I went downstairs to my Mam's at 00:05 this morning to be her 'first foot', carrying coal for the fire (now gas, of course) to guarantee the house warmth for the coming year, cash money, so that those who dwell there should never be without and the remnants of Christmas Eve's bottle of ginger wine, so that there would be good cheer for the coming year. It's her 87th birthday on January 10th, so I hope that the tokens which I took will really represent what happens for her in 2012. As usual, Freda and I feel very guilty in leaving her behind as we make our way back to Luxor to rejoin our 'fantasy life'. Although I do comfort myself with the knowledge that my sister and brother are here (and probably more capable of seeing to her needs) as well as our own brood, who I hope descend on her occasionally with her various great-grandchildren. But nothing's easy, is it?.
We don't miss very many material things while we are living our fantasy life in among the Pharaoh's descendants, but I cannot tell you the warm glow I experienced while making these two sandwiches:
On Christmas Eve, we were a much reduced troupe of carol singers. We had a 16 seater mini-bus instead of our more usual 33 seater! Even this was bigger than we actually needed, as there were never more than 12 of us at any one point. With not singing regularly, my voice didn't start to really work until about 11:30, after we'd been struggling on for five and a half hours! By then we'd got rid of the hangers-on (no offence meant, but we always have a number, of mainly younger ones, whose main purpose in being there is to enjoy the experience, and who don't actually add very much to the quality of the singing, lol) and were singing really well. Little Brother Richard (he's not even 50 yet!) made some recordings, with the intention of putting something on 'YouTube', but that hasn't happened yet. Anyway, it was another absolutely fabulous time of joy and exhilaration, and by the time we finished at 01:30 on Christmas morning, we had managed to raise £434.60 for the charity 'Action For Children' (formerly The National Children's Homes). On our return to the Chapel, Brother-in-law Roy (whose back was too bad to allow him to be tramping the streets with us) had warmed the pies and boiled the kettle! This year we got the mince pies from the very famous 'Greggs the Bakers' for the first time. Along with some pease pudding, pickled onions and beetroot, they went down a treat. The reduced number of singers meant that there were enough of them to have two each!
I'm not sure how long the Windy Nook Methodists have been doing this, but I'm reliably informed that the only year they've missed since starting was 1947, when the snow was just too deep. I don't think that I've missed a year since I first went out 43 years ago. If and when I get the link for the YouTube vid, I'll post it on here somewhere, promise!
Away with the Old, and In with the New!
Windy Nook 'Store' (the Co-op) at one time boasted the best 'dividend' in the area (it may have even been the best in the country, but I cannot remember for sure). My Mother's 'store number', which needed to be quoted and recorded at every purchase in order to ensure that her dividend was correctly apportioned, is still embedded in my memory after fifty odd years. But, with the poor idea of introducing dividend 'stamps' in the '60's, the whole venture slowly went downhill to the point of closure.
When I was a little boy, growing up just along the street from where we now live, there were a range of shopping opportunities here in the village. The big Co-op department store (spread over several streets and the scene of the gruesome murder of old John Patterson's father) was at the far end of the village, but they had a smaller 'branch' just along the street. To get to it we had to pass Oakley's corner shop, which was a small, family run, general dealer, and also (at the other end of the same block) Jack the Butcher's. Jack was Jack Nicholson, part of a large family of butchers who also had a wholesale business at the Felling (the next door village).The little 'store' was on the next corner, and on the corner beyond; was Mrs Nelson's little greengrocery and fruit shop. I can vividly remember her with her round spectacles and headsquare tied in a knot on top of her head, she always wore a 'pinny' as well. There was a small fireplace in the shop, where she would have the smallest imaginable fire of broken up tomato boxes burning in the tiny grate. What with the gas lamp and the fly papers hanging from the ceiling; it was like something out of a Charles Dickens novel!
In the opposite direction from our house, towards the 'big' store, there was the Windy Nook crossroads. Dotted about here was the fish and chip shop, the paper shop, Jim and Elsie Turnbull's Post Office, the barber and the second oldest building in the village still in use; the Black House Inn. In 1832 it was recorded as being called 'The Coal Wagon', but here it was still working (just, due to the smoking ban) when we were here in the summer.