Christmas Torch

Used to be that Christmas wasn't Christmas without a torch. You woke about 4 or 5am, used your foot to locate the weight at the end of

the bed, rolled out from under the covers like John Wayne rolling out from behind the rock to loose off a couple of slugs at the unshaven heavies. Pounce on the parcels, working by touch. The Annuals, yeah! Maybe The Rover or The Adventure (until those two comics were amalgamated with The Wizard), probably something more exotic, like The Tiger or The Lion or even Buffalo Bill. Didn't much matter, where's the bleedin' torch?

Had to be a torch. Otherwise you couldn't pull the covers over your head, click, and read, read, read. A torch came in handy during the rest of the year for locating pennies that had rolled under the bed or sofa or for flashing a secret code at the moon to let them know you were down here. Or later on in the year, when the torch was cracked and flaking, it made a fine, heavy, innocuous-looking weapon. Meeraminit, pigface, show ya sumpin with this torch. Thump! Stars, right? Told ya I'd show ya sumpin.

But it was really for Christmas morning that you wanted it. Sure, you could have put on the room light, but that was beside the point. Click! And you had these massive supercomics, this thick, to plough through in your own personal secret cave. Then, when dawn had painted the first coat of light on the sky, you were out of bed again, reefing through the other stuff. Guns, games, gags, whatever. Always had a proper fry-up for Christmas breakfast - never touched it the rest of the year, but Hafner's was as much a part of Christmas morning as was a torch.

Then, out in the street to stab Frankie with your new rubber knife before he shoots Charlie with his new cap gun, and Jimmy and Willie are wrestling around the garden in their Christmas clothes, one trying to snap his new Hopalong Cassidy handcuffs on the other. Until someone, probably Blackie, produces his new Luger and we all stop taming the West and start a rematch of World War II with script according to John Wayne. Okay, you skunk - I mean schweinhund ...

Then, if you had a piece of string your new rubber knife became your new rubber bayonet tied to the end of your new Buttline Special or your new Chuck Connors rifle. There was a cowboy hat that you could turn inside out and it looked like a soldier's helmet. Except it had a curve on it that made it look like a Nazi helmet and who wanted that? They lost. So, after a while you snipped pieces off the edge of the brim until it looked like a proper GI helmet. Made it look a bit shabby when you turned it back into a cowboy hat, but what the hell, maybe you'd just come in off a long, weary trail drive.

Hey, cut that out or I'll get me brother after you!

So what? My brother is miles bigger than your brother!

Yeah, but my brother is in the army. He'll get the whole army after you!

Big deal! My other brother's in the English army and he'll get the whole English army after you!

Betcha he couldn't! Cos my uncle used to be a Sergeant in the English army and he still knows them and he'll get the English army after you!

Oh, yeah? Well, I have an uncle in the American army (downright lie) and he'll get the whole American army after you!

No one could ever think of anything bigger than that, so it was back to taming the West until dinner time.

After the late dinner ("Thank God we have so much - please God we'll all be here next year") it was back to examining the loot. Weapons of war and comic book Annuals were the favourites. Mind you, someone always gave you "classics" - Walter Raleigh, knights, that kind of thing. Literature for self-improvement. Black Beauty, know what I mean? At least Fenimore Cooper had Indians. But not a patch on Alf Tupper, The Tough Of The Track, or Braddock VC, or The Will 0' The Wisp 0' The West. Or Buck Jones. He shot the unshaven heavies, right on the button. None of that Roy Rogers crap about shooting the guns out of their hands. Sissy.

In the evening we'd go down to the McDonagh's or they'd come up to us and the adults would play Sevens and we'd tame the West up and down the stairs until the air was thick with the acrid smell of exploded caps. This was before TV. Morecombe was a seaside resort and Wise was something you were going to be when you grew up.

Cap guns and rubber knives were fine for fighting "in the cod". But when it came to fighting "in the real" - then you made your own weapons. Get a tin can and a long piece of wood, sit down by the kerb and wait for a bus to pass. (We were young, we had lots of time to wait.) When the bus came you put the tin can over the top of the stick and left it down on the road, finely judging your position. Schwock! The wheel of the bus flattened the can, welding it to the top of the stick. Then you honed the edges of the flattened can on the kerbstone and you had as fine a hatchet as a blood-thirsty little savage could want.

That was sufficient for hand-to-hand fighting, but you needed something else for long range work. So you collected lots of those little bags that icepops came in. The moisture and the coolness of the fridge left the bags stiff and brittle after they'd lain discarded in the street for a day or two. Fill them up with pebbles, twist the top of the bag tightly. What you had was a grenade. Walk nonchalantly towards the other crowd, and them standing in innocence by a wall. Fire! You threw the grenades above their heads, the brittle paper ripped asunder on impact with the wall and an explosion of fast-moving pebbles rained down on the enemy. While they were still shielding their eyes you moved in with the hatchets.

... all is calm, all is bright.

Star Wars came along just in time to save some of today's kids. For a while there we were bereft of anything to compensate for the prevalence of "adult" movies and the death of westerns and war movies. Then came Luke Skywalker and Company and now the kids can shoot Darth Vader, blow up planets. (That old cowboy hat, turned inside out, was a ringer for Vader's headgear.) Sure, the kids will get all cuddly and play with ET, but what they really want him to do is take them aloft to where they can blow up the Death Star, fight The Empire.

Mind you, a close eye should be kept on some of these little buggers who are demanding computers from Santy. Fair enough if they're using them for video games in which they can tear holes in The Empire's star fleet, but you can bet your last Christmas cracker that some of them will be using their floppy discs to store up demands for next year's Santy list. Instead of sending notes up the chimney they'll leave a message telling old Ho Ho Ho that he'll find their demands in the memory retrieval system. Give the little mercenaries a Star Wars Annual. And a torch.