I have harked the heraldic angels, watched the grounded shepherds, seen the inward-sailing ships, rested with the merry gentlemen and been with all the faithful – in the bleak midwinter of North West Hampshire. The carol services in the schools, towns and villages are a joy to go to. The churches are festively decorated and well-attended, and the singing enthusiastic. At one service, the congregation disagreed with the organist about the metronome marking for Silent Night. He thought it was andante, whereas we settled for allegretto moderato. We lapped him on the third verse, at the Dawn of Redeeming Grace.
In Penton, at the Christingle service recently, after the lights were switched off, Louis Atkinson lit the candles on the oranges and handed them, adorned with sweets on sticks, to the children. Then, providing additional illumination, he accidentally ignited his cassock, giving new meaning to the concept of holy smoke.
But the lasting memory is of the interpretation of the Nativity scene at a primary school. Joseph, Mary and the innkeeper had doubtless been carefully rehearsed, but when the moment came to open the door of the inn and refuse admission, the landlord’s generosity of spirit overtook adherence to the script. “Come right in” he said “You poor things; there’s plenty of room inside.”
As this is the season of goodwill, I now publicly forgive the lady in the Range Rover I met outside Hannington. One of the roads into the village is single track and, going about my pastoral duties, I saw coming the other way this four-wheel drive multi-purpose vehicle. We both stopped in the middle of the road, because that was the only part of the road in which to stop. One of us would clearly have to forsake the tarmac for the uncharted waters of the grass verge.
My car has no rural credibility at all, being designed by and for an urban Swede; the other vehicle had every automotive accessory that Jeremy Clarkson has every dreamed of; it would climb up the north face of the Eiger, go through malaria-ridden swamps, pull a cow out of a swimming pool. The grass verge outside Hannington was almost an insult to its virility. However, its owner would not budge. It was clear that, if our mutual journeys were to be completed, I would have to leave the road. I navigated into the mud; the wheels spun, the exhaust pipe and sump clanked on hidden boulders. Halfway through my detour, I glanced up at the unyielding one, perched on her seat high and dry in the sky – searching in vain for a flicker of gratitude.
Dear lady, I don’t know who you are; but I wish you a very Happy Christmas.