Beer barrel gift for dad blew up in living room
Y ULETIDE, more than most times of the year, is a time for looking back. So let's gather round the festive fireside and invoke the spirit of Christmas past with the assistance of four old friends.
The biting winter of 1962-3 is recalled by Harold Gordon, aged 83, of Dale Hall. His memories illustrate just how much we take for granted nowadays.
"I lived in Navigation Street, by Middleport Park at the time," he explains.
"We had an outside toilet at the foot of our blue brick-paved yard.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
"There was a little paraffin lamp in there, with a tiny wick that gave the toilet a bit of warmth, but it was a slippery walk down the yard during that winter.
"I remember going down to Westport Lake on my bicycle.
"The water being frozen, I was able to ride on to the lake. Other people had similar ideas, as there was a corporation horse and large-wheeled cart on the ice.
"The corporation workers had gone to the lake to throw some ashes around the waterside to improve conditions underfoot, but they ventured on to the frozen lake for a lark, as did I."
Derek Barnard, of Burslem, also recalls the icy winter of the early 1960s.
"I lived in Heath Street in Chesterton, then," says Derek, aged 64.
"It was a severe winter and I recall long icicles hanging off the front of our house, and a cracked drainpipe.
"At the foot of the street, the snow lay about two feet thick. My family lived at the top. One morning, we opened the front door and the snow had drifted up it, right up to the top of the door.
"The snow stood there, solidly, when we opened it. We had to batter down this block of snow to get out of the house."
After this, there was only the little matter of getting to work – but even then, there was no escaping the snow. Derek continues: "A work colleague and I plodded through two and a half miles of snow to my workplace, Cope's motor cycles in George Street, Newcastle.
"We then spent most of the day shovelling snow from in front of the premises."
Bob Adams, aged 65, would never claim to be the little boy who Santa forgot, but he does recollect the austerity of post-war Christmases and the family traditions of the Adams clan.
"Our family usually fetched a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve," reveals Bob.
"We placed it in a pot and put soil and lumps of coal around it to steady it, before tucking into a large pork pie – another family tradition of ours.
"On Christmas Day itself, dad always put a drop of whisky in my morning tea – even when I was a child. I received my present in a small box, but was grateful for it.
"My parents would put a comic in my Christmas stocking in order to pad it out a bit. There would also be chestnuts and tangerines, which were less available in those days, as they were a seasonal item.
"They were always wrapped up in tissue paper, which was always carefully taken off and saved, as it could later be used as toilet roll!
"My main present might be a comic annual – Beano, Dandy, Film Fun or Eagle – and in those days, they would probably cost about 13 shillings and sixpence, which was half of my dad's daily wage. I prized annuals like these.
"I once received a Hornby Dublo train set, which must have cost my father a month's wages.
"They used to say of them that they were what a father would buy for his son, without allowing him to play with it. My train set is kept in our loft, and is now about 56 years old."
On the subject of Christmas presents, some people are notoriously difficult to buy for, but Bob thought he'd bought the perfect gift for his father.
"I worked at Michelin in Stoke from 1964, and we had a club house there. One Christmas, it sold four-gallon containers of Joules' bitter for about £5. The beer came in a plastic, barrel-shaped container housed in a sealed box of stiff cardboard. I collected the beer, and transported it in my car from Stoke to our house in Gordon Street, Burslem.
"With Dad out of the house, I took it into our living room, where my mother was sitting.
"The intention was to store the beer down in our cellar, but the first job was to get the plastic barrel out of the tough cardboard box, so I set about it with a carving knife in front of the living room fire.
"Well, I accidentally punctured the barrel, and the beer started shooting out like a geyser. Bear in mind that it was pretty lively anyway, as it had travelled all the way from Stoke in my car.
"Mum put her finger over the puncture, but the barrel was still blowing beer. We tried to stop the flow with sticking plaster, sellotape and even blobs of chewing gum.
"There we were, frantically chewing gum to make a wedge for the spewing hole. Mum had false teeth at the time, and you could hear the grinding and clacking of her teeth as she chewed.
"The chewed gum wouldn't stick over the hole, though, even when we put it on a toasting stick and placed it over our coal fire to make it warmer and more pliable.
"Finally, we made a sort of poultice for the hole, and the beer settled down – although I had to drink a pint of it to finally stop the flow. I then took it down to our cellar."
Shortly afterwards, Adams senior arrived home, having had several pints at the Duke of Bridgewater in Longport, following his shift at Price and Kensington's factory in Longport.
Says Bob:"I had to tell dad that I had bought him a barrel of beer for Christmas, but that he had better start drinking it now, as it would be off by the time Christmas Day came, three days later.
"He duly drank the thirty-odd pints in the next few days, but the rugs in our living room were soaked, and the house stank like a brewery for ages afterwards."
Later Christmases are recalled by television buff Paul Wood, of Norton, aged 48.
He recalls: "It still seems odd to me that my most vivid memory of growing up at Christmas is watching Steptoe and Son on BBC 1, on Christmas Eve 1973.
"I clearly remember how, as I watched the screen, the anticipation of Christmas was already building up inside me. I was incredibly excited.
"I describe this as odd because this was an era dominated by the legendary Morecambe and Wise seasonal specials and you would expect Eric and Ernie to be my abiding TV memory of the time. But no, Albert Steptoe it is and probably always will be."
Tell us your memories of Christmases and New Years past. Write to The Way We Were, Features Desk, The Sentinel, Forge Lane, Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 5SS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.