Along for the ride:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Docks' Choir.



My Grandfather was choir master for the Falmouth Docks' Choir. My Mother was a pianist, accompanying a large Dance Band Orchestra during and after WWII. Somehow it took me years and years of my adulthood to stop taking those facts for granted and to realize that my Mother's name "Carmen"; completely unusual and incongruous in rural England; was bestowed upon her in an uncharacteristically romantic nod to Grandfather's passion for music.
Grandad worked as a Marine Carpenter at Falmouth Docks. There was an honest to goodness wood-shed in his back yard where he stored remnants and off-cuts that he brought home from work. As kids we were allowed to play with hammers and nails and to split wood with an axe to make kindling bundles for the neighbors, all in the clean aroma of fresh wood chips and damp sea air.
In a corner of the wood-shed was the outdoor lavatory, which had been added to a house originally built without plumbing. Rain or shine, when we stayed at our Grandparents' house, we would follow the call of Nature through the kitchen, down the outside back stairs and into the woodshed, which closely hugged the house, although lower down the hillside. There were a couple of concrete steps and a wood plank door, always freshly painted. The water cistern was high above the toilet and we were always delighted to pull that dangling chain.
Sitting on the throne for more than a moment, we would notice another door facing us. This had been a space dug under the house, into the hillside, to serve as a bomb shelter during the war. Now used to store books, we could rarely resist opening it up, just to see.
33 Beacon Road, is the address, on Beacon Hill. It is where I was born. My parents had flown home from West Africa to make sure I was born on British soil. My Grandparents raised five daughters there, were a mecca for returning grandchildren and Grandad was still looking after himself and living there, independently, when he died in his ninety-sixth year.
Beacon Hill is so named because it is the highest point for miles around. This was one of many Beacon Hills in England. If the Spanish Armada or other invaders were sighted arriving from the sea, beacon fires would be hastily lit and the warning would reach London, hundreds of miles away, in a very short time.
Falmouth is an estuary, the mouth of the river Fal spills out here into Carrick Roads, all protected from wind and weather by the jutting headlands, still crowned by centuries old Pendennis Castle. The ebb and flow of salt and fresh water encourage the oyster beds and the oyster boats are distinctive with their red-brown sails. For preservation purposes the boats cannot be bought, only handed down generation to generation and a moving boat is the only legal way to collect the oysters.
The Port and Dock area of Falmouth is the third deepest natural harbour in the World. Not suprising how a tradition of boat building and repair would grow here. The local Coast Guard coordinates search and rescue missions over the whole Atlantic Ocean and there are huge ocean-going salvage tugs lurking all year round for news of a ship in distress. If they rescue a ship then the old maritime laws of salvage apply. This is the reason that a Captain tries his hardest to stay with his ship until the end.
Falmouth has one main shopping street. The High Street runs parallel to the water, with shops on each side. The street is narrow with barely room for one-way traffic and, when a delivery truck drives slowly through, pedestrians must retreat into shop doorways. When I was a kid this was still a two way street.
The feeling in town is festive and friendly, many people know one another, having grown up and spent their whole lives right there. There are almost as many Pubs as Tea rooms; you must have somewhere to sit and refresh from all that Christmas shopping; peeling off layers of raincoats and headscarves; surrounded by crinkly paper bags of last minute gifts.
Christmas Eve afternoon is a "not to be missed" part of getting into the spirit of the holidays. The men of The Dock's Choir begin carol singing at one end of High Street and work their way along; stopping on the church steps and at several pubs along the way to entertain an appreciative crowd and raise money for charity.
I was looking for a breath of home; visiting the home town newspaper online, and was rewarded by the following snippet about a local tradition that I can visit in my mind's eye, even if I won't be there in person.

Falmouth will ring out to the Harmony Choir on Christmas Eve. by Stephan Ivall

Thousands of people are expected in Falmouth on Christmas Eve to listen and take part in the singing by the Harmony Choir.
The choir, once known as the Falmouth Docks' Choir and now made up of singers from choirs all over the area, always muster in the town on Christmas Eve to raise money for local charities and to bring a festive cheer to the town.
As usual the choir will be getting together near Trago before making their way through town to Market Strand and ending up outside The Seven Stars pub on the Moor. From there, the choir will move to the Falmouth Rugby Club which will be providing a pint and a pasty and where everyone is welcome to join further singing of carols and songs.

15 comments:

  1. What a special tradition the choir must be! It all sounds postively amazing and I can certainly feel the "tug" towards home you are experiencing.

    This kind of narrative is always so much better than and travelogue, as love simply pours from every description. You have some amazing memories to treasure.

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  2. Jean, My parents moved us around a lot for work reasons. Falmouth was one constant we always came back to and eventually my folks retired there. It holds a lot of good memories. England has a huge tradition of "Working Man's Choirs", as I'm sure you know. The Welsh coal miners come to mind.

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  3. Niiiiiiccccceee...

    Someday I hope to visit Falmouth with you. Will we be able to take a stroll down memory lane?

    Happy Christmas!

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  4. Ms. Pliers, We'll do more than that: Castle Drive, Swanpool, The Princess Pavillion,The Dell (although that one's ready for a "paved paradise and put up a parking lot" post). I think we've aged out of Shades Disco but we can grab a crab salad at the wine bar on Custom House Quay.

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  5. This would make me really, really homesick, if it had been the place where my roots took hold. The juxtaposition between California and Falmouth is too much for me to contemplate. Thanks for a sepia-tinged look at a place I knew virtually nothing about - it was lovely.

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  6. Deborah, The nice thing is that it is relatively unspoiled. People still say hello to strangers on the street. "Allright my luver?" is the equivalent of "How'r ya doin" here.

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  7. I love that. That British way of calling a perfect stranger 'my love!'. Well, it's not every Brit who does it of course....hard to imagine HRH popping out with that. But it's very endearing. Merry Christmas, English Rider - all the best to you and your family.

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  8. We had a Welsh choir come to our church years ago...actually two--one men's and one women's. They were amazing singers and what a great party group! Wish the USA had more of a choral tradition like that. Our church choir is small and needs some new members (we're all getting older).

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  9. I have no idea how I arrived here, or where here is, but upon seeing the little girl asking where her fucking pony was, I knew that I wasn’t far from home.
    So I poked my long nose into and about your blog. I first read about the starfish fellow, and then sat quietly in my office and cried. Maybe because it’s the day before Christmas eve, maybe because it just touches something deep within me. I then went on and stumbled over the ‘The Gavin Report’, a blog on your blog-list, where I read about a woman who finally realized her childhood dream by buying herself a German thoroughbred horse. And I cried some more. Let it be noted that I am not a crier, at least not generally so. Anyhow, I then went back and read lots more of your fantastic blog.
    The day remained grey outside, but, after reading your blog, there were blue skies inside me.

    You are an incredibly gifted writer with a fantastic outlook on life. Thank you (and 'The Gavin Report’) for literally making my day.

    Best Christmas wishes to you,
    - B. Talgo
    Aka Son of Incogneato

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  10. Son of Incogneato, Thank you for your visit and for your enthusiasm regarding my little blogworld. I hope you will come back again. I am glad you read Gavin Report. I wish she would write more, but what she did write spoke to me and I appreciate it. Note that she has not felt the need to write since she did finally find her "veruckte pferde!" I made a brief swoop into your multiple blogs and must return when I have time to visit more deeply. Happy Christmas wishes to you too. If you want one more Christmas themed post, search for my "Happy Hopping Penises" post.

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  11. Jean, It isn't "profiling" to say the truth that The Welsh have an amazing and well earned reputation for musicality.

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  12. I also have ties to the Dance Band Orchestra's of that era.

    This whole post is filled with the most wonderful history wrapped beautifully around your childhood.

    Loved it.

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  13. @eloh, I can't wait to read a post from you about that big band link. I do feel lucky. I have a lot of great memories. More recently of my sister and I dodging around behind the canna lillies in the municipal gardens trying to sprinkle Dad's cremains without getting caught by the gardeners. With his gardening skills those plants have probably died since themselves!

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  14. "Happy Hopping Penises"? How could one resist?
    I will be back English Rider; Deine verrückte Welt sind Balsam für meine Seele.

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