A Very Merry 80’s Christmas

When I wander through the memories of Christmas past, I inevitably recall the Christmases of my childhood. I was a child in the 1980s and I think, looking back, that there was something very innocent, magical, garish and unique about Christmas back then. I suppose everyone must have a kind of classic Christmas they look back on and feel nostalgic for and sometimes I find myself hunting for things that made Christmas special as a child, such as retro 1980s things! Here are some of my memories from Christmas in the 80s.

  • Fairy lights – I loved fairy lights as a child! I still love them now but they’ve all become a bit sophisticated and high tech. They are LED now or battery operated, which is great, because I can still remember my parents breath held when they switched on the lights, because if one bulb had gone, none of them would work. They’d then have to try and hunt down the faulty bulb and replace it! But I would love to find those kinds of lights again, with their little lantern style heads. They were so perfect.
  • Foil garlands – oh my, I loved these so much. We had loads of these as a kid. I remember my mum and oldest sister standing on stools in our lounge and using pins to attach the ends of the garlands to the ceiling. As they attached one end, the garland hung down to the floor and when I was very young I thought they would stay like that. My sister soon put me right and the garlands were draped in loops from one corner of the room to the other. Gorgeous! I’d love to find some again.
  • Quality Street – in later years we would enjoy Cadbury Roses, Celebrations and Heroes but in the 80s it was Quality Street that dominated Christmas. We would have one tin to last the holiday and even the tin was exciting! The smell when you pulled the lid off and the sight of all those chocolates wrapped up like shining jewels. I loved all of them so choosing one when it was my turn to pick was really difficult! Everyone loved the green triangle so they went first. My second favourite was the big purple one!
  • BabySham and Bucks Fizz – neither of my parents were big drinkers but at Christmas they did like to get some bottles in. My dad enjoyed a whiskey or two and I remember the women enjoying glasses of Babysham or bucks fizz. To me they looked very inviting!
  • Christmas Hampers – hampers are really popular these days. Hampers for dogs, hampers for vegans, wine hampers, sweetie hampers, you name it! But when I was a kid in the 80s they had a different meaning. All year my mum would pay into a hamper scheme. Then a few days before Christmas two large cardboard boxes would arrive. One was the meat hamper which was boring. The other, much bigger box was the fun hamper! It was so exciting to unpack and it always felt like Christmas had truly started. There were tins and jars; I remember things like Spam, Campbells Soup and silverskin pickled onions. There were boxes of sweets, such as Black Magic, Roses or Dairy Box. There was packs of custard and jelly and angel delight as well as chocolate fingers, nuts, and crisps. All of it so enticing!
  • Studio Catalogue – anyone remember these? Are they still around? One would turn up in our house every year and each of us would spend ages poring over the Christmas gifts, toys, decorations and food you could buy to make the holiday just perfect. There would be pages and pages of wrapping paper alone!
  • Family get togethers – When I was a kid, every New Years Day my grandparents would have a house party. I absolutely adored these parties. We would get dressed up in our new Christmas clothes, grab a few of our favourite presents to show off and pile into the car to get to their house. On arrival, we would be greeted by various relatives dogs first! This was a big deal for me because I was obsessed by dogs and wasn’t allowed my first one until I was 10. I adored my Uncle Colin’s collie Laddie the most and would spend a lot of the party fussing over him and taking him outside to play! My Nan had six kids and when they all turned up with their kids, it really was a houseful. I never remember any grumpiness or arguing. Us cousins would run around excitedly and my Nan would leave a present for each of us under the Christmas tree. It felt like Christmas was not over yet. Superman or James Bond would be on the TV and the men would congregate there with my grandad. The women would fill the dining room and kitchen with good food and laughter. The table would be piled high with party food and treats and I used to love sitting on the window sill which overlooked the garden, with my brother and sisters alongside me. The best thing though was our Uncle John and the games he set up for us. He would gather us around and convince us to dunk our faces in flour in search for elusive pennies! He was absolutely brilliant. I also remember us cousins sitting on the stairs, filling every step and gossiping. Great times! I never wanted it to end.
  • Toys – of course its the toys I remember the most. Waking up on Christmas morning with my stocking lying across the bottom of my bed, heavy on my feet. There would always be a soft toy poking out of the top! Once my sisters and brother were awake we would pile downstairs, dragging our heavy stockings behind us! And then on to the big presents under the tree left by Father Christmas in the night. A truly memorable Christmas for me was when I was eight years old and we spent a month in Florida, staying with my mum’s Aunt Julie. Not only were we extremely lucky children to be visiting another country at Christmas but they made it even more special when they woke us up on Christmas Eve to say there was a visitor to see us! We shyly entered the lounge and there was Father Christmas, or Santa as they called him in America, with these sacks of toys for us! Me and my sister had wanted Cabbage Patch Dolls forever; they were the toy we desperately wanted and guess what? That’s exactly what he had for us! I can still remember that moment of perfect joy as I unwrapped the box and my very own little boy (Dean Emery!) smiled back at me. My mum managed to catch a photo of me and I think it sums up how magical it was. Over the years, I also remember many toy dogs, a Charmkins house, and My Little Pony beauty parlour among others.
Image by Andy M. from Pixabay

How about you? What decade brings back the most Christmas memories for you? If you were a child of the sixties or seventies, what kinds of food, drink, decorations and toys stood out for you? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment and share and I do hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

The Soundtrack To My Life

‘I don’t have my headphones on yet, but the music is always there. I have a constant walking soundtrack to my life, you see. There is a song for everything.’ (Danny, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series)

I’m currently reading and enjoying my own books – the entire The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series – which may sound weird and vain, but it’s for multiple reasons. I’ll probably talk about them in another blog post but it just felt apt to begin this post with a quote from Danny and his ‘soundtrack to his life.’

I’m at that stage in my life where I have lived through enough decades to have soaked up many musical phases and fads, for various artists and bands to have had profound effects on me, and for my nostalgia to go into overdrive every time I hear a certain song. Every Saturday when I am cooking dinner, I make a G&T, put on very loud music and dance around my kitchen. Sometimes I go back to the 80’s, sometimes the 90’s, sometimes I play new music! Anything goes!

And while I am dancing and singing and enjoying my drink, I go back in time. I revisit my own life in songs and moments and it’s a glorious and emotional thing. So, for fun, I thought I would break it down. My life in music, in sections, in moments, in songs.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Birth – 10 Alas, at this tender age I had no control over what music affronted my ears and my dominant memory from childhood is being forced to listen to Cliff Richard in my mother’s car. Every car journey, ever. I suspect at one point I thought Living Doll was quite funny, but only because The Young Ones covered it! The rest meant nothing to me, but I bet you if I heard any Cliff Richards song now I would know all the words to it… Other music I was introduced to at this age were also my mother’s favourites, Bobby Darin, Billy Fury, The Everley Brothers, Neil Sedaka… Significant songs: All I have To Do Is Dream by The Everley Brothers and Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka

10-12 Around this age I fell in love with my first boy band, and boy was I embarrassed about it just a few years later! New Kids On The Block, remember them? Me and my sister were obsessed! We bought all the albums, and any magazine they graced the covers of! We even got to see them live at Wembley Stadium! I don’t think I could stand hearing one of their songs now though. It’s too cringey. They were too awful and the songs meant nothing, but I suppose it was fun at the time and at least it got me into music! Significant songs: Step By Step, Hangin’ Tough by The New Kids On The Block

12-14 Once I realised how awful modern pop music was, I went back in time. In many ways I was a peculiar kid! I don’t know how I discovered Bob Dylan, but it wasn’t from my parents. I remember buying one of his greatest hits cassettes when on a shopping trip aged 12. I absolutely loved every song on that tape. From there, I grew interested in any music from the sixties. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and so on. We had a little radio in our kitchen and I would keep it tuned to Classic FM or something like that while I sat at the table and wrote stories. I wasn’t interested in pop music in the slightest. Significant songs: Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones, Positively 4th Street and Blowin’ In The Wind by Bob Dylan and Catch The Wind by Donovan

14-16 It was a school friend who introduced me to Guns ‘N’ Roses and I devoured them for a year or two. I bought the albums and used to lay on my floor with my head between the speakers to listen to them scream! As with Bob Dylan, I was intrigued by the lyrics and started jotting them down in notebooks or on scraps of paper I was writing stories on. What really blew my mind though was moving from them to Nirvana. I was totally in love and soon forgot all about Guns ‘N’ Roses (though when I played them in the kitchen the other day, it as uncanny how well I remembered the words!!) I was genuinely devastated when Kurt Cobain took his own life. I remember hearing it over the radio when I was sat in my garden drinking strawberry milk. I wrote a similar scene in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. Significant songs: Breakdown and Coma by Guns ‘N’ Roses, Lithium, Dumb and Something In The Way by Nirvana

16-24 The Britpop era. Oh, what a wonderful time to be a teenager! Looking back now, we were so lucky! With the arrival of The Stone Roses, Blur, Oasis and Pulp, not to mention Supergrass, Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, The Bluetones, the Happy Mondays…. the mid to late 90’s Britpop era was an exciting time to be into music. Around this age I had started going to pubs and clubs with my friends, I met my boyfriend (now my husband) and our first conversation was about the bands we were into. Getting ready for a night out meant putting Oasis on really loud! At this time I was buying music regularly and religiously. Tapes and CD’s of all the bands I have mentioned plus many, many more. We would read Select magazine and NME and watch TFI Friday on the TV, plus Top Of The Pops, of course. I was lucky enough to see some of these bands live and at Glastonbury. Brilliant, happy, carefree times that come back to me every time I hear these songs. Significant songs: Slight Return by The Bluetones, Live Forever and Spersonic by Oasis, Misfits and Disco 2000 by Pulp, Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers, If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You by Super Furry Animals, Beetlebum, This Is A Low, Tender, by Blur. Too many to mention!

24-34 The lost years. There was some good music about in the early 2000’s, but as I had my first child at age 24, I had less time and energy to seek it out. Top Of The Pops had ended. Many music magazines had died out. We had our own place, our daughter and bills to pay, so music slipped away from us. Kasabian, The Thrills, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Keys and Kings Of Leon all took our fancy during this time, but I increasingly found myself turning to the past for my musical fixes. John Lennon and Bob Dylan were the first songs I played my baby daughter. Significant songs: Imagine by John Lennon, Forever Young by Bob Dylan, Clubfoot by Kasabian, Whatever Happened to my Rock and Roll? Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

24-43 Finding new music is hard! I think I’ve got fussier as I’ve got older. Maybe that happens to us all. I was always so open-minded about music, enjoying what was new while appreciating what came before, but now I really struggle to find anything new to get excited about. Perhaps that is inevitable as you get older. New bands and new music tends to be geared towards the young and most of it does nothing for me at all. I think most radio stations play utter bile and most music magazines seemed to have died out or moved online. There is no Top of The Pops or music programmes to introduce you to the next exciting thing. I am lucky though that my 18-year-old daughter is very into music and has very open-minded and eclectic tastes. If I have found anything new to admire in the last decade it is because of her. I particularly love the Canadian band Mother Mother. Between us we have all their albums and we are going to see them live in March! Very, very exciting. They seem to be on my level, whatever that is, and so many of their songs feel like they are speaking directly to me. Significant songs: I’m Alright, I’m Okay, Bit By Bit, The Sticks, Ghosting, Body, Forgotten Souls, I’ve Got Love. Actually, all of them!!

So, what about you? Does your life have a soundtrack? If so, what songs and what bands would be on it? What memories do they bring back for you? Please feel free to share and comment!

If You Could Turn Back Time…

I’m curious. If you could turn back time, first of all, would you? Second, when would you go back to and why?

I think I’ve always been a nostalgic sort of person. It’s not that I look back at the past through rose tinted glasses, it’s just that I’m ruled by my emotions, and all it takes is one song, or smell, or random memory out of nowhere and I’m transported back to a part of my life that is now over, or different. Maybe it’s just hard trying to come to grips with how fast life goes. It goes faster as you get older, right? I think we could all agree on that. I was talking about this with one of my kids the other day and we decided that the reason summer seemed to last forever when you were little was because you had no concept of time. For my youngest child, every day lasts a lifetime, whereas for my oldest child, her life is lived against the clock just like mine. As we age we are increasingly ruled by time and schedule. We have to do things by a certain time or on a certain day, and for this reason, we are far more aware of time passing. So it feels faster.

This got me thinking about time and schedules and life in general (it doesn’t take much to set me off…) and it got me wondering, if I could turn back time and go back to any point in my life, not for good, but just to enjoy it again, soak it up, experience it one more time, what part would it be?

It came to me instantly. If I could go back, just for a while, I would go back to when I was a young mum and my two eldest children were a baby and a toddler. And the reason is because life was so unbelievably simple and carefree at that time.

I had my first daughter at 24 and nineteen months later her sister was born. Looking after my daughters was my job, my full time job, my only job. I had started some of the training that would eventually lead to me qualifying as a childminder when my eldest was three years old, but back then, at one point, they were my only job, my only responsibility. They were my world.

And what a simple, sweet time it was. I’m not sure I realised it at the time but I do know I was happy. I had wanted to be a mum for a long time and felt like all my dreams had come true. I had these beautiful little girls and my entire life was looking after them, keeping them happy, having fun. I didn’t drive back then, so I walked everywhere pushing my double buggy with pride. I look back and I can see my face smiling. I remember strangers saying the predictable; ‘havn’t you got your hands full?’ and I would always say no, not really, it’s fine, I love it.

There aren’t always that many positive narratives about motherhood. Mostly, you hear horror stories of pregnancy, birth, ruined bodies, sleepless nights, dirty nappies and temper tantrums. Obviously, that’s all part of it, but I remember being surprised by how much fun it was, how much I enjoyed being with these two tiny humans.

Our lives back then were so simple. No nursery or school or work, so our days were our own. We did not have to be anywhere by a certain time. We did not have to pick anyone up or drive anyone about. It was just me and them and days to fill with fun. Good times. The best of times. And that is not to say that going on to have my two gorgeous sons was not as good. In many ways, my sons have always been easier than my girls! But because I qualified as a childminder before my third child came along, life was different. The eldest started school, the next nursery, and my son had to fit into this very scheduled life, of work and school run and dashing here and there. Same for my next son. Life is tiring. Often it is stressful. Often I start a day wishing for it to be over. I look forward to Friday and think about it as the week marches on. Sometimes there is not enough time to breathe or think. Sometimes I am horribly aware of how fast I am hurtling towards cold, final death. Sometimes I look in the mirror and do not recognise the tired eyes and fine lines staring back at me.

Back then, I was so young. So hopeful, so happy, so vibrant. I had my two longed for children and we could do anything we wanted. Life was an adventure, not a chore. I also actually liked my body. Having my daughters had shook me clear of the eating problems I had lived with for so long. For once, I was proud of my body, for growing, nurturing and feeding my babies. I was young enough to bounce back quickly after birth. I felt slim and young and attractive. The opposite to how I feel now!

So, that’s mine. If I could turn back time that is where I would go back to, just for a little while. Not that I would trade or change my life now. I wouldn’t. I just realise now how much more complicated and tiring it is. I would go back and spend some time in my young, slim body, cuddling my two tiny girls, who were the only people I had to please and who were so very pleased with every little thing I did. Simple times.

What about you? If you could turn back time just for a bit, where would you head back to and why? I would love to know.

Hello Forties!…I’m Ready For You

I normally love my birthday. I’m one of those people who likes to spread it out over a few days, maybe with a barbeque on one day, a family outing to the pub or another, meeting with friends and so on. I mean, why not? It’s a crazy world and a short life and I’ve always thought you should celebrate what and when you can!

I approached my 40th birthday with a different mindset though. This one, I have to admit, was one I’d been dreading from afar for a long time. And then suddenly it was upon me. The worst thing about my 39th year was watching loads of other people turn 40 before me. Partly, I was shocked that they were hitting the big 4-0, and partly I was worn out by all the many exciting ways they planned to celebrate it!

These people were really up for it! I’m talking about trips abroad, weekends away, big family get-togethers and barbeques, surprise parties, meals with friends and so on. I was impressed and exhausted! The closer I got to my birthday month, the more I felt like rejecting the entire, inevitable thing. I wanted to hide from my 40th birthday. I wanted to run from it!

I mean, it all went too fast! Look, I was a little newborn baby once!? How is it possible I am about to become truly middle-aged??

me as a newborn.jpg

I don’t think I’m really that bothered about looking older, getting wrinkles or grey hair or things like that. I’m not overly vain and have never really been into looks, mine or anyone else’s. I think it was just the speed with which I reached this milestone that bothers me!

I can remember being a little dreamy kid, my head in the clouds the whole time. Shy and awkward, I just wanted to be left alone to make up stories in my head. At that age, even becoming a teenager seemed impossible. Something that would never happen! And now I look at these old photos and feel rather emotional about how fast it all went. How is that little girl me??

me as a kid

Hitting 40 certainly makes you feel a tad nostalgic, I’ve found. I’ve been looking back at old photos and wandering through the memories and feelings they evoke. They mostly remind me of a simpler time and they also make me feel fortunate. I was happy then, and I’m still happy now. Funnily enough, I couldn’t find any pictures of me as a teenager! I think I may have burnt them all!?

But even in my 20’s, I didn’t feel like an adult. I don’t think I had adult thought processes or reactions. I was still in a bit of a dream, I guess. I became a mum in my early 20’s and motherhood dominated my next two decades. I threw myself into motherhood with gusto and passion, because it was the best thing to have ever happened to me. I truly loved every minute of those first few years as a young mum with two small girls. They were magnificent times.

me in my 20's.jpg

I remember feeling a bit freaked out as my 30’s approached though. Turning 30 seemed huge at the time. Like I had to suddenly grow up and stop being silly. Get a real job and my arse into gear! I had three children in my 20’s and worked as a childminder, where every day was a fun filled blur of playdough, Lego, building dens, dressing up and making mess! I remember looking at women older than me when I was approaching 30 because I thought I probably better start dressing differently. I genuinely thought that! I’d been wearing the same scruffy student type clothes for years and thought, I’m too old for this no. I need to wear women’s clothes! Well, I never managed to figure out what that was and I’m still dressing the same now!

me in my 30's.jpg

In the end, I quite liked being in my 30’s. I was far more confident. I started writing again and publishing my books. I had my much longed-for fourth child. It’s been a truly memorable decade. Your 30’s are nice, really. You’re still young, you still look young, but you’re an adult, with a settled home-life and responsibilities. Middle age and old age still felt a long way away!

But then suddenly, you know what? 40 is here. Everyone else has had their turn, and now it’s yours. No running. No hiding. Just shoulders back, head up and look it in the eye. Because it’s arrived. It’s knocking on the door.

It’s a bit scary, I guess. Your mortality feels more real. Your aging is not something you can escape. It’s going to stare you in the face every time you look in the mirror. I admit I was starting to freak out about it a bit…But the other night I met up with friends, as we do from time to time, to sit in the pub, eat chips and talk about anything and everything. I adore these meet-ups with these particular women because I find them all very impressive. They all have a fairly similar mindset to me, but all come from different backgrounds. We’ll talk about politics, society, what’s happening to the NHS and education in our country, we’ll moan about our other half’s and express concerns about our children. We’ll talk and laugh and the entire evening always goes far quicker than I wish it to. So, we got to talking about our 40’s, and one of the ladies who has already had hers told me that she quite embraced turning 40. She said she saw her 30’s as mostly about raising kids and running a home and dashing around after everyone, but that she looked forward to her 40’s when it would begin to be a bit more about her, and what she wants. I thought how right she was. And with my youngest starting school this September, it reminded me that my 40’s, are also going to become more about me and what I want to achieve. I felt quite liberated hearing this, as I really hadn’t looked at it that way. I’d been approaching it from a very negative mindset. I don’t want to be 40! I don’t want to get old! But I feel better about it now…

So, come on then 40. I’m ready for you. I’m not running anywhere. We’re in this thing together and what would a life be if you could choose to stand still, or turn back? My next decade will be full of ups and downs, surprises and opportunities. I’m looking forward to it. I’m even starting to like the sound of the number…40. Forty. I’m Chantelle and I’m forty years old. Nice. It’s all right!

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