Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall. Chapter 5, Part 3: Solihull, Christmas Eve Day 1960 : The Reign of Queen Anne
[the featured picture is of Stan, a detail from the book cover]
Luckily, Grammer and I wouldn’t quite be alone—Stan would be there too. After the meeting at university, Dr. Gupta intended to check in on those in the Indian community he knew to be in the most precarious circumstances, acting as intermediary between them, on one hand, and Mum and Dad’s CoE group, on the other, should any need for relief prove necessary.
I seriously doubted the “merry” Christmas I’d anticipated with Grammer would be in any sense representative. But having laid out the situation for him, I told him I’d be delighted to have his company for the holiday and that he’d be welcome to join me. I’d celebrated Diwali without ill-effect on my Christianity, so Dr. Gupta presumed that Stan’s Hinduism could similarly survive Christmas; it meant that Stan, too, wouldn’t be alone while Dr. Gupta was otherwise engaged.
We wasted no time when Mum ordered us to “move it,” and piled quickly into the Anglia’s front seat.
Now I was seated between him and Mum, in my cold weather uniform (minus the necktie, for which I’d made the substitution of a festive red and green plaid clip-on bow tie). Stan, too, was in the long trousers and oxfords of the uniform but wore a festive striped red, green and gold pullover.
The trip from Edgbaston to Solihull was normally a dully pleasant, if a bit slow, affair in these pre-motorway days, back when everyone traveling in the same general direction was obliged to travel the same arteries. But, foul weather had made roads treacherous and slippery, with several detours along the way. The Anglia made the trip as painless as possible but the excursion took far longer than usual.
Stan and I must have driven Mum crazy as we did our unabridged version of The Goons’: Reign of Queen Anne
Our version took her from their intro about a BBC cover-up through Churchill sending gunboats up-river to put down a village insurrection, with all the gags in-between about rain and flooding completely intact. Then, we did a segue into a duet of their song “I’m Walking Backward for Christmas.”
I’ve no doubt Mum was thrilled and relieved to no end to finally reach Grammer’s house and see us bolt from the car and run in.
To my surprise and delight—and Mum’s chagrin—it was Uncle Roddy who opened the door, greeting us all, giving me a bear hug, and enthusiastically wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. He was on his way to celebrate Christmas with friends in Islington, with a stopover to see Auntie Gene in Hammersmith, and hadn’t intended to stay with Grammer over the holidays. He’d taken a detour to drop off a slab of beef for our Christmas dinner and a Christmas tree for us to decorate; he’d arrived late and ended up spending the night.
As we came in, Grammer rose listlessly to welcome us as well.
Then, she stopped short, started, looked at Stan, then at Uncle Roddy. Both Grammer and my uncle had deer-caught-in-headlights expressions on their faces. They and Mum entered into a muted, three-way discussion, of which neither Stan nor I could glean a word.
Mum took me aside. “Reggie,” she inquired sotto voce, “I don’t suppose it would be fair to ask Stan to have Christmas roast beef with us.” It was tantamount to asking him to engage in cannibalism for Christmas. With childlike bluntness, I told her so in no uncertain and rather indignant terms.
“I thought as much,” Mum continued. “Your Uncle Roddy is going on to London, and your grammer and I’ve a spot of last minute shopping to attend to. So we are going to have to leave you and Stan here alone. Just relax, maybe play a board game until we return.”
© 2014, 2015 G.H. McCallum and Duvanian Press. All rights reserved.
G. H. McCallum
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