Heritage column: Jolly night-watchman changed Christmas

Pioneer Market, in Ilford Lane, in the late 1950s.

Pioneer Market, in Ilford Lane, in the late 1950s. - Credit: Archant

I will never forget that Christmas Eve many years ago, walking home with my dad; it was cold enough for snow.

Away from the busy Pioneer Market, where Dad had spent all his pay on a chicken, spuds and oranges, for tomorrow was Christmas Day.

We passed glittering shop windows with toys and sweet things piled high.

“I am broke so it is no use you looking,” said my old dad with a sigh.

At the Broadway – we carried on walking because we couldn’t afford the tram – there in the kerb stood a beggar with a gramophone snug in a pram.

The record he played was a carol, full of good tidings and joy.

“I remember those times,” sighed Dad.

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“Long, ago when I was a boy.”

Clutching the bag of festive oranges, I pondered why my dad’s spirits were so low.

After all, it was Christmas,. Suddenly I heard my dad say, “hello, what’s that glow?”

The brazier belonged to a night-watchman, minding a hole in the road. We paused to warm to our hands.

After a moment warming ourselves by the fire, Dad said: “Well I’m blowed, it’s old Smudger, the scourge of Company D!

“They used to call me Blanco,” he told the night-watchman. “You must remember me?”

“Of course I do,” replied the watchman with a smile. “Come on in and I’ll make us some tea.”

For a good hour the three of us were laughing as the two of them reminisced about days gone by. But all good things come to an end.

“Cheerio, Merry Christmas – sorry you’re working tomorrow!” said Dad to his long lost friend as he bid him farewell.

Smudger smiled and replied with a wink.

“Don’t feel too sorry for me,” he said.

“I am having Christmas dinner with the lady living at number 33!”

It was that jolly night-watchman who changed that Christmas for me. Dad was no longer down in the dumps, but as happy as can be.

Putting my hand through the letter box, I yanked upon the string, home at last.

Remembering the Christmas carol from the pram, for Mum we began to sing...

A merry old-fashioned Christmas and a healthy New Year to all.