It's nativity play time again. My son Jackson has been given the coveted role of third innkeeper. He claimed to have been offered a much bigger solo part but that he turned it down. He said that he didn't really "feel like it". He is four years old – God help us eight years from now. He's certainly a very different character from his older sister, Parker, who four years ago announced to us all that she had the role of Mary. We were thrilled and showed off to everyone until it turned out that she was lying and had simply refused to accept that she didn't have the lead role. "Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington." Well, Mrs Worthington might have been persuaded to put a stop to her daughter's thespian tendencies but there's no way that young Miss Joly is going to be deterred from treading the boards.
We turned up for Jackson's big day. There was not a tea towel to be had for miles around and we sat behind a wall of video cameras. To the rear of the stage was an unlucky group who had been dressed up as the animals in the manger. For some reason there was a bear and a very unhappy one at that.
I have quite some experience in the wearing of furry costumes and I can attest that a bear suit under stage lights is like a sumo wrestler in a pressure cooker.
Try as I might to watch my son I kept being distracted by the sight of the boiling bear. His face was visible and was getting redder and redder. I could swear that actual steam was coming off him and he started to sway a bit. Then the bear burst into tears and was withdrawn from the manger and cuddled behind the crib. Shortly afterwards a sheep tripped up on a small bit of wood and disappeared off the stage. This was a health and safety nightmare. I presume the Fun Police will close it down next year.
Back on stage, Joseph and Mary were coming to the end of their epic search for a Comfort Inn. The third innkeeper was approached. "Do you have a bed?" asked a weary Joseph. "NO!! CLEAR OFF!!" That's what I was secretly hoping that my boy would say. Actually he shouted, "NO!! BUT WE DO HAVE A STABLE IN THE BACK!!"
I have tried to teach him the art of projection, and it seems that I might have a modicum of talent in that area. Joseph seemed rather startled by the volume of the offer of a stable for the night but accepted it with good grace. He and Mary slunk off for a smelly and uncomfortable night plagued by unwelcome visitors bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Interestingly I now know what the last two are. I travelled to Oman last year to spend a week in the Empty Quarter, one of the most inhospitable pieces of land in the world, but a truly beautiful place. The southern coast of Oman used to be the world's best source of frankincense, an aromatic resin used in incense. I visited the ruins of the port of Ubar that used to be the epicentre of this lucrative trade. Then, last week I was recording my Radio Five Live Christmas day special and invited a man on who'd written a book called What is Myrrh Anyway? It turns out to be an "embalming ointment".
So basically the three kings brought a nice gold thing and a couple of token smelly things that nobody really wanted. I'm surprised they didn't bring some wackily-patterned socks along as well.
Back at the nativity play and things drew to a close. The tea towel army trooped out back to their classes and the bear was carried gently towards the sanatorium. Job done for another year.