A DICKENSIAN Christmas somewhat in the Bob Cratchit mould was how my grandmother always described her yuletide experience.
An apple, an orange and (puzzlingly) a ‘new’ penny – 1d, presumably – were the sole occupants of her Christmas stocking in the early part of the 20th century, she claimed.
Indeed a conversation between all grandparents often turned into something akin to Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen sketch.
For my parents, who were children in the austere war and post-war years things weren’t a lot better. But by contrast, for my generation growing up in the 1970s and early 80s there was a cornucopia of easy-break consumerist tat to tempt us all. I had a clockwork Dalek and a battery-powered racing car that could be programmed to start, stop, turn and so on by cutting slots out of a card that was then fed through it – representing the two extremes of 70s toy technology perhaps.
My first decent bicycle – with gears and a cross bar – is still memorable. It arrived accompanied by a humorous poem penned by Father Christmas himself. The fact that Father Christmas had by then joined the Tooth Fairy in the realms of fantasy didn’t matter.
As for the bicycle, it didn’t look as impressive as a friend’s Raleigh Chopper, but it did go faster. One year Santa produced a microscope which was thrilling too. It didn’t enhance my scientific education much but a high-magnification bogey was definitely something to behold.
A friend had a model Evel Knievel and another had a Scalextric – which in all honesty I coveted above my train set but can only really admit now my parents are both dead.
Christmas and Christmas presents are a formative part of life for everyone lucky enough to have received them and stir many nostalgic memories – so we asked a selection of the great and the good of the Isle of Man about their memories of Christmas and presents well received or otherwise.
Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson, who since responding to my query has had some rather high profile other Christmas-based matters to explain, said as a child his favourite present was an early computer.
He told the Examiner: ‘When I was about seven years old my parents bought my brother and me a Spectrum 48k for Christmas. It arrived in a big suitcase-like box all packed in polystyrene.
‘We had many happy days of plugging it into the back of the television and playing the cassette to load the game. I recall the best place to get the games was in Ramsey.
‘Last Christmas was most memorable, our daughter Sophie was due that day and we were all expectantly waiting for Helena to “pop”, snow chains on the car and everything.
‘As it happens, she arrived two weeks late on January 6, but some Christmas presents are worth waiting for – even if they are late!’
Bishop Robert Paterson told us: ‘My favourite present was a pedal-car which my mother had personalised by painting my initials as a number-plate.’
Commenting on Christmas presents he would like to have received he added: ‘Sadly, this is too big a list but it might be a first edition of some famous book, or (for next year, perhaps), an iPad3!’
Unable to single out just one outstanding Christmas, he said: ‘Every one is great. Christmas is not a celebration: it’s a fresh experience every year. I really wish people wouldn’t rush into Christmas in late November. I really want to experience the explosion of joy on December 24 but by then lots of the experience has already happened.’
One of Infrastructure Minister David Cretney’s favourite Christmas presents was a Triumph Redwing bicycle.
‘It was special because it had see-through red mudguards....the innocence of a young boy,’ he said.
He also named his Scalextric racing car set as a favourite.
‘At that time in the former Royalty Cinema they had a fantastic slot car layout where I used to go with friends every weekend so getting my own set was a real thrill,’ he said.
‘As I have got older I am told I am very hard to buy for, but I cannot understand why Santa has not dropped me off a 500 MV Agusta 3 or a 750 MV 4.. . . . either would do!
‘My most memorable Christmas...Well I love Christmas so have several. I was not able to go to university so had lots of memorable times at The Dogs’ Home, Douglas Head or Port Soderick with live bands and parties.
‘I also have memories of my two lovely daughters growing up and waking me at 4am on Christmas day . . . the day did get better! I work hard so spending time with my girls is always a pleasure!’
Airport director Ann Reynolds was also a Scalextric fan: ‘My favourite Christmas present was a joint one with my brother – a Scalextric set when I was about 10 or 11. I had the blue car, he had the red one. The blue car won the most times and I definitely drive faster today than my brother!
‘I don’t recall ever being disappointed (by a present) however we didn’t have much money as a family and my parents were very hard working. In general we weren’t asked “what do you want for Christmas?” and certainly we made no Christmas list.
‘However we were always very happy with the presents we received (and they were often things we would have put on a list!)
‘My most memorable Christmas was when I was around 14 years old. Normally leading up to Christmas Mum would hint to Dad what she’d like for Christmas, or it was often my task to help Dad with his present to Mum, by seeking out from Mum what she’d like.
‘However this particular year, Dad didn’t ask me. So on Christmas Day morning, with my grandparents also in attendance, my father handed my mother a brown envelope. She took it, looking somewhat bemused.
‘Inside was a return ticket to Zambia, which my dad had saved up for all year, so that my mum could visit her sister for a three-week holiday – not having seen her for many years. My mother just dissolved into tears and so did I, my brother and grandmother!
‘My mother had had no idea and was overwhelmed, and my dad looked rightfully very pleased with himself. He scored 10 out of 10 that year! My brother and I were even more pleased, when my grandmother said she’d stay with us whilst my mother was away as she was a much better cook than my mum!
‘Had my dad been more romantic, he’d have put the ticket in a big box and wrapped it, however funnily enough, my mother forgave him for the brown envelope. Best wishes from Ronaldsway. Yeearreeyn share veih Roonysvaie.’
Prison governor Alison Gomme’s favourite Christmas present as a child was a dolls’ house. ‘It was made for me by my father and I still have it.’ she said.
‘The present I would really like? – I continue to ask for a 48-hour day but it never materialises!
‘And my most memorable Christmas was waking to hear my daughter as a small child showing the contents of her Christmas stocking to her elderly grandfather and squealing with joy and excitement.
‘I would also like to take the opportunity to mention those who work over Christmas and ensure that prison service staff are thanked – they never seem to get a mention and work solidly with people who would rather not be here at this time of year, even though that means that they miss time with their own families.’
Finally, the island’s Lieutenant Governor Adam Wood provided an embarrassing Yuletide reminiscence from his formative years: ‘My childhood seems a long time ago and I struggle to remember presents. But I still carry the shame of the disappointment I created by spoiling a surprise.
‘I was maybe seven years old, feeling the packages of the wrapped presents under the tree. Pleased by my detective work I ran into the kitchen excitedly to tell my mother that I thought she was going to get a new kettle for Christmas.
‘My father was angry with me for spoiling the surprise, and I have felt guilty ever since. But as I reflect on it now, it doesn’t seem the most romantic present ever, or the greatest surprise ever spoiled!’