Monday, December 14, 2009

A silent recital

I've lost my voice. I got very chilled on the journey home from Bristol last week when the train broke down, making me miss my connection and I had to wait in a biting wind for almost two hours for the next one. I've tried every recommended remedy but to no avail - I have a nasty cough and no voice!

The family might not miss the sound of my nagging advice and encouragement in the run-up to Christmas but I am due to read at the Advent service of readings and carols on Sunday afternoon and I think the congregation might notice that I am only mouthing the words. Perhaps I should project the piece onto a screen and ask everyone to join in? Or could I get away with presenting it in BSL?

Just in case I have to cry off and the poem doesn't get an airing this year, here it is:

Advent 1955
John Betjeman

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound -
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out 'Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.'

And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They'd sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.

We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell'd go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
'The time draws near the birth of Christ'.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.


  1. Oh poor you; always an unnerving thing, being voiceless . . . may normal service be resumed ASAP.

    Betjeman can always be relied upon at this time of year. 'Christmas', which starts: "The bells of waiting Advent ring", was the first poem of his that I heard, broadcast one December afternoon on the precursor of BBC R4, the Home Service, when I was a teenager. I think I know it by heart now . . .

  2. To people that I scarcely know -
    They'd sent a card to me, and so
    I had to send one back. Oh dear!
    Is this a form of Christmas cheer?

    Ahhh...'tis true, 'tis true 'tis pity,
    And pity 'tis 'tis true.

  3. D, I think that was my introduction to Betjeman, too.

    Sarah - we all do it, don't we?

  4. My Grandma used to heat up honey with lots of lemon and give it to us by the tablespoon full.

    I'm afraid I'm one of those who sends Christmas cards to strangers and friends alike. I don't really mind if they don't send one back; that's not the point, is it? True gifts come with no strings attached. "God bless us everyone."

  5. Jodi
    I made a jug of hot lemon and honey and added ginger (tip from friend D) and it seems to be working today.

  6. Thank you so much for the Betjeman which I had entirely forgotten. Happy Christmas all the same.

  7. That is a lovely poem THANK YOU
    I hope you throat/voice are better soon that sounds horrid.

    An old recipe for cough medicine given me one winter in a village in North Shropshire.

    Take a slice of fresh onion,
    place it in a saucer,
    sprinkle it with as much brown sugar as is needed to cover it,
    leave to stand for a while (it may take an hour or so)
    the brown syrup that appears is a fine cough syrup

    (well it won't do any harm anyway!)

  8. Susie and Val
    It is so nice to hear that a favourite poem or quotation is appreciated by others.

    Thank you both for your kind wishes but I'm not too sure about the onion cough mixture, Val. I think I'll stick to the lemon, honey and ginger. Perhaps I'll try the other mixture out on my husband if he catches the cold!

  9. Hope the voice is returning...I don't mind getting cards from all and sundry, what I really don't like are the horrid cheap floppy ones you know 50 for £1 or some such. I'd rather not have one at all than get one that is curling up as it leaves the envelope. Does that make me ungrateful?

  10. Rattling On
    The voice is returning, thank you, but the cough remains. It should make for an interesting recitation if I can't suppress it by Sunday!

    As for cheap cards - if my wealthy brother-in-law sent one I might feel upset but from anyone else I would just be pleased they were thinking of me.

  11. Hoping the throat is better now.

  12. So sorry about your voice. Maybe just onions sautéed in olive oil would work? :<) I love the poem. Thank you so much from those of us who weren't introduced to JB until quite recently.


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