While rummaging for decorations in the farmhouse cupboards just before Christmas, we came across a very old Quality Street tin, slightly battered and dented, with a strange message written in black felt tip on the lid. “Someone’s eaten all the strawberry ones, and it wasn’t me!” it said.
I had a terrifying flashback to 50 years ago, when, as now, one of the Christmas highlights was the enormous tin of chocolates. But back then, and you may find this hard to believe, I was a petulant little brat, capable of floods of tears and histrionic strops if I didn’t get my way.
And when it came to the family tin of Quality Street, “my way” involved the strawberry crème. I had (and still have) the sweetest of sweet tooths, and the shiny red sweets were the only ones sweet enough for me, so I would insist that they were all mine.
See also: Read more of Charlie Flindt’s columns
One year, my siblings grew weary of this and hatched a sneaky plan: they decided to open the tin early and systematically remove all the strawberry crèmes. They then taped the lid back shut, and popped the tin back under the tree.
Come Christmas morning, after we’d opened our stockings (walnut, sugar mouse, tangerine, Airfix kit, Mars selection box), and we’d done the first wave of presents (all under Dad’s watchful eye, complete with clipboard ready to record who’d got what and who would need a proper formal thank-you letter), the moment I’d been really waiting for arrived, and Mum agreed that it was time to open the Quality Street. In I dived, like a terrier after a rat.
My rage was intense and unmeasurable, and made worse by the organised wall of feigned ignorance that greeted my pleas of “Where are all the strawberry ones?”.
But I managed to restrain myself from ruining Christmas lunch with a tantrum; I refused to grant the rotters that satisfaction. But sometime later, I found a big felt pen, and, in an impotent fury, scribbled that message on the lid.
All these years later, I found myself sitting at the bottom of the green stairs, telling this story to my children. And amid the laughter, I realised that tears were pouring uncontrollably down my cheeks as it all came back to me.
And that made it funnier, and the tears kept coming. Eventually, the laughter – and tears – died down, and we could get on with the seasonal preparation.
Half a century on from that traumatic Christmas morning, we Flindts once again settled down around the tree for the first wave of presents – little has changed.
Tears of joy
It’s true that most of the presents these days are electronic, but there’s a healthy smattering of clothes and books, and the Quality Street tin (or plastic tub, as they are nowadays) stays unopened in the dining room until after Christmas lunch.
“This is from all of us,” said the youngest, handing me a beautifully wrapped present. As is traditional, I groped it and prodded it, shook it, weighed it up in both hands, and made a great song and dance about how lovely the paper is, and how we must save it (all the usual sad Dad stuff).
But I genuinely couldn’t work out what it was. It felt like a glass jar of some sort: could it be coffee, or an exotic tea?
Finally I ripped it open: it was indeed a huge glass jar, full of only strawberry crèmes. In the midst of the laughter at my genuine surprise, I burst into tears again. Therapy and chocolates; who could ask for more at Christmas?