It seems a bit strange writing a blog when you haven’t really done anything all day, but here goes. Last night, the Christmas Midnight Mass was only broadcast from our local cathedral in central Birmingham. I have not visited St.Chads but it has several associations with the eminent architect Pugin as the Cathedral and Bishop’s House (originally opposite), and their interiors, were designed by him. The cathedral is an internationally significant building, being the first Catholic cathedral to be built in the UK since the Reformation. I also discovered that in 1940 a bomb dropped through the ceiling, burst some central heating pipes and the escape of water from the same put out the fire which would have otherwise ensued (and therefore the fabric of the cathedral was saved). Perhaps it was the TV shots but the cathedral was not, at first glance, a particularly memorable building – I suspect that I need to visit it and have a good wander around to appreciate its undoubted qualities. When the service was over, it was now being well and truly Christmas Day, I sent off a series of tweats to family members and also received an email from an old friend in Spain. The rest of the day followed a fairly predictable Christmas Day routine. After we had had our breakfast and opened up our Christmas presents, we were entertained by the adventures of ‘Sean the Sheep‘ which brought wry smiles rather than rib-tickling gales of laughter. Then it came to the organisation of Christmas dinner. This is always an exercise in logistical rather then culinary skills but I am pleased to say that I managed to get the beef, gravy, roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, chestnuts and finally Rioja well and truly coordinated and we had a (rather large) dinner at just about the anticipated time. After lunch, I idly flipped through various channels on the telly and settled upon a programme on Channel 5 going through Abba’s greatest hits which I must say I rather enjoyed in a post-prandial haze. Then it was time for the Queen’s broadcats at 3.00pm. I must admit that I have never followed these assiduously over the years but on this occasion, it seemed a little different. For a start, the Queen had decided to stay at Windsor rather than having a traditional ‘family do’ at Sandringham – was this a message to the nation? A lot of the broadcast was then devoted to the fact that the Queen had lost her husband earlier on this year and she was reflecting upon the fact that Christmas time can be a particularly poignant time when loved ones have passed away. I thought the whole broadcast was particularly well crafted (even though much of it is put together by some of her wordsmiths). I rather enjoyed trying to decode the subliminal messages (who is ‘up’ and who is ‘down’ in the modern royal family by the mention or the absence of a mention as well as which video clips are displayed to illustrate the broadcast)
Almost inevitably at this time of year, one reflects on Christmas in the past. One of the earliest recollections that I have must have date back to about 1950 when I was aged five. My mother worked as a clerk/typist in the Education offices in Harrogate. She used to tell the the story that she and her fellow workers used to wait for their boss to do his round of the offices to wish everyone a happy Christmas at about 3.30 or 3.45 on Christmas Eve. This was then a ‘cue’ for everyone to leave and all of the Christmas shopping that needed to be done was left from about 3.45 to 5.30 on that afternoon. The memories that I retain was of my mother coming home on her bicycle, laden up with carrier bags and with a small Christmas tree sticking out of one of them. To be fair, the shops were so short of anything to buy just after the Second World War and people were so short of money in general that this not the privation you might imagine. Of course, times were very much simpler 70 years ago. Even later, as a teenager, when I worked at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate (washing dishes at 12½p an hour) I would start at 6.00pm and would leave home to cycle into work at about 5.30. Our shift would carry on until about 2.00am the following morning and I did this for several years as a teenager. To be honest, you had Christmas Day with your family and then saw work colleagues in the evening. The management was extraordinarily generorous in those days – staff were not offered any extra pay for working on Christmas day but each member of staff was rewarded with one (small) glass of sherry (which the hotel used to buy by the barrel directly from Spain and then bottle themselves with an ‘Old Swan’ label stuck on it).