Christmas in Cowbit in 1955

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Former Cowbit resident Neil Holmes shares Christmas memories from his boyhood.

The run ­up to Christmas 1955 got off to a devastating start. First, late one afternoon as I was stood by the church wall next to the primary school, my brother – a year and a bit older than my tender six years – told me the awful truth about the reality of Santa Claus.

My world shattered with a single, well ­timed blow.

Second, Mother’s idea to combine a small plastic Christmas tree with large clip-­on wax candles went in to melt­down when flame and the flammable collided and Mother had to sprint through the kitchen and out the back door to extinguish it on the back lawn, our Christmas very nearly up in smoke.

My brother and I had become aware that Mother had a series of mysterious boxes secreted away in the bottom of the bedroom cupboard. When she went “up town” on the 10.30 bus to do the weekly shopping, (arriving home at precisely 3.20 ­ as she did every week) Ian and I swiftly ascended the stairs to investigate the intriguing hoard.

“Chieftain tank, Antar tank-transporter, Bedford army truck, the lot... Dinkies an’ all!”

With one eye on the clock, two hours of army manoeuvres were played out, and everything was put back in the cupboard with military precision before Mother had even stepped off Elsey’s majestic Bedford Duple 35­-seater.

As Christmas Day drew ever closer, each day dragged.

BUT... eventually, at 4am, the long ­awaited Christmas Day arrived, and two bright and bushy sets of eyes simultaneously popped wide­ open to see two pillow cases stuffed awkwardly full of long awaited pressies at the bottom of the double bed.

“He’s been!” I gasped.

“Who you talking about?” muttered Ian.

It was heaven in a pillow case: cowboy hats, guns and holsters, guns that fired ping­pong balls, a plastic silver trumpet, boxes of caps, plastic American soldiers lobbing hand grenades and shooting M16 semi-automatic rifles, Maltesers, Rowntree fruit gums and pastilles, a jig­saw puzzle of the Queen Mary liner ruling the waves, a Beano annual for Ian, a Dandy and Topper annual for me, some boring novels like ‘Last of the Mohicans’ from unseen and unknown relatives, oranges, a giant bag of peanuts for Ian... and, of course, the mighty Dinky Chieftain tank and its very own transporter (12/6 and 18/6 respectively).

Joy to the world!

“Let’s tell Dad Christmas has come! I’ll play Reveille on the trumpet... directly in his ear!” chuckled Ian.

Dad, however, could not be roused from his slumbers; perhaps something to do with being brought in at midnight, out like a light, by his Ye Olde White Horse Inn chums from Spalding, and put straight to bed.

“Never mind,” said Ian. “Carry on, IT’S CHRISTMAS!”