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Ding Dong Merrily

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Laurence Barker parked his car in the small lay-by opposite the church.
It had just begun to snow.
Giant flakes, swirling down from above, settling on his sleeves, in his hair, on his eyelashes.
Although it was still afternoon, at this time of the year, the dusk came early.
Lights were already streaming from the lattice windows of the alms houses.
Twinkling fairy lights too, festooned in the trees, on the eaves, along the hedges of the cottages and dwelling places in the village.
Rural England.
Some would say twee.
Chocolate boxy.
Thatched houses, little gardens around each.
The Green, with its duck pond, frozen now.
The village post office, its cylindrical red letter box outside.
An ancient inn.
The Fox and Hounds.
All oak beams and bang your head on the ceiling.
'Duck or Grouse'.
Tankards hanging on hooks above the bar.
Roaring fires which crackled and spat.
The glowing embers tinkling musically as they settled in the grate.
An old retriever dozing on the hearth.

A new village.
A new life.
A brand new start.

He hurried across the road, up the gravel path between the giant yew trees, passed the crooked and lichen encrusted grave stones, which stood in rows like jagged teeth.
In through the heavy wooden door.
It's iron latch clicked and the portal squeaked as he pushed it open.
The huge black door nails in a pattern across its surface.

A warm fug greeted him.
The glow of many yellow candles.
Dancing and flickering and throwing dark looming shadows up beyond the architrave.
Cold stone pillars, of strength and fortitude.
Statues, peering down with sightless eyes.
Twelfth Century.
How many comings and goings had those walls seen?
So many folk, bending the knee.
Through purges and emancipations, glories and dissolutions.
Yet still here. Enduring.

Evocative seasonal smells of clove and cinnamon.
Fir cones and oranges.
Meeting and mingling with a scent of incense, woodworm, wax polish and old hymn books.
The mice in the organ pipes coming out at night to feast on the hassocks and altar cloths, gnaw at the oaken pews, and increase their prodigy.

The crib, at one end, by the font.
Victorian probably.
Plaster figures, of the Holy couple, the Christ child, in a bed of hamster straw.
A nod to modernity.

Others had begun to gather, standing in groups talking excitedly.
Their breath puffing out in clouds, as the ancient central heating boiler, tried vainly to warm the air.
"Evening Laurence!"
They came towards him, crowding round, smiles, greetings, holding a out their hands for him to shake.
Clapping him on the back.
"Brrrr! It's just starting to snow! I hope it won't keep people away!" He breathed.
"No chance. It'll be packed!"

A whole year since he'd arrived.
Ellen filed for divorce almost immediately.
But he'd lost her long before that.
So, he packed up his stuff, moved on, and learned some valuable lessons.
About how much things matter, and don't matter.
How we focus on little things and forget the most important ones.

He'd taken a cottage there.
Renting, with the option to buy.
Found himself a job teaching music at the local secondary school.
The revelation was involving himself in the church.
Becoming first the organist, then the choirmaster.
No more fierce rivalries, no more competition, just wonderful, exciting, fun and immersing himself in the music he loved so much.
Out of it came fulfilment.
He met Janice.
A little younger than him, but a widow.
With a voice like an angel.
He fell in love, as he never thought to do, ever again.
She was beside him now, beaming up at him, cheeks cherry red, his hand clasped in hers.
Leaning down, their lips touching briefly.
"Stop it you two! We've a concert to perform!"


The pews were filling up now.
People rubbing their hands together, blowing into their fingers.
Stripping off the layers, brushing away the melting flakes.
Leaving wet slushy trails down the aisle.
A buzz of happy festive chatter.

All the electric lights switched off.
Each choir member holding a lit candle.
With a disc of paper to protect the hand.
The glow from the flame illuminating each face.
Basking in the soft light.

A moment of reverent silence before he rose.
Walked quietly to the front.
Raised his arms, the signal to begin.


"The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
By: Basque carol, para. Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,

With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame:

"All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary,

Most highly favored lady." Gloria!
"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,

All generations laud and honor thee;

Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,

Most highly favored lady." Gloria!
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;

"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said.

"My soul shall laud and magnify God’s holy name.
"Most highly favored lady."

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born

In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn,

And Christian folk through-out the world will ever say:

"Most highly favored lady."


Their voices rising and falling, melding together.
Each cadence, each wonderful harmony, soaring upwards, into the rafters, echoing around the stone and wood.
His beautiful hands moving with a gentle grace and flow.
Head back slightly, eyes faltering shut as the sound enveloped and washed over him.
Sweeping him up and away with each note.
A resonance which the walls soaked up and sent back anew, surrounding each and every singer.
Transporting them to a higher plain.
As the last bars died away, the church became still.
Someone in the congregation gave a cough and rapturous applause rippled down and around the choir stalls.
Laurence turned, faced them all.
Gave a little nod of acceptance, and sat down.
As a reader walked forward to the lectern, Janice caught his eye, blew him a kiss.
He blushed, a slight smile, then looked down.
It was Christmas.
He was happy.
More happy than he had ever been.

Ding Dong Merrily on High.