Alex James: The weightless joy of a divine descant

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

It was warm in the village church on Christmas Eve. I shuddered to think of the heating bill and wondered who was going to pay it. As I settled into the slow lane oi oi oi, oggi oggi oggi of the service, so far out of kilter with the whizzbangs of the 21st century I couldn't ever recall being warm in a church before, even in summer. The stillness of churches is supreme at Christmas, though, a balm to calm the mad fizz, and I dissolved peacefully into a benign parallel universe.

The Midnight Carol Service had been moved forward an hour, a misplaced nod to popular demand. People had been complaining that midnight was just too late. The adjusted timing meant skipping coffee in order to get there in time for "Hark the Herald Angels". I was belting out the tune without a care in the world and quite a big grin on my face already, when quite unexpectedly the girls in the row behind us started to sing the descant harmonies as the first chorus kicked in.

It was the most surprising sensation, as if our singing was being caressed. I looked around and they were all smiling as they sang those exquisite wavering high notes. It was like taking off, becoming completely weightless, leaving the world behind altogether. I closed my eyes and fell into their voices. Singing in harmony at Christmas time is as close to knowing God as I need to get.

We turned and spoke to them in excited whispers at the end of the song. "That was incredible," we all gushed, and invited them to come home with us. I worked out what I reckoned our share of the heating was and threw it into the collection plate during "Come All Ye Faithful", which was, if anything, even better sung. Well worth it.

The lost domain

I managed to spend all of Boxing Day in my pyjamas, but got dressed the following day to go for a walk with a metal detector. I didn't find any buried treasure, but I hadn't had cause to have a really thorough poke around in that bit of woodland before, and it slowly became apparent that the whole copse was an ancient overgrown formal garden. Still no sign of the missing cricket pitch, though.

Fireside reveries

And how fine it was to take the air after a marathon session of half-awake sloth by the fireside. The sun broke through the silver morning sky and it was as if I'd never eaten all those Quality Street. A huge roe deer broke cover from the woods and passed within yards of me: Utterly enchanting. Then straight back to the fireside for more chocolates all the way until next year.

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