Friday, January 2, 2009

He came down from tumpty tumpty

The BBC is ridiculously proud of its oldest Christmas tradition: Carols from King's, a highest-of-high-church festival of carols and bible readings. For 80 years, the Beeb has been broadcasting it every Christmas Eve.

I heard it circa 1993, at 3p.m. on Christmas Eve when driving home, and for the first time, I understood the appeal of church choirs. As soon as the first soloist struck up, the pure countertenor voice seemed to take me back to a time when Christmas wasn't a matter of preparation and panic, but anticipation and peace. Ever since, I've tried to time my Christmas Eve journeys to catch that broadcast. When the service begins, I can feel once again the peace that comes with knowing that -- Christmas is come, my deadline is passed, there is nothing more to do save drive through the gathering dusk, on fast-emptying roads, to journey's end, warmth and welcome. Home.

That's what "Carols from King's" means to me. Or rather, meant. (I have no interest in the TV broadcast. You listen while you're doing something else -- that's the whole point.)

Because the BBC, with its astonishingly lopsided sense of priorities, doesn't podcast it.

Of course there may be sound business reasons for that. It might worry that a podcast would damage its CD sales, but the poxy CD versions only offer the carols, not the readings, otherwise I'd buy it with pleasure. It's broadcast on the World Service, but -- well, if you can find a schedule and frequency details for that in New Zealand, let me know. ("Asia-Pacific" forsooth.)

This Christmas I tried to look at the New Zealand equivalent. The choir sang carols, for want of a better word, that I've never heard (and frankly never want to hear again), and the "lessons" were delivered by moralising clerics talking about doing good in the Real World. Very worthy, and tortuously dull.

This morning I was dreaming about setting up an equivalent carol service in New Zealand. We were rehearsing the traditional processional carol, "Once in Royal David's City", and I was following the words on a hymn sheet, when I found myself reading a verse I'd never heard. It was beautiful: it fit the meaning, rhythm and rhyme of the carol, it was haunting and lovely and perfect, and when I woke I couldn't remember a word of it.

All I know now is that my subconscious can write better poetry than I can.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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