Christmas Morning 2016

haroldston

I  had checked the website on Christmas Eve. Off I drove somewhat incredulously on Christmas Morning to Walton West. The roads were clear, the car park empty.

Before the church stood one car with a family inside. It was the time. ‘There’s no one there. Do you know where the service is?’ the driver called to me through his open window.

‘It must be at Haroldston West. It’s always at Haroldston, but I checked the website last night and it advertised Walton West. Follow me.’

We drove through the quiet lanes and roads to Haroldston and arrived only the tiny teeniest bit late. Two dozen worshippers filled Haroldston comfortably. I love St. Madoc of the Ferns, its reassuring simple stone walls with windows of plain, lead-lined, diamond-shaped panes.

I lifted the iron latch and entered through the stout wooden church door. I went to the last empty pew at the back. The churchwarden in a red coat surreptitiously handed me a thick hymn book and a thin order of service booklet.

 Diana, the vicar, stood delivering her introductory eulogy in a deep and solemn voice. In her white surplice with a large embroidered yellow sun, she spoke inspiring words based on the greatest line in the bible, according to her, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’

Afterwards, the congregation sang hymns and prayed – I thought of Jenny and Lydia. With smiling faces, we greeted each other by shaking hands and repeating the phrase ‘Peace be with you,’ or responding ‘And you’. Stranger greeted stranger. I shook the smooth warm hands of youngsters, the bony gnarled hands of old men, and the hands of mothers and fathers with an enthusiasm born of the day itself, the sermon, and the intimacy of St. Madoc’s church. It had a feeling of togetherness, a feeling of love and I suppose that’s what it’s all about – love thy neighbour. It’s so much easier in small intimate time-worn churches. Christmas Day 2016 had started well and back at home grandchildren waited expectantly to open more presents; their stockings had been opened at seven, hours before.

Those precious moments of inner reflection would soon be absorbed in a whirl of family with presents being unwrapped, food eaten, wine drunk and old remembrances recalled, but I am glad I experienced them.

A Night with the Nutcracker

arnaud-stephenson-ballet

I never thought much of ballet as a young man. A perception of toffs, privilege and ‘odd’ people hindered my interest. It took an assignment to Moscow in my late forties to stimulate my interest; a wonderful theatre – warm and elegant with Swan Lake’s music and beauty – in a cold and ugly grey city. What a surprise it was and what an occasion. I became an overnight convert.

Last night, two weeks before Christmas, in the provincial Torch Theatre overlooking Milford Haven’s harbour, the ballet transported me to an Arcadian world of grace and beauty. We sat in winter coats, no Bolshoi vestiary in the Torch, in worn padded seats in a large featureless hall to gaze at the cinema screen showing images of the sumptuous Royal Opera House. The camera panned to show dark yellow walls, table top lamps lighting up boxes surrounded by gilt plaster scrollwork and everywhere London’s finest and richest patrons dressed ready for an evening of delight. Continue reading “A Night with the Nutcracker”