Jack Frost: Having spent one Christmas in a near equatorial bit of Orstralia I can honestly say I prefer cold Christmases to hot ones. That said, I would be perfectly happy with just two cold days a year, namely Christmas day and Boxing day, and then the rest of our British winter can go take a pee up a rope. Especially the snow.
The thing is, we’re not really geared up for winter in the UK, are we? It’s not that we don’t get cold weather, it’s just that we don’t get enough of it to warrant doing all the sensible things they do in genuinely cold countries to offset the worst effects of it. We also seem to have a very strange attitude to admitting we’re cold, making a mahussive deal out of it on the one hand (e.g. when there are three flakes of snow on the ground and we want a day off work), while totally ignoring it later the same day when we get ready for a good night out by pulling on a pair of jeans and a cap sleeved t-shirt. Even worse are teenage girls, who while perfectly content to parade around with corned beef legs in sub-zero temperatures wearing skirts the size of hankies and backless crop-tops when waiting for taxis outside Davinchi’s, are disinclined at home to drag themselves from the sofa and their duvets for anything less than a boiler explosion.
Let’s face it, we have nine months to prepare for winter and we always, like buying Auntie Nancy’s Christmas present, leave it until the last minute when it’s too late.
Jack’s Bum in America, up / Jack’s Arse in America, up: My mum had many “sayings” but this was one of my favourites and one heard often at Christmas because we were regularly pestering her with questions of the ‘Where’s the so-an-so?’ kind. Often shortened to just ‘Up Jack’s Bum’ or ‘Up Jack’s’ and occasionally extended to include reference to a strange film in three parts with the tagline Come back next week and see the whole, the Jack’s Bum theme (meme?) was one dear mater would revisit regularly. I keep this tradition to this day with my own offspring…
‘Dad, where’s my X-Box controller?’
‘Up Jack’s Bum in America, son, and I’m not going looking for it because I’m busy cooking dinner, so you’ll just have to retrieve it yourself…’
Jelly: Where would Christmas be without a teatime trifle, and where would trifle be without jelly? Paddleless up poo creek is the answer; but then you knew that already, didn’t you?
Back in the Good Old Days, when I was but knee high to one of Santa’s elves (let’s keep it festive – no room for grasshoppers here), I used to count the days until the Oak Road Christmas party. I have no idea why – it was invariably a disappointment – but from around September onwards, as memories of the estate’s annual outing to Hastings faded, I would start dreaming of the coming Christmas party and the wonderful events that would unfold in the Oreta Hall on that magical Sunday afternoon.
The menu was always a major area of speculation, the sandwiches in particular. There would be egg and cress, certainly, but what would stand alongside them? Bloater paste? Tongue? Cheese and tomato? Nobody knew. And that was part of the magic. One thing was certain though: there would be jelly, and it would taste of paraffin.
The Oak Road residents’ committee was headed by Mr Trebilco, who had the thankless task of prising shiny sixpences once a week from the hands of doting mums torn financially between their childrens’ annual one-day holiday and Christmas party and the practicalities of running homes on budgets that didn’t even run to shoestrings. I don’t know how he, or the mothers, did it, but few kids from the estate missed out on the event, and I suspect many of the really poor ones were helped out with some creative accounting.
In addition to bloater paste sandwiches, crisps, weak as piss water squash, rubber cocktail sossidges, and the aforementioned paraffin jellies, we lucky kids would also be treated to a visit from a very shabby looking Santa (who facially appeared to be suffering from some strange wasting disease but had an inexplicably large, pillow-shaped tummy) distributing colouring books and crayons, and a silent film show projected from Mr Batchelor’s 8mm projector onto a specially hung sheet on the wall. I hated the film show – it was the same movies every year, and once Woody Woodpecker had finished it was downhill all the way with Laurel and Hardy and other B&W borefests. One year, when there was a bit of extra time to kill (perhaps Santa was running late or had succumbed to that wasting disease I mentioned?) we were shown a sci-fi film about giant spiders attacking a city. I loved that one, but some of the littlies had nightmares for weeks afterwards and by the following year we were back to just Woody and the Stars of the Silent Screen. Yawn.
However bad the films and sandwiches, the Oak Road Christmas Party played an enormous role in my seasonal celebrations for around five or six years. It was Mr Trebilco’s dream that no child should want for paraffin-flavoured jelly at Christmas, and I doff my hat to the man in gratitude and admiration for making that dream a reality for so many.
Jingle Bells: Having never ridden in a one horse open sleigh or met Batman, I can personally attest neither to the degree of fun to be enjoyed by indulging in the former nor to the personal hygiene of the latter. Dashing through the snow in a sleigh of any kind does sound fun, however, and all that leather and latex probably gets a bit sweaty, so I’m prepared to accept, under advisement and in light of any contrary evidence, the probable validity of both assertions.
 I had always imagined the paraffin flavouring resulted from the cheapness of the jellies and the era, which was boom time in terms of artificial colourings, flavourings and additives. Remember, this was back in the days of mackerel flavoured chicken – a brief, dark period in farming history when grains and seeds were phased out in favour of reconstituted fishmeal slurry. Speaking to my sister just a couple of day ago, however, I mentioned paraffin jellies and she reminded me of the small waxed-paper bowls they were served in. So obvious with hindsight (but then what isn’t?): Pour hot liquid jelly into a wax coated receptacle and the wax coating is going to dissolve into the liquid. Simple. And the little blob of Dream Topping™ on the top was never going to be enough to compensate.