On a scooter blowing a hooter.. a gift of music
It’s the little moments that you remember forever, isn’t it? Not the parties, despite the generous hosts and the seemingly limitless drinking and talking. Not the presents, despite the bows and curls and printed kittens in bobble hats. Not the food, despite the gold and purple adverts that tell you it’ll make your year; or rather your New Year, full and happy. It’s the unexpected human stuff that brings a tear to your eye long after The Doctor has been regenerated for the 13th time…
Tis the season to be… busy
The kids are busy this holiday season. This year Matthew has six concerts in a week. Cameron has just finished a week long run in a ballet. Hannah is deep in the school nativity whirl. But we are asked if the three of them can play in an old people’s home. I’m not sure the residents know what they are letting themselves in for. Hannah has only been playing the tenor horn for six weeks and only knows two tunes, Cameron has had no time to practice, and Matthew is exhausted. But still we pitch up at the wood panelled Lancashire house, up a sweeping driveway that looks more stately home than old people’s home.
A strange welcome
Peggy doesn’t want us. Well it’s not that she doesn’t want us. She’d just prefer it if we came after tea. When there are more people around.
“More people like who?” asks the care worker.
“The others should hear them.”
“But everyone is here!”
Everyone is here but not everyone wants to hear. They are rather fond of watching the TV and object to us turning it off. The kids are standing in the way of twenty pensioners and ‘Cash in the Attic.’
“Can you come back later?” Peggy asks again. The kids aren’t sure what to do. They unpack, then obediently begin to pack up.
“The children have come to play you some music.” says the care worker, halting them.
“What are those children doing here?”
“Can they come back after tea?”
A gift of music
It isn’t going that well. No one seems to be listening. One woman is humming something else, another has fallen asleep. Peggy is still demanding that the others are invited in to listen. One pensioner is eating pulped food. Another is chatting in Italian. The children get to the end of a ragged ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas.’ Matthew opens the music to ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and begins a solo.
And something in the room changes. The woman who is humming starts humming along to a tale of frosty winds and iron earth. Peggy forgets about tea. Someone opens a box of biscuits and munches on the Hob Nob. The lady who was asleep opens her eyes.
A couple slow clap as Hannah launches into a basic and fairly tuneless ‘We Three Kings.’ And in the corner, a blind lady starts to sing.
“Go for it Dorothy” says the care worker. And Dorothy does.
“We three kings of Orient are.
One in a taxi one in a car
One on a scooter, blowing his hooter
smoking a fat cigar.”
Did she really just sing that?
Hannah’s eyes widen. The words that are forbidden in the school assemblies and nativity are being sung at her, from a chair in the corner by a blind octogenarian. And suddenly everyone is joining in. And I am too.
“One in a taxi, one in a car. One on a scooter blowing his hooter…”
The biscuits are passed around. The care worker asks for requests and we all sing about the profligate kings again.
Not the Christmas story
This isn’t the story of Christmas. That’s about a baby in a manger and anyway, that particular tale is now back on our bookshelves to be opened up in twelve months time. It isn’t ‘A Wonderful Life’ either. Our tale is less sentimental, and while there is a happy ending, it’s transient. We pack up and move on, taking with us our instruments and our family and our youth and our future, while the residents stay behind, confined to a chair, or their bodies or the past.
Yet this is the moment I will remember when the baubles go away and the fairy lights go out. My eight year old with her few wobbly notes on her unfamiliar instrument and a king on a scooter blowing his hooter. A blind woman visualising a rich guy disappearing in a puff of festive tobacco smoke. And a bunch of people who were persuaded to turn off the TV. At least until after tea.
Do you have a festive memory that goes beyond the presents and the fun? What made your Christmas this year?