There came a time in the school year during those very early school years, infants school maybe, at this time of year for obvious reasons, when several afternoons would be dedicated to making christmas decorations.
In our infant school at Brudenell we only had three classrooms, the first year was staffed by a young, slim, teacher, Mrs Whiteman, subject of the famous joke donated to me by my Uncle Syd, “Mrs Whiteman, are you married to a black man ?”, I’m rather pleased that my mother forbade me from speaking that joke out loud under threat of a smacked arse if Mrs Whiteman ever approached her in the school playground with a request to speak privately with her about her sons sense of humour.
I don’t remember making christmas decorations in Mrs Whiteman’s classroom in that first year at infants school, I do remember being sick all over a little girl’s head who had the misfortune to sit in front of me one day just after we’d had spam in batter for dinner, but not making christmas decorations.
The next year up and the one after that were staffed by matronly women, short, rotund, grey hair in a bun, old bags, addressed as “miss” for they had probably never married, because they were old bags, all of their lives.
The strips of gummed paper would come out at this time of year, one inch wide, six inches long, coloured strips of paper with a piece at the end of each strip that would become adhesive when licked. It didn’t take too much instruction even for a class of six year olds to understand that you could make a loop with each piece of paper, glue it tight and then loops another piece of paper through it to make the start of a chain and half an hour later your table of six year olds would have disappeared underneath hundreds of yards of paper chain whilst each one would be totally dehydrated of spit from licking the bloody sticky ends and for weeks afterwards you could only taste fish glue.
And then finally, when Brudenell Infants School had cornered the market in christmas paper chain, when manufacturers from China had taken a morning flight to Leeds/Bradford Airport to discover who it was that had ordered their entire years output of gummed paper strip, when three children were officially reported as missing last seen disappearing underneath paper chain, our portly school marm, one of the old bags, would call a halt to our production with a reminder “I think thats enough paper chain for this year children, now can we just have a quick look around for Kevin, Pauline and George, I’m sure they are in the room somewhere…”
And when time was called on the great pile of paper chain the A4 sheets of card would be handed out along with the big box of assorted wax crayon and we’d be instructed to draw crazy abstract patterns in gaudy 1960s colours, to cover the whole sheet of card, for this was to be our chinese lantern.
Once severely patterned the old bag would come to each table in turn and with the aid of the single pair of scissors allowed in the room, “too dangerous for you children, here let me cut your card” she’d make a series of vertical cuts across the middle of the card, then forming it into a cylinder would staple the ends together – squash it down a bit until the vertical cuts spread slightly and hey presto, a chinese lantern.
A highly flammable chinese lantern it has to be said, being made of card coated in wax, I mean you wouldn’t want to bring a candle anywhere near to it or your house would suddenly be illuminated and indeed heated in a way that the old bag had never intended, but our mother dutifully put up the paper chains and the chinese lantern in our front room and visitors would enter our house and then pause at the door as they purveyed our very home made christmas decor, and you could tell that they were all thinking the same thing “Good grief Joyce I didn’t think that things were so bad that you couldn’t afford a bit of tinsel, what next, newspaper at the windows instead of curtains”, but they’d avert their eyes and pretend that our front room didn’t look like a particularly explosive explosion in a waste paper processors, and then not mention christmas at all for fear of our decor being brought into the conversation.