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A Child's Christmas in Scotland

I typed this on an IPad 2 using a keyboard connected via bluetooth. It makes one reflect on the changes in technology that have occurred in the space of six decades.

The world that I inhabited as a child was devoid of almost all the technology we now take for granted. The only item we had in our household in 1957 that could be regarded as technological was a radio, or wireless as we called it. That was the year we obtained our first television set, a hand-me-down device that displayed programs on a 17-inch black and white screen. It broke down fairly often, usually when one of the tubes (or valves as we called them) gave out. Then, my father, often with the help of a friend who was adept in these matters, would unscrew the back and slide out the chassis upon which the essential parts of the television were anchored. The laborious process of testing each tube would begin. TV repair held an element of potential danger. A brush with the rear of the cathode ray tube, a bulky part made of glass and metal that took up almost all of the space in the cabinet and created the picture, could prove lethal.

Until 1968 we had no telephone, refrigerator or washing machine. Such devices existed, it just took us that long to be able to afford them. Until then, clothes were washed in the sink, heavier items such as blankets being relegated to the bath. An inside toilet and bathroom was an amenity that we also acquired in 1957 when we moved from our tenement to a new apartment in a housing scheme on the edge of Glasgow. Clothes were scrubbed using a washboard, sometimes made of metal or, like ours, of corrugated glass. They were then rinsed and squeezed through the rollers of a wringer, a manually operated device. On good days the clothes were hung on a rope in our backyard. On days that brought unexpected rain they were hung on a pulley in the kitchen with a predictable aesthetic and local climatic effect.

My life before 1968, when I was eighteen, resembled that of Glasgow in the 1940s, a lifestyle I recreated in my novel Roses of Winter. As children, our expectations for Christmas presents were quite different from those of modern children. These were driven in part by what was available, in part by means. I realize, in retrospect, how difficult it must have been for our parents to manage, yet they found ways.

Did we feel deprived? Not as children. My understanding of the inequities of life came later. We did not feel poor since everyone else we knew lived in a similar way. There were simple traditions that made the ordinary more special. To this day, tangerines, apples and nuts symbolize the season for me, since they were included in the stockings we set out. Do people still search for the simple pleasures of the season? I hope so.

A modest sign in front of a house in my neighborhood states “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Although my holiday has long been secular, I have a certain sympathy for their attempt to send a gentle reminder. Behind the overtly religious message is also an appeal for simplicity and less greed. They are correct about the origin of the holiday. It matters not at all that I cannot relate to their religion. There is room for both of us in the celebration of the season.

While Christmas lacks its traditional meaning for me, it is a time for reconnecting with family and those things that are important in life, a time also to be grateful. Whatever you believe, whether you are deeply religious or not at all, please remember that the things we have in common, friends, family, a wish for a better world should be what is in the forefront of our minds. Not only this week but all year.


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