Washing up was a male domain on Christmas Day.
Christmas always followed a strict routine when I was a child, one that I didn’t really appreciate at the time because it involved so much travelling on draughty cold buses. We lived in Wallsend and my Grandfather lived in Benwell, so the family used to spend the day there, meeting other aunts, uncles and cousins.
I can’t remember much about travelling to Bishop’s Road, although we went on the No. 34 bus from Park Road through Walker and Newcastle. The journey back was more memorable because it was dark and often seemed to be snowy. Watching the Christmas lights and the snow outside was magical although the bus was always cold, and it was quite a long walk home once you got off.
Between 12 and 14 members of the family gathered for Christmas. The table was extended in a variety of ways and instead of chairs we used planks of wood to get everyone seated – basic but effective. It was laid out beautifully in the big front room where a fire roared and a real Christmas tree twinkled with lights and decorations. The Christmas lunch was enormous, with a choice of meats to cater for everyone’s taste. It was served up in the kitchen by the women of the family, each taking a particular role in the serving. Washing up was a male domain on Christmas Day. While all this was going on the children played with their new toys. Bishop’s Road had a spectacular passage that was tailor made for roller skating, although this got a bit problematic when plates of Christmas dinner were coming through.
Christmas tea was always a great occasion and various aunts cooked or baked particular things. Aunty May did sausage rolls and a trifle. There was always a ham, baked and sliced, and a magnificent Christmas cake. The table would be groaning with food, all beautifully cooked and presented. After tea the cloth came off the table and the grown-ups would play cards for penny stakes. As you got older you would be allowed to join the game – it was a rite of passage for all the cousins.
Later on, we would leave and make our way home. Once at home we would snuggle in front of our own fire and I would look forward to Boxing Day when I could play with the rest of my toys and meet local friends to see what they had been given.
New Year saw the reverse of the travelling, as everyone converged on our house on New Year’s Day for dinner and tea. I think my Mum got the harder end of the bargain, as she would get very stressed out cooking for such a big number. This was never helped by the aftermath of the street’s New Year’s Eve first footing exercise, which, on reflection, must have left several people feeling fragile the next day.