Christmas is a very poignant time of year, isn’t it? And as one gets older, it gets worse, remembering the people no longer around to celebrate it with you. As a child, I believed in Santa Claus for a long time. I got a stocking full of presents from Santa (laddered stockings, Santa didn’t have time to get his nails done, obviously). Then there was a big present at the end of the bed that wouldn’t fit inside the stocking, and downstairs under the tree, at least two presents each from Mum, my stepfather and my sister. My stepfather didn’t do Christmas shopping so Mum, Chris and I had to buy presents for and from him to each other.
Cooking Our Goose
We didn’t mind. Harold had other Christmas duties, and one that he really loathed; slaughtering our flock of geese. The gander was always called Charlie. It took me a while to figure out that Charlie was not the same gander year in, year out. In the spring Harold used to go to Hereford livestock market and come home with a cheeping cardboard box, full of fluffy yellow goslings. Occasionally he’d also buy bizarre things like home-made parsnip or gooseberry wine which he used to give to guests who were too polite to say how disgusting it was, while Harold sat sipping cider or whisky. He never touched the home-made stuff so why he bought it, will remain one of life’s mysteries. The Johnny Walker also came in handy to give him Dutch courage to go out and kill the fully-grown geese, come Christmas time. He swigged back a triple, then went out to do the job. He said the birds always sensed what his intentions were. Not that I was ever there to see it. No, I was happy enough to eat one on Christmas Day but thankfully, slaughtering animals is a man’s job.
Defending the Underdog
Harold was a Capricorn, he shared the same birthday with my husband and they both have a similar sense of justice, and a tendency to side with the underdog. When he was at school, Harold was often involved in school-yard fights. He took it upon himself to defend the weaker boys from the school bullies. He was caned regularly and saw corporal punishment as an occupational hazard. The trick was NOT to withdraw one’s hand and make sure the cane caught you on the fleshiest part of your palm. He said particularly cruel Masters would use a cane with barbs on, although this might have been one of his stories. Like the best storytellers, he was fond of exaggeration.
Love at First Sight
When my blood father died, I was only three years old but the baronet, Sir Cotterell, allowed us to stay at the farm in Herefordshire for a while before giving us the boot and handing the farm over to my uncle. Even though I was tiny, I remember Harold rattling up the farm drive in a car with a horse trailer hitched behind. He lowered the ramp and there was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen in my whole life. A grey Welsh Mountain pony! He’d been caught wild on the Black Mountains and broken in by a local farmer. Harold had bought him for me as my first riding pony. I remember somebody putting me on his back and walking us down the farm lane and back. My clothes were covered in white hairs but I didn’t care. Nothing could have made me happier than that pony. I learned to ride on Tim, and even before I could say the word canter, I called it tanter, I was out in the field attempting it. Every time he broke into a canter I would tumble off. Tim would stop immediately, look down at me as if to say ‘what are you doing down there,’ and start grazing. Harold would come and pick me up, put me back on and the whole process would start over. I wonder if I learned to say canter correctly before or after I learned to do it!
I hope you have a Happy Christmas wherever in the world you are, and cherish your loved ones while they are with you, because nothing in this world lasts for ever…