My brother was five years older than me and as a result from the time I was five years old he looked upon me as something of a burden.
Now that might sound a bit melodramatic but it’s not as if he had to raise me or anything although in truth I think he would have preferred that.
But unfortunately for Peter his burden took a very different form.
Ever since my fifth birthday he had to baby-sit me, whenever he went out to play he had to take me along, and he hated it, which he never let me forget.
It didn’t matter what plans he had, football, cricket, riding his bike or fishing, you name it I was there too.
But it wasn’t just outside babysitting Peter had to do, he was often “lumbered” as he would put it, with looking after me at home.
It was on one such occasion in 1964 when I was 8 and Peter was 13.
I remember the day vividly because it was the day my loving brother, five years my senior cast a doubt over the existence of Father Christmas.
My Dad had left the army the previous year and we were then living in the village of Abbotts Ripton in Cambridgeshire where he was chauffeur to the 3rd Baron de Ramsey.
We lived in a quaint “chocolate box” thatched cottage on the edge of the Estate.
Due to some extremely wet weather we were confined to barracks while Mum and dad went shopping in Huntingdon with the gamekeeper and his wife.
There had been the usual fruitless exchange between Peter and Mum.
“Can we go out?” he asked
“Of course not” she replied “it’s absolutely tipping down, you silly boy”
“Boring” he retorted
Mum just tutted and closed the front door behind her.
“Oh great” He cursed “stuck indoors on a Saturday with you and nothing to do”
To put things into perspective we had no computers or video games and there were only two TV channels and they had a limited schedule.
“What are we going to do now?” Peter said and flopped down on the sofa
“We can do a jigsaw” I suggested
“Nah” he replied
“We could play cards” I offered
“Like what?” he queried
“Snap” I said happily
Peter shook his head
“Brilliant” Peter responded “not only am I stuck indoors on a Saturday but I’m doing it with a baby”
Undaunted I pressed on
“Ludo then, you like Ludo”
“Oh God” he said and buried his face in a cushion
“Snakes and ladders” I said in desperation
“Nah” he said and then he emerged from the cushion and continued “I’ve got a better idea”
“What?” I asked hoping we might finally do something
“Let’s find the presents” he said
“What presents?” I asked
“The Christmas presents” Peter replied
“Huh?” I responded
“The Christmas presents, dummy” he repeated
“I don’t understand” I said
“We’re going to look for our Christmas presents” Peter said
“I still don’t understand” I said confused “it’s not Christmas yet”
Peter had got up and stood by the door
“How can we have presents when Father Christmas hasn’t been yet?”
“God you’re more of a baby than I thought” Peter said with contempt
“You actually still believe in Father Christmas” he added scornfully and laughed
“Shut up” I screamed
“There is no father Christmas you dummy” Peter responded
“Mum and Dad buy all the presents, and put them in our pillow cases”
“No they don’t” I shouted and ran past him and out of the room crying,
This just made him laugh even more.
I just kept running and went upstairs and onto my bed.
I don’t know how long I lay on my bed crying but when I emerged I found Peter carrying a step ladder up the narrow staircase clearly still engaged on his great Christmas present hunt.
“What are you doing?” I asked wiping my eyes on my sleeve
“I’ve looked everywhere except for the loft” he replied panting hard
I refrained from pointing out the reason why he hadn’t found anything and elected instead to watching him struggle with setting the stepladder up and climbing up.
I did laugh when he banged his on the loft hatch but he responded with a glare.
Once he’d disappeared through the hatch I ventured gingerly up the steps.
“Aha” Peter exclaimed and my heart sank
“What is it?” I asked fearing the answer
“I’ve found them” Peter said as his head appeared through the hatch.
“Oh” I responded weakly as his head withdrew much like a tortoise retreating into its shell
“Do you want to know what you’re getting?” he shouted
“No” I shouted back “Don’t tell me”
“Are you sure?” he taunted me
I hesitated, though I didn’t want to know what was in the loft I did want to know something.
“Just tell me if there’s a Fireball XL5?” I said
Fireball XL5 was my favourite program and having my own rocket was the one thing I wanted most in all the world, all the kids at school were talking about it, and I wanted one.
It was the one and only thing I had asked for in my letter to Father Christmas.
“No there isn’t” he replied “and there’s no Walkie Talkies either”
The Radios were the one present Peter had asked for though he would never have admitted that he’d written to Santa.
He spent the next hour sulkily playing Ludo with me until Mum and Dad came home.
I was in a much better mood because in my naivety I took the absence of the rocket in the loft to mean that Father Christmas would be bringing it.
In the days following the present hunt I was troubled by the devastating news that Father Christmas might not exist but I made sure Peter didn’t know how upset I was.
But despite the doubts that now filled my head, on Christmas Eve that year I went to bed with all the usual expectations and having gone through the usual rituals.
Putting out by the fireplace, milk and cookies for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer and then laying out the pillow case on the foot of my bed.
And as I lay snuggled down in bed I thought that it didn’t really matter, it was still fun and there would still be presents in the morning.
Well that’s what I told myself.
It was still dark when I stirred the next morning although I didn’t know what time it was.
I waited for my eyes to become accustomed to the darkness but I couldn’t make out anything.
Then I stretched my legs down as far as they would go and whoopee the presents were there.
I couldn’t put the light on incase it was too early, we had been warned about the consequences of getting up too early, so I had to quietly slip out of bed and onto the floor where I reached beneath my bed until I found my torch.
Well when I say it was my torch, it was actually Peters and I had sneaked into his room and stole it from under his bed while he was in the bathroom.
I switched it on and pointed it at the end of the bed.
“Wow” I said as the torch light fell on the pillow case stuffed full with presents as well as a pile of wrapped parcels on the floor at the foot of the bed.
“He’s been, he’s been” I exclaimed
Sometime later I was sitting on my bed and was surrounded by torn and screwed up bits of wrapping paper and I heard a sound at the door.
Before I had chance to react the door had opened,
“So that’s where my torch went?” Peter said stepping into the room and closing the door behind him
“Is it too early?” I whispered
“No its fine” Peter said and switched on the light
“Good” I responded
“Blige” he exclaimed at the scene of devastation
Totally oblivious of the festive mess I was sat amidst I just said triumphantly
“Look what Father Christmas brought me”
As I brandished above my head my brand new Fireball XL5 rocket.
“Happy Christmas” Peter said