As December 25th approaches, the diary fills up with seasonal events. Parliament has its festive moments, with carol singing to the Salvation Army Band in Westminster Hall, and a service of lessons and carols at St Margarets. As in the first World War, when the Germans and the British stopped fighting each other, clambered out of the trenches and played football, so the traditional hostilities in the House of Commons are tempered by goodwill and suspended. After slagging each other off at Question Time, we troop over the road and sing God rest to each other.
In the constituency, Christmas also begins to dominate the diary. I switch on the Christmas lights at Tadley – assisted by an Olympic gold medallist. I hope to attend the carol service at Hannington, give my staff a Christmas lunch, and attend some school Nativity Plays. One constituency school visit remains clear in the memory. A primary school was re-enacting the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph arrived at the inn cold, weary and hungry. They played their parts with conviction. The inn-keeper was an eight year old, of tender years to be sure, but generous of heart. His potential guests pleaded for a room with such effect that his heart broke. “Come right on in” he said “Business is quiet and there’s pots of room.” The oxen and asses were deprived of some illustrious company.
In my last constituency, Christmas once coincided with an unseasonal outbreak of ill-will by the local refuse collectors. The dustbins overflowed and it was impossible to get rid of household refuse. One constituent, reluctant further to pollute the streets of west London but unable to accommodate his rubbish at home, had a brainwave. He put his week’s rubbish in a large cardboard box, and spent 50p buying some Christmas wrapping paper. He wrapped up the cardboard box, and drove to a part of the constituency notorious for its lawlessness. He left the box on the backseat of his unlocked car and had a pint in a local hostelry. When he emerged, the box had disappeared.
When the refuse collectors eventually returned to work, tempers were still frayed and one of the vehicles was reversed over a pavement and through the windows of a shop. The shop-keeper, irate, telephoned the Town Hall to complain, expressing concern about the future of his trade. The Environmental Health Department promised they would do all they could to help and despatched a senior employee. He took one look at the shop and served a dangerous structure notice on the hapless owner.