The night of the Christmas Carol Service. A gale is blowing in from the sea but it's dry. From the brow of the hill we see the kirk windows aglow, the tree by the porch shimmering with lights. A scene straight from Dickens. The church heating has been turned up to maximum. Soon overcoats are being discarded as the temperature inside rises, then soars, as more and more folk squeeze through the doors. The old building can comfortably hold eighty but tonight its close to double that. Villagers who have not met us wander over and say 'You must be the new folk '. We are quietly appraised. In laws are politely introduced. At such communal events are life long impressions made.
The choir - nine freshly permed Scottish ladies and five gentlemen - take their places by the altar. The gentlemen are of the ' beige car coat and driving gloves' generation. All are enthusiastic in a low key Scottish way that hints that they may go wild and have a second mince pie when they get home. 'The Font' notes that the choir ladies are wearing two piece suits. Three of them ( in a gesture of festive madness ?) wear coloured stockings.
The front pews fill early. Children fidget. Toddlers are held, squirming and complaining, on grandmothers knees. The mundane magic of Christmas. Teenagers, dragged from friends and big city lights, look around for someone their own age to commiserate with. Two babies cry and are carried to the back of the church by their mothers. Heads turn amid judgemental whispering of the ' I wouldn't go outside in the cold air with a child on a night like this' variety. The organist starts his 'introit'. The organ pipes, which have been frozen solid for much of the last fortnight, are caught by surprise. They wheeze, asthmatically, into life.
The Minister, a man of advancing if not advanced years, stands and tells us how wonderful it is to see so many old faces being joined by so many new ones. He ensures Good King Wenceslas, Hark the Herald Angels and O Little Town of Bethlehem are all sung lustily. He and the choir maintain one tempo, the congregation a variety of others. A soloist gives us Away in a Manger in a declamatory Edwardian style. Her accompanist does her best, and largely succeeds, in keeping abreast with the changes in pace. The Minister says a few words about peace and hope and light. He may have said more but the heat and the orderliness of his voice has had a soporific effect on this member of the congregation. The Wexford Carol played - beautifully - on the cello by a girl studying in Glasgow. A brass plate is passed down the pew under the watchful eye of an unsmiling bushy eyebrowed man wearing a knitted green and red sweater with the logo ' I Christmas harder than you' embroidered in large yellow letters across it. Angus is not quite sure about the propriety of this. It sounds ever so slightly passive aggressive.
Then it's almost time to go. The lights are dimmed. We all stand. The choir mistress, a long retired village school teacher ( the sort who wanted the best for every one of her charges and is still treated with a respect bordering on deference by the middle aged farmers she once taught ), turns to offer 'just a few words at this special time of the year'. She then goes on along the lines of 'I first voted Unionist in 1970. John Gilmour was our Member of Parliament then - a wonderful man with wonderful ways. The first time we'd had a Unionist MP in what had been a National Liberal seat. Well I've voted for the Unionists ever since but what these people in London are doing to the nurses is sinful'. There is a slight but discernible intake of breath from her ( and the congregation ) before she carries on in a louder voice ' Completely sinful ! '. There is another pause before her voice rises to a shout ' We must pay the nurses. They are Gods angels. Tonight of all nights we should remember that '. She turns, lifts her arms and we're off into the first verse of Silent Night. I guess politics and the Nativity have always mixed. Then it was a census, now it's a government that's run out of ideas. Memories here last for generations.
So passes our first, ever so slightly 'batty' village carol service. We are going to be quite at home here.
The white St.Joseph has arrived but the cases of red have gone missing. A bottle provides a suitably festive way of warming up after the walk across the fields home.
Modern and calming. Christmas song #21:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4vWQ144WIc