Christmas can be a time for melancholy, can’t it? Especially if we consider the plight of those who sacrifice themselves for our special day. Turkeys, obviously. Pigs, in or out of blankets. And won’t someone spare a thought for the poor Christmas trees? One day, they’re happily rubbing branches with their prickly, piney friends in a delightfully wet and chilly forest in Scotland or Scandinavia. The next day, they’ve been sawn off at the stump, trussed up in tight netting and chucked in the back of a wagon: ultimately to wither and shed beside a cranking hot radiator, coated in gaudy baubles in a stiflingly hot front room in… oh, I don’t know. For sake of argument, let’s say Gateshead.
Which brings us neatly to writer and film-maker Andrew T. Smith, who – at the age of eight – wrote and illustrated this poignant and charming tale, clearly a shamelessly pre-meditated plan to elicit a festive tear from his beloved Nana Betty. Callous and unfeeling, he was. You can see it in his eyes.
Over to you, Andrew…
“My memory is notoriously poor, but fortunately The Sad Story of the Christmas Tree features a date on the back: December 25th, 1995. This means I would have been eight years old when I wrote and illustrated it, and only a month shy of turning nine. For some reason, I thought I was younger – it’s probably the penmanship!
I’ve no memory of actually making this little book, but I have a feeling it was started in the classroom. The cover is made of that course, dull-greeny type of sheet that isn’t quite paper but isn’t quite card – and I only ever remember seeing that in school. My guess is that the ‘project’ began there in the last week of term and was then finished up at home.
What I do have clear memories of is handing it over to my Nana Betty – note ‘For N.B.’ written on the front cover. She’s been gone almost two decades now and I still miss her. The warmest, daftest person I’ve known and the one who passed down her fondness of Laurel and Hardy to me – which in turn acted as a gateway drug, getting me into the wider world of film.
This might actually be my first memory of getting laughs from something I had created. Proper laughs as well, especially for the line, ‘Ee by gum they were heavy.’ It was such a weird phrase for a child not raised in Yorkshire to use! I’m pretty sure I was channeling Ted from Postman Pat with that line.
It’s a rather dark tale! Within moments of gaining consciousness, our main character is blinded by the sun and then screams in pain as a bird rips off his branches. It’s probably an insight into why I described myself as an ‘indoors person’ to my family as a kid! I also wonder about the fact that my earliest memories of childhood are of things like falling through the centre of a tyre swing, and cutting my hand open on the broken glass of an old greenhouse. Life is pain, Bob!
The tree doesn’t particularly enjoy his job over Christmas. He is replanted, only to be brutally chainsawed down – without explanation and before his time.
And just for uber clarity, a postscript reveals that this story does indeed showcase the tree’s last words. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Christmas is a time for reflection though, isn’t it? Particularly this year. And I suppose when looking back over the year, it’s only natural that the passage of time is what creeps into your thoughts – even at the age of eight. There is, I think, an underlying sadness that’s also warm and comforting in its own way. Christmas is a constant – life and personal circumstances are not.
Even so, I’m also all for American-style glitter and cheer during the holiday season. One of my other earliest memories is of seeing Fraggles popping out of the skirting board to sing carols with Big Bird and Kermit the Frog. Which isn’t quite something that actually happens, but it’s similar to a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas, which I must have seen when the BBC repeated it on Boxing Day 1991.
I started dozens of other stories as a kid – some illustrated and others in straight prose – that were never finished. I have vague memories of a rip-off Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with my own attempts at Quentin Blake drawings, but that definitely didn’t get very far. I think my mind just tended to drift onto the next thing before I could figure out an ending. The more things change…
In that sense, I think The Sad Story of the Christmas Tree might be pretty unique.
As to why it survives, I think the book stayed with my Nana until she passed in 2003. At that point, my Mam took care of it until it was given back to me a couple of years ago. These days it lives in a box in my office, along with a few other childhood keepsakes and photos.”
Thanks Andrew! He’s now almost fully mature, and is part of the team behind the wonderful new Supermarionation series, Nebula-75. And there’s a new Christmas episode online now!
And on that note… a very Happy Christmas to all Haunted Generation readers and contributors.
Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.