Category Archives: Christmas

Done To A Turn

Pauline Allan: Bridgetown, Western Australia, April 2021

Nana O’Rourke was a formidable wee woman.

Tiny, tenacious and terrifying.
Mother of Joe, Jean, Charlie, Sheila, my dad Vincent and Francis.

A seamstress by trade, the house was adorned with evidence of her skills on the old treadle Singer sewing machine.


The 3 piece suite in the lounge with it’s floral printed covers and covers over the covers to protect the covers, particularly the arm rests and the backs of the furniture where there were antimacassars to guard against the mens Brylcreem. 

The area around the “big” light switch on the papered wall also had it’s protection, some sort of industrial heavy duty plastic to ward off sticky fingers. 

There were display cabinets for the good china and glasses and ornaments adorned the open fireplace, ivory elephant bookends among them.

The convex porthole mirror with brass trim made the whole room look twice as big as it was. 

I was only 6 and a half when Nana died but my grandfather Michael and family gathered for Christmas dinner every year, a tradition that was carried on into the early 1970’s by my equally formidable Aunt Jean.

Everyone has an Aunt Jean.
My Aunt Jean was a spinster who looked after Papa, bachelor Uncle Charlie and Uncle Francis, a priest, when he came to visit.

“No one ever dances in this house” she would say…..Hardly surprising.

She would pounce on my dad, leading in a waltz whenever we dropped in.


But she was an incredible cook, baker and more than ably took on the challenge of catering for the Christmas collective.

Nana’s décor in the living room had hardly changed.

The open fire may have been replaced by an even less efficient two bar electric one, complete with false coal.

There was the mirror and a sunburst clock but everything else remained the same, with that familiar aroma of freshly baked bread, jam, cakes and “infusing” tea.

With no formal dining room in the house, the living room was the venue for the sumptuous Christmas banquet.


Trestle tables, card tables and picnic tables were quickly disguised with Nana’s embroidered cloths and napkins and somehow miraculously places were set for 20.

From the small kitchen with it’s original Formica cabinet and clothes pulley came platters of turkey with stuffing, glazed ham dotted with cloves, Ruskoline crumbed potato croquettes, roast potatoes and gravy with brussel sprouts, none of which could be served without Sharwoods Green Mango Chutney. 

Home made trifle and cakes to finish.
The flies’ graveyard (a currant slice) and buttercream sponge were my favourites.
Warninks Advocaat and Harveys Bristol Cream sherry for the adults and non alcoholic ginger wine for us teenagers.
This was made weeks in advance by members of the family who had dutifully bought the essence from the local Co-Op turning it into a sweet concoction with sugar and water.
Potcheen without the punch! 

Advocaat, Eggnog, Snowball – a Xmas favourite

After our meal we retired to uncle Uncle Charlie’s bedroom waiting to do our turn.
Sounds pretty ominous I admit but it was a completely innocent get-together where everyone had to perform.
That also sounds rather risqué!

What followed was a well kent tradition, where various musical renditions were performed by family members.

Uncle Charlie’s room was chosen because that was where the piano was.
Uncle Francis ( Father Frank or uncle Father Frank when I was young then uncle Father Frank-in-law from John’s speech at our wedding reception) played Fur Elise and accompanied anyone who wanted to play Chopsticks, he was also the reel to reel tape recorder operator.

Uncle Charlie sang The Ink Spots Whispering Grass (later made famous by the dynamic Don Estelle & Windsor Davies) and uncle John, aunt Shelia’s husband recited his version of De Profundis.
“Out of the Depths – of my bronchial tubes” … and so it went on.

Mum had a beautiful singing voice which could have lent itself to any of the classics but she was never comfortable in front of the critcal family audience. Instead she chose to sing “Halfway Up A Wall”.

As I was Minstrelling one night, 

Upon a castle drear

Halfway up a wall, a plaque I saw

“Duke Frederick was born here”

I’ve travelled far, I’ve travelled wide

But never can recall

That I have heard about a Duke

Born halfway up a wall 

Tra la la la la la

Tra la la fiddle dee

Halfway up a wall.

And of course everyone joined in with the last Halfway up a wall.

As the Advocatt flowed, so did the confidence of others.

Cousin Barbara took centre carpet and before we had time to rush into the kitchen to help Aunt Jean with the washing up, were surrounded by a cacophony of cringeworthy crescendos.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match. Find me a fi……Too late, she was off.

We managed to gather up precious crystal glasses from the floor as Cousin Barbara spun like a tipsy Whirling Dervish, changing key with every line.
Would she sing Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof as well?
I hope not. 

To our great relief Aunt Jean announced coffee was being served back in the living room and we all made a swift exit. 

Christmas is a far simpler affair these days. Most of the assembled are sadly no longer with us, cousins are spread to all corners of the globe and a “turn” is more likely to be a Netflix, YouTube or Spotify selection.

But perhaps locked down in a small flat in the outskirts of Glasgow, two cats and a budgie are being entertained with a selection of show tunes by a 70+ spinster.

Wan singer, wan song.

Don’t worry Babs, the sun will come out tomorrow.  

all the fun of the fair

(by Paul Fitzpatrick: March 2021)

When I was a kid, I loved going to the Carnival at the Kelvin Hall at Xmas, there was just something magical about it – it was a full out attack on the senses.

First there was the noise – chart hits being pumped out from every ride, plus the accompanying sirens, bells and whistles and of course the whoops and screams from the punters.

Then there were the smells – everything from the sweet smell of freshly spun candy floss to the not so sweet, throat-gagging, odour of elephant dung from the neighbouring circus.

And finally, the lights – bright, flashing, colourful, a bit like Vegas, it could have been any time of the day in there, you’d never know.

It was an alternative universe we visited once or twice a year and it never disappointed.

You could spend hours there just soaking it all up but normally it only took 60-90 minutes to spend whatever money you had. Frittering away your last few pennies in the penny-falls machine in the vain hope of extending your stay.
Inevitably walking away on the brink of a big pay-out with an avalanche of two pence’s hanging over the edge!

Then there were the rides.

We all had our favourites and our strategies to make the most of them.

For me the Waltzers were always number one but only if the ‘Waltzer guys’ supplemented the experience by manually spinning the contraption around. This however was a fete exclusively reserved for the girls they were looking to impress.

It was quite a dance, watching them weave their way effortlessly around the heavy duty machinery, snake like, waltzer to waltzer whilst eyeing up the talent.

We may have been young and daft but we spotted this pretty quickly and employed a tactic where we would split up into pairs before joining the two most eligible girls we could find that had space in their Waltzer.
We’d done our research and we knew with some certainty, that this particular Waltzer was going to get hurled around the West End of Glasgow something rotten.

The girls were normally a couple of years older and were oblivious to us and our rouse, totally swept up as they were in the attention of the Waltzer Guys and the fact that this chariot of metal was about to spin off its axis into the Clyde.

It was a tactic that served us well and I would still recommend it to any young pups out there looking to maximise their Waltzer experience.

Another top ride was the Rotor, a concept based on centrifugal force pressing you against the cylinder wall of the ride, as the floor below disappears.

Rotating at dizzying speeds, you were literally stuck to the wall like an insect to flypaper until the giant food blender came to a stop and the floor re-emerged.

Being Glasgow of course, there were plenty of gallus punters who didn’t respect the laws of Newtonian Mechanics, so you had guys doing hand stands against the wall, people trying to consume fizzy drinks and worst of all, numpties jumping on the ride after scoffing a baked potato or such like.

The result was nearly always the same and I can confirm that a combination of centrifugal force and vomit is not pleasant for anyone involved.

Think Problem Child 2 for any of you that have seen it!

Everyone had their favourites – the ghost train, the dodgems, the rib-tickler, the fast motorbikes, the cyclone, the umbrellas and the chairoplanes but apart from the odd scramble for a specific dodgem that you had convinced yourself was 50mph faster than the rest, I don’t seem to remember ever having to wait long to get on a ride.
Certainly none of this 30-minute waiting time malarkey that you see now.

Then there were the salon games you were encouraged to play, the challenges that always looked so easy to win, with the big unattainable prizes stacked behind them as an incentive.

Throw a small hoop over an ever so slightly larger plinth and win a diamond ring, throw rock-hard table-tennis balls into a jam jar and if by some miracle you manage to get them to stay in and they don’t bounce out again, win a Rolex, knock the superglued coconuts off their shy with a foam ball and win a holiday to Vegas! …..(okay I’m taking it too far now!)

In all my years I never saw any of our crowd win anything other than a goldfish in a plastic bag and that was by hooking a few plastic yellow ducks out of a puddle of water, an attraction normally reserved for 5-year-olds.

I can also confirm that taking Goldie the goldfish onto the rotor wasn’t the best idea.

Then there was the penny arcade with its plethora of slot machines, that split into two types.
None of them rewarding….

Ones where you could win cash prizes (like the fruit machines or penny-falls) but never did.

Or ones like the big crane thingy with the giant claw, where you could win prizes like watches and jewellery. However, the only thing I ever saw this badly constructed piece of Meccano collect in it’s giant tentacle was cheap key-rings.

In saying that we never went out with the intention of coming back with anything substantial, and we knew that any money won was just going to be ploughed straight back into the place anyway.

Every ride pumped out music at maximum volume and the better the song the more enjoyable the ride, the song that reminds me most of the Kelvin Hall is Shaft by Isaac Hayes, a perfect soundtrack for the time.

‘Who’s the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?’
Shaft!
‘Right on’

My grandparents lived in Partick so I used to go to the Carnival regularly as a youngster, however, my peak Kelvin Hall years were when I was around 13/14, young enough for it still to be a big adventure but old enough to go on my own with my pals.

For all the excitement I do remember trying to keep my wits about me, wary of a different crowd and wary of the speed and velocity I was being flung around this palace of fun – but it was always invigorating.

At 13 you tend not to over-think things, you just live in the moment and enjoy it, so it was tragic to learn that there was an accident on Boxing day in 1978 when two people unfortunately lost their lives on a ride called the Concorde Flyer, due to a machine malfunction.

I remember going to the circus a couple of times as well, but that was usually a trip with the Cubs and the only reason for going was the 30 minutes you’d get to go on the rides afterwards.

I’d left the Kelvin Hall behind by 1974 and had moved onto the big-boy rides at Blackpool’s pleasure beach – namely The Grand National and The Big Dipper.

Then when our own kids were old enough we went to Disneyland and Universal’s Island of Adventure in Orlando and of course pretended it was for the kids benefit.

The rides and the entertainment in Florida are on a different level of course – The Hulk Coaster, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc but for all the razzmatazz I’m still not sure anything compares with the Waltzer at the Kelvin Hall on a cold December night with two bonnie lassies onboard and an amorous Waltzer guy – geien it laldy!

THE WALTZER GUY WENT TOO DAMM FAST THIS TIME!

strictly not p.e.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – February 2021)

‘Physical Education,’ it was called, back in the day. Football; hockey; netball; cross-country running, gym work; and to a lesser extent in my time, rugby. It was an eagerly awaited break from the mind-crushing monotony of Mr Methven’s Physics class. (I’m still bitter he chucked myself and Tony Everett out of his Higher class – can you tell? Presumably that was to ensure his teaching reflected a better pass rate.)

‘Physical Education,’ in the month of December, however, was none of the above. Not because the ground was dangerously frozen – old Mr Graham, a.k.a. ‘Boot,” would have us out playing in the winter snow, while I might add, he slurped his coffee in the store room. No. Some sadist considered it would be more character building, and stand us all in good future stead, to teach us the dark art of country dancing.

In the weeks leading up to ‘The Dance,’ boys and girls of each class in their Year, would be told to line up opposite each other in one of the gyms, backs to the wall-bars, and await the dreaded instruction:
“Gentlemen – take your partners for the Saint Bernard’s Waltz.”

The what?!

This is 1971 for goodness sake. The year of T.Rex, Rod Stewart and Atomic Rooster. And we have to dance to a  … what’s it called?

(See these old folk? See what they’re doing? THIS is what we were expected to learn as thirteen / fourteen year olds!)

Usually, two classes were amalgamated and twenty, sweaty-palmed lads would look up and down the line, watching to see who’d make the first move. Of course, there was always that one kid who was officially ‘going out’ with one of the girls stood across the games hall. His move towards the other side would instantly be mirrored by his ‘burd,’ (it’s ok – you could say these things back in the day) and the two would meet in the centre circle of the basketball court.

The pressure is now on.

Decision time. Move quickly before somebody else asks the girl you fancy. Or – actually, do you even ask her at all? What if she says “no thanks.” Or words to that effect. But she might be happy to ‘St Bernard’s Waltz’ with you. Wouldn’t that be brilliant? That would surely mean she likes you, wouldn’t it? Look – she’s whispering and giggling with her friends. Go on. Don’t be such a chicken.

But the fear of rejection is debilitating.

Aaaaargh! Too damn slow! She accepted that offer far too quickly. And she’s smiling. She must fancy ….

Very quickly, your options dwindle and everyone else starts pairing up – reluctantly or otherwise. So you make your move. The approach does not impress, however, as your path deviates when a pal overtakes you for the hand of your intended. Sheepishly, you are forced to ask your now third choice. Fully expecting a sharp rebuke, you ask the question.

Boot and Mrs McLeod (Horsey) who obviously frequented the world of Jane Austen, had dictated the correct manner of asking a young lady to dance is to politely say:
“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” But, partly because you’re a rebel and nobody tells you what to do, though mainly because your nervous brain has gone to mush, you grudgingly mumble the words:
“You wanna dance?”

Realising by now that it’s a straight choice between the short-arse stood in front of her; the weird introvert, or the kid with a plague of plooks and halitosis – the short arse wins. You – ok, I – have a partner.

Boot would then crank up the dansette and drop the needle on track one, side one of Jimmy Shand and His Band, Greatest Hits (Volume 1) and quickly retreat to the arms of Horsey. A short demonstration was followed by carnage and mayhem, the like of which had never been seen on the hockey or football pitches.

Of course, the rumours would fly for the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas Dance as to who fancied who – all based upon the rather random selection process of the practice sessions.

Then came the big night. The night when all the skills learned from Boot and Horsey would be displayed. Or not.

See, back then, there was no plush limousine; no pre-dance celebration meal; no hired photographers. Nope. Instead, groups of lads would rush out their homes an hour or so before the scheduled start time, meet up at the pre-determined ‘secret’ rendezvous point (for us, it was ‘The Woods,’ for others, ‘Hungry Hill’) and unearth the illicit booze that had somehow been procured earlier.

 The tipple of choice for my group was El Dorado and Lanliq fortified wine and a couple cans of Carlsberg Special Brew or Newcastle Brown Ale.

Timing now became critical, and being so young and inexperienced, it was pretty much down to trial and error … error frequently winning out.

The challenge was to get to the festively adorned Assembly Hall and, standing up straight whilst holding your breath, hand over your ticket to the poor teacher who would much rather have been spending the evening with a good book. Those pupils who still had to perfect the art of timing and sported puke stains down the front of their paisley-patterned kipper ties, were instantly rejected, being sent to the ‘sick room’ to await collection by their affronted parents.

Once in, you could relax. But not too much. It was best to keep moving. Dancing. Any period of inactivity would invariably induce a deep sleep on the spartan chairs that lined the Hall. Game over. Sick room and a phone call to your parents coupled by an instant grounding over Christmas would be the resultant consequence.

So, dance you did. And it wasn’t too bad, as it happened. And even if it was Dutch courage, you did ask the girl you fancied to dance. And maybe she was happy that you did.

Everyone was happy. Even the kid with the plague of plooks and halitosis.

It was Christmas, after all.


the harsh realities of life – part 1: Christmas.

(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)

I’m straying outside my ‘70s comfort zone here to Primary school in the sixties to recall two traumatic but interlinked episodes that for some reason have stayed with me for life.

I don’t recall Christmas in the ‘60s being as commercial as it is now, but the toy brands still found a way to ‘get to us’ even though there was only one commercial TV station back then.

Also, I don’t remember seeing adverts for toys in the UK comics of the day (although I may be wrong there) in the same way that the American comics advertised lots of cool stuff to buy on their inside covers. 

Anyway, the object of my desire in 1966 was a Johnny Seven (O.M.A) One Man Army Gun. It was the Rolls Royce of toy guns with count them Seven different actions, as follows…

  1. Grenade Launcher
  2. Anti-Tank Rocket
  3. Anti-Bunker Missile
  4. Armour Piercing Shell
  5. Repeating Rifle
  6. Tommy Gun
  7. Automatic Pistol
Johnny Seven gun in all its glory.

It was the coolest thing in my universe at the time and to ensure its safe delivery I was happy to forsake quantity for quality and made a list of only one item for Santa that year.

It was all I could think about and I couldn’t wait to wake up on Xmas morning and take delivery of this plastic weapon of mass destruction.

I actually don’t think I slept that Xmas eve, giddy with anticipation about the lashings of street cred that were about to come my way.

Imagine my distress and utter shock then, when I discovered upon ripping the Xmas wrapping off the box like a demented Tasmanian Devil, that no Johnny Seven Gun lay await, but instead, something called a ‘Gun That Shoots Around the Corner’ 

How could Santa have got it so wrong? Was he mocking me? Did he want me to be a laughingstock? Had I been such a bad boy that year???

My Mum, upon seeing the crushed look on my face tried to rally me round. “What a lovely gift from Santa”, “Ooh it can shoot round corners, that’s good”,

“I bet no one else has a gun like that!” blah, blah, blah.

She obviously didn’t get it. In the urban warzone, shooting around corners wasn’t a thing, whilst Grenade Launchers, Tommy Guns and Anti-Bunker Missiles definitely were.

The unfortunate gun that shoots around the corner.

Of course, I look back now and realise that my poor parents probably visited every toy shop and department store in Glasgow in search of this best-selling toy and were only trying their best with the back-up option.

To them it was just another novelty gun and to be fair shooting around a corner may be lame, but it is pretty novel.

They say you don’t know a man till you walk in his shoes and having been under similar pressure to buy my own kids the bestselling and rarely available ‘toys of the year’ I now understand the strain they were under and I forgive them.

I don’t remember any drama in 1967 but by 1968 I was a bit more worldly wise. I now knew all about the big Santa swindle and had decided to focus my attentions on my Mum for future Christmas gifts.

My Dad was a busy man, plus he’d had a pretty tough upbringing, so he was from the “you’ll get what you’re given and be happy with it” school of presents, so no point in wasting my efforts there.

I was Ten in 1968 and had just started getting into football so I desperately wanted a football kit for Christmas.

Strangely, and this may shock some people who know me, but I was quite happy to get either a Celtic strip or a Rangers strip in 1968.

The reason for this was that my biggest football influence at the time was my Grandpa, my Mum’s Dad.

He was a big football fan and Celtic were his team. He regaled me with stories about legendary Celtic, Scotland and Old Firm games/teams/players, and of course in 1968 the Lisbon Lions, were still at their peak.

On the flip side 80% of my friends were Rangers fans, my Dad’s family were all Rangers fans, and the blue half of Glasgow had a pretty good team at the time as well.

So, the honest truth is, that at the time I liked both teams and didn’t feel any pressure to choose one over another – cute, but strange, I know!

John Greig or Billy McNeill ? Made no difference to me.

So, I started the charm offensive early on my Mum that year to get a head start, but unfortunately my Dad was wary of a 10-year-old strutting about in a Celtic or Rangers jersey and vetoed the idea.

I countered with something I thought was perfectly reasonable, “how about a Scotland kit?” This was met pretty positively so I was content that by Xmas day I’d be the proud owner of my first football kit and I’d soon be out playing with my mates in the street or the park looking and performing like Denis Law

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice but it did in my house.

Two years to the day of Johnny Seven-Gate, came Scotland-Gate.

Once again, I ripped off the Xmas wrapping in eager anticipation and once again I was left aghast. There was no dark blue jersey with a big red lion emblem but instead a plain light blue long sleeved t-shirt.

I was incredulous or maybe more accurately I was as sick as a parrot.

My football knowledge was pretty good for a 10-year-old and I knew straight away I’d been duped. When I asked my Mum what team it was, she said “it’s some English team”, and also added that “I’d really suit the colour”.


In reality it was a t-shirt from DH Hoey’s, the well-known Glasgow school outfitter who to be fair did sell football kits, but this wasn’t one of them.

Joining my mates in their Rangers, Celtic, Scotland and Partick Thistle kits, I fielded the inevitable question, “what kit is that Paul?”

“Manchester City” I replied using my knowledge of the English first division.

This seemed to placate them till an older lad turned up and blew my cover by spotting that my top was plain, whereas the City jersey had white collars and cuffs.

Let the mockery begin….

The majestic Colin Bell in the light blue of Manchester City.

Now I realise in the grand scheme of things that I had a lot to be thankful for and that getting any present was a blessing, but I’d really had enough of the humiliation by this point.

Looking back, we tell ourselves that it’s cool to be a bit different, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. I wanted to be the kid in the Scotland kit with the Johnny Seven Gun not the outcast in the sky-blue t-shirt with a wonky gun.

I never did get a Rangers, Celtic or Scotland kit and my last attempt was in 1969 when for my Christmas I got a plain bright orange t-shirt instead of the conciliatory Dundee United kit I’d asked for.

I finally realised I was flogging a dead horse when my Mum once again uttered the immortal words “Oh, you’ll look lovely in that colour son” with obvious reference to my sallow skin courtesy of our Italian forefathers.

What she didn’t realise however, was that thanks to her and Dad, most of the time my face was bright red.