Christmas Is Coming

A Memory of Ashby-de-la-Zouch

Still on my travels on Memory Lane I browsed past St Helens. This was always a place of seasonal visits: Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival. I must admit that Easter visits do not live long in my memory, and Harvest Festival seemed to be an exercise in pyramids of tins of things your mum didn’t need urgently. The Mayans would have been proud of our ironically, heathen ziggurats of Spam, tuna, pineapple chunks, and fruit salad. But Christmas was quite another matter. As for Quasimodo, the church was a sanctuary – or at least time off school. School was next door, and the school services were always held in the Church. St. Helens for choir practice was a spookily murky place at 9 am on a December morning, at once eerily quiet and at the same time echoing with pious whispering. The patient music teacher, Mr. Lemon would conduct and instruct, while we would sporadically try to do as we were told. Our reedy voices lifted in praise of the Christmas holidays as we sang the carols which are so redolent with tradition, nostalgia, and the wonderful sediment of so many the Christmases of yore. It was a time of schoolboy jokes: “Why are there 25 letters in the alphabet?” ‘Because the angel said,” No L”’, or deliberately conspiring to sing ‘Wild shepherds washed their socks by night’. Finally, the Christmas service would come, and pupils and teachers would assemble to join together in praise of the holidays, and proud parents stood in dread of the thought of the same. The massive, cast iron candelabra were full of bright candles and the air was smokey with wax. The vicar, Rev. Bowers, pulling an evening shift, would appear in his robes, and we would follow the King James’ Bible story. It has to be said that the OfSpeak, politically correct translation may be more accessible to the baker’s dozen of teenagers who go to church nationwide, but the poetry and evocative Baktinian voices of the King James’ Bible are superlative. The organist would play quietly so the choir could be heard, until the congregation let rip at the thought of ‘going home by another way’ after “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”. We left to heartfelt cries of “Merry Christmas”, then exhilarated but tired we would tramp to the dark blue Viva, with no seat belts but an asthmatic heater, and chuff home.

A memory shared by Bill Davey , on Dec 18th, 2012.

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