Boxing Day-a daft party or a bun fight?

                When I was a child, spending my early years in the 50s, Boxing Days were passed with many of the traditional customs of the time. We’d visit relatives or have them visit us. We’d exchange gifts [the meaning of ‘Boxing’] and have tea. The visits would be to aunts, uncles and cousins and the gifts would be toys, games, puzzles or books. One of my favourite toys as a six year old was ‘Fuzzy Felt’, of which I had several sets. A set consisted of a felt board and a collection of felt characters and objects based around a theme. My preferred theme was the farmyard and I could occupy hours arranging the small figures and objects into different positions and scenarios. This, I think, was the beginning of story-telling for me. A cursory look on the web confirmed that Fuzzy Felt is still available, although now often termed ‘retro’. Invented in 1950, it was a ‘must have’ for children of the early 50s. My brothers favoured metal Meccano and occasionally allowed me to play with it, as with their train set, which occupied most of their bedroom floor.

                During the ensuing days we’d have to put in some time writing thank-you letters for all our gifts. My mother would have written a list of presents and donors, some of whom would have sent postal orders [also still available!] for an amount to be divided between the three of us. It could be tricky. One pound was not easily divisible into three, neither was ten shillings. We would receive 6 shillings and 8 pence from a pound or 3 shillings and 4 pence from ten shillings. It is not surprising that despite an innate deficiency in mathematical competency I was always able to remember what one pound, or ten shillings, divided by three was.

                It was a thrill to be allowed to stay up for a party, often held at our house. In those unsophisticated times it would consist of parlour games-in a circle or with pencils and paper. My father considered himself something of a wag and organised all of this including the ‘prizes’-items he’d fastened to the Christmas tree, including packets of indigestion tablets or a small tin of baked beans, all wrapped up.

                So what now, for Boxing Day? It seems vast numbers of people like to spend this next day of their holiday camping outside on a pavement in the cold and the howling gales waiting for a department store to open its doors, in order to join a galloping stampede into the interior and a fight to gain access to a designer handbag they cannot do without. I like a bargain as much as the next person but much as I wrack my brain I cannot think of a single object in a shop I’d wish to queue up all night in the cold for. Can you?

Mystery on the Dwarfdale Flyer

  “How do Verna! By ‘eck, its cold in that waiting room this morning!” An icy blast accompanies Jacob Hutton into the compartment as he settles himself opposite Verna, unbuttoning his jacket to reveal his customary navy blue dungarees. Verna chuckles, brushing imagined flecks of dust from her sackcloth apron with large, work-red hands.

“Morning Jacob! Warmer in here, I don’t doubt.”

She turns to glance at the basket beside her, lifts the blue and white cloth to check its contents and, satisfied, nods back at Jacob.

“I haven’t seen Arthur lately. Do you think he’s alright?” Jacob shakes his head, the habitual pipe in his jaw wobbling like a signalman’s flag.

“Nay, I said to my Mavis, it’s a while since Arthur came up to town, though now I come to think of it, he’s been looking peaky, so he might of come down with summat.”

“He works too hard, that’s what. He’s wearing himself out, all that digging, it must be a worry competing with all them new fangled machines they have nowadays. I saw one arriving only yesterday where that new bridge is getting built, all painted up, some digger or suchlike. Nothing stays the same, does it? Happen one day eggs will be factory made and then me and my hens will be out of a job an’ all!”

Verna, soothed by the rhythmic rumbling of the carriage, leans back to watch the passing scenery, as familiar as parlour wallpaper, the paint-bright emerald of the trees interspersed with a red and white signal box or a water tower. She catches a glimpse of station huts and a whiff of acrid smoke as the train begins to round the bend on the approach to Dentlake Junction.

“Poor old Arthur. I know how he feels. We’re none of us getting any younger, and I feel a bit worn out me self, what with getting up at crack of dawn every day. Them cows don’t milk themselves do they?”

Now she scrutinises Jacob, Verna realises that he does indeed look worn out. There are greyish patches emerging on the tip of his nose and his cheeks, his hair is more white than youthful chestnut, even his clothes have taken on a frayed and faded appearance. Worse still, on taking a closer look down at her own, solid form there are worn, shiny areas on her stockinged legs, an alarming, deep gouge in the brown, woolly sleeve of her coat.

The train grinds to a gentle halt as they pull in to Dwarfdale, where half a dozen passengers are preparing to board. Jacob gets to his feet, pulling his shabby jacket together, and opens the door to see a figure they both know, and yet almost unrecognisable in his renaissance.

“Arthur!” They shout, gladdened by the sight of him, vibrant, bright-eyed and fresh, as moments later they are lifted up and placed gently on a table amongst the paints and brushes behind the toy shop window.