The row of terraced houses wound up and down Tiverton Road like an industrial accordion cast aside by a drunken giant. Grey slate roofs glistened with Christmas frost under the full moon. Roy and I scrambled out of the car and scurried down the entry to Grandma James backdoor. The front door was only used for weddings and funerals.
When I was 7 Boxing Day was like a second Christmas, almost as exciting as the actual day, and there were more presents, even if some of them were monogrammed hankies or grey socks from Aunty Dorothy. The whole James clan would gather and jam themselves in Grandma May’s and Granddad Charlie’s tiny terraced two-up-and-two-down (being the total number of tiny rooms on each floor). There was a shadowy entry way to run up and down, there was an outside toilet to flush when empty and bang on the door when occupied, and there was a mysterious back garden, a small patch of weeds that surrounded an Anderson shelter left over from the war.
I threaded my way through forests of trouser legs and sailing ships of dresses and reached the front room. It’s amazing what the lure of the stage can do, especially when fueled by booze. I may have only been 7 years-old but I knew what a glass of Stones ginger wine could do to warm my chest and fuddle my head.
“Come on then our Alan. That’s right,” Dad yelled, “Get up on that table and give us a turn.”
I clambered via a chair up onto the polished top of Grandma James’s front room table. I looked round, my head just about level with the crowd and spied Auntie Christine over in the corner next to her Dansette record player. She was old, about 12 I thought. Anyway, she wore a big girl’s party dress with lots of layers and had pop records. Her idol Cliff Richards was warbling on about his living doll when Uncle Bob said:
“Come on Christine, turn that bloody racket off so we can hear Alan.”
She shot me a furious look but did as Uncle Bob said. Most people did, he’d been in the army. He’d got a tattoo and had stood outside Buckingham Palace and guarded the Queen.
I looked at Christine as she slipped her precious 45 records into their green Columbia Records sleeves. I was determined to impress her.
Uncle Harley came up and stood next to Dad. He puffed on his cigar, the smoking fireman.
“He’s a card your Alan.”
It was one of the few times I ever remember seeing Dad look proud of me.
“Daft as a bag of spanners.” Dad said, “But we might get a laugh out of him.”
I started marching up and down the table imitating a cartoon character from a paraffin advert on the telly.
“Boom-boom-boom-boom Esso Blue!” I proclaimed, and then segued into “You’ll wonder where the yellow went – when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”, grinning out at everyone from behind a face full of teeth.
Then I hit them with “Nuts! Who-o-le Hazelnuts! Cadbury’s take them and they cover them in chocolate!” to the tune of The Banana Boat Song, moving on to wow ’em with the big finish:
The Milky Bar Kid just can’t go wrong,
The Milky Bar Kid only eats what’s right,
That’s Milky Bar, it’s sweet and light,
Nestlé’s Milky Bar!
The Milky Bars are on me!”
This was a sure-fire winner as everyone thought our Roy looked just like the Milky Bar Kid from the advert. As I lapped up the good-natured applause I saw poor Roy beetroot red with embarrassment at the back of the room. Dad handed me my prize glass of Stones Ginger Wine. Aunty Christine swanked past me in her frock.
“Well at least Cliff has got nothing to worry about!” she said with her snoot in the air.
We’ll see about that, I told myself, and slugged down my drink.