Carry on Carolling

There’s a bell tower in Loughborough, just yards from our window in fact, called the Carillon Most people call it The Carri-llon whereas, being a French word it should be pronounced Carry-on, but however you say it the bell tower is a focal point of the town. A couple of years ago I went up the tower and saw that the bells were rung not by means of ropes but via a keyboard, except not with piano keys but layers of wooden levers hit with the hand, a bit like Monty Python’s Mouse Organ but without the cruelty. Very strange. Anyway at lunchtime today a crowd gathered to sing carols accompanied by the Carillon. All the usual favourites were there; Hark the Herald, Away in a Manger (predictive text just suggested Away in a Mango), Ding Dong Merrily on High , Good King Wenceslas and many many more. It was cold but good fun, even if trying to keep in time with the Carillon made it a bit like that game in I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue where they try to sing in time to a record.

So that’s me over and out for a few days. Have a very happy Christmas and see you on the other side.

Kirk out

Merry Christmas to All

Before the sun dips below the horizon and before I dip below the sofa, I shall take this opportunity to wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year.  This afternoon I turned the radio on and realised it was time once again for the Nine Lessons and Carols, which always starts with the announcer saying:

‘And as the sun dips below the horizon a single voice begins the service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ (or words to that effect) and then a choirboy sings the first verse of ‘Once in Royal.’  There’s a great power in the annual repetition of these carols: this afternoon I went to an open-air carol singing next to the Carillon, a famous bell-tower in the centre of Loughborough, where the choir had to synchronise carols with the ringing of the bells.  I like carols: they’re atmospheric, poetic, cheerful and above all they link every Christmas back to my earliest childhood.  I usually find I know all the traditional ones by heart, having sung them so often.

When I was a child Christmases always followed the same pattern: church in the morning, Christmas dinner around one o’clock (the full works, usually with ten or twelve of us round the large dining-room table: this was used as a lumber-room for the rest of the year and only cleared out for Christmas).  There would be a rest before a Christmas pudding which would be set alight in a darkened room; served with custard, cream and home made mince pie, after which the adults would go for a lie-down and we kids would play with our presents.  At around seven the adults would dress (I kid you not) and we would assemble in the living-room for parlour-games until about nine when we would eat a buffet supper of rice salad, cheese, ham and other savouries.

But I forgot the Queen!  How could I forget the Queen?  At three o’clock precisely the entire family would settle in the lounge, the TV would be ceremoniously switched on and silence would prevail for the ten minutes or so of Her Madge’s address, after which the TV set would be returned to darkness.  At no time either before or subsequently was the TV watched on Christmas Day.

As a child I chafed against this: all my friends were watching the fabulous array of films and seasonal programmes which were only available at this time of year: and we were missing them.  As a teenager I thought it was unutterably lame to play parlour games – but I have to admit we’ve reinstated some of these traditions in our own Christmases, so that Holly and her boyfriend were yesterday subjected to charades.

They seemed to enjoy it, though I did discover it’s extremely difficult to mime ‘Minority Report.’

Anyway, at the risk of sounding too much like HM herself, it’s been a pleasure getting to know all my readers and followers.  If you follow or even comment I will take a look at your blog and I’ve come into contact with some really interesting life stories.  So keep it up; keep safe and warm and have a fabulous Christmas.

Love, Kirk

An ‘O-Come-All-Ye’?

In some quarters in the folk music world you are invited to a ‘come-all-ye’; a traditional way of describing an open mic night (or, since this is folk, an open ‘finger-in-ear’ night).  I’ve always liked the expression ‘come-all-ye’ whilst finding it faintly risible at the same time, an attitude which pretty much sums up my response to the folk music world in general.  So, I guess if a singalong in folk is a come-all-ye, then a Christmas carol singalong would be an ‘O-come-all-ye’ – geddit?  And it was to two such events that I came – or went – yesterday, one Quakerly and one ecclesiastical.

The Quakers in Loughborough gathered for carols and readings – the readings were mostly poems – after meeting yesterday.  We had all the traditional carols in the tunes I like, some a capella but most accompanied by a harpist, a flautist, a bass guitarist and an acoustic guitarist.  It was terrific fun and quite moving at the same time, and I read a poem of mine about global warming called ‘In the Deep Mid-Autumn.’   Then in the evening at Emmanuel there was the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols which began with a single voice singing ‘Once in Royal’; the choir on the second verse and the congregation rising to their feet with a hushed movement to sing the rest.

If there is one thing I miss in being a Quaker, it’s the music.  Traditional hymns and carols have laid down patterns in my brain from a very early age; patterns which relate to poetry and maths and emotion and spirit.  But the thing that lifts the roof off my head is to sing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ with the descant.  You get to the penultimate verse and you begin with your pedestrian melody.  You wait: and in the chorus it comes; the first voice going up like a rocket into the sky and hovering in the air; then the secong going up, following it and doing some pirouettes before reaching its final high note and ceasing to blackness.  When that chorus comes I can’t sing; I just have to listen.

Sadly yesterday we did not sing the tune I love the best to ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’, which is this one by Harold Darke:

Kirk out


O Come-Come-Come-Come-Come-Come-Come All Ye Faithful

I pride myself on not being one of those ‘o hum all ye’ people (see previous post): having had a church upbringing, the words of traditional hymns are in my DNA.  And so I knew most of the carols off by heart at last night’s ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ and didn’t have to struggle in the dim religious light with glasses and hymn books and service sheets.  The only one I didn’t know all the words to was ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ – and who knows all the words to that?  So that when it came to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ I belted out the first and second verses with gusto and got ready to enjoy the descant on ‘Sing Choirs of Angels’, only to find that everyone else was singing a different verse entirely.  ‘Oh, they’ve put in an extra verse’ I thought, and waited it out, only to find when I breathed in to give the choirs of angels a belt, that they were singing yet another strange verse.  Weird.  I fumbled for my service sheet to see what hymn number (or hum number?) it was.  ‘Omit  verse 7’ said the rubric.  Verse 7?  You don’t often get seven verses in a hum, as Pooh once observed.  Or was it Piglet?
I think it was Piglet.  Anyway, I scrabbled about in my hymn book (or hum book) and found the right page just as the weird verses ended.  Who knew ‘O come all ye faithful’ had so many verses?
Apart from that it was a beautiful service with a full choir (St James the Greater is known for its music) performing subtle, graceful harmonies and thunderous unisons with organ voluntaries bringing up the rear.  I particularly love the descant on O Come… where the sound goes up like a rocket into the sky and everything explodes together on a shower of song.
Hey, that sounds like a Leonard Cohen number…
After all that singing I needed a beer and so we lurched down the road to the Old Horse where I had a sadly indifferent pint of Tiger*.  And thence to the chippy on the way home where I finished watching ‘Harry Potter and the Seven Dwarves’.  Or something.
And so to bed.
Kirk out
*by which I mean it wasn’t that great, not that it didn’t care whether I drank it or not

Year and Carols

Beer and Carols last night was a fun event – a packed Western hosted a brass band and keyboard with kazoos, garglers and impromptu descants.  Sadly we did not do my favourite carol which I reproduce below.  Still it was a fun evening and I saw some people I hadn’t seen for a while.  And so to bed…

But yesterday, since I’m not working this week, I did something different and seasonal.  Some wise person on Facebook said that instead of having ‘to do’ lists we should all make ‘I did it’ lists – lists of things we’ve actually achieved rather than focussing on what remains to be done.  I thought this was a brilliant idea and so I scanned this blog for things I’ve done so far this year.  I’ve only got as far as August but here are some highlights:

Did ‘Sing for Water’

Picked blackberries and made wine

Published a short story

Performed poetry in loads of places

Published a poetry pamphlet

Did poems at Calligraphy group and craft group

And read, read, read – loads of stuff including Kathy Reichs, Andy McNab, Ian Rankin, Stella Rimmington, Hilary Mantel, JK Rowling and many, many more.

It would be good to have a complete list of books I’ve read this year but I don’t think they’re all on this blog, and though I used to keep a notebook with lists and comments on books I’d read, I don’t any more.  Perhaps I should go back to that.  At the moment I’m reading The Life of Pi.

I think it’s good but, to be honest, not THAT good – in fact I’m struggling to see why it won the Booker Prize.  There is no comparison with, say, Hilary Mantel who is a genius and thoroughly deserves any prize she gets.

Pleb or not Pleb?

So, normally in these cases I have a reasonable idea of what to think.  If there’s a dispute between the police and, say, CND demonstrators, I believe the demonstrators – usually because I’m one of them.  If there’s a dispute between the police and football fans over what happened I’d be more inclined to believe the fans but I’d probably think there were faults on both sides.  But when a police officer on duty outside Downing St says that a cabinet minister called him a pleb, I believe him.  And now it turns out he might have made it all up.

I can’t stand this kind of thing.  The thought of having to believe a Conservative Chief Whip‘s account of things is just utterly abhorrent to me…

So that’s it.  I sold another 6 poetry pamphlets last night and have just a handful left.  If you want one you’ll have to be quick or else get the e-version:

And finally, here is my favourite Christmas carol:

Oh hum, all ye faithful

Oh, hum all ye faithful

Doubtful and neglectful

Oh hum ye

Oh hum  ye

the words ye do not know.

Hum and forget them

Christmas song and sentiments

And hum it very quietly

And hum it slightly louder

Now hum it out with gusto

The tune, the bit ye know.

Kirk out