Let's try and cheer up for Christmas – difficult though it may be 

Staff outside the Hampton Court Hotel

My grandmother's first hotel in Torquay - the Hampton Court Hotel, which used to stand where the Co-op and Sainsbury’s are now in St Marychurch - Credit: Sally Allen

My goodness. How things have changed from when I was young and not just because of the dreaded Covid.

Sadly, our family is now whittled down to just my brother and myself and our two other halves.

I normally invite others to join us but this year due to the virus, we decided to be sensible and it will just be the four of us.

However, I have been so very blessed with fantastic, positively raucous, energetic and very loving Christmases past.

My mother first came down to Torquay on holiday when she was 18 years old and phoned her mother with the exciting news that there were palm trees in Torquay and that it would be a great place to live.

Those that know me well, will not be surprised to hear that I come from a long line of very hardworking, eccentric and slightly bonkers women. 

After this prophetic call, my grandmother sold her hotel in Russell Square in London and moved lock stock and barrel to Torquay.

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Lulu, as we called her, then bought a few hotels down here – firstly, the Hampton Court Hotel, which used to stand where the Co-op and Sainsbury’s are now in St Marychurch. Then, Walcot in Meadfoot Sea Road and Santa Barbara and Riversdale in Kents Road.

I didn’t arrive on the scene until Riversdale, now an old people’s home, and my memories include being taught how to play snooker, we had a full-sized snooker table in the hotel kitchen, and poker by Lulu before I was 10 years old.

Lulu was an amazing woman, she used to cook for 80 guests for lunch and dinner every day with my mother and a few staff doing the serving.

She did this until she was 80 years old with a hot water bottle strapped to her back because of her painful rheumatism. She was no wimp!

Christmases were exceptional. All the family had to entertain the guests – so everyone had to perform in one way or another – a song, a poem, jokes or a dance.

Lulu always recited the two hugely long poems (with actions!) “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and ‘There’s a One-Eyed Yellow Idol to the North of Kathmandu”. They are worth looking up on You Tube!

You will be amazed that she was always word perfect. From the age of four, I was always plonked on top of the piano to sing “Que Sera Sera” accompanied by my aunt on piano.

We would then perform a play for the guests, whether they wanted it or not!

We used to rehearse for weeks beforehand and my mother used to make all the costumes.

It certainly kept us out of mischief, and we had the best fun – and surprisingly, the audiences love it.

A few memories from this time include my brother and cousin sitting down at 3pm on Boxing Day in front of the Christmas tree, in the vain hope that Father Christmas would make another appearance with more goodies. Optimistic and greedy! 

Also, one year, Lulu left the Christmas decorations up all year in the hotel because she had forgotten to take them down and hadn’t realised until the end of February and then didn’t see the point as next Christmas wasn’t that far away.

As I got older and my grandmother, in her 80s, was forced to retire, Christmas Day became slightly saner with lots of friends for Christmas Day drinks, followed by family lunch, presents and then, of course, the wonderful Morecombe and Wise.

The women in my family have always loved to entertain and party. Thankfully, we have always been blessed with understanding husbands with huge forbearance and tolerance.

Sadly, this year it will be just the four of us, but we can look back on joyous times and hopefully look forward to a hooley next year. 

Here’s to a very happy Christmas and healthy 2021 for us all.