Made by members

A mission to save Christmas

21 Dec 2023 | Written by Joyce Skinn

To get you into the Christmas spirit, we’re sharing this festive story of twists and turns, tears that turn to smiles, from The Joy Club member Joyce Skinn. 

Who could have known or predicted that all of our hopes would gradually fade to dust. Within days of unpacking our belongings in our new home, we began to suspect 7 Farmhouse Lane had many flaws.

The slowly crumbling plaster on damp walls, cleverly hidden from prospective buyers by fresh paint, was only one of the faults we missed when we viewed the house. We had admired the highly polished pine staircase and Yorkshire stone fireplace, to which the estate agent proudly drew our attention.

The smell of freshly baked bread filling the kitchen reeled us in like rainbow trout.

It’s a pity we didn’t smell a rat!

Without a magnifying glass, it wasn’t possible to spot a fine fissure in the beautiful blue bath, cunningly disguised by a thin layer of resin, now worn thin during daily bathtimes by playful children, gradually developing into a hole.

I could never have envisaged the scene that met my eyes as I entered the kitchen to prepare supper for two excited children on Christmas Eve.

A torrent of water rushed through the kitchen ceiling, showering me and the tiled flooring. It must have resulted from my pulling out the plug at the end of bathtime, which finally breached the ever-widening crack in the ceiling.

Christmas 1984, one indelibly fixed in memory, one never to be forgotten.

Number 7, so completely perfect at first inspection, now a money-pit of endless debt.

I expected to sail through my third pregnancy, relaxing each evening with my feet up on soft cushions! But here I was, six months pregnant, on my hands and knees mopping up a flooded kitchen floor. This was the moment I broke down, but only briefly, as two little smiling faces with wet hair, wrapped in warm towels appeared at the kitchen door.

As I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand, I assured babies number one and two, that all would be well when Daddy got home from work, and Santa was on his way to their chimney.

In reality, Daddy wouldn’t be home till well after their bedtime. My heart hit rock bottom after just drying the floor when two kind policemen knocked at our door asking to speak to the next of kin for Michael Thomas.

A phrase no one ever wants to hear.

Those awful words ‘Next of kin’ gave me dark imaginations of death.

Such a relief enveloped my whole body, when I realised he was still alive!

It transpired that Mike had been mugged on his way home from work and was resting in hospital with a head injury.

The police officers offered to take me to the hospital, but after explaining that I had to wait for Mum and Dad to arrive to look after the children, they left quietly, giving Layla and David a smile as the children pushed their heads through my legs, which had now turned to jelly.

After calling Mum and Dad, I helped Layla and David into their red Christmas pyjamas and furry reindeer slippers.

I took deep breaths, inhaling the aroma of mandarin oranges and pine branches which filled the air. At least the Christmas tree was still standing intact.

While holding my tears in check, I put on a Nat King Cole Christmas album – as much for my well-being as the children’s.

Strange how people act in an emergency, I pondered at a later date, fancy thinking Nat King Cole could change the atmosphere.

I quickly changed from my damp clothes, into a soft pink sweater and green corduroy maternity pinafore dress, with a handkerchief pocket on the side.

Grandad and Grandma arrived on a mission to help save Christmas, which was exactly how the family story would be told over the years!

While concealing their fears for the sake of the children, they made hot chocolate with marshmallows and sang jingle bells as they ushered Layla and David to bed.

As I waited for a taxi to arrive, I could hear Mum and Dad reading Postman Pat’s Christmas story, and took a valuable few minutes to pray for help!

Basically, all I could pray was ‘Help Lord’, amidst swirling thoughts.

People say God works in mysterious ways, and perhaps He does, but there was no mystery to be solved on Christmas Eve 1984, just help needed quickly, please.

We were new to this old mining village community and hadn’t had the chance to introduce ourselves to our neighbours.

People had seen the police arrive and being a close-knit community, they sent someone to check if we were ok. As my Mum explained our present dilemma, word spread quickly through the village.

This was a Christmas I would remember forever, for the many kindnesses shown to us in the weeks that followed. Gifts aren’t always delivered on Christmas day.

When I caught sight of Mike’s swollen, bruised face, my heart sank, but thankfully Mike was able to smile with gladness when he saw me.

He was still dazed but happy to be alive. With a great sense of relief, holding hands, in the privacy of the green curtained cubicle, we cried together.

It had been thanks to another taxi driver’s quick response which had saved Mike’s life. He alerted the police, who sent for an ambulance.

The muggers had left Mike slumped on the pavement, unconscious, in front of the cash machine, and all for a tenner!

People walked by presuming him to be drunk as it was Christmas Eve.

The bouncer standing just a few yards away at the door of the Prickly Pear, also ignored him. Leaving his salvation in the hands of a Polish taxi driver.

How dare people say that they come merely to take our jobs!

This man came to save a life.

In the weeks that followed, we discovered a depth of kindness and community we’d never known before.

Tradesmen turned up on our doorstep offering their services free of charge.

Plasterers plastered, plumbers plumbed! A new bathroom suite was installed. While Mike spent the month of January resting, to recover from his trauma, I spent time with my feet up, while making Thank you cards.

We were amazed at the generosity of friends and family.

For the taxi driver, there was a reward, he was now the designated village taxi driver and had a place of honour at the Christening celebration in May.

By the time our new little baby arrived, we had a new bath.

Our children remembered one Christmas Eve when Grandma and Grandad came specially to read their bedtime story.

Santa came as expected, though slightly later than usual.

Daddy had tripped over a Snowman on his way home and bumped his head.

Silly Daddy!!