Fraser Nelson

Christmas cheer, Spectator style

Christmas cheer, Spectator style
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It was the Spectator’s Carol Concert last night, in the Fleet St church of St Bride’s – and one of my favourite nights of the year. The choir is amazing: if you’re a sucker for John Rutter-style choral arrangements (which I very much am), then it was heaven. The choir’s first piece was Harold Darke’s stunning arrangement of In The Bleak Midwinter, perhaps my second-favourite piece of Christmas music.* I was up for the first reading, Isaiah Ch9, predicting the birth of Christ. It was weirdly short, so I looked up the Good Book to see if I could beef it up a little – and it was one of those moments when you’re reminded just how brutal the Old Testament can be. Just a few lines down from the words “Prince of Peace” are a few lines about just what the Lord would do to Israel: “By the wrath of the LORD Almighty, the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; they will not spare one another.” And a merry Christmas, too.


Rod Liddle read that beautiful Betjeman poem, where you’re just waiting for the stunning sign-off (perhaps the best two lines written about Christmas). Jeremy Clark, our peerless Low Life correspondent gave a reading. He’d brought along a suitcase with him, joking it was full of sex toys, and left early to go see cowgirl (for details, read here, here and here). And perhaps my favourite moment was when the minister said it was the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s assassination, so the choir would sing ‘war is over’. You could tell it was a fair-and-balanced audience, because almost every pair of eyes in the room rolled. The Spectator commemorated Lennon’s anniversary with this piece, a while ago, and Peter Robins, our new production editor, gave it the headline “John Lennon, idiot.” Rod was sitting next to me, and said the original was perhaps the worst song he’d heard. (He’s sensitive about songs - he claimed the other week that the Spice Girls’ 2become1 put him off sex for years).


The choir was, is, amazing – I bought their CD last year, and can thoroughly recommend it. Even Hugo Rifkind, who said he hadn’t been to a choir service since he left school, quite liked it.  


Then we went for wine downstairs in the crypt, where one Speccie reader was out to present Andrew Neil with a bottle of blue nun wine. Mary Killen (who writes ‘Dear Mary’) was talking about setting up a writers’ workshop. I passed on to her word from Jamie Borwick, the London black cab magnate, who told me he wrote to her column asking how to get rid of off-duty motorcycle couriers who had started to congregate outside his office. “She told me to send a secretary, informing them that the DWP benefit-cheat police had taken out an office nearby and they’d all be gone. So I did, and it worked!”

We ended up in El Vino’s later on. Toby Young brought along Katharine Birbalsingh, that remarkable deputy headmaster who addressed the Tory party conference about the dismal state of education (“it keeps poor children poor,” “black children underachieve because of what the well-meaning liberal does to them,” etc.) – and was sacked for her efforts. If education in Britain is turned around, it will be the extraordinary teachers like her who manage it. And then, the tradition to end every Christmas party: wandering the streets, trying to find a pub that’s still open. And failing.


* First is Fairytale of New York, which I’ll forever associate with that December nine years ago where I met the woman whom TGF calls the Viking Princess.