Xmas crackers


Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.


Knock and Wait by Gwen Grant


published 1979



Knock and Wait Xmas cracker


[The narrator is at an Open Air School – a sanatorium for children – in 1948, and Christmas has come round]

They put up a tree in the hall and we made things for it, like silver stars and reindeers. I made an angel and Golda made a snowman, because it started snowing just before Christmas. I was freezing and I couldn’t get my hands or feet to stay warm at all.

Anyway, we had this tea party with Christmas cake and sweets and crackers. The crackers went bang when you pulled them. Not like the crackers at home that our Joe makes out of newspaper. They go pht! tear! And out drops one sweet or a marble. I liked our Joe’s crackers very much.

These crackers had very pretty things in and bits of paper as well. 

All these bits of paper said something on them and mine said, “It is better to give than to receive”, so when Sister Sweet hauled me up in front of Miss Collingwood for giving this kid a thump for pinching the whistle which was in my cracker, I showed this paper to Miss Collingwood. “It says here,” I says to her, “That it is better to give than to receive,” and Miss Collingwood said, “Nonsense! You know perfectly well it doesn’t mean giving other people black eyes.”


commentary: Festivities at the sanatorium are featuring a lot in these special seasonal entries, but then it is fascinating to read about the institutionalized Christmases, where people were mostly separated from their families.

Gwen Grant, the author of this book, had to go away from her family as a child because of illness and live in an Open Air School (see her website here), and Knock and Wait is based on that: in this case it is anaemia rather than TB that is the problem, but the experience sounds much the same.

There is a scene where the children audition for a Christmas concert, but sadly the actual event doesn’t feature in the book.

I think it’s true that we never find out the narrator’s name in this book: on the rare occasions where you would definitely expect to learn it (eg in a letter) her brother calls her Tin-Ribs, and she signs her own letter ‘your daughter’. She has a friend with the splendid name Golda Miranda.

The usual hat-tip to blogfriend Daniel Milford Cottam for alerting me to this book – there was an entry on it earlier in the year.

New Year crackers rather than Xmas ones - card from the NYPL.















Comments

  1. Interesting look at Christmas in that context, Moira. There's always an attempt to make the day cheerful, but in those settings, not so easy at times. Interesting, too, that you bring up the narrator's not being named. It's hard to pull that off well, but I've read a few books where it happens. I give credit to those who can do it well.

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    1. It must be a real technical problem, the authors must enjoy seeing how they get away with it. And yes, there is always something so intensely sad about children in hospital at Xmas.

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  2. Was it normal to pull children away from their families for such a long time back then? I cannot imagine the damage that could do to a child and what benefit it was to do that. I suppose I would have to read the book to understand it.

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    1. I think there was a conviction that it was the only way to cure them, so people accepted it. And I also think there was no realization of the damage it must do to the children. Times have change so much (quite apart from medical advances) and so much for the better. When I was 5 I went to hospital for 6 weeks, and my parents could only visit me 3 times a week. It sounds absolutely Dickensian now, and it was really horrible at the time...

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  3. I haven't had too much experience with a sanatorium in my reading, does a psych ward or asylum count? Michael Avallone's Shock Corridor which may have been a novelisation of a film springs to mind

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    1. Yes it does! Any book set in a closed medical facility has a certain creepiness and makes for compelling reading I find. I will look up the one you mention...

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  4. In one of the other two books (I forget which) it seems to be made clear that the narrator is called Lizzie, but it's interesting how they avoid revealing her name so that you don't really notice.

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    1. Yes, it took me a while and two books to really notice that! Clever, but I do wonder why...

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