A Christmas Carole


Right then, how should I start?

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house…

No, that’s not how it was at all. It was noisy, too noisy and very far from quiet, what with every house in the neighbourhood setting off fireworks. And the telly was on too, with Ant and Dec doing their Secret Santa, tears and gifts at Christmas shmultz.

The neighbours were having a party and I was sure they would cause a power failure with their god-awful lights all over their house blinking and flashing in time to ‘Rockin’ around The Christmas Tree’. Cars had been pulling up with hooting horns all evening to disgorge or collect passengers in various states of inebriation.

For that year’s festivities I was at my son’s. He was on the phone having a row with his ex-wife about the holiday arrangements for their five year old son, my grandson, Ben. She had changed her mind and wanted Ben to be with her and her parents. Honestly, families? At that point, I wished I’d stayed at home.

My son’s girlfriend sat in the corner, with a face like thunder and I knew as soon as the first row had ended another would start with her.

I poured myself a whiskey and soda, which earned me a warning look from my son who thought I drank too much anyway.

The doorbell rang, ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ in electronic monotone. The girlfriend, Pamela, answered as I held Ben by the hand and the singers began their carol. She closed the door on them before they were halfway through the first verse of ‘Joy To The World’.

“What did you do that for?” I asked.

“I don’t have time for carollers,” she said.

“But, it’s for charity.”

“Not my problem. I’ve got Christmas dinner to get ready and John clearly prefers chatting with his ex,” she said, returning to her sulk and her phone. My grandson sat on the floor and picked up his tablet to continue watching cartoons.

I still don’t understand the younger generations. Didn’t they know anything? I may be an old grump, but anyone stupid enough to be out on a night like that, for a good cause, deserved a little appreciation.

I went to the door and saw the group of singers outside another house along the street. Snow was falling, and I only had house slippers on my feet, so I wanted to be quick.

I interrupted the end of ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ to put five pounds in the collection bucket. Time slowed as I looked in to the face of the woman holding the collection bucket. I recognised the deep, dark eyes and there was a smell of orange and jasmine that brought back the memory of youth and laughter.

“The girl at number ‘42’ should have given you something, I’m sorry,” was what I meant to say, but instead I said, “Didn’t you used to be Carole Hartnoll from Saint Mary’s High School?” and she said, “Yes, yes I did. And I think you’re Paul Browne. After all these years. Why don’t you stay for a bit, sing a carol or two?” I said I wasn’t really dressed for the event but invited her over for a drink after they had finished.

The whole choir arrived an hour later.

We ran out of booze and John had to go to the supermarket for more.  Not a task I envied.

The choir conductor, a cook from the local primary school, helped Pamela with food preparations. A lot of fuss was made of my grandson. Songs were sung, and friends were made. Memories were awoken, and arguments forgotten.

It was a brilliant Christmas. The love that blossomed in my heart for Carole was the best present anyone could hope for.

We had five wonderful years together, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

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