The Ghosts of Christmases Passed

I loved Christmas as a kid.  The whole day was one big present.  The weeks of excitement and anticipation were fantastic and the memories are powerful and sunk deep into my psyche.   When my own kids were born we tried to make it the same for them and only they can answer whether it was or not and this post is about my reflections of my childhood Christmases.   The good times that lurk in the shadows and seem probably much better looking backwards than they did then, although they were pretty special.

Decembers were the time when the days warmed up and the north winds sometimes blew so hard they could suck the moisture from you as soon as you stepped outside the door.  This was the herald of Christmas in our part of the world.

The tree would go up in the early days of the month and it was a family affair – those very same decorations that lived on that tree year after year for more than half a century were lovingly wrapped in tissue paper each year by Mum and packed away, and this year when we were cleaning out her place after her passing we again unwrapped them and shared them amongst the three of us.  On my tree this year is a bird, one of three, that were the favourites of my two sisters and I, that we used to argue about who would put them where.

And with the winds and heat would come the Christmas cards.  Each of us kids received them from aunties and uncles and cousins, and how exciting it was to rush to the letter box after hearing the postmans whistle to see what he would bring.  They would then be hung across the windows on bits of wool and it seemed like there were always 100 or more each year which we would also reply to.   That appears to be one of the lost arts of Christmas, I guess social media, texting and emails have bumped that tradition aside.

Each year we would visit Father Christmas at Myer.  In those days the only store was in the city because it was well before any of the shopping malls were built in the suburbs.    Mum would dress us in our Sunday best and we’d trek into the city in her old Vauxhall, line up to see the magic in the Myer Christmas windows and then make our way to the toy department to see Father Christmas.  I was sometimes confused that he looked a little bit different each time I saw him but I knew that he would be visiting me on Christmas Eve.

We would then go and do most of our Christmas shopping in Coles and walk up and down the aisles picking out stuff we thought our cousins would like, because we would buy something for every one of them.  Guns for the boys, dolls for the girls, Enid Blyton and Biggles books, California poppy hair oil or brylcreem for those who were a bit older and for the oldest ones the old chestnuts socks or hankies.

And when the night came we’d leave out biscuits and cheese and Dad would insist on leaving him a bottle of beer, not sure whether it was for Father Christmas or the reindeer, but each Christmas morning it was standing on the hearth of the fireplace bone dry.   I remember the year we had the briquette heater put into the fireplace cavity I was really worried that he wouldn’t be able to get down the chimney so I insisted that Mum leave the front door open.

The sacks would be placed side by side on the hearth and we also found them at Mum’s place recently, faded and somewhat tattered but lovingly folded and kept as the echoes of our childhood continued to resonate with us.

Oh the excitement of Christmas Eve was unbearable.   I’d toss and turn for hours thinking I would never get to sleep and then suddenly it would be time to wake up.  I’d creep into Karen’s room and later Debra’s wake them both and rush up to the loungeroom.  Before we touched anything though we’d rush back down to Mum and Dad’s room yelling at the tops of our voices “He’s been!  He’s been!”

So what did we get?   Well it’s a little too long ago to remember these things in chronological order but some of the things I remember are a triang train set, a fort with cowboys and indians, a scalextrix car racing set.    Each year their would be a book and I still have two Tarzan and two Eagle Annuals that turned up in my sack on various occasions.   Always there would be some clothes, usually some sort of short sleeved shirt and shorts that I wore on Christmas Day and most years new bathers because on Boxing Day we’d be off on a camping holiday.

When the sacks were emptied we’d exchange our own gifts and then rush outside to see if the rest of the neighbourhood was awake.  There would always be kids out and about on brand new bikes or scooters.  Then we’d do the rounds of the neighbourhood with gifts for the other kids and collecting more presents ourselves.

Some time late morning after a few drinks with neighbours we’d be in the car and off to Merlynston for Christmas with the Joyce’s and then onto the Smith’s for dinner in Brunswick.   By the time we’d get back home on Christmas night we’s be lugging home a boot full of presents and be exhausted.  Usually Mum would be driving because Dad would inevitably be under the weather.

As Grandparents aged, and the days became to hard for them to host, we would have the lunch and dinner at our place in Box Hill, but as the cousins got older and partnered up the numbers coming gradually dwindled until the cycle began again with our own children.  And now I wait with some anticipation for the time when I too will be graced with Grandkids and have the wonder of Christmas rekindled.

Funny how little snapshots are appearing in my brain as I write this – the year I told Mum that I knew who Father Christmas really was and how I cried when I told her and she held me and said that it was OK there would always be a sack on the hearth for me as long as I wanted one, and there was until my little sister Deb finally fessed up to knowing the truth when I was around 17 years old.   I remember dropping my dacks and showing off my leopard skin jockettes, the first adult undies I had after years of white Y fronts and arguing that it didn’t matter who I showed because they were just like bathers anyway.    I remember the year Nana and Grandad Smith gave us Mark 10 guns, complete with spring loaded rocket launchers and grenades and how we ran around the back laneways of Brunswick.    One really hot day when a bottle of loys softdrink sitting in the sun outside exploded and a shard of glass cut my chin.   I remember waking to the news of Cyclone Tracy wiping out Darwin in 1974.

Mostly I remember how lucky I was to have been in a time and place when we lacked for nothing, when even the hardest times still saw plenty of food on the table and gifts under the tree.   I lived a privileged life.

I wish all of you who read this a very Merry Christmas and hope that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we also celebrate the birth of a special person who changed the world for the better more than 2000 years ago, and irrespective of what beliefs you hold you should remember that.

One loaf short of a curl

I was coming in on the train this morning and was sitting near a bloke with shoulder length curly hair who looked a liitle like James May with the craggy features of  Don Chipp and the beginnings of a Friar Tuck tonsure.  Which will mean nothing to anyone who wasn’t a Top Gear watching, Australian Democrat voting, Robin Hood fan of roughly my vintage.

And before I cop too much flack let me explain that I did in the dim deep past vote Australian Democrat when Chippy was party leader and before they became wig wam living, tofu and lentil eating believers in the doomsday version of climate change and that trees have souls.  Not that I’m saying trees don’t have souls, just that for me the jury is still out, just like it is for global warming, which is another whole reason for a blog post.

But I digress.

Seeing the curly hair on this bloke on the train [remember him from paragraph one] reminded me of my two male cousins on my Mum’s side, both of whom had curly hair.  Actually I had three male cousins but one of those is 10 years younger than me and therefore he is set aside for the purposes of this story.  My hair, on the other hand was straight and I always had a crew cut as a kid, so it wasn’t until the 70’s came and I grew my hair that I found out it did have a bit of a wave.  But both these guys had tight ringlets and I couldn’t understand why given we had at least one set of grandparents who were the same that I didn’t end up with curly hair too.  Any knowledge of genetics and hereditary were still a long way in my future.

Then my Mum came up with a fantastic bit of folk wisdom – “Eat your crusts and your hair will curl” she told me.   So I did.  I even took to eating everyone elses crusts and it didn’t work.   Sometime around the time I stopped believing in Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny, I stopped believing that crust eating would curl my hair.  As it turned out one of those cousins joined the army and had his head shaved and the other grew his long but spent so much time trying to comb it straight that he went prematurely bald.

I like to think that Mum didn’t really lie to me.  That maybe I just had stubborn hair.  After all when I did grow it long it did have a bit of a wave to it.  Maybe I was just one loaf short.

Of Sea Monkeys and Mousetraps


I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson books lately and find myself laughing out loud a lot. He has made a name as a travel writer but one in particular I would like to recommend is an autobiography called “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”. There are plenty of recommendations for this book that tell you that you will laugh out loud, and I did. That surprised me because I haven’t done that before when reading a book. So if you haven’t picked up any of this blokes work and enjoy a laugh then I would urge you to grab a copy of this book as a starting point. And no, this is not a paid announcement.

There’s a part in the book where he talks about comic advertisements and how his brother tried for years to learn how to throw his voice as instructed by the booklet he’d ordered, without much success I must say, and it got me thinking about how we did get sucked into the glamour and excitement of some of the ads we used to see for products on TV when we were kids.

I particularly remember being really disappointed with my first pair of Bata Scouts shoes because unlike the TV ad, no one trailing me ever thought for a minute that they were actually tracking a tiger or a fox. And what was even worse was that the treads on the sole of the shoes had such a low profile that instead of having the sure footed leap of a wolf from boulder to boulder, it was more like skating on ice with socks on. The shoes also had a compass on the heel, or maybe inside it, which meant that if you actually got lost and had a need to consult it, because the sun wasn’t shining or you couldn’t find any moss on the trees, that you had to take your shoes off. And that got a bit annoying if you had to do it every 10 meters or so.

Another disappointment was the game Mouse Trap which looked so exciting in the TV ads. I had the game bought for me and no matter how carefully you lined up the pieces when you built it the boot would never kick the bucket, the ball bearing always fell off the stairway and the diver never landed in the barrel. I lost interest pretty quickly in that one when I found I had to keep using my fingers to operate the separate sections of the game. I mean what sort of mouse would just sit there and let a trap fall down on top of them anyway. It became one of those dust gatherers in the wardrobe along with the Chemistry set I wasn’t allowed to use after I found I could make rotten egg gas, and the microscope that didn’t focus properly.

I remember one Christmas I was given a GI Joe. This wasn’t a doll. You have to understand that, no self-respecting boy would be caught dead playing with a doll, although my sister did sometimes co-opt him into being a boyfriend for one of her Barbies much to my disgust. Again the TV ads showed the dozens of GI Joes crawling through the jungle, driving jeeps over sand dunes and battling the Krauts. I had great visions of large scale battles in the front yard of home, but I only ever had one figure so like a lot of other things he spent most of the time in a box under the bed. By the way I would never call a German a “Kraut” these days. I learnt not to mention the war from that episode of “Fawlty Towers.”

And as for sea monkeys….I was shattered when I learnt they were really brine shrimp. No smiling faces or clever underwater antics there and certainly not a pet that had arms and legs and prehensile tails like the ad said they had.

So what long lost buried memories from your childhoods have surfaced and reminded you about the truth in advertising?

Of Sea Monkeys and Mousetraps


I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson books lately and find myself laughing out loud a lot. He has made a name as a travel writer but one in particular I would like to recommend is an autobiography called “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”. There are plenty of recommendations for this book that tell you that you will laugh out loud, and I did. That surprised me because I haven’t done that before when reading a book. So if you haven’t picked up any of this blokes work and enjoy a laugh then I would urge you to grab a copy of this book as a starting point. And no, this is not a paid announcement.

There’s a part in the book where he talks about comic advertisements and how his brother tried for years to learn how to throw his voice as instructed by the booklet he’d ordered, without much success I must say, and it got me thinking about how we did get sucked into the glamour and excitement of some of the ads we used to see for products on TV when we were kids.

I particularly remember being really disappointed with my first pair of Bata Scouts shoes because unlike the TV ad, no one trailing me ever thought for a minute that they were actually tracking a tiger or a fox. And what was even worse was that the treads on the sole of the shoes had such a low profile that instead of having the sure footed leap of a wolf from boulder to boulder, it was more like skating on ice with socks on. The shoes also had a compass on the heel, or maybe inside it, which meant that if you actually got lost and had a need to consult it, because the sun wasn’t shining or you couldn’t find any moss on the trees, that you had to take your shoes off. And that got a bit annoying if you had to do it every 10 meters or so.

Another disappointment was the game Mouse Trap which looked so exciting in the TV ads. I had the game bought for me and no matter how carefully you lined up the pieces when you built it the boot would never kick the bucket, the ball bearing always fell off the stairway and the diver never landed in the barrel. I lost interest pretty quickly in that one when I found I had to keep using my fingers to operate the separate sections of the game. I mean what sort of mouse would just sit there and let a trap fall down on top of them anyway. It became one of those dust gatherers in the wardrobe along with the Chemistry set I wasn’t allowed to use after I found I could make rotten egg gas, and the microscope that didn’t focus properly.

I remember one Christmas I was given a GI Joe. This wasn’t a doll. You have to understand that, no self-respecting boy would be caught dead playing with a doll, although my sister did sometimes co-opt him into being a boyfriend for one of her Barbies much to my disgust. Again the TV ads showed the dozens of GI Joes crawling through the jungle, driving jeeps over sand dunes and battling the Krauts. I had great visions of large scale battles in the front yard of home, but I only ever had one figure so like a lot of other things he spent most of the time in a box under the bed. By the way I would never call a German a “Kraut” these days. I learnt not to mention the war from that episode of “Fawlty Towers.”

And as for sea monkeys….I was shattered when I learnt they were really brine shrimp. No smiling faces or clever underwater antics there and certainly not a pet that had arms and legs and prehensile tails like the ad said they had.

So what long lost buried memories from your childhoods have surfaced and reminded you about the truth in advertising?

Of Sea Monkeys and Mousetraps


I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson books lately and find myself laughing out loud a lot. He has made a name as a travel writer but one in particular I would like to recommend is an autobiography called “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”. There are plenty of recommendations for this book that tell you that you will laugh out loud, and I did. That surprised me because I haven’t done that before when reading a book. So if you haven’t picked up any of this blokes work and enjoy a laugh then I would urge you to grab a copy of this book as a starting point. And no, this is not a paid announcement.

There’s a part in the book where he talks about comic advertisements and how his brother tried for years to learn how to throw his voice as instructed by the booklet he’d ordered, without much success I must say, and it got me thinking about how we did get sucked into the glamour and excitement of some of the ads we used to see for products on TV when we were kids.

I particularly remember being really disappointed with my first pair of Bata Scouts shoes because unlike the TV ad, no one trailing me ever thought for a minute that they were actually tracking a tiger or a fox. And what was even worse was that the treads on the sole of the shoes had such a low profile that instead of having the sure footed leap of a wolf from boulder to boulder, it was more like skating on ice with socks on. The shoes also had a compass on the heel, or maybe inside it, which meant that if you actually got lost and had a need to consult it, because the sun wasn’t shining or you couldn’t find any moss on the trees, that you had to take your shoes off. And that got a bit annoying if you had to do it every 10 meters or so.

Another disappointment was the game Mouse Trap which looked so exciting in the TV ads. I had the game bought for me and no matter how carefully you lined up the pieces when you built it the boot would never kick the bucket, the ball bearing always fell off the stairway and the diver never landed in the barrel. I lost interest pretty quickly in that one when I found I had to keep using my fingers to operate the separate sections of the game. I mean what sort of mouse would just sit there and let a trap fall down on top of them anyway. It became one of those dust gatherers in the wardrobe along with the Chemistry set I wasn’t allowed to use after I found I could make rotten egg gas, and the microscope that didn’t focus properly.

I remember one Christmas I was given a GI Joe. This wasn’t a doll. You have to understand that, no self-respecting boy would be caught dead playing with a doll, although my sister did sometimes co-opt him into being a boyfriend for one of her Barbies much to my disgust. Again the TV ads showed the dozens of GI Joes crawling through the jungle, driving jeeps over sand dunes and battling the Krauts. I had great visions of large scale battles in the front yard of home, but I only ever had one figure so like a lot of other things he spent most of the time in a box under the bed. By the way I would never call a German a “Kraut” these days. I learnt not to mention the war from that episode of “Fawlty Towers.”

And as for sea monkeys….I was shattered when I learnt they were really brine shrimp. No smiling faces or clever underwater antics there and certainly not a pet that had arms and legs and prehensile tails like the ad said they had.

So what long lost buried memories from your childhoods have surfaced and reminded you about the truth in advertising?