By Sunday we were a full three days into December and I still hadn’t sung a single Christmas caroll, which didn’t seem right. I’m not a religious person by any means, but hot damn I love the merriment. The Christmas tree festival at Princess Pavilion was starting with a big switch-on, a carol concert, and – crucially – mulled cider and mince pies, so I put on my woolly hat even though it’s basically never cold here, counted out my festive booze money, and headed out.
I’m very used to the Christmas-based singing events I’d attended basically every year for decades in and around London. They range from local churches which get so packed people literally collapse in the heat, to the Royal Albert Hall. This was new. It was great.
Weird moment #1: The band leader asked everybody if they wanted to stand
“That’s not a weird moment!” I hear you cry. And you’d be right. I assumed this was a rhetorical question, because of course you stand for Christmas carols. That’s not a religious thing, It’s just that it helps you really belt out that last ‘Oh come let us adore him’ that you know you’re not technically supposed to yell but you do anyway. So I stood up when asked. The rest of the crowd who, on average, were a good four to five decades older than me, flat-out refused, leaving one eager beaver (me) and one band leader looking bemused. I like to think we played it cool, though. (We did not.)
Weird moment #2: People sang the wrong song
Again. Not necessarily weird. But in this instance the band skipped a carol in the book and moved straight on to the next one without telling anybody. I realised fairly quickly because I know my shit when it comes to Christmas carols, but a good amount of people around me continued to sing the words of ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ to the tune of ‘The First Noel’ for at least half a song until I managed to shout-sing them all into submission.
Weird moment #3: The guest conductor’s guest
At one point, a very small boy wandered into the room and stood in front of the brass band, looking intrigued. The band leader proffered his baton. The little boy looked hesitant for a second, and then went back to his family. We thought the charming comedy moment was over, but the little boy grabbed his sister’s hand and dragged her over to the band as well, then forced her to stand next to him while he waggled the band around with the conductor doing actual conducting behind him. Every single fibre of his poor sister was screaming “What the fuck are you doing, Timmy? I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE”. I could feel it from all the way at the back of the room. Timmy did not give a shit.
Weird moment #4: The descant singers
I had the
misfortune big opportunity of being stuck at a table with an older couple who seemingly could not be arsed to muster any level of Christmas cheer. Or indeed politeness. They grumbled about every moment as if they were being forced to be there. I carried everybody in my immediate vicinity when it came to every single carol. So imagine my surprise when we started singing Hark The Herald Angels Sing and they busted out the Songs of Praise-style descant. I have never before witnessed such a transformation in two people, and probably never will again. They left immediately after that, even though we were only halfway through. They’d got what they came for.
Weird moment #5: War is not over
We finished the official Christmas carols, but the band weren’t done yet. They got a team of helpers up on stage to rattle many and varied maracas, started playing another song, and encouraged everybody to join in if they knew the words. The tune suddenly got very familiar. It was Happy Xmas (war is over). I started singing at the top of my voice, hoping to gee up the grinches around me. Other people started to sing. They even did a dance they all knew the moves to. It turned out that it wasn’t a John Lennon classic. I haven’t yet worked out if it was a Cornish thing, and old people thing, or both. But one thing is certain: I had no business joining in.
Santa, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.