They say that as we get older we remember things from childhood with more clarity than recent events. I don’t know how much truth there is in this but I have certain memories from when I was a child that are really quite vivid. Then again there are some events that I have no recollection of, as I was too young to remember them, but I know they happened because I was told about them. I would never have known about these otherwise.
For example, my grandma used to tell me of the time I returned to a half-finished cup of tea and she told me to wipe the rim of the cup because a fly had been walking on it. “I know,” I said, “I can see its footprints.” I don’t remember that incident but my grandma would give it an airing every now and then. Obviously, Christmas is a big event in the timetable of a young boy, and so I have quite vivid memories of that exciting season.
In the run up to the big day, after the tree had been dressed, and its toys twinkled, and its fairy lights flashed, I sat with my brothers and my mother on the settee for the big occasion of drawing up our Christmas lists. When we had each reeled off our desires, and those that were beyond my parents’ means were scratched from the list on such pretexts as “he’ll never get that down the chimney,” my mother set about delivering the notes.
With her children’s eyes fixed firmly on her, she knelt at the fireplace and held one of the notes up the chimney. “Have you got it?” she said, and a squeak emanated from somewhere in the sooty darkness to indicate the affirmative. Then when my mother pulled her hand from the chimney, the note was gone. She did this with all three notes and, to our young eyes, it was magical.
Christmas morning came, and I woke up very early. I left my elder brother sleeping and sneaked into the living room to see if Santa had been. I stood on a stool to turn on the light and a smarties tube of colour met my eyes as there were toys, games and books stacked all over the seats. We had arranged before bedtime that my brother would have his presents stacked on the settee and mine would be on the armchair, so I delved silently into my share, not wanting to rouse anyone yet. After a quick scan of my own booty, my attention turned to my brother’s presents on the settee. I noticed that he had a plastic battery operated Dalek that stood about eight inches tall. In my pile there was one of those tin robots that ran on a clockwork mechanism. Well, when I say ‘ran’ I mean ‘walked in a most cumbersome manner before falling over’.
I stood there cold but delighted, taking in the festive smells of chocolate from my selection boxes and ink from my Beano book (although I could barely read). Just before going to wake my brother though, a more overpowering scent wafted up my young nostrils: the heady smell of temptation.
I really fancied that Dalek and here was the perfect opportunity to claim it. After all I genuinely believed that Santa had put it there, so if I swapped it for Clanky the robot nobody would know. With a display of decisiveness I wish I still possessed I made the switch.
“He’s been! He’s been!” I said in great excitement as I shook my brother’s arm to wake him. He threw the blankets back and together we set about opening our presents. I set up my Chad Valley Give-a-Show projector and held an impromptu slide show using the wallpaper as a screen. The slides told the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and my brother read out the captions for me as he removed the lid from a Merit microscope set.
I’d never seen a microscope before so he set it up and focused on the pre-set slides that came with it. One of these had a fly’s leg inside and we took turns to look at it. We were both amazed by the sight of this hairy member (me more than him when I saw there was no foot on the end) that looked so different close up. Finally, with everything opened and looked at, we marched into our parents’ room to relay the news that, despite their threats that he wouldn’t show if we were naughty, Santa had delivered.
When my parents got up I started playing with ‘my’ Dalek. My mother noticed this and asked me whose pile it had been in. “Mine,” I said, wondering for the umpteenth time how mothers seem to know things that are impossible.
“I think Santa must have made a mistake,” she said, taking the Dalek from me and handing it to my brother. “He asked for one of these on his list.”
So my brother got what was rightfully his and old Clanky made his way across the carpet back towards his real home among my presents. As he walked, I thought I saw a tear fall from a red eye and he held his arms out as though he wanted a hug. Then he fell over.
Illustration is my own.