CHRISTMAS CAROLS WITH GRAN
2nd edition by Rick Haynes
I need to talk with mum, but she is always off somewhere, helping others. Since dad died from prostate cancer three years ago, I guess she has to keep herself busy, but I miss him too.
I hear the call for breakfast and rush downstairs before mum can button up her thick parka jacket and leave.
I want to talk nicely, but I can’t stop myself as I spit the words out like machine gun bullets. “Gran wants me to sing at her Christmas party and I don’t want to do it.”
“What’s wrong with that, Thomas? You’ve got a great voice.” I know she loves me and always tries her best, but the hardness in my voice refuses to abate.
“So what? I sing Indie Rock, not Christmas Carols.”
“It would mean so much to Granny Davis, and anyway I’ve told her you’re going.”
“Thanks for nothing.”
I can’t be bothered to hear the rest of her tired rebuke so I walk quickly up the stairs. I slam my bedroom door shut, throw a book at the window and sit on the bed with both hands on my chin.
Trying to come up with a realistic get out clause seems easy, yet no matter how hard I try my brain refuses to function. I hate being told what to do but I can’t get out of this one. I reckon I’m in the shit, big time. I seem to remember from school that it’s called – the horns of a dilemma – I can’t stand Christmas carols yet I don’t want mum and Gran to think that I don’t care about them. Maybe I can persuade Danny and Jimbo to come along, at least then we’ll have two guitarists and a drummer.
“Tommy, this is like a living museum, all these people are slower than the mannequins in Bradleys Department store.” Jimbo always states the obvious, but this time he’s wrong, it’s worse than that.
On mum’s orders we had to dress up in 70’s gear. She said that the clothes would bring back happy memories to Gran and her friends. With flared trousers, and long wigs, even I had to admit that we looked the part, but flowery shirts? Yuk! You can keep them.
I remember Danny taking us on a shopping expedition to the local charity shops. It had been cool tracking down these vintage clothes, but I didn’t relish wearing something in a nice shade of lilac. I couldn’t believe how little these outfits had cost. Four pounds for a soft cotton shirt of this quality would set me back twenty five quid down the shopping centre. It’s taken me a little while to walk comfortably in the Cuban heeled boots though. At least we’re in vogue now, so, if we do make a complete balls up, I can look mum in the eye knowing that I tried for her, and Gran.
I sighed. I remember the singing, the peal of bells and my flight from the church. I’ve returned several times to my hiding place behind the ancient yew tree, trying to conquer my fears, to once more enter the house of prayers. Yet covering my ears with both hands is pointless, for I can always hear the sound of carol singing inside my head. As dad died late on Christmas Eve it seems I’ll never be able to separate carols from death.
My mind has wandered through all the probabilities and is now aimlessly chucking possibilities at me. My stomach is turning over like a cement mixer and before I know it, I am standing in the toilets of the day care centre looking at a worried me in the mirror. I wash my face with cold water and take in my bloodshot eyes.
“You stupid bastard,” I say to my reflection. “Just get up there, perform, and keep everyone happy.” I nod in acquiescence, throw a thin smile at myself and take a slow walk back to Danny and Jimbo.
To my surprise, Horace the huge, as we call him, is sitting nonchalantly behind his Hammond organ with a grin like an angry clown.
“Just thought I’d pop in and give you a hand, as I know you’ll only cock this gig up without me.” He closes his eyes and lets his fingers do the talking as they glide over the keyboard. He plays a few bars of Jingle Bells and We Wish You A Merry Christmas, before playing a wonderful soft melody that would bless any major concert hall. He is the best musician that I have ever played with and far too good for us, yet Horace always seems to turn up when we most need him. Maybe he has the gift of second sight? Perhaps he has spoken to mum? Whatever! I don’t care. Horace is here and that gives me confidence. I stand in front of his Hammond and listen, my mind lost in his magical playing. I think, maybe, just maybe, we can pull this off.
So here we are, all together on the small creaky stage, our faces seeking salvation from the dozens of eyes boring into us. Our electronics wizard, Eddie, is running a final sound check and we’re tuning up our instruments.
Pretty soon we’ll be heroes, or more likely we’ll be chucked out for deafening our audience. Once more I rub a towel over my wet hands but regret that I can’t reach the droplets of sweat running down my back. Even though I take another sip of chilled water my mouth feels as dry as a dust bowl.
“Tommy! No wonder the St. John’s Ambulance is in attendance. There must be over a hundred oldies in this hall and I’d never seen so many people shuffling around in their slippers.” Jimbo performs a short drum roll as he speaks, but quickly stops as many heads turn expectantly in his direction.
"I know bro, sorry.”
Danny never says much but when he does, I listen.
“It’s not your fault Tommy, we’ll do our best. I just wish my Gran was still alive to see me play.”
He was right, as usual, but I still want this gig to be over as soon as we can finish it.
We’d brought the gear in much earlier before going to the pub for some liquid courage, but judgement time was beckoning, and it won’t be long now before I lead the old folks in the Christmas Carol concert. I try to concentrate on tuning my Fender Stratocaster guitar, but my guts are still churning.
Granny Davis is slowly making her way towards me. She’s great, so full of fun, and I’ve always liked her, especially as she bought my first guitar all those years ago. But her music and mine are on different planets.
I try to smile as she approaches.
“Is my favourite grandson ready?”
The word senility appears inside my head. Has she forgotten that I’m her only grandson?
“Yes Gran,” I respond wearily. “Which carol do you want me to start with?”
“This one. I know you can play it.” She hands me a folded piece of paper. I have to smile, for the little wiggle she gives me as she walks away in her semi-high heels proves that she still has the moves.
I open her note and speech eludes me. I show it to the boys who look on with the same disbelief as I do.
“Your Gran wants this?” Jimbo says a little too loudly, his face a wall of questions.
“Is your Gran for real?” Danny rolls his eyes as he looks towards the ceiling.
“Shit!” Horace exclaims louder than he intends; his face turning a nice shade of flamingo.
Once more a cold sweat engulfs me. My lips stay shut and all I can do is to nod up and down like a laughing gnome.
We hit the first notes and like a never ending army of ants the old boys
and girls shuffle onto the dance floor.
The roof just about manages to stay in place as they sing the chorus.
And without missing a beat all four of us join in.
“And here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun.
Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.”