Living Between the Lines

Christmas has gone and I remember…

I have to admit that I do love Christmas.

I love the darker evenings leading up to it, when we are all snug indoors in front of a roaring log fire – a metaphorical fire at the moment  – the extension that is now our living room, does not have a fireplace. The other two reception rooms do have fireplaces I might add. What a waste!

How did we not remember this vital piece of Christmas equipment when drawing up the plans? I suspect it was due to the fact that the extension was originally to be a dining room – until my brother-in-law pointed out that it’d make a far better living area. We have since been looking at wood burning stoves and by next Christmas we should have one installed – with a chimney it is to be hoped.

The idea of the roaring fire lives on however. We improvise with candles. My husband is besotted with candles. Pyromaniacs Anonymous may be interested in him.

Christmas feeds his obsession to the full. Hence, we have a stock of scented and plain, Christmas and household candles, scattered about the house at all times. (Power cuts do not phase us) Candles blaze in the fireplaces that are not actually being used and teeter on top of dressers in the kitchen (until I tactfully point out the fire risk). Husband shrugs and gives me a long explanation involving a hideous mechanical engineering equation or theory that supposedly means the candles are not going to fall over. I raise other possibilities, candles being subject to high winds (in the kitchen?) candles being forgotten and left burning all night…for this I receive pitying looks.

Nevertheless, it is I who can be found, creeping round the house, blowing out candles while he stays up late to watch a film. I trust him of course but…

So, candles replace the roaring log fire in our house at the moment. Not to worry, my Christmas memories remain intact.

I envisage delightful evenings of family games and reading – lots of reading! This year I was given no less than nine books. I confess I have yet to finish any of them but that has more to do with the fact that the house was particularly busy, with 14 adults, two babies and four dogs (one a very large Old English Sheepdog) taking up residence over Christmas and New year.

A Christmas snap-shot
A Christmas snap-shot

Despite the advent of computers, iphones, ipads and the Kindle, books remain my number one present. I stockpile them for rainy days, holidays and for the days when a book is all you need to transport you to another world.

Childhood Christmases always yielded a good supply of the latter. Books were my passport to new worlds, full of magic and promise.

It isn’t a book that brings back my most vivid memory however…this honour belongs to something quite different…

Hornchurch, England, circa1961

I believe in Father Christmas. I am five years old and share a room with my sister, Beverly, who is almost three years older.

It is Christmas Eve. We lie in our beds, listening for sleigh bells. Of course we hear them. We even catch a glimpse of a sleigh riding across the sky – I am sure we do. Kneeling up on our beds, pulling the curtains aside to peep out into the black night, our imaginations take over.

The sounds of the grown ups, pottering around downstairs, float up to us and we snuggle down beneath the eiderdown, wondering what Father Christmas will bring us.

We don’t think we will ever get to sleep. We can’t imagine being asleep when he comes so we tell ourselves we’ll pretend…Father Christmas does not come to children who are awake.

Our eyes snap open. Something has woken us. The room is still dark. What time is it? 5 o’clock? 6 o’clock?

Sitting up, the eiderdown still pulled tight across our chests, our breath visible in the air by the light of the street lamp shining dimly through the curtains, we stare at the lumpy pillowcases leaning beside each of our beds. Inching forward, shivering with excitement more than cold, we reach out and touch the exciting bundle. We feel the lumps and bumps and dip our hands into the very top of the sack to extract the strategically placed tin of toffees that lie on top. These are fair game. These are something we are always allowed to open before Mum and Dad are up.

Of course, we can’t help but notice the long, oblong parcel poking out of the top of each sack. What can it contain?

We slip back between the sheets and fumble with the tin of toffees. Succulent, creamy heaven feeds us for a bit.

Dentistry be damned!

We giggle and listen for any sounds of movement from our parent’s room. Baby brother sleeps, he’ll be up soon. Mother will have to get up!

Shall we go and wake our older sister? We dare not! Best to wait.

Someone must have come into the room because the light is on and the pillow slip is visible in all its glory. Colourfully wrapped packages burst out of its tightly stretched top, others strain at the cotton casing, stretching it into impossible, teasing, shapes.

The oblong packages beckon. We are allowed to open them!

Tension mounts as we each pull at the wrapping and at one and the same time, pull out the box within.

Our excitement knows no bounds. The black, hard plastic, doll in the box is beautiful. Her tight curls sit on her head like silk. Her gap -toothed smile warms the heart. In each ear she wears a gold hoop and her dress is a red printed cotton, edged with yellow. On her feet she has a pair of dainty white shoes and she can walk! Tip her up and she cries, “mama!” walk her along and her legs click and her arms move. We are awe struck.

Each doll is identical to the other yet right away we can tell them apart. As always, we name them. Mine is Topsy, Beverly’s is Cindy. Cindy is the name the doll came with and as the elder of us, Beverly is allowed it. Mother helps me choose another.



I don’t recall what else we had that Christmas in that lumpy, bumpy sack. The doll is what I remember and the mutual excitement with which we each unwrapped her.

I also remember my sister and I, clad in pink brushed nylon pyjamas, shivering with excitement and expectation in the cold, morning light, sharing just a moment of magic…

P.S.This Christmas, I received several beautiful candles as presents. Perhaps the most beautiful in both scent and decoration, was the one from Jonathan Ward’s Russian collection. Zoe designed the packaging and it is gorgeous – don’t believe me? Take a look!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Teresa

    Oh I did enjoy reading this! Absolutely lovely post. I feel all warm and fuzzy now and you’ve brought back so many happy memories for me. That lumpy pillowcase, the eiderdown, the light from the street lamps – you could have been writing about my childhood. I had a beautiful black doll too – her name was Suzy!
    And I love the picture with the beautiful Old English Sheepdog smiling at the camera. Lovely! x

  • Deborah Barker

    So glad I made you feel warm and fuzzy Teresa! Looking at the photo of the living room, I realise I should have asked people to ‘spot the dog’. Only three of the four are visible and one only by a leg…

  • John Cowton

    Happy New Year Deborah to you and your family. Your Christmas sounds idyllic like the final scenes of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘ A Christmas Carol’ and ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ all rolled into one. A warm home on a cold winter’s night full of good cheer and all the family together and children that’s what Christmas is all about.
    Incidentally, Alistair Sim as Scrooge in the B&W version of Christmas Carol, can never be beaten, James Stewart was magnificent in Wonderful Life and doesn’t Chevy Chase tear at the heart-strings when he tries so hard to give his family the perfect Christmas in National Lampoons. I don’t know which one is my favorite do you? Or have you got a better one?

    • Deborah Barker

      How kind John! Hmmm, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation could well be closer to the mark. Should I ever be moved to expand on the occasion, I could mention quite a few similarities I bet! As for my favourite film, Elf always makes me smile at Christmas…and my dear sister, Beverly, would hate it if I left out ‘The Holiday’… 🙂

  • Patricia

    you do know how to dole out the right words and create quite the picture…
    I think I like reading much better than film because i can conjure the people and actions…and film someone else has done it for me…
    I got 2 books this year and $50 for my Kindle…contentment indeed

    Although our book group is reading one for February that I am not very interested in reading…makes me think of Topsy …being used as a medical researchers experiment ugh…and too much detail

    Thanks for you kind words on Patricias Wisdom

  • Deborah Barker

    Patricia, I received a Kindle this Christmas having become disheartened with reading on my ipad (battery life poor and screen visibility outside atrocious). I agree that reading beats watching a film any day whether it be the traditional book or Kindle though I confess to preferring the paper kind. Your book group’s choice sounds a little gruesome – I hope you have some lighter reading on hand! 🙂

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. sounds like the house with the wood stove will be just wonderful next year – and by then there might be a reason to use the fire – so warm here (relatively!) …

    Memories of those socks filled with small goodies and always a few sweets of varying descriptions … and that breath of air escaping into the cold room – oh I remember those days.

    I didn’t have one of those dolls – but I loved the Little Black Sambo stories .. loved them! I do have a doll from Zimbabwe/Rhodesia sent over by an aunt and uncle .. and a jumping bean … my real doll has long gone – creatively called ‘Dolly’!?!

    Great memories and that Russian candle looks so good .. that lingering scent after they’re all extinguished ..

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time .. and have a few books to keep you going through the rest of the dark evenings …

    Cheers and Happy New Year – Hilary

    • Deborah Barker

      Dolly is a delightful name and you may be interested to know that my very first doll, which I still have, blonde, blue eyes, curly hair (still visible beneath the scars of a brother’s attempt to convert her to a soldier doll) was/is named Hilary 🙂

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. isn’t that a surprise!! A doll called Hilary – who’d have ever thought .. fun to hear about though .. I might turn that into a story or snippet of one!

    If you do rummage around and find your dolls .. they’ll be fun to see!

    Cheers Hilary

  • Katie Gates

    Love this post, Debbie. It painted so many pictures. Sure felt like there was a fire nearby! Is it a British tradition to have what we Yanks call “Christmas Stockings” in the children’s bedrooms? I’d think that the risk of “outing” aka Santa Claus would be mighty great.

    I also love the phrase “besotted with candles.” And on that subject, my former neighbor Debbi used to leave her apartment with candles burning (only when she was going to a neighbors’). I used to scold her, and she thought I was being ridiculous. Then: she experienced her first earthquake and my point was made! That’s why you don’t abandon a burning candle. (That, and about 52 other obvious reasons!)

    Happy New Year!

    • Deborah Barker

      Katie, the pillow cases we had as children replaced stockings which were generally hung by the fire. The pillow cases were stuffed with presents and left by our beds (we never saw Santa!) My own children always had stockings left on their beds but it was always I who had to make sure they got there safely – husband was normally spark out. Father Christmas had a tough time making sure all five children were asleep! My eldest son was terrified of the strange man with the beard going into his bedroom and I had to ask that his stocking be left outside his door, this was a much better option and one we adopted as the children grew older…

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