Thursday, 16 December 2010

Sixteenth Day of Advent

- December 16th -

So far, over the course of these Advent blogs, I’ve talked a lot about my family Christmases as I grew up in the Midlands, and all the things associated with Christmas-time that have meant a lot to me.

But what about other people?

I’m always fascinated by the experiences and memories of other people when it comes to subjects close to my heart; how they differ from my own, or even how closely they mirror them.

So, I’ve asked a few of my friends to write a little about some of their own Christmases as a child, and I will be posting the results intermittently on here between now and Christmas Eve.

First up is author and scriptwriter Paul Magrs on the delights of a certain well stocked high street shop around the festive time.

Smiths at Christmas
Christmas meant book vouchers and various items that needed to be taken back to M+S to be exchanged whether for reasons of size or taste. While Mam queued in Marksies there was WH Smiths in Darlington to explore and ransack. Smiths in the 80s was all bright citrus orange in decor, somehow magical with newsprint and the scent of shiny magazines and it was all quite different to how it is now. It had a large, lavish record department with vinyl in polythene covers, a vast selection of heart-stoppingly delectable, pristine stationery, drawing and writing books and, at the top of a wide staircase which I always for some reason had to run up – it had a vast book section.

Book vouchers were always one of the best kinds of presents because they represented not just choosing just what you wanted, but they somehow stood for time. A whole wodge of unspent, luxurious, book-wallowing time somehow stored up within the card and inside the monopoly-type money of the foily, swirly, brightly-coloured voucher itself.

The best thing I remember finding in Smiths immediately after Christmas – when we’d dash out for shopping because we’d ran out of milk and bread and were going stir crazy, all of us cooped up in the house – was a set of ‘Children’s Classics’ paperbacks from America. They came in Selection Box type package, with crinkly cellophane windows – and there were six paperback classics – Alice, Oz, Journey to the Centre of the World, the Prince and the Pauper, A Christmas Carol, Robin Hood… With tiny print and pulpy paper, with lurid painted covers. Airmont, the publisher was, and the whole set cost, I think £1.99 and when I was nine it seemed like the best bargain ever. I particularly liked the list in the back of all the classics in the world: all mine to make my way through...

This point in time was also about Annuals reduced to half price. I still buy the Beano Annual when it comes down in price. I liked it best when it was printed on really thick paper, in black and white, pink and red. The Beezer was always a favourite too, and Cheeky – which is a comic no one but I seems to remember.

From somewhere on the internet I’ve nicked someone’s snap of a crumpled paper bag from Smiths. I hope they don’t mind. But it’s ridiculous how nostalgic I can feel about an old paper bag!

Thanks to Paul Magrs for taking the time to write this lovely post!

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