On Christmas eve, as soon as my father returned from work, we set off in the near darkness of late afternoon for an hour’s drive to the other side of Kent. My grandmother sat between my sister and me in the back seat if our Ford Popular, the three of us wrapped in a checked blanket. I’m not sure if there was any heating and there was definitely no radio, so we sang carols all the way. Perhaps it’s just in my imagination but I think I can remember the moment when the first snowflake came swirling towards the windscreen. Within a few minutes we were enveloped by a blizzard. Our destination was the house where my uncle and aunt lived (and still do to this day). It’s a picture-book Victorian villa in the countryside, the kind that a child might draw. Double-fronted with steps leading up to the front door, big fireplaces and the old staff bells still functioning, it’s a house that was built to host Christmas.
The sharpness of the night air accentuated the cosiness inside, where we were greeted by the smell of log fires and the sight of a huge fir tree, felled that day and densely dressed with silver balls. There was a tray set out with sherry for the adults and ginger ale for the children, and my aunt and uncle’s legendary hospitality had begun.
Outside, pine trees drooped with snow while robins perched on logs. Father Christmas could not be far away.
We children (me, my sister and my cousin) stayed awake talking until the small hours, aware of the regular chimes of the antique clocks that my uncle collected. The added excitement of the snowfall meant that we fell asleep only minutes before our stockings were filled with presents.
the following morning we woke up to that uncanny stillness that only snow can create. It had fallen thick and fast In the night, and when we went outside it spilled over the top of my Wellington boots.
It was a thrilling sight. I’m sure my father was already worrying about whether our car would start in two days’ time, but already the snow had made the hill down to the village impassable so we couldn’t go to church – a source of much delight to children who wanted to make a snowman and play with their presents.
It was a magical day, as was Boxing Day when we ventured out for a walk across the nearby hills, wearing new scarves and hats. Everything seemed so right – the brightness of our clothes against the white landscape and the sheer novelty of it all. It was a Christmas card come to life.
The following year our hopes for the same magical scene were disappointed. We were back to the dull green Christmas we had always known. But it was not only the weather that was wrong, there was now a chill in the air between my parents. That perfect white Christmas had marked the end of an era.
(This was first published in the Sunday Express)