This is a bit late, since I started writing it during that strange gap in time that we now call Twixtmas: a special period of having little to do, of loafing and binging and pondering what we might do when we are forced to become productive again.
Not for me, I was back at the dayjob after having the bank holidays off and nothing more. Thanks boss. But I’m not dwelling on that.
I am always sucked into believing that those couple of extra days off work will go on forever and that I will be transported back to my teenage years, when I could spend the Christmas holidays being disappointed by the Queen/Beatles/Jimi Hendrix songbook I bought with my hard-earned Christmas money when all the songs turned out to be scored for horns in Eb and Bb. I would, however, spend all that extra time with my guitar, messing about, making noises on whatever new toy I had got for it, be it a slide, a capo, a flanger or a wah-wah. Or, that rarest of things, a new set of strings. I had hoped to get a minute or two out in the studio playing on my much-neglected instruments over this time, but as yet people haven’t stopped fucking ‘popping by for drinks’. It’s so important to catch up isn’t it?
I want to dick about with my guitar, watch telly, listen to records, read books and maybe, just maybe, eat some biscuits, and that is all.
However, I’m at work and it’s pretty much all over, so that’s not happening.
Don’t worry, I’m okay, just jealous, and I’ll have three days off to welcome in 2022 and do nothing. I’ll be fine.
I did give myself the end of the year off from writing and stuff though. It’s been a busy year, as I detailed in my last blog, and I finished a first draft of something I am pretty sure I’ll never finish on the day before Christmas Eve. I’m not allowing myself to do any more bookish stuff until the 4th, when everyone else comes back to work at the dayjob as well (again, thanks Boss, thanks so much). So I’m spending my early morning writing time polishing up my blurbs and covers, ready for some big marketing next year. I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to do any work, I really was going to just read other people’s books, but the anxiety said no.
Here’s me at fifteen years old messing about with a guitar - might have been Christmas (that’s still my main guitar, if you’re geeky enough to be interested in such things)
Christmas Eve brought an odd revelation. I found myself wanting to go to Midnight Mass, since when I was a kid I was made to go every year whether I wanted to or not. Perhaps it was because I made the Midnight Mass such an important part of the Christmas-based plot of The Bellever Hagstone (Part 2 of my Wicker Dogs Folk Horror Series) or maybe it was the fond memories of my brother and I sitting there pretending to be sober while wolfing down peanuts we’d brought with us from the pub to soak up the beer. Either way, sneaking in the back twenty minutes late and slightly wobbly felt like old times.
It was a lot emptier than I remember. Though it’s a different church, different decade, different town and different world than it was when I last attended.
It hit me right in the feels from the get go, sitting at the back, in the dim candle-light of the cold breath-fogged church, trying to follow the service from the bit of folded up A4 the nice lady who spotted me coming in late walked over to hand me. Wrapped up in three coats it had the familiar tang of the early ‘90s for little Dave.
But it was the singing I went for, and I was not disappointed. Generally, when I’m in a church these days, it’s for a funeral or a wedding, and so I tend to do the hymns with my much quieter bass register, in order not to make it look like I’m the massive show-off I really am at heart.
But it was Christmas, and the best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.
So I let the big tenor loose, and since everybody else was muttering into their shoes, it was like getting to do a solo in the big wonderful echoey space that is my local church.
Me and the organist, giving it beans and having it large.
Music, so they say, soothes even the savage beast.
I spent a lot of years refusing to sing in church, after I renounced the whole thing and went militant atheist. I could not spout lies in song. Another example of my inner pretentious dickhead ruining my fun, and doing me out of something I genuinely enjoyed. As a cherubic eight year old I sang in the church choir, and as a teenager, I sang at evensong in Exeter Cathedral with the school and if I hadn’t done all of that, I almost certainly wouldn’t have the stones to sing in public as much as I have done these last thirty-five or so years.
And if I can sing about the highway to hell, and shouting at the devil and reigning in blood etc. etc. without believing a word of it, then I can sing the songs of the other side surely? I don’t have to believe in either. Music is music, no matter where it comes from, and like they say, why should the devil get all the good tunes?
So I have been very at home singing carols for a few years now.
Here’s the ruins of Holy Trinity Church in Buckfastleigh. The inspiration for Dourstone Nymet's St Euphemia’s where the Midnight Mass that kicks off the final confrontation in The Bellever Hagstone takes place. I would love to go to a Midnight Mass there.
However, I haven’t done the last verse to Oh Come All Ye Faithful in a very long time, as you only get to do it one day a year - born this happy morning.
I found myself overwhelmed with nostalgia, joy and that excellent feeling you only get when you’re in a group of people all doing the same thing.
What my old Church Youth Group leader called the Holy Spirit, and which I quickly found out feels the same at a Slayer gig as it does at a mass Christian thingy, so it’s not.
In the back of my mind, I heard my grandmother’s voice doing the descant parts, as she always did in life, and that’s when it hit me. What I loved about Christmas when I was a kid, was seeing my grandmother. Singing the carols with her at midnight mass was every bit as important as the big dinner and the presents.
Maybe my grinchiness for all these years has simply been because I miss her?
Anyway, I felt closer to her than I have since she died eight years ago, just before her 90th birthday (which was at Christmastime, another reason to associate it with her) as a result of going to church.
So I had a profound, emotional, spiritual and yet entirely secular experience in a house of God, on Christmas Eve.
The vicar (who is a friend of mine, and very keen to get me back in the flock) was very pleased to see me there, and said so afterwards after I thanked him for the service. I had to tell him that I was only there because I like to sing, and I miss my gran - which was true, but only really half the story.