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An Early 1950's Broadland Christmas.


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Some of you might have read this before, others may not have so I've dredged this one up again, it being that time of the year,

A 1950's Broadland Christmas.

Christmas by the Broads has always been very special for my family, not least because it was the one time of the year when we could all come together. My father was the proprietor of a restaurant and shop overlooking Oulton Broad, Christmas and Boxing day being the only two days during the year that his business was closed and his family could come together. As a youngster Christmas Eve was always a joy, a chance to go pike and perch fishing, my mother glad not to have my brother or myself under her feet. For Mum, my Gran and Mrs H, the hired help, Christmas Eve was about preparation. 

A quick story about Mrs H, I well remember her for her outright broad Suffolk and honest, simple manner. It was a few years before I understood the family legend as of when, during the war, Mrs H was late for work. Full of humble apology she had explained that 'she'd hadda incendry up her back-passage'. Let me explain, back passages in Suffolk, and maybe elsewhere, are the narrow passages between houses that lead to the backdoor. Incendries were incendiary bombs and, thankfully, that one did no real damage.

Anyway, back to Christmas Eve, the three ladies did prepare but also entertained their lady friends as seasonal pleasantries were exchanged. In the meantime Roger, my brother, would edge our rowing boat towards the Commodore, the local's local. At that time the pub itself was separated from the rather primitive urinals by a covered passage way where us youngsters were able to congregate in the dry whilst our fathers enjoyed their pints. Back then the Commodore, quite sensibly in my opinion, was a man's pub  and the license was for ale only. We were kept supplied with copious ginger beer & crisps, the ones with little blue salt bags, by the men repeatedly crossing the passage and treating us lads. I don't remember what we caught on the way but I do remember downing thirteen bottles of ginger pop one Christmas Eve! 

Back home and Dad would arrive home with a sometimes odd array of goodies that would be past their best by the time the Christmas holiday was over. Our Christmas Eve feasts were memorable for the family time and the lack of a television. We would eat a plateful, play a game of droughts or pelmanism, Dad's favourites, before the next course and another game. 

Christmas morning was inevitably about presents, not that we had that many as just after the war such luxuaries were not widely available. Of course we had to make good the aftermath of the previous evening's feast and, as we had no central heating, we had to make up the fires. I well remember the joy of my parents as items that had been absent from the shops during the war and even after made a welcome return to the table and Christmas stocking. More than anything I remember the long walks after our Christmas lunch, an all male affair. Always an adventure and full of interest.  My father knew the local marshes like the back of his hand, the net-work of dykes and, most importantly, where the 'liggers' that crossed those dykes were. Liggers were generally nothing more than a narrow plank but, thankfully, non of us fell in. Winters were colder then, frost and snow was not uncommon. Being lost on the marshes would not have been fun but Dad never lost his way. Halfway house would inevitably be on the river bank at the Dutch Tea Gardens where we would sit and enjoy hot drinks and mulled wine. Chatting, laughing and maybe a carol or two, we would watch the sun work its way down towards the horizon. Inevitably we would arrive home in the dark, to a table loaded with mince pies and a Christmas cake from Dad's bakery, courtesy of Mum, Granny C and my Aunty Peggy.  

Aunty Peggy's husband, Jack, had been a P.O.W. in Burma and Japan, had come back home when he weighed little over six stone, well under half his normal body-weight. He weighed even less on release. It was many years before I knew what he had gone through. A born & bred countryman and farmer, now I can understand and appreciate his joy and thanks for the freedom that we enjoyed on our Christmas walks. His understanding of the countryside was intense and his contribution to our walk was a joy.  

Boxing day generally started with a bonfire, wrapping paper, used crackers and party hats, any left overs that would burn. No sooner had we finished the big clear up then we were out on the water. As usual our sailing boat was laid up for the winter so we would be out fishing or aboard Dad's motor-boat. Sometimes we would head up to Dirty Dicks, the Waveney Inn at Burgh St Peter, or perhaps up to Reedham Ferry for a drink with the Archers, great friends of Dad's. Way back then Mutford Lock would open on Boxing Day & one year we went through and into Lowestoft Harbour, the fishing fleet was in, the fish dock crammed with boats. Continental shipping would have a Christmas tree at the mast-head, a delightful custom so I thought. Boxing Day would end with a cold table, the Christmas left-overs and a welcome soup. The next day Dad would be back at work, the holiday was over, more memories were made, days were getting longer, summer and the first regatta was only five months away!

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