So, as the year turns to all things festive, Christmas 2013 arrives and for the 46th year in succession at the Lancaster Street home of the Crambie family, my dear wife Ruth has once again served up a truly sumptuous feast that would have seen Mr Fezziwig himself dance with joy!
As the Christmas tree lights flicker and glow, sending colours to every corner of the room, son Shaun and his latest flame Anwen enjoy a glass each of the finest Gevrey-Chambertin 1959 vintage, while sitting opposite, daughter Janette and Darren are both tucking in to a superb selection of Christmas cheeses, with Red Leicester, creamy Lancashire and Blue Roquefort going down a treat. Meanwhile grandson Nathan and Elizabeth both pull a Christmas cracker which goes off with a mighty bang, sending multi-coloured confetti all around.
Now Ruth enters the room with her delicious home-made trifle to a loud chorus of cheering and I settle snugly down in my cosy armchair with my trusty bottle of Captain Morgan rum and a goodly supply of chocolate marzipan, as Elvis Presley’s 1957 hit “I’ll be home for Christmas” echoes softly round the bedecked living room.
My eyes slowly begin to close as the King’s mellifluous voice flows out.
Suddenly my eyes are wide open as I hear a booming voice ring out: “Hey, four pints of Tetley’s best bitter, barman!”
My head reels as I recognise a face from many years past. Why standing here is the legendary Colne character “Big” Harold French. With my hands all a quiver I pull the four barrel glasses of beer and a smiling “Big” Harold hands over to me two half-crowns and a “Bob” coin.
My head’s spinning: where am I?
Then my eyes alight on a poster on the wall: “Albert and Madge invite customers old and new to the first ‘New’ Shepherds Arms Hotel Christmas party, free food for all, Wednesday, December 25th, 1963”.
I’m holding firmly on to the long, copper bar now, I’ve travelled back in time 50 years! Why this is where I worked happily as a 20 year-old, full-time barman all those years ago. As I look round the huge lounge bar shelves the old familiar names are there: Tetley’s and Walker’s special bottled beers, Double Diamond beer, Forest Brown and Jubilee stout, McEwan’s strong ale, Harp lager, Gaymer’s cider, Babycham, Cherry “B”, Pink-Lady and Pony, all lined up for Christmas 1963!
Then a voice rings out: “Come on Geoff, pass me the turkey butties”. Why here’s my dear friend, bar waiter Jack Valentine, known to all as “Jackie Val”. As I pass the stacked-up plate over to a smiling Jackie my eyes widen as I see more of my fellow workers from five decades ago! Why here’s barmen Joe Morony and Arnold Craig with waiters Jackie Penman and Billy Demaine, all in top form, keeping the festive spirit going in the packed public house. Over by the lounge window I can see a sublime snow-covered parish church, while inside sitting in the plush window-seats I spy “Big” Harold alongside Bob “Butch” Brown, John “Channer” Greenwood and Thomas “Chuck” Cowburn. Now the cigarette smoke is hanging in the air like early morning mist and I can just make out “Steptoe and Son” on the overhead 15 in. television.
Now into the crowded lounge bar walks a beaming Brian “Bris” Clark, who’s greeted by Smith Crowther, Foster Willan and his great pal from the Walton Arms Hotel, landlord Raymond O’Connor.
Into the melee of gleeful customers a joyful “Jackie Val” calls out: “Who wants free hot mince pies?” With this invitation a scramble ensued. From behind the bar I could see “Little” Jackie Carradice, Micky “Pipe-stem” Rodgers, Harold Seagar and Hartley Calvert, all vying to be first in line. Meanwhile I spy an amazing sight: all of Colne’s rag and bone men are laughing and joking together over by the huge 12ft. Christmas tree. Here’s “Long” Joe Knowles, “Donkey” Bob Roberts, Freddie Dean and Edwin Carradice.
Then from over by the smoke room arrive James McCourt, Richard McHale, Horace Carlisle and Isaac Varey. Suddenly bopping over by the door to the juke box playing “Rock around the clock” by Bill Haley and his Comets are Bob “Teddy Boy” Thompson, Bryan “Coco” Corbridge, Norman Burnett and Mick Leonard.
The Shepherds Arms now has the greatest array of Colne characters ever seen and more are arriving by the minute! Here come the well-known trio of brothers Billy Ellis, Benny Ellis and Jimmy Ellis with old pal Mick Whittaker too and now with smiling faces, up from the NUR Club are Danny Atkinson, Wilf Blacklock, Leo Murphy and Ronnie Baldwin, followed by Ivan Sharples, Wilf Walker, Lukie Low and George Kelly.
Suddenly two of the Shepherds Arms best regulars, both Liverpudlians, Micky (Scouse) Cooper and Jimmy (Scouse) Richards are coming towards me, both with a huge holly branch, ready to whack me over the head!
As I dive down under the bar, a loud voice calls out: “Wake up granddad, it’s ‘Auction Hunters’ just starting”. I awake to see Nathan and all my dear family smiling round me!
“From all of us to all of you, have the Christmas of your dreams”.