Who’s making that terrible noise?


We hate trees round our way. There are lots of them growing in gardens and along pavements, but they’re different. The ones we hate – or that local businesses do – are the ones that have to be cut down and pulped or liquidized or whatever it is, to make fliers. An endless blizzard of crapawful fliers. It must be tree-hatred, because it sure as hell can’t really be because local businesses actually want to brag about the pizza/curry/kebabs/takeaway/delivery service of indifferent-to-negligible quality that they are offering. Every day I hear the rustle and slide of stuff coming through the letterbox, and every day I scoop it up and put it in the recycling.

But last week I hesitated as I waded through all the stuff about a free can of pop if your order exceeds 20 quid (eh? 20 quids’ worth of pizza? I can only hope that there are a ruinous number of houses in the borough that are stuffed with secret regiments of homesick but not very thirsty Italians). Amid all this garish gubbins (‘A Truely Authentic Tasting of Punjab’) there was a boring-looking flier that would have been picked last for netball every PE lesson of its life. Bless. Being not much of an athlete myself, I felt sorry for it so I read it. It was a list of the Christmas services at a local church, and it was on its way into the recycling when I paused. A service of carols and lessons, Sunday evening at 6 o’clock. The time of the weekend when I’m most likely to be sighing around the house about how bored I am, with nothing on the telly but Antiques effing Roadshow and Songs of sodding Praise.

Rather sheepishly I phoned a couple of my oldest friends, the ones who’d be least likely to shout loo-zah because I can remember all the bad boyfriends, and asked if they wanted to come along. ‘I’ll be going anyway,’ I claimed stoutly. And along they came.

Sunday night, 6pm, me, two old chums and a toddler, and we had a blast. It went carol/reading/carol/reading/bit of choir/carol again/sermon/singalong. Brilliant. We fairly whipped through the story (Isaiah’s prophecy, angel appears, but I’m a virgin, star, shepherds, manger) which gives me something new to think about every time. This year I found myself pondering that megalomaniac Caesar Augustus and his bloody census – it must have been a bureaucratic nightmare. I began to drift off. Imagine, all those people having to go back to their hometown to be registered. Chaos. I hope the tax revenues were worth it. I wonder whether they’d grasped the concept of cost-benefit analysis before they embarked on such a massive project. Probably not, I bet they didn’t get into that until ooh, mid-20th century? That’s when they got into stuff like critical path analysis and stuff. Or was it earlier, and it just got a fancy name in the 20th century when business schools started teaching it? At which point we were on our feet again for ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ that dreadful, mawkish, laboured dirge that DOESN’T EVEN SCAN properly. There wouldn’t be anything like the shuffling awkwardness over that ‘breastful of milk’ line if the author had simply bothered to get the meter right. Durr.

Not only did I find myself wondering about the benefits of decentralized government, economic modelling and scansion in poetry, but also how awful my singing voice is. Christmas is the only time I really fill the bellows and belt out a choon, and it shows. I was right beside a pillar and holding a very large hymnbook in front of my face, so the, er ‘noise’ was bouncing off two surfaces. The untrained human voice is an unreliable tool. It was slithering around like the soap in the bath, especially at the chorus of ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’. Dunno about the sky being riven with angels singing, I’d say I could have done a bit of riving myself. That chorus: ‘Glor-hor-hoor-hoooooor x5 –ria, hoe-zanner in exchelsis’ dear oh dear. Though I did make myself burst into giggles with the comforting idea that singing might be like a fart – that if I can hear(smell) it because it’s bouncing off the surfaces around me, maybe no-one else can.

The mother of the toddler told me that practice is the key, as she’d found after weary hours singing the little one to sleep. Lucky world! Hark ye while I burnish my cords and clear my tubes. Hahum. Once in Royal David’s City! God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen! And of course I invite you to Carm All Ye Fay-thful, Joy-full and Try-hum-phunt…


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