- Shouldn't have worn braces in their youth;
- Could not drive a panel van; and
- Definitely must not be Catholic.
The second is self evident - for Aussies who were dating in the 70s it is, anyhow...
The third, though - the third points to the staunchly held position still prevalent at the time of my youth that Catholics and Protestants should not mix. Absolutely and positively not on first dates. Preferably never.
Clearly, Bronwen and Dylan's mother thought the same...
They had moved to Liverpool from their village in Wales after their Da had died. Mam earned a meager living for the three of them by doing other people's washing. Early in the morning while Bronwen and Dylan slept, Mam would collect the dirty washing from the well-off people in the better part of the city and then rush back to be home when the children awoke. The next morning she would return the clean washing, ironed and beautifully folded, and collect some more.
In the evenings, Mam was mostly too tired to do anything except sit and look into the fire and remember when things were different, but sometimes she told Bronwen and Dylan thrilling stories about dragons and hauntings, and wicked devils with tales, and ghosties that came down the chimney at night.
On Sundays Bronwen and Dylan and Mam sang hymns in Chapel. It was plain, with whitewashed walls.
Their next-door-neighbours were the O'Rileys. The O'Rileys did not go the Chapel. They went to a different church. Their church had beautiful statues and coloured class and lighted candles.
Bronwen and Dylan were not to speak to the O'Rileys. They were not to go near their church either. Their church was for a different sort of people, not their kind. Bronwen thought it was very strange, but she did as Mam told her. Mam's face was stern and serious.
On Christmas Eve Mam washed clothes and Bronwen and Dylan went with her delivering it all around the houses. When Dylan's little legs were tired from all the walking, Mam took them home. But Mam still had more shopping to do. She didn't like to leave the children alone in the house after dark, but she wasn't going to be long...
"Don't answer the door if anyone knocks," she said as she left the house. Bronwen and Dylan talked about Father Christmas and waited for Mam to return.
Then there came a knock. But not at the door. It was coming from the back of the house in the dark corner by the copper.
"Plonk," it went, "Plonk! Plonk!" "Plonk! Plonk! Plonk! Plonk!"
"It's that horrid ghostie coming down the chimney to get us!" shrieked Dylan.
The two children bolted, screaming, through the kitchen and onto the street. Straight into the arms of Mrs O'Riley coming home with the family shopping...
What will they find when they go 'next door'? What is the Christmas Eve ghost? What does Mam say?
The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes is my pic of the Christmas Books for 2010. It is a wonderful addition to our Basket of Delights. It's available in Oz from Readings and Reader's Feast. For those wondering, there is nothing supernatural in the book, and there are no ghosts and spirits. Not really.
Shirley Hughes herself talks about The Christmas Eve Ghost on this video. Listen for her comments about reading aloud to children, and have a gander at her beautiful sketch books. Covetously sublime.
You'll be pleased to know that my Beloved is not a Catholic. He has never driven a panel van, and he has beautiful teeth.
I do as I'm told.
I'm a good girl, aren't I?