You can't helping smiling as the winter air is filled with the sound of children laughing and shouting as they make their way to and from the Christmas Service held in the Parish Church in town. The long crocodile of Primary and Junior School kids, their teachers and class assistants make the mile or so walk through the streets and then return an hour or so later only to be followed the next day by another group.
It's good to see and hear, in this apparent multi-cultural bouillabaisse in which we live, the old tradition of the younger school children attending a religious service continues. I have two distinct school memories of Christmas, one painful and one slightly surreal. The painful one revolves around me playing Joseph in a French language version of the Nativity, oh yes I've been a Francophile pseud for a long time, and feeling the back of my outfit slowly coming undone as I sat waiting for the three wise men to arrive. Fortunately an adult sat behind me noticed what was happening and leaned forward to rectify the situation by pushing the safety pin that held the two piece of cloth together closed, unfortunately he managed to stick it into my skin at the first attempt - perhaps that's where my back problems began!
The second memory comes from the year when it seemed everybody in the school had to play a musical instrument which sounds dangerously like an Eddie Izzard riff. Anyway I was second glockenspiel, I mean how embarrassing is that, not even good enough to top dog when it comes to hitting some strips of metal with a small wooden stick that had a small round ball on the end! The whole year, or so it seemed, had to march to the nearest Royal British Legion hall to put on a show for some old people who had been bussed in, presumably they had been tricked into doing so by the threat of withdrawing their allowance of cake for the afternoon if they weren't compliant enough. Anyway, 'orchestra' and choir performed two sets, well sets probably makes it sound better than it was and actually the other thing is how pissed off must the real musicians in the group have been having been told they had to play with us misfits - I mean we had some seriously good musicians at school including one world renowned pianist and another who is now a half decent record producer. So we did the usual Christmas Greatest Hits package and there was no reaction.
In hindsight it was like those stories you used to hear of British bands in the 1960's going to Eastern Europe and the audience sitting on its hands until you'd played your thrity minutes. But this wasn't a club in Katowice and we weren't The Troggs or whoever. So anyway we finished the final songs and stood there, paused, bowed and still silence, so our music teacher started clapping and whilst it may not have been the sound of one hand clapping it was certainly the sound of one man clapping in desperation. We gathered our instruments walked down the stairs at the side of the stage and began the slow walk of dejection back to school.
Anyway the sun is slowly setting in the south west and the excited crocodile has made its way back to the classroom having marvelled at the wooden nativity scene in the church and listened to the vicar try and explain which passage of the Bible mentions a bloke in a white beard and red coat climbing down your chimney with a bike in his sack.