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Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Laterally SpeakingBring on the Angels

Bring on the Angels

My first stage appearance was at the age of six—not exactly a starring role but a solid and supportive member of the cast. Supportive because my job was to lean on the cardboard stable door to stop it falling over and covering the manger in our local school Nativity play. Apart from this vital physical act of propping, my dramatic responsibility was limited to masquerading as a sheep dog supposedly keeping watch over the half dozen stage sheep and goats. The sheep were all liberally smothered in yards of cotton wool and one of them named Sam (aged five) developed a wooly allergy and sneezed so hard his entire cotton fleece flew off his back and landed on the plastic Baby Jesus. I realise now this was a fortunate extra safety measure to protect the manger and all surrounding it (that meant us animals plus a rather worried looking Mary and Joseph) in case my leaning support gave way and the stable door knocked everything over. This might have resulted in some local headlines (‘Away With A Manger Shock’) and mild unpleasantness which would have been sorted out between parents with a glass of sherry.

I got to wear rather natty pointed doggy ears and I also remember I was covered in an old and very stinky black and white Afghan rug belonging to my mother. I may not have looked much like a sheepdog, but I certainly smelt like one. And we were all kneeling around the crib with front feet and hooves (or in my case paws) obediently folded in front of us as we worshipped the little baby Jesus (in pink plastic with ‘real’ opening and closing eyes from Woolworth at £2 and 5 shillings).

If I recall correctly (it was quite a long time ago), there were also some lowing (or blowing) cattle, a donkey with large floppy ears and a few rather bored shepherds with glued moustaches and beards plus an Angel Gabriel with asthma and a runny nose (played by Sarah from the year above because she was more grown up and taller than any of us six-year-olds). For some reason that has long since hopped away and vanished from my brain, we also rather strangely had a moth-eaten kangaroo kneeling next to one of the cattle. I didn’t think that kangaroos were mentioned in the Bible, but I reckon Ms Grimshaw who organized the Winnie-the-Pooh pantomime for the senior school wanted to re-use her Kanga costume because she had made it and everyone agreed it was a Very Fine Piece of Costumerie which definitely needed to be seen more than once in the school year.

One of the worst forms of medieval torture for small children is compulsory kneeling. It’s pretty uncomfortable for grown-ups, but for small children it’s unbearable. After a very long half an hour, the wise men finally stumbled into view with their bendy cardboard camel, but by then the sheep and I were all fidgeting and squabbling and longing for relief. One of the goats couldn’t wait any longer and decided to relieve himself rather too literally. The resulting shriek from one of the shepherds caused a rapid stage redeployment which was further compounded when Mary dropped the Baby Jesus in it. The parents of course all fell about laughing, but I remember that no child spoke to Gary (the offending incontinent goat) for months afterwards. He was teased so badly I think he left school the following term. Children can be so cruel…

Apart from an onstage accident or two, I hope that your local traditional school Nativity play continues to flourish complete with fake beards and wise men dressed in tin foil and glitter. Even if your 2017 Star in the East is now a battery powered LED (£15 from Amazon) and Santa Claus might be a drone flying high over Pilsdon Pen, the old-fashioned power of Christmas can still light up the sky in an analogue fashion. Christmas is perfectly real and the Christmas message doesn’t have to be virtual to be meaningful. We certainly need even more wise men and women than we had last year. And a few Angels might come in very useful in solving some intractable global issues. Actually, Angels are very useful and very small—according to medieval theology, an infinite number of them can apparently dance on the head of a pin, so they could get into really tiny places to look for lateral solutions. And if you’re stuck on stage near the back, just keep propping up the stable door because you never know what might happen…

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