1981 was my first Christmas as a home-owner.
Admittedly it was a small home, a flat, or as they say now “an apartment”, either of those descriptions would flatter what I owned, for £9400 I had purchased two rooms on the top floor of a two storey block of twelve such dwellings accessed from an external staircase and walkway from the rear of the property.
Two rooms and a bathroom were mine, plus a 5 foot by 3 foot entrance hall which was rather full after the washing machine took up residence there so to even get through the front door was a struggle. The living room contained a tiny kitchen at one end, a settee, a TV set and my stereo system, fortunately the neighbour on the ground floor was as deaf as a post because the stereo system had been “borrowed” from my dads house and was rather powerful, turn it above “1” on the dial and stuff would start to break in the flat.
It was into this tiny abode that I introduced my first Christmas tree.
The office that I worked at was above a greengrocers shop and every Christmas they brought in a stock of “real” Christmas trees, freshly sawn down, you had to order one if you wanted a good one or end up with the scraggy looking ones from the periphery of the forest that dogs and drunks had spent the last two years pissing on, so I popped downstairs one evening and asked the bossman to “put a good one to one side for me” and I’d collect it Friday night.
The Friday before Christmas I drove my Ford Fiesta down the back alley behind the shops and waited for the teenage assistant shop boy from the Greengrocers to bring out my Christmas tree – shortly a walking tree appeared through the double gates at the entrance to their yard, he was underneath it somewhere but totally enveloped inside a nine foot high, ten foot wide Christmas tree, just a tad too big for my flat then.
“Have you got one a bit smaller ?” I asked whoever it was inside that tree
“Why not likely man” came the muffled Geordie answer, “Wor de yeez want it then man ?”
For those not in the know, the Ford Fiesta I drove was actually smaller than the Christmas tree, if not in length then certainly in width, with no saw to hand we just dumped it on the roof and tied it down and as those fancy net things that they bag Christmas trees up with these days were not known of in 1981 I found myself driving home inside a large Christmas tree to the amusement and utter startle-ment of other road users.
By the time I reached the car park outside my abode I had realised that I was going to have to lose some of the tree just to get it into the flat, the tree being nine feet high and the ceiling height in my flat being around seven feet, so fetching a saw from the garage block I carefully measured two feet from the top of the tree and duly sawed it off.
Of course with hindsight it would have made more sense to have sawn two foot off the bottom of the tree for all Christmas trees should at least end in a point if only for somewhere to stick the fairy, after adjusting the height of my tree it looked exactly like some dumbkopf had cut two foot off the wrong end, still, there was no going back now and so I struggled with the remaining yet severely truncated seven feet high ten feet wide flat topped Christmas tree. up the external staircase, along the rear balcony and in through my door.
It looked lovely in the flat and the whole place instantly filled with the aroma of freshly cut pine.
True, there was nowhere to sit for the bottom branches of the tree overlapped onto my settee by at least two of the three cushions, and you could only see the TV set beyond the tree by parting a couple of branches and peering through them, in truth the tree totally dominated the room, as indeed you’d expect when you bring a ten feet wide tree into a room that is only just wider than ten feet itself and no longer then fifteen feet, everything was fine as long as you only wanted to sit in the far corner and pretend that you were now living in a pine forest, and that you didn’t mind your clothing being smeared with sticky pine sap or speared with pine needles every time you climbed through the tree to reach the bedroom on the other side of it.
And it was into that drastically reduced space that we decided to have a party during the Christmas holidays, about twenty hale and hearty lads from the working mans club came around for beer and whiskey on one random evening, I have a photograph of them all somewhere, its mainly a picture of a Christmas tree but if you look carefully you can see faces peering through the foliage back out at you, its a Christmas game that we play every year, a sort of “Wheres Wally” but with added foliage.