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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Ding Dong

The vicar sauntered on in slacks and a pully: holy casual. His hand toyed, casually, in the depths of his pocket. He seemed distracted, dippy-looking, as if he might break into a purr.
Despite the garb, and the soft porn gaze, when he got going he was pure vicar: deathly slow and fond of his own voice. Health and Safety had come to the church and he gave us several long minutes of frustrated trolley dolly guff about exits, in the hope of a fire. His hand reluctantly left his pocket, to point hither and thither with confusing enthusiasm for the correct quadrant, the apt exit; X had to filter here, Y must hurry along there. Candles wobbled in takeaway containers atop wonky piers. Several wanton souls perked up at the prospect of an inferno.
Til he spoiled it. We were told that come the end we should wait – for health and safety reasons – for all of the candles to be extinguished. Several hundred people bleakly scanned the church in quick count mode and took in several hundred candles. Trapped in tight rows, it was too late to adopt a “think I’ve left the gas on” face and leg it.

We were not, however, told that the end was so very far in the future, and most of us steeped in early onset dementia, that waiting obediently would be completely forgotten in the rush for the mulled wine. The fumes would be Siren-ing and we’d all be on a mission. Singed hair? Teetering flames? Elbow the slow and helpless. Get me to the grub and grog.

For it was the school’s carol concert and, being a high achieving school, there was not a wonky tea towel in evidence, no tears, no embarrassing silences, no Little Donkey. Just hours of, admittedly, beautiful singing, lovely readings, proper Christmas gravitas.
Lots of it, but conducted at a decent lick.

Each year I’ve stalked the town in search of a cracking carol service. And each year I’ve shuffled home mortified by the paucity on offer. Whether it was the tracksuit trouser and trainers vicar offering the drab metaphor of Asda light bulbs from a damp cardboard box (may the light be with you) on the way out; or the full-on horrors of enthusiastic arms-raised, closed-eye swaying to tuneless modern carols; or the linen-suited vicar, bounding on stage with big teeth, to read requests from the congregation for Toyota Landcruisers (really!) none quite hit the mark.
All I want for Christmas is a decent run of familiar tunes, and a little dignity and ceremony. What I get is quite other.

The worst of all the terrible occasions took place was when T14 was young, ahh, and the primary school choir was invited to sing at a nearby college. I think that that particular service lasted 2 and a half hours, fully 45 minutes of which was given over to Media Vicar. Media Vicar was a worthy wench, in a bust-hugging stripy jumper and shaggy hair, who’d spent too long in Africa and was prepared to share each and every moment. What we did not know at the end about rape, sodomy, AIDS and arson is likely to be thin pickings. Our primary banned whole grapes in the lunch boxes: they had to be sliced in half (health and safety). The head teacher emerged blinking, traumatised; genned up on genocide, grapes temporarily relegated. E still has a small scar from dripping wax on his hand in a semi-successful attempt to stay awake: we had to hold these little candles, all sermon long; yeah, yeah, may the light be with you.

Dutifully, we attend the village service each Christmas eve. It’s a dismal affair, and we know it even as we edge into our wellies for the stride across the field.
The vicar slides in, apologetically, clad in a Snoopy sweatshirt, waving. Some well-meaning, ancient, stout parties spend bloody hours dragging out the reading of a vaguely relevant story to toddlers strung out on smarties, and the rest of us dutifully freeze; the OAPs swaddled smugly in their factory shop anoraks, people like me wondering why we scorn them: suddenly seeing wisdom in Teflon fur. Tartan knee wraps are eyed with envy. Last time I was here was for a funeral. The vicar spoke endlessly about sex. The grieving daughter, her face a bruised chrysanthemum of sorrow, surely could not soothed by the intrusive image of her mother at it with old dad. I was suddenly grateful for my ill-thought through seat selection backing onto the flowers. I could hide my horror in holly and ivy.

Money is being raised for digital bells which no-one wants; meanwhile the wind cuts through ill-fitting windows and the glass freezes over both sides. A floppy hat does the rounds and returns home barely heavier, a mere one handed clap to its clink. The wailing plink plonk of Little Donkey kicks in and I remember what a long time an hour can be in a local church, how killing a song.

But last night was wonderful. The real thing.
Long, however, and wasted on the great British public, a breed unable, en masse, to sit still without coughing, rummaging or creaking. Within half an hour the texting was beginning. A series of Nintendo DSs pinged into action as small heads bent over pixelated screens. Every now and again, we were called upon to sing and I stood, with such anticipation that this time, of all times, I might actually be able to make something approaching a decent sound. Pitiful optimism. In speech, I’m like Princess Anne on helium, and in singing something even stranger happens as my vocal chords ricochet between emitting barrel-scraping grunts or desperate squeaks. Almost an art. I’d love to be able to sing well; of all the talents it truly is a gift. E is a lusty singer and I try to tuck my reedy croaks all unobtrusive in amongst his full baritone.

“It was OK,” said F12 as we scarpered, mince-pie rich to the car, “but that’s it, yes? We’re not going to the village one, too.”
“Why not?” I said, bracing myself. You have to feel strong to take on F12 and the humiliation of the non-singing had weakened me.
”I’ve already been to it. Lots of times. You won’t let me watch “The Simpsons” twice, why should I go to the service twice.”
He has a point. But we’ll go. Christmas is all about traditions. The good, the bad and the ugly. And the ones with wonky tea towels and Little Bloody Donkey. All 45 rotten verses of it. I feel a car coat purchase on the cards.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Got a new Christmas tree from B&Q (the glamour).

I only ended up with it out of spite, really. A real one was ruled out because of the extra hoovering duties incumbent on ownership of same. Plus they’re always wonky and bald when you spring them from the net.

Then Homebase had been hopeless, simply hopeless, and I’d found myself in that Mecca of tat, B&Q staring blankly, like the dog at her empty bowl, at the displays of plastic trees there, trying to make sense of the new vocabulary. The snow-tipped, the self-lit, the pop up.

Just as I decided I’d made a decision (oh giddy day) I noticed the gap behind the display tree. Typically, they'd all gone, the kind I had my eye on. The kind, moreover, that was half price. Who can resist? So I went on line and fiddled on my phone trying to see if could get one delivered, when I spotted a B&Q bloke huffing and puffing over a fork lift truck and asked him.

"Not getting any more in, no,” he said. Then, “you can have that one, if you want, the display one."

"Oh," I said, thinking about it. I couldn’t weigh up if it was really quite a good find or truly vile. The children were doing that near death thing children do when waiting on a parent and my decision making capacity has never been good at the best of times, still less when confronted with a possible bargain, possible big mistake.

Then a really oiky couple – him a big bruiser with a bald head and bulging eyes and her all fake fur coat, high heels and S American attitude – said, "Oi! We'd'a had that!" She munched up her lips and clutched her fake fur coat at impressive poitrine point and He left hooked the air making his car coat ride up.

"Are you together?" asked Mr B&Q. Did he really need to ask.

"No," I said quietly.

"I'll put it in your trolley, shall I?"

“Do,” I said.

So I got it. Whether I wanted it or not really which is not a part of my psyche I’m happy confronting.

Am still worried that it might be more than a little chavvy, particularly given the nature of the other couple’s interest, miaow, but overall it is really rather nice. I think.

I’d been to a drinks thing the night before where there was the most immaculate tree in the world. You could but stand and stare. It was the sort of house with garlands on the stairs and wreaths of dyed ostrich feathers. In November. Startling.

“Don’t mention the tree!” sighed my hostess, her hand shooting to her brow. “Stress! I’ll give you stress.” Her children skulked in the background. “Course the girls want to help,” she continued. “I thought about it. For a moment. But it always gets nasty. They haven’t got a clue. No sense of balance. I’m there, twitching. And that’s no good for anyone. So I sent them out with the dog and did it myself. Had a little sherry.”

With this in mind – and strangely familiar, bar the sherry – I determined to do ours with the children this year. So that in their memory bank was at least one instance in their bleak little childhoods of me playing the Merry Mum and not the vicious dictator. This meant not shooting out my hand to rearrange their cack-handed attempts. It meant Bye Bye to tasteful silver and Hello There to a more gaudy combo of bronze (by which I don’t mean orange, I mean bronze), lime green and purple. It meant it was all actually quite good fun. And, most importantly, up.

Just to say a big thanks to Ben at Appliances Online for sending me some yumtastic chocs. I wanted a washing machine where the door shuts without using your knee but chocs will do nicely instead. Nice company.