Thursday, 24 December 2015
The First Nowell
Well, I couldn't resist one more post for this year...
It's just that we were watching Coronation Street the other night and the subject of Christmas carols came up; the lads at Webster's Autocentre were discussing which was their favourite. “So what's yours?” I asked Mr SDS (turns out his is that melancholy-sounding one O Come O Come Emmanuel) and from thereon we tried to remember the tunes we'd learned as kids and got them all mixed up. I mean, can you tell the difference between Hark The Herald Angels Sing and Once In Royal David's City, or are they the same melody? They seem interchangeable... But as we mumbled our way through the first bars of Away In A Manger, strong memories were evoked. These songs have endured since early childhood, learned in my first year at school and forever with me in spite of a lack of religious belief. I wish I could say they conjured up cosy festive scenes and perhaps the taste of mulled wine, presents round the tree, the smell of woodsmoke – any nostalgic Christmas cliché you care to choose – but my associations are, unfortunately, quite unpleasant. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem... name any carol... and they evoke just three things (not kings): fluorescent striplights, a nervous knot in my stomach and a big puddle of vomit. And the vomit has pinky-purple chunks in it like diced beetroot, eww!
It was only one night but it sticks. The fluorescent striplights: being inside my primary school after hours in Winter. It was wrong, somehow - wrong to be in the school hall when I'd normally be at home watching Nationwide and Z Cars but it was my first Christmas concert and I had an important role playing my recorder. Being at school during the evening was surreal too: the smell of floor polish, the coolness of the plastic chairs, the big patterned curtains at the side of the assembly hall stage – all so familiar between 9am and 3pm, yet it was as if they took on a different importance and somehow seemed less friendly when exposed under a new night-time role. Harsh lights seemed harsher.
The nervous knot in my stomach: ugh, performing! In front of parents and teachers – an audience! This was major stuff for my nine-year-old self. Major. The sort of thing that would worry me so much I'd have sleepless nights.
I think Ben must've felt the same because, the afternoon of the concert, just before home-time, we were sitting opposite each other in the classroom, only a couple of feet of floor between us, when suddenly –absolutely no warning – he threw up violently and copiously right in front of me. I mean, it landed at my feet. And all I could see (and still can) were those peculiarly coloured lumps of whatever the hell it was. That smell of sick, followed swiftly by the smell of Dettol, lodged itself in my nostrils. Then I had to go home and eat my tea (but I couldn't, because all I could think about was Ben's vomit, such was my trauma), as the nervous knot in my stomach grew larger by the second, before going out again to perform God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on my recorder to scary grown-ups under harsh fluorescent striplights.
That's what Christmas carols evoke for me (it was a long while before I could eat beetroot again too - and I will never ever dice it.)