In the picture above you can see the aftermath of Christmas present unwrapping in the bar of the Artillery Inn, Exeter, probably at around 6am, on 25 December 1983. That’s me on the left with my little brother Tim at my side.
We’re wearing wigs left over from the pub Christmas panto in which my Dad played Widow Twankee. He wore clip-on ear-rings, a bra stuffed with newspaper, and a pinny. The make-up treatment made him look like Mollie Sugden in Are You Being Served, despite his ginger moustache. Another member of the cast, then a student at Exeter University, went on to be a top-flight news cameraman at the BBC.
My brother is wearing his favourite underpants. His favourite trick when we lived in the pub was to escape from the flat, scramble down the flight of stairs behind the off-licence, and burst into the pub wearing only those Y‑fronts. He would then run screaming down the entire length of the bar before disappearing out of the back door. I reckon he was addicted to the customers’ laughter.
In the background is a box for the Return of the Jedi edition of the Millenium Falcon with a yet-to-be-stickered X‑Wing fighter protruding from the top. Among the good things about my parents running a pub was the amount of space it gave us to run around in when the doors were closed and I have a memory, which I think was from this Christmas or maybe the birthday that followed, of racing with speeder bikes through the chair legs which for the purposes of play were the great redwood trees of the forest planet Endor.
My brother is drinking a bottle of R. White’s Orangeade, another perk of life in a pub being ready access to the worst (best) soft drinks. I guess being allowed that at breakfast time was a Christmas treat.
One of the downsides to living in a pub was that Mum and Dad worked late the night before and then Dad had to disappear for a few hours around lunchtime on Christmas Day to serve the regulars. Having talked about it with them since I know Mum and Dad found living where they worked difficult and even at the age of five I could pick up on the stress in the air.
On the window you can just see the words ‘Merry Xmas’ sprayed in decorative snow – the wrong way round, really, if it was meant to be viewed from the street. There were also artful drifts of snow in the bottom corners of each frosted pane. Unfortunately, when Christmas was over and the fake snow got wiped away it took the nicotine stain with it so that people were being wished the ghost of a Merry Xmas for months to follow.