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Not Santa Claus

Lynne Reid Banks, who is the daughter of a Scots doctor and an Irish actress, was born in London. She studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and then had several years' experience with repertory companies. Turning to journalism she became a television reporter and worked for the Independent Television Network. Her works include a number of plays and two books. The L-Shaped Room, which came out in I960, was a best-seller and was made into a film.

The L-Shaped Room is the story of Jane Graham, a young single girl who is turned out of her home by her father when he discovers that she is pregnant. With nowhere to go and nobody to turn to, she takes a miserable Tittle room at the top of a squalid house in Fulham, West London. She cares nothing for it, or for herself or her neighbours; but it is these neighbours, by their unaffected kindness, that draw her back into life - Toby, a Jewish writer, John, a Negro jazz-player, and even her tyrant of a landlady. In the L-shaped room which she has slowly made her home, Jane comes to find a new and positive faith in life.

The following extract describes Jane's recollections of her childhood and illustrates some of the Christmas traditions.

When I was little, my two cousins and I used to spend the holidays with each other's families in rotation. Before we reached an age at which it was considered improper, the three of us used to sleep in one big bed and keep each other awake most of the night, giggling and speculating on the mysteries and wonders of Christmas morning. Our stockings were always huge - not real stockings, but big ones made of net stitched with tinsel ribbon. In the morning when we woke, the first awareness was always of their new and sumptuous heaviness lying across our feet.

One Christmas Eve I woke at the critical moment, and saw, not Santa Claus, but three familiar figures indulging in heavy horseplay* at the foot of the bed. There were two more familiar figures (female) hovering in the doorway hissing "Hurry up - don't wake them!" and "Michael, stop breathing gin-fumes in the boy's face!" I lay as still as death. Next morning, with ghoulish relish, I shattered the already somewhat shaky illusions of my two cousins. We told no one what we knew, and kept our secret for a year, while we plotted revenge. The following Christmas Eve, we enlisted the aid of Addy, our friend and ally, and laid an ingenious Santatrap. This consisted of a collection of kitchen equipment - saucepans laid in strategic positions on the floor, a roasting tin filled with cutlery balanced on the top of the door, kettles hung at face-level from the ceiling. The grownups having gone out for the evening, we then kept awake alternately for half-hour shifts by one of the boy's watches until at long last we were rewarded by the sound of creaking and thumps from the stairs, accompanied by slurry avuncular curses and "shushes"** from the aunts. The trapworked like acharm. The uncles and my father, jolly and unsuspecting after an evening's celebrations, blundered in with their sacks of bounty; the tins and cutlery crashed round their ears as they pushed the door open. Propelled forward by the shrieking aunts, who were bringing up the rear, they stumbled in, falling over the pots and pans and bumping into the dangling kettles, dropping their sacks and shouting and generally making the most satisfactory uproar imaginable. The lights went on; we leapt up and pounced on them, adding our howls of ingrate triumph to the general confusion - ending the happy myth not with a whimper but a bang, while Addy, the fellow-conspirator, leant against the wall and laughed herself to helplessness...

* (horseplay - rough games.)

** ("shushes" - a noun in the plural formed from "shush" - hush.)

(The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks)

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