T’was the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse – OK I know it’s only the first week of December but not in keeping with my Bah! Humbug! Image I absolutely love the run up to Christmas. Not just because I am a practising Christian (I’ve been practising for a long, long time so I shall get it right soon) and a former choirboy, I’m a sucker for Christmas carols. I can’t even help but join in the singing even though my friends cover their ears.
Each year I just have to hear “Oh come all ye faithful and I’m suddenly transported to my youth, when I was a fifteen year old boy Apprentice on a cargo boat in the Caribbean, on my first trip and a long way from home. It was Christmas Eve; we had just left harbour in Tobago approaching midnight. I had been given the ‘Con’ (left in charge). We were chugging along on a silver painted ocean in the moonlight and passing close inshore to a palm fringed island.
There was a Benedictine Monastery on a hill above the palms and as we slid through the glass-like sea, I was leaning over the side of the flying bridge, watching a pod of porpoises that were lit in a phosphorous glow as they gave us escort. It was quite magical. It was then that we heard the voices of Monks singing, probably celebrating midnight mass, a mystical bell clear sound of Adeste Fideles Laeti Triumphantes sounded across the water. Unforgettable:
This little boy in me, posing as a Deck Officer was unable to stop the tears streaming down my cheeks and I had a lump in my throat. As the sound faded away I wiped away the tears, cleared my throat and straightened my cap. I strode through the open door of the bridge and saw that the quartermaster at the wheel had been choking up too. I again cleared my throat and croaked “How’s your head?” he replied in an equally choking voice “Course 110, sir!” I quickly strode across the bridge to the Port wing and the spell was broken. I saw that our porpoise escort had gone, we had passed the island and silence prevailed.
In the coming weeks, more than 64 years on, I shall be transported back to the Caribbean; I shall remember that callow youth on his first Christmas away from home; no iPhone or laptop, however my memories are clearer than any Skype picture. Oh come let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.