Tuesday, 20 December 2011

'Tis the season: 1 of 1

I often leave it a bit late to get into the 'Festive Spirit', mainly because I still get pretty excited over Christmas, and I know I can't sustain that level of anticipation for an entire month (incidentally, if you are also one of these people that doesn't thrive on sustained hype, Charity Bishop has an excellent article on her blog about retaining your sanity during what can be a very chaotic time of year).  However, once I do get in the mood I'm equally slow to get out of it, so I've been feeling contentedly festive for the past week.

The past two years' Christmases have been a bit quieter and more contemplative for me - since the introduction of Secret Santa into my immediate family of seven people (plus dog) and both my friends and work colleagues, much of the rush, stress and money issues have been eliminated and there has been more time to simply enjoy the benefits of the season and all the unique events that brings:

Mulled wine

Quick mention of this, because as a general rule I do not like wine.  I never have... Unless, as it turns out, it's hot and spicy and and has had an orange thrown in it for a while.  That I find amazing and warming and tasty and delicious.  I had one Mulled Wine Party at a friends house, during which we mainly sat about watching The Snowman, nattering about nothing in particular and seeing if we could get After Eight chocolates from our foreheads to our mouths without using our hands.  Then, only two days later, some more from an entirely different friend.  And on Thursday we shall have yet more!   ...I do realise how this makes me look you know.


I play clarinet in Loughborough Concert Band and every year the local council has bands from the region play on rotation in the town centre, during the weeks leading up to Christmas.  We did a couple of sets in the town's mini-mall (I'm second from the right on the front row, in those extremely attractive reindeer antlers.  My favourite of the other performing groups were the mellow tones of the Hathern Brass Band.  I took time out of my shopping to listen and chat with them for about half an hour, and they even played a couple of my favourites!

Our band has one more Christmas concert to go, on Wednesday, and last Saturday evening we did several hours at Kegworth village's Christmas fair.  Let me tell you, I now have a new appreciation for the lyrics of "In the Bleak Midwinter".  By the end of it, despite multiple layers and fingerless gloves (you can't handle the clarinet keys in regular gloves) my fingertips has gone through three stages of increasing pain; freezing cold, blessed numbness from the freezing cold, and then actual aching agony.  At the start of the second half I was literally shivering where I sat.  But despite it all we persevered and even managed a couple of rousing choruses alongside the local choir.  Score!

The second lot of carols did involve singing, at the 'Carols and Beer' evening held in a local Loughborough pub, the Swan in the Rushes.  Some of the band I already knew and they put on a cheerful and good-humoured performance with a couple of split parts for the audience and a kazoo for everyone!  I couldn't tell you what the audience thought, since I was too busy enjoying myself and belting out carols at the time.  Also there was a raffle and a mince-pie making competition which I entered, having only recently attempted hand-made pies for the first time.  I came second (the winner had their own cranberry, orange and port mincemeat.  That's pretty unbeatable!) and got a special mention for having pies that were "Most like Grandma's"!  For my second batch ever, I'm pretty happy with that :)

My third and final lot of carolling (so far!) was an entirely new experience.  I was invited to the Grand Union Folk Club's Christmas Singaround.  Basically it is what it sounds like.  Everyone sits around the edges of the room, facing the middle in a rough circuit, and everyone has a copy of the Club's songbook.  There are no instruments.  If you want to sing something you yell out the number, lead the first verse, and everyone joins in as they can, adding whatever harmonies they want.  The result is about thirty people, most of them pretty seasoned at this, belting out their favourite folk carols at the top of their lungs, and it is an incredibly powerful sound to be part of.  Sure, it's not always the most tuneful of strains, but it's got real feeling behind it; and that's sort of the point.  Not everyone 'can sing' but anyone could feel completely at home in this setting, and would sing regardless of whether or not they could.  Most of the tunes I didn't know but I can usually pick songs up pretty quickly and soon I too was trying out harmonies of my own, fitting in with the people around me.  I and the two friends who invited me were the youngest in the room by a good decade or two (and seriously, I have never seen such a concentrated and fantastic array of beards as I did over those few hours) but everyone seemed pleased to see us and we were made to feel very welcome.

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