Countryfile

A theme running through BBC programming this year has been social isolation. When BBC TV’s ‘Countryfile’ appeared in this corner of Northumberland last month they picked up on an annual activity performed by our local community choir. ‘Carols by Car’ sees choir members spending a long mid winter evening travelling from one remote dwelling to another in and around the upper reaches of our Pennine valley singing carols and bringing a happy set of familiar seasonal tunes to kitchen, living room, farmyard or byre. Sweets, mulled wine and mince pies often in evidence by way of thanks and always a glow of delight in the recipients for being so toasted. Choir members committed to up to two days of filming, in company with presenter Tom Heap and the crew, on locations outdoors and in, with volunteer contributors who bravely submitted to being termed ‘socially isolated’. A widower, a disabled retired shepherd and a young farming couple with two small pre-school children all allowed our circus into their lives and played their parts well. Meanwhile the other strands of the programme were assembled elsewhere round the county – from foraging in the forest to making Xmas tree decos at a family forge – culminating with a knees up at the newly re-opened old pub in a nearby village (complete with micro-brewery at the back, the subject of another strand). The programme ended with a mass singing of ‘Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly’ (above). I enjoyed my walk on role in the chorus to a Teleland cheerful melee, even if it was pitched way nearer entertainment than reality. Being the ‘Christmas Special’ one should have known it would be feather light on content and heavier than usual on presenter led conventional cosiness. Lots of missed opportunities to create a coherent meaningful narrative and a reminder how much lies in the editing process. Last week, to put matters right the choir did the real thing and visited some seven properties out-by finishing our long carolling evening with a simple supper (with more singing) in a local restaurant/camp site in the valley’s heart. Their dining room fir was huge in height and width, simply and effectively decorated with 2.000 little white bulbs. On Sunday, at the same time the TV programme went out, the choir would join forces with the Ceildh band and local schoolchildren and the gathered community. A full house at the most remote church in the vale for the Christmas carol service. No mains supplies so the the candles will be lit and the scent of pine fill the air. Mulled wine and mince pies served at the end. A scene Thomas Hardy would have recognised from his childhood. This is the real rural community. Alive and well, welcoming and inclusive. Warm hearted, and above all, real. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re with, have a happy Christmas!

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