Caroline Verdon column: A few tips from members of the festive Peepers Club

Most families have Christmas traditions, when we spoke about them on air we were inundated '“ for Jane Cracknell in Farsley it's not Christmas unless there are Yorkshire puddings for starters and mains.

Wednesday, 20th December 2017, 2:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th December 2017, 2:50 pm
Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Emily Slater in East Ardsley always goes carolling on Christmas Eve and has done for 15 years since she was at school. For me, the tradition is The Peepers Club. It goes back generations, lasts for most of December and infuriates every present buyer in my family. That’s because The Peepers Club is all about peeping at your presents and finding out what you’ve got before the big day.

As a child I made membership badges and everything. I know. I’m a terrible person. As a kid, my parents were furious one Christmas Eve when they went to put a couple of extra presents under the tree only to find at the back, pushed behind the sofa, was a lot of screwed up wrapping paper and unwrapped gifts. I was in a lot of trouble but having a peep was all part of the fun!

The presents were sitting there with my name on them – how could I possibly wait? The following year, I was older and smarter – I wasn’t about to get caught again so instead I stashed a pair of scissors and some sellotape behind the sofa and spent the weeks leading up to Christmas Day gently slicing the tape on the wrapped presents, having a quick peek and then re-wrapping them and sealing them with some fresh tape.

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Then on Christmas Eve, before bed as my sister put a carrot out for Rudolph, I removed the tape and the scissors so that my mum and dad would never know and then spent an hour infront of the mirror perfecting my surprised face. But they knew, they always knew.

The following year there were no presents under the tree before the big day, not even any in the house as mum and dad had persuaded Jackie next door to keep them at her house until we’d gone to bed on Christmas Eve. Luckily for me, I could squeeze in through her dog flap whilst she was at work and to go through the contents of her cupboard under the stairs. Thankfully I was never caught because a criminal record at the age of eight for breaking and entering would not have looked good. My mum could never get truly cross about the peeking at presents because growing up, she too had been a sworn in member of The Peepers Club, as was her mother before her.

When we spoke about it on Radio Aire, Ant was aghast at the whole situation, viewing it all as almost sacrilegious and I get that. It’s hardly the done thing and is very much frowned upon by most people but to me its like a big Christmas game of hide and seek and I am an excellent seeker. One who does not give up easily.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only Leeds-based member – far from it. I even picked up a few tips – although not from Sean in Whinmoor who once broke his arm attempting to see if his parents had hidden a Millennium Falcon in the top of their wardrobe or from Julie in Horsforth who got into a lot of trouble when she was caught on December 17 playing with a Girls World doll that she had unwrapped early!

We did get a call from Mandy in Headingley though and she is, without a doubt, a Gold Card carrying member who by rights ought to be the club’s CEO. Despite being 52, she said that last year, whilst queuing for the tills in Matalan she spotted the store Christmas tree with presents underneath and couldn’t restrain herself. She left the queue, hid by the side of the tree and whipped out her nail file so she could slice the sellotape at one end of the present, delicately unfold the wrapping and have a look to see what was inside. The answer was of course exactly as she expected. Nothing. It was just a cardboard box that had been wrapped up for display purposes but it made no difference to her, her curiosity was satisfied although her daughter, who was with her at the time, was mortified.

My days of wrapping paper peeking are long behind me. I’m 34 now and haven’t done it for years. I have the password to my husband’s Amazon account and that works quite well instead.

The modern nativity play

Ant’s daughter appeared in her first ever nativity this week.

He was such a proud dad and sent out multiple Whatsapps with photos of her in her costume and recordings of her singing the songs. Like most nativities in 2017 it had a modern take. She didn’t star as Mary or the Angel Gabriel, but instead as ‘the person who puts the tinsel on the Christmas tree’. A role that was, understandably, much coveted.

I remember my little sister getting a narrator part with one single line when she was about seven: “And the star was the shiniest most sparkliest star in the sky”. Why so memorable? Because my sister had a speech impediment as a child and pronounced ‘s’ as ‘thh’ and ‘r’ as ‘w’. Think Jonathan Ross meets Chris Eubank.

On the breakfast show, we asked for the weirdest roles given out in school nativities. Emma Craddock lives in Birstall and her daughter played the part of “Sarah the Green Dinosaur”. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t in the original.

Chloe from Wakefield called to say her son once played a part of a typewriter. As in part of it, not even the whole thing. I don’t imagine that’s the kind of costume you can just pick up at Sainsbury’s Moortown.

Tom Jackson from Cross Gates won hands down, though – as a kid, he had a part with no lines, no songs and no dances and he was forced to spend the entire play with his back to the audience. It’s a Christmas miracle he didn’t grown up with a complex!

Thank you for your support

Two weeks ago we’d had over 25,000 requests for presents for children who were due to wake up in Leeds and West Yorkshire with nothing on Christmas morning.

We launched an appeal to change that but with two weeks to go we’d only gathered 20 per cent of what was needed. It looked bleak but thank you, Leeds, you definitely didn’t disappoint in the end.

From Sgt Chris Brumfitt and the team at Pudsey police station who had a whip round and turned up with sacks of presents on their day off, to Hytal Kitchens who brought in over 250 gifts and then came back the following day with more, to a pupil called Kayleigh who held a collection and managed to gather £1,000 of gifts – thank you.

To everyone who bought an extra present and popped it into B&M, thank you. The team hasn’t had an hour go by in the last week where they haven’t been brought to tears by someone’s generosity and kindness. Thank you.

Caroline Verdon is one half of the breakfast show at Radio Aire. You can hear Caroline and Ant between 6-10am every weekday morning.