I became the full time carer of my grandmother at around the age of 22, in 1993. Her husband, my Bamp, had passed away in 1987 and so it was just us two living together from then on. By 1993 she was becoming increasingly frail and after several assessments by the Social Services, she was awarded disability allowance and I became her official carer, netting me a £10 a week carers allowance payment in addition to my dole money. Our Christmases together, particularly in the immediate years following my Bamps death, were frugal. Not because of lack of money but simply, in a strange way, neither of us really knew what to do. It was our first Christmas together, just her and I, and we opted for a Bernard Mathews turkey joint – a lump of turkey moulded into a cylindrical shape and surrounded by an artificial layer of fat. Here’s a blurry fuzzy picture of one that I found on the internet.
You wouldn’t really want to see a hi-res pic of one, trust me.
In 1988, the first Christmas without my Bamp, my Nan still took on all the cooking duties. It wouldn’t be for another two or three years until she became too frail to do that anymore, so she cooked that turkey breast for the both of us, along with some roast potatoes (each potato dutifully sprinkled with a pinch of salt, as was her way), sprouts, stuffing and gravy. A jar of beetroot was on the little living room table and that’s how we ate our Christmas dinner together, the plates balancing on our laps, in front of a television that had a scraggy artificial Christmas tree on the top of it that was barely two feet tall. Feeling that we were missing out on something music wise, I spent a portion of my hard-earned YTS money on some Christmas music as all we had were vinyl records belonging to my Bamp, such as the Jim Reeves Christmas album and…well, that.
So I spent around £8 of my £27 ( that I earned from sitting in an office at Gwent Aluminium on Avondale Road and not answering the phone as I didn’t know anything about aluminium and had a fear of phones) on The Christmas Tape, a compilation by the same people who produced the NOW series of compilation albums that are still going to this day.
This lasted us for a few years, until around 1993 or so when a change, instigated by myself, happened. To this day, I don’t know why the change happened or the nature of the instigation. I suddenly thought to myself ‘We could get a nice big six foot artificial tree and try listening to other types of Christmas music instead of Stop The Fucking Cavalry year after year’. So in 1993 I bought this. The picture below is recent, from a few days ago, as I managed to track down a copy of this twenty-four-year-old compilation on Ebay. The third track on Disc 1, Jolly Old St Nicholas by Ray Conniff, remained a favourite of hers for many years to come. Well, I say many, but she died in 1998, but in 1993 I just believed she would live for a long time and not pass away just five years later. I can still see her now, sat in her chair with her favourite red tartan blanket pulled up over her chest, moving her shoulders in a silly and fun way as she sang “Jolly old saint nicholas, lean your ear this way! Don’t you tell a single soul, what I’m going to say!”
My sister and her current partner (they changed a lot) would often visit. I can’t quite remember if they used to visit on Christmas Day itself. I don’t think they did as Nan and I preferred it quiet and the hustle and bustle of cooking for others would have been an exacting task. These days if ever I have the opportunity, I would gladly cook for others on that special day, but back then my Nan and I were kindred spirits in the sense we liked little bother or interruptions. We would drink a glass of sherry in the afternoon, eat our dinner, watch Morecambe & Wise in the evening and then I would give her a little kiss on the cheek and go to bed. I would stay awake until I heard the grinding motors of the stair lift clunk it’s way upstairs, hearing her step off it and into her room, and then I knew I could rest easily and go to sleep.
It’s funny, as here I am, on the afternoon of Saturday 2nd December 2017, writing about Christmases of 25 years or so ago when I feel that I should be focusing more on the present. And I am grateful for the present and the friends in my life, but the past will always remain a blue note inside me.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F Scott Fitzgerald ‘The Great Gatsby’.