Monday, 14 December 2009

Recording Angels

I took my notebook to the school nativity this year. When I pulled it out of my handbag along with a pen, the woman next to me asked, 'what are you doing?' For the first time ever my children’s school has banned photography during performances. Filming is also prohibited. 'I'm recording the performance,' I replied. 'I'm not allowed to take pictures or film it, so I'm going to write about it instead.'

I arrived at the school early so that I could get a good seat. On entering the hall I discovered that the front row was littered with RESERVED signs. Five minutes before the performance began a stream of people, very tall people it seemed, entered the hall and sat down in front of me.

I watched Jo recite a poem. He was supposed to recite the first third, but managed to be subversive by memorising the entire thing and reciting it all. I watched Daniel recite a poem, enunciating every word, with great seriousness. But I was really there to watch Alice. For the first time I was there to watch an angel.

Alice appeared in a white dress, doused with tinsel and smiles. I've watched my boys be innkeepers, shepherds, donkeys, wise men and last year a particularly ferocious Herrod, but this angel thing was new to me. And it got me thinking. Most girls want to be Mary. At my children’s school you can only be Mary if you are in year 2. Alice is in year 1. So what other parts are available to her? Well, there's the part of an angel. There are a couple of slots as an innkeeper’s wife, perhaps even a chance to be a wise man if the school is so inclined, but the possibilities are rather restricted. It occurred to me that the parts for girls are not aspirational. A girl cannot be the mother of god when she grows up and no matter how appealing the idea is to her parents, she will not achieve an immaculate conception. She is also unlikely to be an angel or a man (whether wise or foolish) when she reaches adulthood.

I watched Alice dance angel dances on the staging blocks, squashed by the angel Gabriel, bunches flapping on either side of her tinsel halo, her dimple punctuating every smile. I couldn't write fast enough. I wanted to photograph her earnestness with words. As I scribbled in my notepad, it occurred to me that angels are like writers. They don't play much of a part in the story; they record, announce, summarise and witness. They watch the action unfold from their privileged vantage point, then sing beautiful songs about it. It occurred to me that the job of an angel might not be so bad, after all.

At the conclusion of the nativity we listened to 'One fousand, fousand Christmas lights' - that's what they sang, at least. The head informed us that the school would be filming the performance the following day, presumably to sell to the parents. I wrote a strong protest in my notepad. Then I grabbed my little angel and took a sneaky photograph.


  1. You write so nicely Carys, Sadly a talent I do not share. Shame about the photos :(, The one you got is great.

  2. Thanks Julie.
    I didn't realise that you have a blog too. I know you haven't posted for a while, but I've just been catching up on your posts from last year.