I have rewritten one of my Christmas stories, which is absolutely true in essence, although I have had to imagine some of the details and conversation! This happened probably the Christmas of 1947:
Anyone seeing the four men rather tipsily staggering through the small village of Harston that Christmas Eve, would have probably guessed they were on their way home from the pub. In actual fact, the men, three of them of a similar age, around thirty, and an older man in his early sixties, had been to several pubs.
Earlier that evening, they’d left the elegant old house, Newton View, the last house in the village, and crossed the road to a fine pub, The Old English Gentleman. Reg was feeling very content, and somewhat proud of these fine young men, his son Alan on leave from the RAF, and his two prospective sons-in-law, Snick and Ken. They’d already a ‘livener’ in Newton View before stepping out for a pint of the landlord’s finest.
It was a brilliant, bright, and starlit Christmas Eve and it seemed a splendid idea to have a little stroll before returning home. The pint they had intended to have had become three, as Reg was treated by his son and future sons-in-law. He’d unfortunately left his wallet at home, but these fine young men had stepped up and each bought a round. They wandered up the quiet High Street and as 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.
Reg was on expansive form, regaling the company with stories of his years in Brazil, and his time in the Cape Verde islands. He was now a travelling salesman, but he said little of that. Alan had joined the RAF when he was seventeen, well before the war, and his stories were peppered with slang and their conversation drifted back to their war years. Ken had had a hard war, a cold war, on the Russian Convoys and he didn’t talk a lot about the horrors of that. Snick, the great story teller, had funny tales to tell of his time parachuting into different parts or=f Europe and North Africa, but like Ken, he kept the reality of it all to himself. For all of his bluster, Reg had joined up too; he’d served in the first war but felt a sort of shame that due to a lung condition he’d not seen much active service.Tonight was a night for funny stories, looking to a happier future, full of promise.
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 refreshed 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, as they walked home, Reg remembered the one thing that was missing from the preparations at home… Ida had asked him, asked him several times 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. It was a long front garden full of trees, including some which could be passed off as Christmas trees. The owners would never miss it, they’d never notice just one from their copse – no small wood, in fact almost a forest of fine trees, that just one was missing. If they did by some bizarre chance realise one had gone, 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, nothing of a tree felling nature was found but Reg did have 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 they tripped over, fell over, walked and staggered 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, dear! 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 the needles were gone, stripped as the men tried to rip it from the trunk, and its tip hung at a sorry angle.
“Merry Christmas mother-in-law! Merry Christmas Mrs Matthews! Merry Christmas Mum!”