This piece originally appeared in the Waterford News & Star Christmas Supplement 2015
T’WAS the night before Christmas and not a creature was stirring, except for the drunk dressed in a Santa suit walking up and down Clarke Road….ringing a bell. The seven year old me, hugged the curtains, convinced that this was the man himself – sure who else would be crazy enough to be up at this hour on Christmas Eve?
Back then, nobody under the age of 14 slept much on Christmas Eve. Nowadays I hear parents telling stories of having to wake their kids at 8am on Christmas morning. What’s wrong with them? When I was ten, there was wrapping paper all over the floor, I was in my new pyjamas playing nintendo, the fry was on in the kitchen and I was eating a curly wurly from a selection box. This is the most magical morning of the entire year, do these kids not know that yet?
I remember lying in bed staring at a clock that moved with little urgency. I’d toss and turn and do my best to close my eyes. When I thought I’d fallen asleep for a bit, I’d open them again and see the clock, only ten minutes older than the last time I looked. The longest night of the year, but sure it has to be, so Santa can complete the most important of missions.
Christmas in Waterford has changed a lot down the years and with Winterval’s help, it has never looked better. When I was growing up, George’s Court actually played a massive part in the run up to Christmas. First off, the Tree was located there and many of the schools in Waterford used to contribute to its decorations. Teleport Computers was also in there and I can remember buying my games for the Commodore 64 in ‘Teleport’. If I remember correctly, they cost around £4.49 and 9/10 times, they were s**t.
The jewel in the Nile though…the feather in the George’s Court cap was of course Fitzmaurice’s. I don’t think there’s a shop like it anywhere on the planet anymore. It was located where Boots is now, although it surely must have been bigger. They had everything – sweets, crisps, books, magazines, toys, board games, models, bikes, musical instruments… Do you know the way you have a memory of something, but it’s just a snapshot? I have a memory of picking up the board game Cluedo from Fitzmaurice’s and I remember buying a Styrofoam aero plane for 30p. I also remember buying a secret bar…I don’t think you can get those anymore. Long live Fitzmaurice’s, it will always survive in the hearts and minds of the Deise.
Staying in that part of town, Shaws was also high on the festive hit-list. No disrespect to Shaws as it is now – I know it has its fans and the window displays are always top notch – but like everything else, it seemed so much better in the 80s and 90s. For starters, has any man reading this been upstairs in Shaw recently? I know I haven’t scaled that famous escalator in at least a decade. I remember it used to have a cafe where we’d all go for a big gravy covered dinner whilst taking a break from the Christmas shopping (you know what that looks like – awkward shaped bags with rolls of wrapping paper sticking out the top). There was also a music shop up there where I distinctly remember buying a Madness LP around about 1988. Upstairs at Shaws had loads going for it, and of course, during the month of December it was the only place to get your photo taken with Santa Claus. Such was the legend of the Shaws Santa that just about every household in Waterford has a photograph of kids on Santy’s knee, a big sign behind him with the year, and a big washing basket full of pound shop presents. Sure they were simple times…
You know that little shop in John Robert’s Square – just next door to the Book Centre – that’s been home to a different business every year since about 1998? When I was of the Santa age and I didn’t have any money to speak of but still wanted to buy people presents – this was the shop that I visited. Pound shops in those days were tiny, nothing like your Dealz and co that we have now, but you could pick up the best kind of crap. Once I stuck some wrapping paper around said crap, they became thoughtful Christmas presents. Speaking of crap Christmas presents, every year, without fail, my father asked for shaving foam and disposable razors. That suited us all down to the ground until the Mach Three came on the scene and razors increased 800% in price.
Remember all those shops like RTV and Thorn EMI where all the broke people of the Waterford Crystal strikes (and everywhere else of course) could get their Christmas presents and then pay them off weekly. There was a similar system upstairs in the KK (Knick Knack) Discount Store. Popular presents from these shops were Hi-Fi Systems…especially the ones in the big glass cabinet. It had a record player on top, an FM tuner, a double cassette deck (so you could record from another tape, a record, or off the radio (this was technology gone mad). If you bought it in the 90s there was a good chance that there was a CD player in there as well. God bless the lads in RTV and Thorn EMI, I’m sure they saved many a Christmas.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the City Centre is not as vibrant as those days when John Robert’s was just an architect and Red Square was the most famous triangle in Waterford. Cars could drive down Michael Street, they were still digging up Vikings from beneath City Square and Johnny Lyons was selling windmills outside Dunnes. There were more people in the town and everyone wasn’t as obsessed with Penneys, because Darrers was just as good. I’m not saying it was infinitely better 25 years ago but it definitely had more character. The multinationals are taking over now, and I don’t think that can be good for Waterford.
Still…that feeling of the night closing in, the bright Christmas lights emerging and the smell from Burgerland lingering in the air…I can still feel it. Christmas Eve and we’re weighed down with bags from Cassidy’s, Shaws, Darrers, Dunnes and Route 66. All that’s left is to go home, wrap them, and stick ‘em under the tree.
Christmas Eves on the Cork Road were magical and that was down to one thing and one thing only – Mammy Skelton. It’s half the battle if you have a mammy that loves and respects tradition. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d have a new mat in the sitting room (don’t ask me why, Santa was obviously going to destroy the thing when he came down the chimney), we all had new PJs and slippers, there was a glorious smell of ham in the air and a dessert with a trifle bit too much alcohol inside. Santa was talking to children from Lismore Park on WLR and the father would come home with some snack boxes from “The Kentucky” (K-Recipe Chicken). The grandmother would ring and we’d tell her one last time what we were getting for Christmas, and then she’d tell us to make sure we got to bed nice and early. And that’s what we did. Santa was about to come…or a drunken eejit on his way home from Shefflins ringing a bell.
When we think about the businesses that meant so much to us growing up we tend to forget about the people behind them. I hope, when we give them a little mention from time to time, that they smile and know that all their efforts actually meant something to someone. Finns, The KK Discount Store, Sherwoods, Kavanaghs, Wyleys, The Wimpy, Darrers, Sinnotts, Roches Stores, Wrights, Woolworths, Beefy King…and many many more. Thanks for the memories…and Happy Christmas!