With four brothers, a sister and me
my family was large as you’ll see.
It made Christmas exciting,
there was lots of fighting,
and we couldn’t all sit down for tea.
My mother had a gift for making Christmas special.
Thoughts of Christmas kicked in early. Once bonfire night and the November fair were out the way, we’d be given the Empire Stores catalogue to choose gifts from and told how much money we could spend. With six kids to cover on a working man’s wage, it was a modest amount – no prams or bikes or record players for us – but it seemed huge to us and there was always room for bartering.
We’d spend hours choosing, sitting around the catalogue and discussing the merits of one longed-for toy over another. We’d turn down page corners to mark possibilities and once we’d made up our minds, Mum would post off the order and we’d think no more of it until they turned up, wrapped haphazardly in thin, colourful paper on Christmas Day. Unless we came across them in her wardrobe before then, that is.
I threw a spanner in the works when I was about nine, falling in love with a doll a girl had brought to school some time after our gifts had been sorted. Katie Copy-Cat, a blond, blue-eyed beauty with a Farrah Fawcett haircut, sitting at one side of a little desk, pen gripped in chubby plastic fist and copying, draughtsman-style, whatever was drawn on the other. I dreamt about that doll, called Mum in to see adverts about her on tv. Santa didn’t accept returns, I don’t think, and buying the doll would double the money spent on me. So my parents said no, but Mum always was easy to work on. In the end, she ordered it.
And then she ordered a bunch of other presents for my siblings so we’d all been treated the same. Christmas must’ve cost a small fortune that year, massively extending Dad’s struggle to pay off everything we had ‘on tick’ before the next one. Mum had a gift for making Christmas magical, it’s true, but sadly, a large part of that gift involved sinking herself and my dad further and further into debt.