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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Merry Christmas?

The novel-in-progress includes a scene set in Christmas 1970, although there is little for my fictional families to celebrate. A tragedy has tugged the rug from beneath their feet, but some of them are contemplating beckoning beacons of hope which appear to shed a tentative light on the future. However, those beacons are in forbidden territory...

The Christmas of forty-five years ago brought to an end a year in which England lost to West Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals. This unexpected result (two goals to three after extra time) had such a devastating effect on the country that it even prompted voters to lose faith in Harold Wilson's government. Like the England squad, the Labour party, who had secured a good lead in the Gallup poll, suffered an unexpected defeat at the hands of Edward Heath's Conservatives.

Also in that year, Paul McCartney said he was leaving the Beatles, British Leyland announced that production of the Morris Minor would cease, and the General Election, with that shock result, was the first in which eighteen-year-olds could vote. Just around the corner in 1971 was the introduction of decimal currency, with young people trying to convince older members of the family that the change to 'new pee' would be easy and many people certain the new system would be a smokescreen for price rises.

The research led me to seek out old family pictures of that Christmas, but I could look no further than these, taken in 1967, the year in which Tying Down The Lion is set.










My father had not quite managed to finish decorating the 'front-room', hence the stripped-bare walls. He feared the plaster might completely crumble if the sellotape went anywhere near it, hence the lack of tinsel. He, my mother and I had all caught a vicious 'flu on Christmas Eve. My father was actually hallucinating at one point and to this day my mother has no idea how she cooked the dinner. Only my dear, irrepressible brother was cheerful.

My husband says it is the most depressing picture he has ever seen, from the un-festive tablecloth and plastic salt and pepper pots, to the eerie way my mother's hat is perched on top of her curls. Not to mention the way the food is congealing during the obligatory photo session - it was an icy-cold room with no heating. And what a huge amount of (cold) bread sauce on each plate. We had to have it, whether we liked it or not!

I love these pictures for their hand-knitted cardigans, National Health glasses, pallid faces, unclad walls and the dogged determination to sit at the table, pull the crackers, take the photographs and wade through the meal, despite three of us feeling utterly ghastly.

So I shall wallow in memories of 1967 for a little longer before turning back to 1970 - and to my characters who decide not to sit at the table at all...

14 comments:

  1. I am so pleased you're working on your next novel. I think the photos are hopeful rather than depressing - that your family had made the effort to pull crackers and your mum had still made Christmas dinner despite you all feeling ill. I love your serious expression. What a lovely family xx

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    1. Thank you so much, Teresa. Yes, I agree there is hope here, which makes it seem a much more cheerful picture. I enjoyed seeing my expression too. It reminded me that I was a very solemn child, the opposite of my brother. When we learnt to do mime at dancing lessons, they couldn't get me to show a happy face, but said I excelled at the grave one! xxx

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  2. Great photos, Joanna, as they are precious for their memories. I'm amazed at everything you can remember about 1970 - I've obviously blocked it out or didn't take much notice of it except what directly affected me (typical teen).

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    1. Thank you, Rosemary. My memory has become quite strange lately. I can recall enormous amounts about the childhood years, but forget instantly what happened two minutes ago! xxx

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  3. Very excited about your next novel. These pics bring back memories. I don't have any pics form my 60s Christmases although I do particularly remember Christmas 62 and wrote about it (on my blog). I have a feeling that this year I will have bare plaster on my walls! Will the redecoration by done by then? Maybe.

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    1. Thank you very much, Lindsay. I hope your redecoration is finished by Christmas, but if not, then it will make it memorable. I think I remember the Christmas in the pictures so well because that room was stripped bare! And I also have fond memories of a Christmas a few years back when the kitchen was unfinished and I served the dinner from the top of the dishwasher, which stood in the middle of the room with nothing else, no worktops or cupboards and all the pots and pans in boxes. Wishing you the very best of luck with the work. xxx

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  4. I love the pictures, Joanna. Sharing a family Christmas dinner is a treasured moment, whether the walls are decorated or not. [mind you, I would find a way to ditch the bread sauce :)] It's a fascinating era and I remember a lot about the mid-late seventies. I was only small but I remember the smells. Didn't the 70s smell different than today?

    My dad worked at British Leyland! I remember he was always worried. And then he was made redundant. It's strange because our lives seemed to get better after that.

    I'm really looking forward to hearing more about your WIP. Wishing you lots of fun writing and researching.

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    1. Thank you so much, Nicola. You're right about the smell. Sometimes I will catch a whiff of someone's scent or a certain food that will take me straight back to that time. Maybe some enterprising company should make perfumes that encapsulate the different decades.
      It's so interesting about your dad. I would love to write a story based on a family who faced redundancy at that time and how they coped.
      I'm loving the writing, but have a huge editing task still ahead. Once I start it, I know I will love that stage too, but it's pretty daunting! xxx

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  5. This is a fascinating look at Christmas past - like your husband, it makes me feel a little sad. How very British to soldier on despite the flu - now we'd probably just take to our beds and watch TV. I think your new novel sounds intriguing - I'm dying to know how the characters break free!

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    1. Thank you so much, Wendy. There really is a tinge of sadness here and I so agree that these days we would stay in bed. It makes me realise how much times - and people - have changed. Back then, we had to be almost dead before we went back to bed! I think that, certainly in our family, it was a lot to do with keeping up appearances. My parents would have hated telling people we had abandoned the turkey and gone to lie down instead. My father was the sort who wouldn't even go to the doctor - he thought it was a sign of weakness for a man to admit to feeling poorly.
      I think I have worked out how my characters will sort things out now - which feels really exciting - and I hope your own novel is also progressing really well too, Wendy. xxx

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  6. Joanna, your family look about as cheery as I feel about Christmas. Good luck with the WIP!

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    1. Thanks so much, Frances! My poor husband can't bear to look at our grim faces. And I think he's quite traumatised by the cruet set too! xxx

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  7. What fantastic photographs! Thank you for telling us the story behind them. Those were the days!

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    1. Thank you so much, Jo. I really enjoyed looking back, although it was tinged with sadness as my father and brother both died relatively young; my father at sixty-three and my brother at forty-four. My mother is eighty-nine now and still has the little china hedgehog that is just about visible in the middle of the table. It came from the crackers, which all had Wade Whimsy china animals in them. xxx

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