A note from the author, MARK HAYSOM:
I am indebted to a former colleague for the story at the heart of THE GIFT – a remarkable and true story.
After my Christmas story in 2014 (OCAR OLIVER’S CHRISTMAS), she wrote to tell me that the first Christmas gift her father ever received was at the age of twenty-two, on the day before his marriage.
Every year until then, he had been told by his grandfather who raised him that he hadn’t been good enough to deserve a present.
Geoffrey George Horscroft was born illegitimately in 1911 in a poverty-stricken area of Kentish Town, London: he never knew who his father was. At the age of two he was abandoned by his laundry-maid mother and left with his grandfather.
His grandfather took him with him to his place of work – he was a zinc worker – and left in the stables during the day with the horses for company and bread for food.
In 1933 he met Edith Ann Constant and married her on Boxing Day of that year. That Christmas, she gave him the first present he had received in his life. They were so poor, they didn’t have a table to sit at, had to eat from a cloth on the floor.
Edith was born in Dartford in 1913 (one of ten children) and her father was Nelson James Constant – a labourer, who had lost a leg when he was run over as a nine-year-old by a horse and cart.
Edith’s grandfather father was Nelson James Trevillion Constant, a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery who served in Fyzabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.
Geoffrey was apprenticed to a builder, became a bricklayer and then a house builder. In their married lives together, Christmas was always a very special time.
I have taken a few liberties with the story of Geoffrey and Edith. I have moved it to an earlier time and I have imagined what I don’t know – what the young boy’s life was like and, of course, what that first gift he received might have been.
That apart, I hope I have remained true to the facts and the spirit of their story.