A Room At The Inn

My favourite nativity scene has a star which tears across the night sky, and screeches to a halt over the stable.

Three magnificent wise men dismount from their camels and make their way into a humble stable where a lone woman presides over a manger, in which sleeps a baby.

She has nodded off. And when she wakes to find the three dignitaries towering over her she falls backwards off her chair with a squawk. Wise men? she exclaims; What are you doing creeping round a cowshed at two o clock in the morning? It doesn’t sound very wise to me.

They must be drunk, she reasons. Led by a star? led by a bottle, more like, the mother rails in this early scene from Monty Python’s LIfe Of Brian. SheΒ is about to eject the three when somebody mentions presents.

Powerful motivator, presents.

They give gifts, they adore the baby, they head off and discover their mistake: the real stable is down the road 50 yards or so.

I don’t know why this, my favourite nativity scene ever, always comes to mind when I trek off to see a tiny tot’s nativity play.

Perhaps it’s because we all go prepared for the most blatant of slapstick, as Gabriel picks his nose or the innkeeper invites Mary and Joseph into his plush four-star hotel with open arms. You ask children under five to depict one of the pivotal scenes in all of history, you’ve got to expect a little give and take.

You ask Big Al, my four-year old nephew, to depict the man who married Mary: you have to expect more than a little.

It was Al’s Big Nativity Day: he was to play Joseph. I must go to work but the rest of the non-working world held its breath to see Al’s interpretation of the carpenter from Nazareth.

Snippets had leaked out. Early in rehearsals Al refused point-blank to sing; but his mother said, Al, everybody sings, it’s what we do; and with fatalistic affability he sang from that moment onwards.

He was not always happy about his costume. Dresses and tea towels on heads are a departure from the norm. They feel funny, they look funny, and you have to wear a skirt.

On the big morning the audience bustled expectantly into the little community hall, each parent with a camera at the ready. Al’s playgroup is masterly. It has to be. The nativity is meticulously orchestrated to ensure every child has a moment to shine, every parent an opportunity to shed a proud little tear.

Like the Nativity, Β accounts of the morning’s events are from different perspectives. But they all agree on one central point: Al was convinced the entire audience had come to see him.

Joseph was on stage, centre stage, all the time. Al summed up the situation astutely and appointed himself master of ceremonies.

He knew the whole story, and he rejoiced in it. The narrator, carefully reading out cues thinly disguised as the Nativity story, arrived at the point where Mary had a baby boy and wrapped him in swaddling, and they named him….

Al freestyled. He picked up the newborn babe and brandished him with enthusiasm, announcing with great joy to the whole assembly: “Jesus!”

Flanked by an eminently sensible Mary, Al continued to grin happily at the gathered assembly, his legs so filled with excitement that they swung back and forth with gusto. Sitting still was simply not an option.

During Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, while others twinkled, he beamed, a tiny star at the centre of his own explosive universe.

And then he had a brain wave. Why, he suggested loudly to the assembly in a conspicuously quiet pause, don’t we sing North Star, North Star?”

This had been ditched by the nursery: one can only take so many star songs before the Three Wise Toddlers get antsy and start to move in on the action with their gold, frankincense and myrrh. And who knows where that might lead.

North Star, North Star is sung to the tune of Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer, Do, an old music hall favourite. Al launched into a robust rendering, and he showed no sign of stopping.

Those who have attended one of these nativities will know that the youngsters are practiced ad infinitum until they are utterly automatic.

The children steam on, obeying their cues, and no four-year old bellowing North Star will stop them. Thus, the shepherds charged on and hurled toy sheep in the approximate direction of the manger as if they were cabers. The kings had their moment of glory.

Al’s serenading finished, the play came to an end, everyone stood up and took a bow.

And my four-year old nephew congratulated himself on a job very well done.

Picture source here

63 thoughts on “A Room At The Inn

  1. Al will surely live every moment of his life to the full.

    Talking of nativity plays…did you hear there was a fight between two dads at one yesterday? One father BIT OFF THE FINGER of the other father. Geordie dads are HARD. The children weren’t there, luckily.

  2. Moments like that make a Nativity play come alive ~ Who knows where this ad ~libbing will lead to ??? Way to go Big Al !!!

  3. We went to our Grandson’s first Nativity on Wednesday. It too was more than an experience.

    Let’s just say that Joseph played air guitar all the way through every song……

  4. Sorry you had to work, and not have the opportunity to witness this stellar performance first-hand.

    My first thought while reading was “A star is born” and I now see that Hetterbell is of like mind. πŸ™‚
    I would venture a guess that Big Al will never again be a reluctant participant in any production. He may have found his vocation early on!

  5. I was the voice of the Pied Piper in the 4th grade play. It was a big responsibility being the lead man and we each made our own puppets. Fortunately or unfortunately is was my last show biz exploit. On the other hand I have been successful for starting 7 decades now acting like I was a sane person.

    1. Congratulations, Carl πŸ˜€ Your seven decades trump my four: I must take noted on how you have kept it up for so long.I find there are often moments when the heebiejeebies are very close to the surface.

  6. Bravo, Big Al! and Bravo Auntie Kate! You started my day here with a smile.

    Have you read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever? You must. Read it aloud with the kids (well, maybe not Al as it may give him ideas). It is about the annual pageant and is full of funny mishaps, and at the same time, a rather tender reminder of what it means to give. Al’s solo reminded me of it as I find Al’s performance a Christmas gift if there ever was one.

    1. I have not read it, and it sound like a Christmas must-read, Penny! Al did give us a Christmas gift, there’s no question about it. The festive season has now well and truly begun here!

  7. Now there’s a Christmas story that will live on, to be told and retold to future generations, I’m sure. “Grandpa Al, tell me about when you…” Or perhaps, Kate, they’ll be reading it from your upcoming book: Life of Al. ? πŸ˜€

  8. I have to agree with Ruth. Life of Al would sell and sell and sell. I am trying to figure out how to make him one of my nephews and send him stuff from my travels. He is a fireball. Too bad you missed it, but this writing helped us all be there, somehow.

    This reminded me of a church service I attended in my 20’s. The toddler choir was performing. Scattered on the steps at the front of the auditorium, they proudly started belting Jesus Loves Me, fidgeting and nose-picking and standing backward and twirling in place. A little girl on the front row pulled her skirt up over her head, revealing her cute lace toddler panties. The little boy next to her – I SWEAR – looked over at her with the eye of a lascivious dirty old man watching a peep show, and shoved both hands straight down the front of his pants, playing around down there with an energy I’d be never witnessed. Nobody could make either of them stop. Everyone save me was trying to maintain the worshipful decorum of a religious service. All I could do was howl with laughter.

  9. One feels sorry for the poor little lads and lasses who do the job perfectly as per instructions on the box, Let there be one who does own thing, all attention will be focussed upon them. As, in the case of the recent ballet R performed in, when in one of the acts a kid stood stock still and simply stared forlornly at the audience. Only the parents looked at anyone else after that!

    Maybe that Monty Python slipup by the not-so-wise men had exactly the same qualitities?

    1. I think you are quite right, Col. It grabbed the attention anarchically. There will always be those who grab the limelight: but thankfully this particular nursery is adept at making sure each little star gets a chance to twinkle.

    1. We have snippets, Pseu, taken on a small iPhone camera: unfortunately they are all full-on shots which identify him and other children in the nursery. Shame. We could do with three million views.

  10. I am sure that there must be moments in Al’s life when he isn’t wonderful, when he’s not fun, or a treasure to be with. I am equally sure that the moments of joy and discovery we hear about more than make up for it!! A delight.

    1. Al is like this for much of the time, Fiona: I’ve never met anyone quite like him. The only down side is that his energy levels are such that he is totally exhausting: but his good humour is pretty robust.
      Today, I will own, Phil had to remonstrate with him for using a baseball bat to treat our huge Christmas tree as a pinata.

  11. Thank you for a sterling performance, Al. By golly, when things get a little boring, it’s a good idea to have a little gem that one can present with pizzazz!

    You’ve topped the thespian talent pool. Take another bow. πŸ˜€

  12. Dear Kate,
    It is late evening here, the air chilled, the night dark. And I’m weary from a day busier than most I’ve trundled through in the past few weeks. So I’m taking a break from copyediting and feeding a friend’s dogs and preparing a Saturday posting. “Why not read some blogs?” I ask myself.

    Yours is the one I always choose first. And tonight I’m sitting here thanking you for much needed laughter. You told this story with such wit and vim and vigor and delight that I found myself laughing, then chuckling, then belly laughing and finally simply sitting here with a wide grin on my face. I feel impish!

    Please do thank Al for me for being such a spontaneous entertainer. I suspect he has gifts aplenty in his grab bag of humanity. But to rejoice as he did so simply and so unselfconsciously is a true gift of childhood. May he never lose it.


    1. I love that term – grab bag of humanity. dee, without ever having met Al, you have him taped πŸ˜€ I shall pass on your thanks to Al. I have a feeling his life will be an eventful one.

  13. Oh how wonderful! What a delight…I hope family took it in stride! Even the most embarrassed mother is still secretly proud, and auntie, too. At just a bit older than Big Al, my son was in front of our church on such an occasion, not particularly thrilled with the event, and as the pastor greeted the children with “are you all glad to be here?”–silly question, really, but most heads bobbed up and down and my son yelled out NO! I’ve never attended any children’s program without knowing anything can happen. Sounds to me like this was a delightful occasion for one young man to shine! Debra

    1. It was, Debra, thank you πŸ™‚ We have long since passed through the embarrassment barrier and now just arrive prepared for anything. I love your son’s response. Every now and then, when I’m teaching, I ask the same kind of question, and roar with laughter at the candid responses.

    2. I was incredibly proud of him…despite the completely hectic nature of his performance! He kind of stole the show…or maybe all the mummies that were there thought that of their little stars!

  14. Beautiful – a twinkling star in his own explosive universe, it sounds lovely. What a gorgeous photo. My nephew’s school did tie-dyed pillowslips instead of tea towels last year. Great job by Al !

  15. Al is a hero straight out of a children’s book! His shenanigans are so entertaining, I think you’ve got a series on your hands that could be beloved by generations.

  16. I recall my daughter’s pre-school nativity. She didn’t know her ass from her elbow, so merely sat at the front looking ridiculously pretty in her long dark ringlets. In her quiet way she stole the show.

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