Ethel.
Arriving at their large house on Parker’s Piece, he was welcomed in and when offered some refreshment – of which there was a full array on offer, he decided to stick to rum… the thought of anything else on top of that aromatic spirit did not appeal. Ginger, his father’s brother in-law was a very generous host, and maybe Donald’s two younger cousins were home too, so he stuck to rum… probably more than a couple of generous tots.
Outside and the fresh winter air revived him somewhat and he once more mounted his trusty steed and peddled off in the direction of Harston and his beloved. Arriving there he was welcomed in… and much of the rest of the evening was a fuzzy rummy blur, but eventually at about eleven o’clock he once again climbed onto his bike to cycle the seven miles home.
He got as far as Trumpington, the village between Harston and Cambridge and stopped to take a breath. He propped his bike against a nearby fence and sat down on the steps of the war memorial…
He awoke, not shaken gently by his mother as he lay in his warm bed, but kicked on the sole of his shoe by a gruff looking policeman, well-buttoned into his uniform great-coat, its buttons shining in the weak winter sun.
“Come along, my lad, you can’t be sleeping here, on your way now…” he spoke in a kindly tone, maybe on account of the maroon beret Donald was wearing, a parachute regiment beret.
Donald found his feet, dusted the light covering of snow from himself and with numb fingers and toes, once more mounted his bike.
“Merry Christmas, sir” the officer called as Donald wobbled and wove his way homewards.
“And to you, officer, thank you,” and Donald had a blurry smile, remembering the family story of his own granddad Tom who had got lost in the snow on the way back from the pub… he’d been found under a pile of snow on the railway line, which he had been following home after a night at The Gate in Saffron Walden. A train driver himself, he knew it was safe…
Donald arrived home safe and sound, none the worse for his night spent under the stars… it was a long time before the taste of rum disappeared… and a very long time before he could bear to consume it again…
A very rum Christmas…
My featured image is of the Portland Arms, the Elsden family home for many years.