As we traipse down a snowy driveway to the Big House, our thoughts are on a poignant funeral service for a friend.
A cold church, puffs of steam coming from people's mouths and noses as they sing Amazing Grace, a floral tribute that says 'Mum', a tolling bell and memories of a feisty, fun and pint-sized woman loved by all who knew her. The church is packed with villagers, in big coats and warm hats. They stand in the pews: Caruso, Princess Peach, the Popes, the Parson's Daughter, Nobby Odd-Job, Mamma Mia, Mr and Mrs Sheepwash and Mrs Bancroft. There is Night Nurse beside the Loveliest Lady in the Village, there is Posh Totty and Mr F Word and Camilla and Mr and Mrs Putter. The church is so full that Tuppence and Ding Dong Daddy and his wife have to sit in the choir stalls, just steps away from our departed friend.
She leaves the church to a soundtrack of sobs, sad faces and Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah.
It is the first day of advent, a time when our thoughts are usually about the lead-up to Christmas. But it is hard when you see so much grief around you.
Later, we share joyous moments with the family in the village hall. With plates of vol-au-vents, sandwiches and coffee cake, cups of tea and glasses of wine, we watch a slide show featuring pictures of our shopkeeper and then a BBC film made for The Politics Show about declining village services. The Enchanted Village looks truly enchanting, with camera shots through redundant pumps and hanging baskets into the misty streets beyond. And there is our shopkeeper, putting out the fresh flowers. She is a tiny slip of a thing, surrounded by colourful chrysanthemums.
So back to the beginning. On the way to the Big House, Caruso's choir clutch their sheets of music. Emotions are running high because of the funeral and wake we have just attended. There is trepidation in the air. Will Night Nurse find the right music? Will The Parson's Daughter and I clash with the altos in I Saw a Maiden? Will Mr Putter get his longed-for solo?
We disrobe in the dining room, leaving our music folders behind, taking just the sheets we need for the afternoon's performance. The sitting room of the old people's home is lined by residents, most of whom look pleased to see us. Mr Putter says a cheerful hello to a lady in a wheelchair who mutters: 'Stupid people.'
Our reputation precedes us.
So we chug along, singing joyfully, and get into our stride. Our music teacher Caruso then struggles to find the correct sheet for his solo (the irony of which does not go unnoticed by Night Nurse and also Mr Putter, who thinks he is in with a chance of a solo).
And then when Caruso introduces the next number, a resident is heard to say: 'Oh no, not another bloody song.'
At the end of our performance, Caruso tells them we'll be back again on the 18th.
'Well, I'm going out on that day then,' says a resident with limited mobility.
Another, who was joining in the chorus of Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron, smiles as if to say: 'Take no notice, we enjoyed it.'
As we put on our hats and coats for the walk back into the village, a look of terror crosses Mr Putter's face when he put his hand into his music folder and pulls out sheets marked up for a soprano. Someone has walked off with his music. In amongst all the 'official' songs are ones he had printed off from the internet, including Donald Where's Yer Troosers? His cunning plan to come out with a surprise solo of his own at the Christmas supper in the pub has been well and truly scuppered.
That's about it.
Love Maddie x
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