December 17, 2013


Mabel, Ian and I are out in the car. We’ve stopped for our afternoon tea at a beauty spot but there isn’t much beauty to be seen outside. That’s partly because of the absence of light – we’re nearing the shortest day and we didn’t get out as soon after lunch as we should – and partly because I’ve placed around the interior of the car the 13 Christmas cards that have come to the family house, standing them on the dashboard or taping them to the windows.

In the family’s heyday, as I recall it, we received about 100 cards, though Dad suggests there were never more than sixty. I did come across a Xmas card list that had been printed out by him in 2003, which had been used until 2008, and that runs to 50 names. 2008 is the year that Mum went into the care home, and Dad has written the cards on behalf of himself and Mabel since then. I posted a dozen for him about a week ago, first checking that the spidery writing on the envelopes was clear enough to read and clarifying a few postcodes. But I guess Dad would also have been responsible for getting out Xmas cards for most of the period covered by the 2003-2008 list, with perhaps the odd word of guidance from Mum. It would be nice to get the odd word of guidance from her today, as the three of us sit together in the back seat of the car, but that is not likely. She came up with a distinct word when we were last out: ‘Remember’, but that is the only word I’ve been able to decipher for a couple of months now.

“Who is that one from?” asks Ian, pointing to the card in the window beside the driver’s seat, the card that shows three wise men.

“Delma and Jim.”

“Ah yes,” says Dad, turning towards Mum. “Delma broke her neck this Easter, Mabel. She says she is getting better but won’t be able to go with you to the shops at Brent Cross this Xmas.”

We lived in Hemel Hempstead for about ten years from 1975. The card from Delma and Jim being the only one to show for all the neighborliness that was enjoyed through that decade, a decade in which Mabel and Ian went from the age of 50 to 60.

Stuck to the window alongside Ian, are the two cards that have come from friendships forged in the Hamilton years, from 1965 to 1972. One is from Gordon and Nancy Cook who lived at number 7 Townhill Road. On it are written the words ‘To Ian and Morag’. Ian didn’t notice the slip, and obviously Mum won’t be aware of it, but I am. Not that I hold it against the Cooks. It’s really something that they still send out a Xmas card (reciprocated) fifty years after the low-key relationship with Mabel and Ian was effectively brought to an end when the McLarens left Hamilton.

I’ve been going through the 1970 diary this week and Nancy and Gordon crop up several times. The Tuesday afternoon sewing bee was held at Nancy’s on Tuesday September the first, Mabel observing that the number of women attending had gone down to eight from the 14 that attended the weekly bee during the early years of the street when the bond between the original home owners was especially strong. (How women’s lives have changed!) Mabel also took a neighbor to see the school play in which Nancy’s daughter, Janette, had a leading part. This reminds me that Nancy and Gordon no longer live on the street, but moved in the last year or so to be closer to their daughter, who no doubt plays a caring role in their lives. Ah yes, Gordon and Nancy have waved goodbye to their thirties and forties, just as surely as Ian and Mabel have, and are holding up as best they can in their eighties.

“What’s your favorite card, Mum?” I ask. Her eyes are shut. So I’m not really expecting an answer. But I’m holding one of her hands, while Ian is holding the other, so you never know.

“I like this one,” says Ian, nodding towards an image of five silver balls.

Yeah, I like that one too. It’s from Jean and Robert Young who still live at number 13 Townhill Road. The news in last year’s card was that Robert uses a stick to walk around and this year we’re told he uses a wheelchair when they go out. But the Youngs are still getting by, that is the main thing. Jean sent a separate card to Mabel at the care home, the only person who has done that so far this year. The kindness between Jean and Mabel goes back a long way. From the 1970 diary, it appears that Mabel looked after Jean’s two-year-old twins, Valerie and Janis, on several occasions. Once, when Jean took her four-year-old son, Andrew, to school. Another time, when Jean had to go into town to get her hair permed. Also, when Mabel had the twins over for an unspecified reason in May.

As for December, well on Tuesday the fifteenth, Mabel started to write her Xmas cards, and on Thursday the seventeenth, the last day for posting in time for Christmas, she duly posted her letters and parcels. The entire entry for Christmas Day itself, reads:

’Visited Den and Marion in the morning. Had Jean, Robert and family over in the afternoon then had our Xmas dinner at about 6pm. Looked over to Gordon and Nancy’s at night.’

Why no card this year from Den and Marion Myles at number 4? Well, because Marion died decades ago and Den has since passed away too, as the previous blog mentions.

It’s getting dark. We need to get Mabel back to the home. ‘Time to take down the Christmas cards?’ A question I remember from my childhood. ‘Time to take down the Christmas cards for the last time?’ A question that occurs to me now.

No, not quite yet. Let’s hope for a few more seasonal messages of goodwill to come in this year. And for a minimal fall-off in the year to come.