I don’t think that I ever believed in Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, or call him what you will. I know that the presents, the nuts and the apples or oranges, we found in the pillow slips that we had hung at the foot of our beds on Christmas morning had been bought, or more likely made, by mum and dad. It did not diminish by one jot, the pleasure and happiness that it gave us. I don’t think that I ever let on that I knew, certainly not to my younger brother and sister.
But time moved on, and the one year that I did not have to pretend was 1949. That year Christmas did not happen.
December 25th came round as usual, but as we were living in Egypt, and the sun shone every day, we lived on the outskirts of town; there was not a lot to remind us of the great event. The shops were not festooned with all things Christmas, so it was not being rammed down our throats at every turn.
We had not been in Egypt for a year yet, o everything was still comparatively new and exciting. With the desert within walking distance, camels and donkey’s as common as cats and dogs, it was all so different.
But with hindsight what a lot we packed into that year. We thought that we were going to be there for at three years, but the Suez crises put paid to that.
We lived in Arashire, the outskirts of a town called Ismailia, and while we had electric light in our flat there was no power for cooking. All that Mother had was two Valor stoves with a metal oven on top. How she managed to provide meals for six is beyond me. Our food was kept fresh in a very large ice box. Every fortnight a huge block of ice was delivered by donkey cart and carried up to our flat and deposited into the box, all the water from the previous block having been emptied out.
We had two cats, a dog and a chameleon. The chameleon was named Charlie and was a bit of a lazy bones. We had to keep him fed and carry him about with us on our hand and point him at a passing fly whereon he would focus his independently swivel eyes, one at a time and shoot out his long sticky tongue; he never missed the target.
Prince the dog had different tastes, his idea of bliss was a one piaster stick of sugar cane and all that would be heard was the scrunching of the sweet sticky cane. When he had had his fill, he would submit, up on the flat roof, where an abundance of water could be used on his very sticky face to a very thorough and necessary, and chest and face wash.
We packed so much into that one year. We went to Cairo, to the archaeological museum and saw Tutankhamen’s golden sarcophagus and all the wonderful things that were buried with him; and so much more. It was impossible to see it all in one day. But what we did see stays with me to this day.
Another time we went to see the pyramids at Giza. Up close they are beyond belief. The blocks have to be seen to understand the enormity of the whole thing. They are really overwhelming, and to be inside is indescribable, the darkness, the steepness of the passage leading to the chamber with the huge granite tomb. The walls ceiling and floor were again, enormous, tightly fitted blocks with not a bit of mortar to be seen; truly a tribute to the engineers and workers.
Outside the sphinx sat and looked on as it had done for so many, many years and uttered not a word. And the camels grumbled as camels do.
Between epic days like those, we went swimming at the Blue Lagoon, a private beach on Lake Timsah. The Lake was really blue. Or we would go to an Army camp called Gebal Maryam, an offshoot of the Suez Canal, where I played with the little sea horses, under the diving jetty. Or we would go to the outdoor cinema, where I saw the film The Blue Lagoon with jean Simmons staring in the lead role. It was alright as long as the local train did not go by at the crucial parts, and as long as it did not rain, then it was everyone for themselves.
We were able to go swimming right up to late November, (and some hardy souls went for a dip on New Years Day), and so Christmas 1949 came round.
There were sweets to be had, but with so much fruit about, bananas, apples, grapes, oranges and many more, we did not miss the sweets.