Today is my uncle’s funeral, the last of my mum’s siblings and another of ‘that’ generation. I still have my dad’s last remaining sister and there are a couple of aunts and uncles by marriage surviving but the generation above me is all but exhausted. Inevitably this makes me reflect on when that generation and the one above it were both thriving. Most obvious at Christmas when they descended upon us in mass – usually on Boxing Day, and perhaps around August Bank Holiday when they would fill our garden. Again, the plethora of photographs from these events help keep the recollections strong but I think some powerful memories were laid down regardless.
Perhaps one of the greatest came one Christmas in the late sixties. As well as the usual London and local visitors, the great aunts were over from America. Most of the party were staying in our house. A three bedroom semi in Hertfordshire. And for three bedroom read two bedrooms and a box room. Said box room had a single bed crammed into which that Christmas slept my sister (whose bedroom it was), me and my cousin, somehow topped and tailed. The remaining two bedrooms slept my mum and dad, my nan (who lived with us anyway), my aunt from London, my aunt and uncle from Basildon (including Uncle Ray who we say goodbye to today), my nan’s sister and brother-in-law, my nan’s two sister-in-laws from America (with one husband), her sister-in-law from Great Yarmouth. I think that was it for sleepover. Then the rest of the family turned up for Christmas dinner. My mother didn’t deserve a medal, she deserved a bloody great statue in the front garden.
Just as a quick aside about the American relatives. Joan and Marjorie were two Great Yarmouth girls, sister to my grandad Ray. Joan used to sing at one of the hotels on the front during the war and ended up being a GI Bride. Every Christmas when we were kids a cardboard box would arrive at our house stuffed with fabulous toys. Nothing expensive but mostly stuff that wasn’t available in the country. We were playing Yahtzee way back in the sixties before it became trendy; we had yo-yos that lit up when you yoed them. We also had (Still have I think) a great card game that was a cross between Bingo and Newmarket called Pok-i-no that I have never seen in this country.
Enough asides and back to the matter in hand, although mentioning cards is a nice segue! Although in that year we had crowds for both Christmas Day, Boxing Day and several days after, it was normally just Boxing Day that we took the hoard. I loved the cold lunch spread that filled not only the main dining table but a groaning wallpaper table too. But best of all were the afternoons. Mum and various aunts would be in the kitchen ostensibly doing the washing up but really chatting and doing some damage to several bottles of wine. My nan, her sister and at least one other lady on the far side of 60 (Possibly May, our families dear wartime friend and neighbour from Tottenham) would be sat on the sofa. They would drift between chatting, knitting and sleeping – sometimes I swear they could do all three at once.
Younger me would be laying on the carpet in the middle of the room possibly with my sister and cousin watching the film (Probably The Great Escape); later on teenage me would be out in the hall. Ah yes the hall! Here, strung out along the narrow room twixt living room and front door would be up to 10 people. Led by my nan number two (Little Nan for dedicated blog followers) there would be a card school of some seriousness. Most likely the crib board would be in play although some form of Rummy was also a strong possibility. If my mum and other ‘less serious’ players joined us then New market or the aforementioned Pok-i-no might be the order of the day.
And the others.
Even in the depths of December in the days when we had proper winters, one or two would be in the garden with their drinks and sucking on a cigarette or even cigar (Not that smoking was banned in the house, there’d be three or four burning away in ashtrays at the card school for certain). Another rellie or two may have surreptitiously slipped upstairs for a nap.
I’ll tell you where they weren’t though! They weren’t on their tablets, phones or the PC; they weren’t in another room watching one of the other TVs we didn’t have; and they weren’t at the shops! Of course at some point in the afternoon a posse might be rounded up to take the dogs for a walk!
Then time intervened. In the early eighties those huge parties were still intact. Only the dogs had departed us and they had been replaced. Then one by one the family left us. Some had reached the proper age, others sadly didn’t. Eventually we reached the point where we didn’t need the wallpaper table out at Christmas. Now we don’t even need both flaps out on the dining table.
It is the nature of things but it is sad nonetheless. The passing of my life marked not in birthdays but in the decline and fall of the family party.