The Rocking Carol
Neil Smalley, 6th December 2021
In September, 1946, just after my 5th birthday, I started school, and that Christmas, for our Nativity concert, we all learned the Rocking Carol. I was enchanted, intrigued- puzzled, even, but all very enjoyably so. What puzzled me was where were we going to get a coat of fur? I didn’t know anyone who possessed such a treasure, because to lend baby Jesus such a rarity, we would have to borrow it from someone living on a much more elevated plain of existence than the one we inhabited.
Although it didn’t mean anything to me that the war was over, and we were still under rationing, I was still vaguely aware that our lives were very much restricted. I was aware that there were some standards of living, possession and behaviour that belonged to people on the wireless and in stories, but they were in a different world from our ‘one up and one down’ inner city slum yard house, with outside toilet shared with another family, and one air-raid shelter in the yard for 24 households.
The nearest I could get, in my mind, to a coat of fur was Bella Wagstaff in the top corner of the yard. She had what was identified as a fox fur tippet. Imagine a strip of dark fur (definitely not fox coloured) three inches wide about two feet long. On one end dangled two boneless legs, with claws, a narrow face with glass eyes and a black shiny bead of a nose, while the other end sported two similar legs with claws, plus a very modest, wisp of a tail. Not at all fox-like; not at all impressive, in fact it was rather repulsive in a sad sort of way. Even baby Jesus would have been startled by it, or perhaps frightened, and been sick over it.
Now the rocking bit, I really enjoyed. I’d seen Lillian Gregory (lived on ‘the Front’- road in front of the yard) sitting on the step and rocking her baby girl, Winnie, so I knew how to do it properly, gently, not like Harry Garfitt. He looked like he was going to chuck baby Jesus over the school gate. In fact most of the other kids were the same. You could tell the ones with younger siblings- ones like Alice Scholey. She had several, and was obviously her mother’s second in command. She was ‘Mary’ and even at five years old, she was an expert at lifting baby Jesus up across her shoulder, and patting his back to ‘wind’ him.
The bit that really grabbed me by the throat, the heart, even, was the last phrase- ‘…darling, darling little Man’. We were saying that to Jesus! In the short time we had been at school, we had sort of adjusted and got used to vicars, teachers and such going on in their sort of ‘bible speak’ like Holy and merciful Father, and creator of the universe, omnipotence, and lots of thees and thous and thines, and often in a singy songy smarmy voice, like singing badly through their noses, and here we were talking to baby Jesus like Ivy Mazlin did to her little brother, Billy- like he was one of ours!- One of our own! I could just hear Ivy singing out ‘Come ‘ere our Jesus! What ‘ave you got on your face!’
And this is what we are in danger of losing, as we grow up- The fact that Jesus is ours; brother. minder, pal, leader of our gang, role model, best mate. You know you can rely on him to talk sense, advise, back you up, not leave you in the lurch, nor fob you off, never let you down.
I suppose I’ve moved a long way on from the Rocking Carol, but so has Jesus. We never did find him that coat of fur. Never mind. As Christina Rossetti says in ‘In the Deep Mid-winter’ = What shall I give him? Give him my heart.