Crushed, as I currently am, aged 56 ¾, by the heavy psychological weight that is the sense of my own mortality, I have yet found time for Yuletide jinx:
The Christmas Card Dilemma
Every Christmas I average about 20 cards (the receiving of) – enough to fill the lounge (when I say ‘fill,’ I mean to dot about on picture frames and a mantelpiece) and a bit of the hallway. This pathetic symbol of my non-existent friends’ network used to bother me. For a few years I toyed with the idea of writing Christmas cards to myself, from imaginary people, and sticking them up in the forlorn and card-less other rooms. But no, sanity prevailed. And besides, I’d lost all perspective when it came to the giving and receiving of cards – after all Christmas is actually about stuffing as much food down your neck as possible; from recipes you discovered whilst watching endless Christmassy re-runs of Nigella, James and Jamie, on the Good Food channel. It’s also about whinging (silently, in your head) about your crap presents.
I’ve got the crap presents sorted this year however, by ordering my own present online. It’s a box of 72 Derwent procolour pencils at the extravagant price of £137. Those of us who colour-in will appreciate the importance that a good coloured pencil plays in our lives. Thus far I’ve been using bog standard W H Smith ones (£10.00 for 48 and pretty brilliant they are too) but it’s time to splash out on the artist quality ones. The family were ordered to pay a nominal fee towards the buying of my own present, which arrived a few days ago, and I wrapped it, unseen, in the packaging it came in (complete with stamps) so I can pretend it’s a surprise on Christmas day.
But still this lack of Christmas cards mindset continues. To date I’ve received two ‘proper’ cards, i.e. from people I vaguely know: one from an ancient relative I’ve only ever seen at funerals (a recent funeral being the cause of my current less than optimistic mood) and one from a woman at one of my choirs. Her card was foisted upon me at our last pre-xmas session, whilst we were all standing up belting out the 12 Days of Christmas, with accompanying hand movements. ‘Here,’ she said (as we flapped our arms like demented chickens – three French hens) ‘I wrote all my cards out when my daughter had sickness and diarrhoea last week.’ ‘Yukk,’ I went, not wanting to touch such a contaminated object but grasped it greedily just the same, rejoicing that I had a card to swell the then current number of one.
Two more cards have since come in the post. One from the husband’s financial advisor – technically not exactly a friend (i.e. I’ve never laid eyes on him) but it’s a card so it’s going up. The other from the small firm I recently ordered my new suite, curtains and carpets from. MERRY CHRISTMAS it screamed at me on the front, whilst underneath is the company name and inside an invitation to attend their little Christmas event for valued customers, including free bubbly, a mince pie and a wander round the store. This advert to drum up trade, thinly disguised as Christmas greetings, went up anyway, ‘cos it says MERRY CHRISTMAS and has a holly wreath on it – and I’m desperate.
Then my parents’ card arrived – so current Xmas card count stands at 5, and there’s only a week and a bit to go; the likelihood of reaching my tally of 20 doesn’t look as though it’s on the cards (slight pun-like chortle.) I’ve written my cards to send in the post (grand total 10, since a clutch of older relatives have died) and the husband, as usual, lives in an alternate non card giving universe – he can’t see the point, so I’ll have no joy there.
Absolutely unbeknownst to you, I paused in the creation of yet another fascinating and widely-read blog post to spend 30 minutes at the hairdressers, whereupon the lady who’s cut my hair forever gave me a Christmas card. It’s a tad on the small side but yuletide beggars can’t be choosers.
The Caroling Dilemma
The leader of the kids and adult choirs I sing with decided to take her kids’ choir (plus parents) round our local town for a bit of carol singing. She did this in her usual energetic, positive, life affirming but slightly madcap way; i.e. there was very little planning or organisation. “Do join in Susan and bring family if you can,” this delightful invitation meant I was actually under orders…..should I go or should I stay?……I went, and bamboozled the husband and son no.3 into coming along. And there we stood, last Friday, in a school hall surrounded by about 40 kids and assorted parents. The husband tried to make a dash for the exit before we’d even set off on our hour long trek. Our leader launched us into the first carol, using a magical, musical, mini speaker thing, whilst a school Christmas fayre went on all around us. Ding Dong Merrily on High, we bawled, whilst the husband and son dwindled in embarrassment. Our leader, wearing a plum pudding as a hat, then demanded that we “get going, stay together and spread some Christmas cheer!” The husband and son dwindled further.
We walked out of the school into a bitterly cold night, passing a roast chestnut stand on the way. “Ooh, I’ll get some chestnuts,” the husband said and made a detour. “Sorry mate I’m closing,” the vendor said, whilst our leader cried from somewhere far up ahead, ‘”hurry up, no dawdling!” The husband sighed in the face of his last hope of escape. Our group marched on, out of the school and onto a main road. “Where are we going,” said the husband. “I don’t know,” I replied, when suddenly we were heading for a gigantic local pub on a corner. Our leader pulled up in front of the entrance, set her magical music speaker thing going and we all went into Joy to the World. Bemused faces came to the door and looked out, beers in hand; standing there for a second before deciding that carol singing wasn’t their thing at all. “Keep singing!” our leader screeched, in the manner of a sergeant major urging his troops into battle – it was clear she’d given the pub no warning at all that a bunch of choristers would be turning up on their doorstep.
After absolutely no reaction we left, slightly disheartened. A longish walk down the main road brought us to a small block of flats and our leader suddenly diverted up a small, very dark alleyway. Not being the type to ever, otherwise, enter a dark alleyway, I figured there would be safety in numbers and we followed (bringing up the rear) to found ourselves in a small, barely lit courtyard. “Torches out!” bellowed our leader. Congratulating myself on actually having brought a torch (tiny LED one) I whipped out the carol sheet and shoved it under the husband’s nose. Away in a Manger, he started singing tunelessly (he can sing in tune so methinks this was some sort of protest) and son no.3 asked why our leader thought it a good idea to mass together outside a dodgy block of flats, and one where there wasn’t a single light in any room. “I don’t know,” I hissed, “just keep singing.” Two carols later our leader gave up and off we marched, at a rapid pace (the leader’s pace is always rapid) on into our little town centre.
The husband was filled with foreboding. “Are we really going to stand in the middle of the flippin’ precinct and sing,” he moaned. “There’s loads of us,” I replied, “you can hide, and besides there’ll be hardly anyone there at this time, and in this cold.” At the word ‘precinct’ son no.3 decided he’d had enough and scarpered off home.
Our leader had forewarned the residents of flats, above the precinct shops, of our intention to assault them with a bit of carol singing, via leaflets posted through communal letter boxes. “They’ll probably open their curtains and look out of their windows, so put on a good show,” she’d said in her pre-caroling pep talk. We gathered around and noticed that nearly every single flat window was in darkness, and the ones with lights on kept their curtains resolutely closed. This time our leader knew when defeat was staring her in the face and marched in a determined manner towards a local pub on the corner.
Now, during the entire 32 years I’ve lived in my neck of the woods, I have managed to successfully avoid going inside this pub. Many a time have I passed it to see that there are usually more patrons outside than there are in. There they are, in huddled groups, feeding a nicotine addiction whilst sporadically offering up the F-word. And now our leader was actually at its dirty, paint peeling door; and now she was opening the door, whilst ushering in a bunch of angelic kids and their protective parents. “What is she thinking?” one parent shot at me as we all tried to squeeze inside a very limited lounge space. “Oh good, I can get a quick pint,” the husband said, smiling for the first time that evening.
What she was thinking was to turn on her magical speaker again and caress the semi-drunk patrons’ ears with Silent Night, right by the bar. A trio of imposing bald headed men at the bar turned, with drunken jollity in their eyes, and started clapping enthusiastically, following this up by putting coins in a collection bucket a child was holding. This was the first time I’d realised that a collection bucket existed. Spurred on by such a hearty welcome, our leader told us to rapidly get out the song sheets and go with Hark the Herald, after which we all bundled out and headed to another block of flats – managed accommodation for abler old people. This port of call was supposed to guarantee a willing audience as our oldest choir member (94) lived there and management had been forewarned.
We assembled in a pretty but extremely dark garden/courtyard and started singing. The husband and I saw a pair of curtains twitch, before they were pulled slightly apart and two old heads peered out, looking decidedly bah humbug before closing the curtains again. A woman pottered about in a kitchen to our left, peered out once or twice before deciding that the contents of her sink were far more interesting. We soldiered on, when suddenly our leader paused the proceedings to note that our ancient choir member had been forced from her room and brought outside, to endure the cold and a bit of communal singing. We were assured that this had made her day. Wondering if a stint out in the cold was the best thing for a nonagenarian, I launched into Ding Dong Merrily on High yet again, with the rest of them.
“Who’s this Gloria,” the husband suddenly asked.
“What do you mean?”
“This Gloria we’re singing about, I thought she was called Mary”
“Thought who’s called Mary?”
After a double take I realised he was on about the Ding Dong chorus, that long drawn out Gloria in Excelsis bit that goes up and down like a bit of opera.
“You’re having me on. I know what your jokes are like and that’s got to be an old joke.”
“No, look it say ‘Gloria’, who’s Gloria?” he shouted, being that raucous tuneful singing was going on all around us.
The look of truth in his eyes and his insistence that I tell him who Gloria was, was too ‘real’ to be one of his taking the p*ss moments, and I realised that he honestly thought we were singing some kind of ode to a woman called Gloria (in the manner of Laura Brannigan.) Too gobsmacked by this display of carol singing ignorance, and still believing that this had to be a very old joke, I told him to shut up and carry on singing. A couple of days later I explained what ‘Gloria’ was and he still maintained it wasn’t a joke.
The funniest thing I’ve seen in ages arose on my facebook feed the day after the carol singing debacle. A parent posted her mobile phone video of another parent singing this very Gloria in Excelsis bit, whilst contorting her face into the most comically pained expressions, and hilariously running out of breath – ‘put that woman on the telly,’ I’d promptly commented.
There have been other yuletide activities, such as singing with my choir at our town’s switching on of the Christmas lights, which involved standing in one spot for over an hour, in the freezing cold, before it was our turn to get up on the ‘stage’ (an opened out lorry supplied by the local market’s fruit and veg man.) By the time we did get on stage most of the audience had legged it – being it was made up of parents come to watch the kids’ choirs, with no interest at all in a bunch of middle-age women (and 3 men.) In a spectacular oversight, the organisers of said event also switched the lights on BEFORE the concert and not AFTER, which would have been much more effective, and also guaranteed that the audience stayed put. So we sang to a few stragglers whilst the compering local vicar tried to drum up support.
When I got home my feet had turned to blocks of purple and white blotchy, immovable ice. “Is this frostbite?!!” I’d squealed whilst peeling my socks off. Son no.3 couldn’t get over this extravagant (even for me) display of hypochondria. “Go put son no.1’s mountaineering socks on,” he’d scoffed, and they worked an absolute treat.
But it’s all been good fun. As the lovely Mark Hamill is fond of saying: “real life is harsh – we need escapism.” We also need a bit of festive frivolity and carol singing.
(I’ll note that I’ve now found an effective use for the asterisk. This was prompted by Lewis Carroll’s liberal and creative use of the asterisk throughout ‘Alice.’ Lewis Carroll may have been an obvious nut job but he was so, so right about so many things.)