FIRST WORKING CHRISTMAS
In the early seventies I was living in an area of Stevenage called Marymead where my mother was the warden at a block of sheltered accommodation flats for the elderly.
I attended Shephallbury School nearby which I left in the May and I started my first job later that same month.
My job was working as a trainee groundsman with the Hertfordshire County Council grounds maintenance team and the depot was in the north of Stevenage old town paying the grand sum of Â£10.99 per week before stoppages.
Although the depot was some distance from where I lived it was never an issue as there was a very good bus service.
In the November of that same year my family moved house from Marymead on one side of town to the Hyde on the other, this point will become more significant later in the tale.
The house move didn't effect my getting to and from work as Stevenage corporation as it was then known operated flat fare buses operating on circular routes so I still got the same bus but from a different stop and the price was the same this also will prove significant later on.
As I said this was my first year at work and I had my first Christmas party to look forward to.
It was on the last day before we broke for the Christmas holiday and we had a little party in the yard where a little Christmas cheer was imbibed and a drink or two were consumed.
Now I was only sixteen and I had only had very limited experience of alcohol and I got well and truly bladdered on whisky Mac, cider and something unpronounceable from Yugoslavia.
One of the guys gave me a lift into the town centre and from there I caught my usual bus.
In my drunken state I managed to climb the stairs to the top deck and the bus set off filled with heavily laden Christmas shoppers and a drunken trainee groundsman.
I must have drifted off on the journey and I suddenly came to and looking out the window recognized a familiar site and I got off the bus.
I headed off up the road in the direction of home wishing all and sundries a merry Christmas as I went.
I entered through the main doors to the flats and passed the Christmas tree in the foyer and headed straight for flat number one.
At the door I fumbled for my key and presented it to the lock, it wouldn't fit.
I peered closely at it and it was definitely my door key so I tried to put it in the lock again, still it wouldn't fit.
Suddenly the door opened and a stranger looked out at me "Can I help? she asked.
"Ah my name is Paul and I don't live here anymore do I?
The lady, who was the new warden, agreed with me that I no longer lived there so I wished her a happy Christmas and made my way back to the foyer were there was a pubic telephone with a large Perspex dome over it.
My intention was to phone for a taxi but rummaging in my pockets I discovered I had no money for the taxi or indeed to make a phone call then as I tried to duck under the Perspex hood I tripped over my own feet and fell into the Christmas tree which ended up on top of me.
The lady who now lived at no 1 heard the commotion and came to investigate and to my surprise thought it very amusing to find a drunken teenager wearing the Christmas tree.
The new warden phoned for a taxi for me and even gave me the money for the fare.
That was real Christmas spirit and I have never forgotten her kindness and tolerance and try to keep that same spirit in my own heart at Christmas.