DIARY 23 December 1967 Christmas

Garland collage

Home for Christmas 1967

I had always enjoyed Christmas; it was a perennial big family event. Mom and Dad did their best with presents for us children. The decorations, saved from previous years, were brought out; the artificial tree and glass baubles; paper garlands with string passed through them so that you could fold them flat and use them next year.

We usually managed a turkey although we might have beef or chicken instead. The table was always elaborate, whatever we had. Mom and Dad did not drink but at Christmas Dad would go down to the off licence with a two-pint Winchester and have it filled with British Sherry. Mom might buy a liqueur called ‘Green Goddess’ which was rarely drunk by anyone.

We would attend midnight mass on Christmas eve. The next morning, we would wake up and look for a pillow case full of presents, usually a plastic toy, a comic annual from an aunt, a tin of sweets, some new clothes, a game and an orange. It was a pleasant time for the whole family.

In 1967 year, things were a bit different. We were not children anymore; my elder sister had her own toddlers and was living in Kings Norton with her husband; my younger sister was working at Cadbury’s and at a newsagent on Saturdays[1]. My brother was fourteen and wishing he could leave school. I was the odd one out who went to university.

1967 Derek Perry
Was this facial growth even fashionable at the time?

I had returned to Birmingham after my first term at Chelsea College. I was now older, almost a man at age 19, and I had increasingly grotesque facial hair to prove it. I don’t think Dad or Mom approved but they said nothing; Dad’s attitude was that it was my choice and I had to live with the consequences. I received funny looks in Birmingham; there were suggestions that my orange neckerchief and pink shirt made me look effeminate, not helped by my new accent which was said to make me sound ‘posh’.

Dad was seriously ill. He had suffered a heart attack a few weeks previously and, after a short time in hospital, had been sent home. There was bemusement that he was being given rat poison[2] as a medication but he was short of breath, suffered occasional chest pains and could walk only a short distance. Dad had been ill for a very long time. Today we would call it COPD[3]; it was not his first heart attack and it would not be his last.

We were careful not so say or do anything to upset the peace but it put us all under a lot of strain. It was worse for Dad’s new grandchildren. As normal toddlers they would be lively and noisy but their visits were restricted because of the strain they might put on him. This was a pity because he loved them both and they brought him a lot of pleasure.

The decorations and tinsel were faded; the wonder of childhood was subdued; Father Christmas wasn’t real; illness spread melancholy rather than cheer. I escaped to see my girlfriend; she lived with her Mother in Selly Oak and they did not share my family’s festive traditions.

Nevertheless, we watched the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour on television and were satisfied that it made us feel better while irritating the older generation.

After seven years at school I had managed to lose contact with all my former school friends. Most of them lived on the other side of the city in places like Acocks Green or Sheldon so we were unlikely to bump into each other. Roy and Rayner remained my closest friends but their teenage years were also over. Roy was engaged to Sue and training as a policeman but was already considering it an unsuitable career. Rayner was applying to join Birmingham Repertory Theatre and was looking for work as an actor. I was already a stranger from out of town.

I was glad to get back to London as soon as possible. I was not happy to leave my girlfriend but we were planning weekend visits which promised more than miserable damp days in Selly Oak.

© Derek Perry 2017

[1] She would later become full time manager of the shop.

[2] Warfarin is an anti-coagulant, introduced in 1948 as a rat poison. By the end of the 1950s it had been approved for the treatment of thrombosis and embolism and is still in regular use.

[3] COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease including emphysema.


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