Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas in Lenton

Susan's  fireplace decoration with added snowflakes.

Christmas Eve in Lenton Recreation Ground looking east across the bowling greens to the park pavilion, Devonshire Promenade and Lenton high-rise flats.

Susan and I have been celebrating Christmas in Lenton since 1980. We bought our home on the Promenade overlooking Lenton Recreation Ground in the summer of 1979, but we did not move in until early 1980. The house was in a mess. It had been a lodging house and standing empty for over a year before we saw it by chance. At the time we lived in Mansfield, where Susan was then Curator of the town's museum. I worked for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service as their national Development Officer and spent a great deal of time travelling. Both of us wanted to live in a city and after our efforts to find a home in Sheffield came to nothing, we turned our attentions to Nottingham. West Bridgford at first, then serendipity brought us to the bus layby opposite Lenton Recreation Ground on Derby Road. We saw the 'For Sale' sign, came and had a look, then got the keys the next day and made a cash offer the day after — which was accepted. The house was leasehold, with just sixteen years remaining, and the deeds had been lost. Together, these two facts had deterred others from buying. Fortunately, we knew the law on buying freeholds and got the seller to take out insurance against someone else turning up and claiming the house belonged to them. With the help of our parents, we bought the house for cash, then  took out a bank loan to help pay for repairs and got a grant from Nottingham City Council to rebuild the kitchen. All this took about eight months, during which time we did a great deal of work to make the house habitable.

You could say that Susan and I had a love affair with the house as instant and passionate as our own. There are moments in your life (well, ours) when the world changes in an instant. At the time, you make it up as you go along, certain that you are doing the right thing. And so it was when we decided to live in Lenton.

Thirty Christmases later and all but one of them have been spent in Lenton. Even the Christmas we missed should have been spent here, but in 1985, Susan's Dad, Reg, was taken ill on Christmas Eve and taken into hospital. He died three days later — twenty-four years ago today. He enjoyed his Christmases in our home and on more than one occasion over the last few days, Susan and I have reminisced about his evening forage in the fridge for cheese and pickles, perhaps a slice of gammon. He was a man who loved his supper.

Over the years, Christmas has been shared with family and friends. Some coming to stay, others coming for the day. There has even been one or two when we have been alone for some of the day. When the Promenade had more permanent residents, we would get together at some time during the day to share a drink and to chat. There would be a fire in the hearth, lots of laughter, ever rising voices and the rooms we were in would become fuggy in a nice, cosy, kind of way. At first, everyone would be polite and gather in the main room, listening politely to one another's conversations and drinking sherry, gin or, more often, mulled wine. Then some would migrate to the kitchen, then to another room. To wander from room to room at Christmas in the company of friends and neighbours, who you had developed bonds with simply because they lived on the Promenade, was a festive treat and, to this day, provides one with a lovely warm comfort blanket of sorts.

This year Patsy left us, so now there is just us and Chris and Richard, our next door neighbours, who also arrived on the Promenade in 1980 and moved in next door in 1996. Over the years we have seen families and older residents come and go. Some have since died, but we still think of them. Others we exchange Christmas cards with and read hand-written messages or missives. Some are now professors, one is a bishop and one an acclaimed novelist with a TV series to his name. Work and family have taken others away. Only a few have left because of Lenton's changing nature — a tide of change which not even the Promenade, with its conservation order, could resist. Now, our neighbours are students and some years are better than others, but one never knows more than a handful.

For a good few years now, Christmas on the Prom has been like Christmas in many other parts of Lenton. It has been very quiet. This year, the snow, albeit no more than an inch or two at best, has added to the sense of Lenton having been abandoned by its in habitants, fearful of spending Christmas in such a place.

I wonder how many other Christmases Susan and I will spend on the Promenade or in Lenton? We love the house and we love the park and our proximity to everything we need, but, but, we are getting older and large old Victorian houses are not cheap to maintain or to keep warm  in winter. Enough of such thoughts. They are for another day, perhaps another year even, but the future seems to arrive more quickly with the passing of every month. Once it was every year. When I was a child it did not exist. Even in 1975, the year I met Susan, when we planned our future together on the third day we knew one another, I never saw us in Christmas 2009. Had I thought about it, what would I have seen? I suspect I would have seen what I see now when I look ahead to the Chrismases which remain — a timelessness, where we seem the same, just as we were in 1975, only the world has changed.

To be in Lenton at Christmas is to be blessed. To share some time and days at this time with family and friends is another blessing. I also think of those who have gone before, who I still love and care about, some family, some friends. They never leave us and as I get older, I find Christmas is as much about rememberance as expectations or hope. And with these thoughts, I leave you. I have letters to write and 'phone calls to make to friends whose lives have changed and I have only just heard the news. To those who read this, I wish you well for 2010 and the years beyond. Peace and contentment be with you.

A leading economist has called for students from well-off families to be charged the "market rate" of up to £30,000 a year to go to university.
David "Danny" Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, said the "poor have been subsidising the rich" for too many years.