I always feel incredibly sad at Easter. Not because of the religious aspect (although singing There is a Green Hill Far Away in my childhood chapel was depressing, to say the least), but because it brings back memories of a past long gone.
On the morning of Good Friday, my brother Nigel and I would go to “Jean the Shop” (everyone in the South Wales village of Coity was linked to their place of work) to collect hot cross buns. They would arrive in enormous trays, still warm, and we would carry them in bags back home to enjoy them toasted at the kitchen table.
On Easter Sunday (the day my parents were married - at that time, on April 18th), we would wake to a pile of chocolate eggs and rabbits before going to church (we were allowed to eat one half of an egg beforehand) and returning home to a roast dinner and an afternoon of stuffing our faces with more egg.
How I loved those eggs. The promise of what lurked beneath the gold and red foil. Separating the two halves and removing the brown cellophane bag of buttons or mini chocolate bars inside. The first crack of the thick part of the egg, breaking it piece by piece, like the unravelling of a jigsaw.
One year, the mother of Bev, who worked in my mother’s hairdressing salon in Newport, before we moved to Coity, gave Nigel, my brother, and me, two enormous animals: mine, a white rabbit, Nigel’s a blue dog. That was exciting enough, but when we unzipped their backs, we found they were crammed with all manner of sweets, chocolates and eggs. It was the most exciting Easter I ever recall. I wasn’t, and am not, a big chocolate fan (these days, a Kit Kat can last me a month), but the excitement of those wrappers, pristine and welcoming, is something I have never forgotten.
I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood, with two loving, doting parents, for whom having children was never less than a total joy. When I think back, it is not the material goods we had that I most recall, but the things I regarded as treats, such as hot cross buns; the moments in which the world seemed perfect and I knew, although did not articulate, what happiness was.
On New Year’s Day, Nigel and I woke to a pile of goodies at the bottom of our beds – the party paraphernalia Mum and Dad always brought us back from the parties they had attended the night before. I remember the crepe of the whistles that unfurled at one blow; the crisp cardboard of the hats with their plumes of shredded foil .
Our parents never left us out of anything. On the rare occasions they enjoyed the luxury of a takeaway Chinese meal, they used to bring us a small saucer in bed. Chicken and pineapple, sweet and sour pork, rice – no food ever tasted as good as those nocturnal surprises eaten with a teaspoon.
We had a cooked meal and pudding every day, but sometimes, before our bedtime, Mum would bake an extra treat – Cornish pasties or toffee. I can still smell the hot pastry and sugar, hear the crack of the hardened caramel.
There were no computers in those days and, bizarrely, for someone who went on to be a TV critic, I wasn’t a huge TV watcher. But I recall two TV treats that remain for me, the height of decadence: the Miss World contest, and Muhammad Ali fights. Because both events were on TV way past our bedtime, we were allowed up to watch them only if we went to bed at 6pm and slept for two hours. Then, at 8pm, we were allowed downstairs in our dressing gowns to watch the grand spectacles.
When we got our first colour TV and I saw the Miss World Evening Wear section for the first time in all its glory, the excitement was almost unbearable. Watching Ali instilled in me a love of boxing that continues to this day, and also taught me a lot about confidence and the need for self-assurance in one’s ability.
And so, this Good Friday, I want to say thank you to my mother and father (even though my father died in 1990, I think of him all the time) for their love and for our treats – the things that taught me that happiness is a state of being, not of having.
Happy Easter, everyone, whatever your religious persuasion.
Peace, happiness and chocolate to you all.
And don’t have rabbit for your Sunday roast. That’s just cruel.