As the season approached and snow arrived in the playground, I wanted to be first to arrive and start rolling the snow into large snowballs to make a snowman. We would also pat the snow with our mittens to make bricks and build igloos.
I couldn’t wait to audition for the Christmas school choir. Anyone wanting to be in the choir was made to stand on one of the many rows of one foot high benches and we were told to sing our heart out while the music teacher, Mr. Dare, went from one to the other, putting his ear to mouths and listening intently to voices. If you were tapped on the head, you had just been selected!
At lunchtime and in the evening, we went back to the same room and were given sheets of words, each with traditional Christmas songs. The piano teacher played the familiar, classic tunes and Mr. Dare would conduct us, with his baton keeping the beat.
You would think that these hours of practice were for a Christmas concert - not so. We were practicing for two reasons. Every year, we would perform outside the old train station in the heart of town. When commuters arrived from London and exited Reading station they were greeted with Christmas carols and we hoped they would give us spare change which we collected in tins.
I remember standing with my scarf, mittens and duffle coat on, belting out “Silent Night”, shuffling from foot to foot to keep warm in the cold night air.
Within two weeks, we took the money to donate at nearby Peppard Hospital and were invited to visit some of the older patients. Then it was off to the large hospital staff room, where we sang to nurses and workers. Our voices were simultaneously transmitted through loudspeakers to the whole hospital. It was all very exciting and we felt honoured to be a member of the Moorlands’ School Choir!
Nutrition was important in English schools, especially calcium for strong bones and teeth. We stopped for a break at about 10 a.m. and a large tray of quarter pint milk bottles was brought into each classroom. If you were lucky, sparrows had not pulled off the foil lids and cream had not settled at the neck of the bottles: some were set aside as undrinkable. We couldn’t wait to drink the cold/warm milk - it was a real treat.
Our school’s head chef, Mrs. Richardson, had a reputation for being the best cook in Reading and at lunchtime the aroma of freshly baked steak pies, vegetables and mashed potatoes came wafting through the hallways.
As Christmas vacation drew near, a sense of anticipation grew. Not only were we looking forward to the Christmas holiday with family but we knew the last day of school meant a special Christmas lunch. After we had been fed traditional turkey, mashed potato, veg. and gravy, the cooks would all trundle their metal trollies back to the kitchen and wait. We were addressed by the Headmaster:
“Children, this is the special time of year when we show the cooks just how much we appreciate them! Let’s join together and sing together: “We wish you a Merry Christmas!”
Each of the cooks would reappear and line up against the wall, wearing their starched and ironed white aprons. Then, as one, we started to sing:
“We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
Good tidings we bring, for you and your kin, We wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year”
Another verse sang in harmony... and then we all picked up our spoons and made a fist where we usually held them. We banged them on the tables loudly - and in time - to the following verse:
“Now BRING (bang!) us some figgy pudding, now BRING us some figgy pudding, now BRING us some figgy pudding, and BRING it out HERE!
We WON’T go until we’ve GOT some, we WON’T go until we’ve GOT some, we WON’T go until we’ve GOT some, so BRING it out HERE!”
Then the cooks would scurry back into the kitchen and bowls of steaming hot Christmas pudding with jugs of custard were brought to the tables.
Why were we all so keen on Christmas pudding? Because in each Christmas pudding was a sixpence wrapped in wax proof paper and for some lucky child at each table was a whole silver shilling! When pudding arrived all hell broke loose and we immediately put the spoons aside and dug through the pudding with our fingers, with one triumphant child at each table shouting “Here!” or “Got it!”, “Hooray!” We were all happy to get a sixpence though and we put them neatly beside our bowls as we finally got down to eating the puddings in a civilized manner.
I remember the laughter, the smiles, the sincere “thank you’s” to the cooks as we left the dining room with the warm feeling of knowing that Christmas was drawing near and we would soon be homeward bound.