21 December

Getting your act together

People planning Christmas concerts should be rehearsing their acts by now. Those accompanying carols should be running through their music.[1] And if you’re planning some other kind of afternoon festivity, prepare as much as you can today: find a cricket ball, gather some pads and pencils, get out the dress-up box; whatever you need.

2016-12-21

It’s just as well we weren’t planning a concert at my house (if you do a double act with only two guests there’s no audience) because things have changed again!

“Caitlin has thrown Dad out,” Hannah told me. “She’s done it before but she’s always taken him back, so I didn’t want to mention it, but it’s been four weeks now and I think it’s sticking.”

“She’s thrown him out?” I repeated.

“He’s an unfaithful bastard and he doesn’t deserve her.”

Ha! I knew those business trips where he goes away and we all have dinner together were about the wrong kind of business!

“So Caitlin’s still a mess and she’s not very merry and I was wondering if it would be okay if we all spent Christmas with you?”

Of course it is! Hannah will be here for dinner after all! And Pixie and Poppet too, and it’s wonderful to have little children around at Christmas time! (I’ll make rainbow jelly – they’ll love it, although it won’t make them feel nearly as excited and happy as I felt at that moment, knowing that I’d share Christmas with both of my children after all.)

“I can bring my turkey breast and my pudding,” Hannah continued, “but I wasn’t going to do ham so I don’t think we’ll have enough. Is it too late to order another?”

Well, we can try but I’m pretty sure all of Bill’s premium, free-range hams are already spoken for. I’ll check what they have at the supermarket (if I can get a parking spot).

And I’ll have to brave the mall tomorrow to get a present for Caitlin and it’s bound to be mayhem. But I know just what I’ll get her – some of those really good herb snippers – so I should be able to execute it as a lightning raid.

[1] Although Nanna could play anything at sight better than most people could after a week’s rehearsal. (She was, however, unable to play pop songs without making digs about the inferiority of modern music.)

8 December

Do re mi

Would you like to sing carols on Christmas Day?[1] If so, it’s time to start brushing up on them:

  • Choose very familiar carols and print off plenty of copies of the lyrics: practically no-one knows the second verse of even the most famous carols.[2]
  • Practise your piano playing or guitar strumming or glockenspiel tapping or remind your accompanist to do so. Or get out your karaoke carols.
  • If your gang are slightly musical, you might like the rounds mentioned on 25 June.
  • If your gang are more musical, here’s a comparatively simply but very effective SATB[3] arrangement of “Silent Night”. (You’ll probably need to distribute this today to give people a chance to practise.) silent night
  • If your gang can be persuaded to sing but are not particularly musical, you could do “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a memory song (so you’ll be making up your own gifts around the circle)[4] and emphasise that it’s about memory and not pitch to remove performance anxiety.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing about carols this year. Wendy and I usually do a sing-along but Matthew seldom sings the right note[5] and I haven’t a clue if Auntie Gwen or Susan or Gemma or Paul are willing to warble “Wenceslas”.

2016-12-08
Not so silent when you sing it with a full choir.

The social club committee blocked out our calendars this afternoon so that Laura and Gemma could go to Laura’s uncle’s farmlet to cut down pine saplings and Adam and Jessica and I could drive to my house to bring back huge quantities of holly and ivy. I had recommended that they all wear gardening gloves and I would have taken such an instruction to mean that I should even cover up my hands but Jessica pretty much only covered up her hands and was wearing a skimpy top and a tiny skirt and suffered dreadfully (but manfully – she didn’t complain) with the holly.

[1] This is the plural “you”, not the singular “you”: the evening Uncle Geoff tried to pressgang his unmusical children into doing carols did not go well.

[2] But I like to sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground,” while I’m pulling up blackberries. (It’s from one of the less joyful verses of “Joy to the World”.)

[3] Consider “SATB” a shibboleth: if you don’t know what it means, you may not be ready to conduct this version of “Silent Night”.

[4] We once ended up with, “Five runner beans, four sides of beef, three mince tarts, two turkey rolls and a partridge in a pantry”.

[5] Matthew claims that he does hit the right note, just not at the right time.

14 November

Carol repair

Many traditional carols are sexist but some of them can be fixed:

  • In “Mary’s Boy Child”, change “Man will live forever more” to “We will live forever more”.
  • In “Good King Wenceslas”, change “Therefore Christian men be sure” to “Therefore Christians all be sure”.
  • In “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, change “Peace to men on earth” to “Peace to all on earth”.
  • In “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, change “Goodwill to men” to “Goodwill to all”, and change “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep” to “God is not dead and doth not sleep” (or “God is not dead, nor doth She sleep” if you prefer).

You can see the pattern here and you may find other places to apply it but some carols are less malleable. For example, a later verse of “Jingle Bells” says “Take the girls tonight and sing this sleighing song” which fits the world view of straight men and lesbians, but not of straight women and gay men.[1]

2017-11-14
De-sexing carols.

Christmas Day 1970: Around eight thirty, Nanna got out a tin of sweets she had been given by one of her students. Uncle Bill groaned and spoke of torture but he still ate a few, which I thought was hypocritical.[2] I had a lolly too (but I hadn’t complained I was too full to move) and found that the assortment was one of those that masqueraded as chocolate but was mostly toffee and, even at the age of eight, I was disappointed when I got vanilla fudge instead of chocolate truffle.[3]

[1] I assume that the tailoring of this song to lesbians was a happy accident rather than a deliberate inclusion!

[2] With all the pompous self-righteousness a primary school kid can bring to an ethical issue.

[3] My cousin Brian said that it was also hard to get the chocolate you wanted from a box of Cadbury Roses because the colours on the key were so misleading that they should be called “Cadbury Ruses” instead.