The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Seven

We're experimenting we're trying to give Tom set times for feeding, which is how myself and a protesting little boy ended up watching the cricket this morning at 4am.  And this afternoon I'm due to be sidesperson in a Christmas service at St. Mary's.  Oh dear.  I hope they won't find me snoring against a radiator.

Subscribers to the mailing list will by now have been sent my new story 'The Ghosts of Christmas', but it hasn't yet appeared on the site.  I'm rather proud of a story that I think is chilly and warm at once.

If you want to put a date in your diary for really a very long time ahead, the second volume of Saucer Country, 'The Reticulan Candidate' is due in July.

And you may remember that, when I was on Joseph Scrimshaw's Obsessed podcast, I caused my host to make a rather strained metaphor about happiness, which has now been rendered into cartoon form.  Though I believe originally he said 'feng shui'.  But that made even less sense.

Tom has a new soft friend, made for him by the lovely David Moloney...

Now, and I'm aware that, because of my tiredness, I'm still putting off adding much content myself to this year's Twelve Blogs, we come to our continuing theme of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', explored by our guest bloggers.  Today it's the turn of comedian and poet Donna Scott, talking about Seven Swans a Swimming!  Hello, Donna...

'Hello there!
     I initially chose ‘seven swans-a-swimming’ from "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for this absurdist poem I sometimes squidge into my comedy set:

She’s full of grace
like a swan.
She can break your arm
like a swan.
She hasn’t shaved;
Swan Vesta.

However, I realised that me, this song and those swans go back a long way.
     I remember when I first heard the carol and was subsequently made to learn it.  Just like everyone else, I was sitting on the varnished wooden floor of the assembly hall, cross-legged, squinting up at Mrs B in her sunshine-yellow cardigan and pussy-bow blouse (she’d be so bang on trend right now).  The teacher was at her piano, her posture upright and deliberate as she loudly enunciated the lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas".  We had lessons with Mrs B whenever something vaguely musical was involved:  she was infectiously enthusiastic, but, truthfully, her singing style tended to be one third mezzo soprano, two thirds Hinge and Brackett.  Yet, if we followed her advice to open our mouths EXTREMELY WIDE, and keep smiling, and really pronounce the words, we could all at least look really, really keen about whatever it was we were singing about, and do a Jerry Hall-style facial  workout at the same time.
     I was wearing a royal-blue cardigan as per the school dress code, knitted for me by my mom.  Regulation colour, non-regulation homemade lumpiness.  Everyone else in the school wore navy-blue jumpers from BHS.  At the very least you could say I stood out: most kids tend to wise-up  before long and avoid that wherever possible.  Prodigiously clever though I was (am), like neat joined-up writing, this was a skill I was never truly going to be able to master.
     My row had to sing the line about the seven swans-a-swimming.  In my head, these were already getting mixed up with the wild swans – the brother princes in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy story who were transformed into swans by their evil stepmother, and whose sister was the only one who could save them by knitting jumpers out of nettles.  The princess toiled, enduring painful blisters and the threat of being burned at the stake as a witch for gathering nettles from the churchyard at night.  As the time of her execution approached, she was unable to finish the final jumper for her youngest brother, and so he was left with one swan’s wing.  How miffed off would she have been if she later found out she could have just bought them any old scratchy jumper from BHS?
     I put my hand up.  “Miss, why did they give each other swans as presents?  And partridges?  Wouldn’t it be better not to have presents on all those days if they were only going to be rubbish ones?”
     The only decent present on that list would be the gold rings, but why so many?  Mind, my uncles tended to wear quite a few all at once …
     “But they’re not rubbish presents,” said Mrs B.  “They are symbols.  He didn’t really give his love all those things on those days, he just wanted her to know how much he loved her and that he would give her those things if he could.”
     “That’s even more rubbish, no actual presents,” I said.
     “It’s the thought that counts,” pointed out my classmate, Adrian.
     My hand went up again.  “Miss, are we practising this song to do in front of the parents?”
     “No,” said Mrs B.  “We will be singing this in front of the rest of school in assembly. We’re doing the nativity for the parents.”
     “Oh,” I said, and slumped.  What was the point?  I needed an audience, and the nativity was no good for that.  In the first year I’d wanted to be Mary, but that role had gone to Helen.  I’d been picked to be the angel instead– a plum role as it turned out that involved ragging my hair into ringlets and wearing tinsel round my head and everyone saying how cute I looked.  This year Helen had been chosen to be Mary again, but I had been relegated to ‘passer-by’ – a non-speaking part.
     Something had to be done about that.
     On the night of the nativity performance, I took my cue to enter the "market place" and cross the stage chatting to another "passer-by" while Mrs B played some incidental music and the scenery got moved about. We were meant to look as though we were gossiping… so why not improvise some dialogue?
     “Oooh – have you ‘eard about our David…”  I began in my best Black Country brogue and began recounting things about some imaginary miscreant.  I can’t remember what I said, but the crowd roared with laughter.  My teacher waiting for me at the other side looked aghast.  I beamed.
     When my mom came to get me, she was still smiling. “You…” she mock-chided.  A lot of the parents crowded round.  They called me a little star.
     Did I get a speaking role the next year?  Nope.  Nor did I get a non-speaking role.  In fact I was bumped from every school play after that and ended up mouthing songs I’d not learned in the choir.  Perhaps it served me right, but I didn’t attempt performing again until I was 34.  So BBC3 ain’t calling anytime soon…
     But back in ’78, my family got to hear a regular solo performance of the whole of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".  There had to be a point to learning it after all.
     But what of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – the actual lesson that was meant to be conveyed by that particular line?  Wisdom?  Understanding?  Knowledge?  Awe?  Reverence?  Right judgement (ha!) Courage (well, people keep calling me ‘brave’…)?  I’m afraid I’ve picked up none of those.  But fitting in my love of performing around my other work does involve one aspect of the swan – its legs.'

Donna Scott is a writer, editor, poet, and comedian as well as being the BSFA's Awards Administrator.  She was the first Bard of Northampton and can next be seen hosting a cabaret show on 21st December at The Racehorse in Northampton with magician Al Rudge and Jimmy's End star Khandie Kisses (Jimmy's End being Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins' new film.)

Thank you, Donna.  We'll continue tomorrow with Doctor Who novelist Jacqueline Rayner talking about... Eight Maids a Milking!  Until then, Cheerio!

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