By “The Photographer’s Assistant”
It is a quiet Sunday. The kitchen range burbles happily in the background. The Assistant, for the moment abandoned by the Photographer, who is feeling seasonal pressure and exhaustion, is peeling large wind fall apples on a tray next to this morning heat source.
The Assistant is contemplating the season. To her the season is a joyous christian celebration, a BIG birthday, but she is thinking of all those other seasonal celebrations. She is thinking of friends who will be watching an Orkney website to see the change of darkness to light at Maeshowe, that wonderful historic burial site that no one forgets once they have seen it. The change from darkness to light happens on the Winter Solstice on December 21st. This means a great deal to some people in the little town and they will be celebrating. They should know that this also means a great deal to us vegetable growers. We will welcome the light. After Christmas and The New Year, our work will begin.
Now looking down at her peeled windfall apples, the Assistant thinks of how these are the last cooking apples of the year and she thinks sadly of the other dessert apples, which she has in her tiny shed and how they may have to be cooked because they are turning soft as the Photographer and the Assistant lose the battle to eat them all. Because the season has been so mild the Assistant has had to throw away a small number of stored potatoes, which were sprouting in their sack. We are approaching the Hungry Gap, when the garden will not be self sufficient despite the lettuce, which grows for Christmas in the greenhouse and the greens which are so healthy and beautiful in the magnificent winter light. The Assistant is saving for a proper propagator. She feels that the Photographer should have some aid in his new season planting. After Christmas, she will make a symbolic planting of broad beans in individual pots in the greenhouse, for anything grown out on the Moor through the winter is never guaranteed to see the spring.
On the Saturday, the Photographer and his Assistant have travelled to a little village close by. The newly restored hall looks magnificent and is full of produce. Friends meet and greet one another. The atmosphere is simple, full of warmth and comfort, love and laughter and we are all keen to buy from country folk rather than that large impersonal supermarket, which is a distance away and already over full. The Assistant is a very small person, and the Photographer has had enough of levering her out from large crowds, which he feels could really injure his little friend. Once in Waitrose, she got stuck next to ducks, of which she is not fond, and when she saw herself crammed against a large goose, all white and featherless, she felt strange! This year, kindly, the Daughter and the Boyfriend, who is tall, have offered to do the last minute shop, so thank goodness for that.
Christmas is special in the little town, with its simple trees, lights and decorations. It is so traditional, straight out of the 1950s. The shops have mostly what you need, the deli has cheeses and hams, Christmas puddings wrapped in clothes, the general store has everything you can think of, even crackers, and it has suitable country presents galore. It even has that essential pair of proper wellies and if you want a tweed cap, the variety is immense. There are children’s toys, there are clothes shops to help you look glamorous or town and country. Its all here. You just don’t have to go far!
At the green coffee shop, we toast the town in wonderful coffee, Christmas cake and goodwill. There are fruits dipped in chocolate on the counter, just help yourself, its the shop’s Christmas gesture. The place is steamed up and full of friends and neighbours and seasonal goodwill.
So here we are on Christmas Eve evening and we will sit around at the Daughter’s telling tales of the past, but none will be so entertaining as those of midnight mass through the decades.
Midnight Mass requires your most experienced priest for his trials can be many. We will start with our memories of Aunty Gertie and Aunty Phyllis, both great sleepers and hard workers. Gertie would insist on attendance at mass, despite all desperate pleas to the contrary. A deeply religious woman, bound up in duty and care, she would have been in church so much over the previous week, singing in the choir etc. that she was utterly exhausted and at the very sight of the figure of the priest on Christmas Eve would immediately fall asleep, propped up by the rest of the family, mouth open, and with her hanky, which she always kept primly inside the elastic of her knickers, falling to her ankle, never embarrassed and always totally ignored by our vicar, who was not her own, and felt that heavy drinking at her age was not to be tolerated! Poor teetotal Gertie! Phyllis was a famous sleeper and would spend each Christmas propped against a pillar at the wall side of the church, gently snoring, and dreaming of giving her next nursing lecture. However, one year Phyllis was out done. In this church, a famous pub was near by and it is a probability that Gary Glitter, before his fall, was playing various ditties for his mates in his local. Some of the mates had felt it only right to attend church as well. All was peaceful, apart from Phyllis’ snores when a woman in a large fur coat slid down a pillar in the centre of the church, upon which, her friends stood up and carried her out, never to be seen again. Phyllis went back to sleep and missed all the hymns. In later years, the daughter, then a student, worked in the local pub and could only get away late. Our famous actress had just got back from London, and they would both arrive looking overly glamorous, but determined to come.Neither of them thought anything of being late, after all, they had come! Frequently they would arrive giggling and laughing down the aisle, while the vicar stopped to let them pass. After all they were both local celebrities! There were some years in which, a boyfriend would get religion and attend with the Daughter, much to her parents embarrassment as various villagers poked the parents backs whispering, “He is gorgeous “ and other such remarks.
One Christmas Eve the vicar arrived at our house and banged urgently on the door. Could our eldest daughter play the organ at mass? We were astonished. She played the clarinet rather well, what about that? No, that would not do. The poor girl liked to play privately, but felt she must help and agreed to bring her new key board. The girl and the congregation did their best. There was lots of leading with singing and everyone stood up and clapped at the end, when the vicar presented this rather delicate looking girl with a six pack of beer. She stepped down looking shaken and he was pleased with the gesture. He was forgiven. He had done his best, and he was young yet. Too young to take midnight mass.
Now, the little town has all of this right. There will be a splendid midnight service and the drinkers and smokers will sit outside on the church wall celebrating in their own way, for the pub is just across the road and no one will mind. The little town has tolerance as its chief virtue.
I have said enough and this is a little long, but I hope that you will enjoy it. It remains to give you seasons greetings, and as the late, great, Dave Allen used to say, “ May your God Go With you.”
PS Maeshowe webcam link