A Christmas Carol

This time last year, all over again…..

Hill House, December 23, 2020 1 minute and 16 seconds in to Drummer Boy

“A rainy, dark day… in every sense! We’ve just heard of a new lockdown throughout most of the UK starting on the 26th of December, with a new variant of C19 [delta] rapidly spreading. Happy Christmas!!  And, of course, the residents of Hill House won’t be able to see their families over Christmas… everything just feels very dark at the moment.  But today we nevertheless… despite… (all those characteristic Covid times words)… manage to have some comfort and joy in the session. As ever, I’m surprised, heartened, thankful that this is possible…” – Gary’s logbook, December 23, 2020.

Special occasions are still important to people at Hill House, ‘despite’ the pandemic, ‘despite’ adversity and the various challenges faced there by all.  And everybody pitches in to make a convivial feeling. 

Staff enact the carols in pantomime mode, with energy that is contagious. The manager dances in to the room to The Holly and the Ivy, then snaps a photo with her phone. 

One resident has a sheaf of carol lyrics in her hand (this causes confusion later as she can’t find the carols Gary’s playing) so in the middle of Silent Night she snaps, “we’ve got different words here” and looks up at the TV screen in something of a huff.

*

Meanwhile, and as with any group of people, Christmas is not everyone’s cup of tea, even if the complaints are received as if they are in the spirit of British Christmas Panto heckling (“Look behind you,” “Boo!” and “Oh no it’s not”):

Gary: Shall we do this one now?

Roderick: [sotto voce, off stage] If you must!

Gary: That’s a nice song isn’t it? 

Roderick:  It’s dreadful! 

Gary: What shall we do now?” 

Roderick: Go to bed! 

*

The occasion of Christmas is however one that most of the members of Hill House recognise and ‘celebrate’ – if not necessarily as a religious occasion. And Christmas at Hill House does not only have to happen in the month of December. For one thing, there is a lot of cultural diversity in the living room of this care home with staff from all over the world (and a multiplicity of religions) and residents with diverse religious and spiritual orientations. For another thing, many of the residents cannot always say when pressed what season they are in, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that ‘the seasons’ for them are now more flexible and floating occasions:

“At the end of the session as usual we sing Auld lang Syne as a goodbye song. Jane quickly follows this up with Merry Christmas [it’s May!!] – at which point several of the carer staff dissolve in laughter. Jane quickly moves on to calling for a vote of thanks for me, reverting to her ‘hostess’ role again (a sign of her recovery!).” – Gary’s practitioner log, May 2020. 

*

However, simply having things to celebrate is the key thing, and the occasion of Christmas – along with the pictures all festooned with tinsel, and the special things to eat – is an opportunity for festivity, for being together, sharing and enjoying seasonal treats. And in real time, perhaps especially in this situation where language and remembering pose challenges to some, music can support a sense of occasion. It can lend shape to what people do in the name of special occasions.

For example, Gary offers is a very hammed up climax to Mary’s Boy Child, increasingly swinging the rhythm in response to the amount of dancing taking place. Gary’s practitioner log also tells us that he used the famous rhythm in the carol, Drummer Boy (‘Pa rum pum pum pum’) as a ‘hook’ to collect together residents and staff. When we watch the video of this carol, it is clear that music gets latched on to, developed and varied by individuals who, through that process, further distribute the rhythm across the room. And that invites others to join in, in ways that further elaborate the festive scene. 

And sure enough (a) care team member Dan sits with May, taps the song’s rhythm on May’s knee and later gives her a hug (b) Tina, a member of the care team, claps the rhythm and bounces on her knees (c) Sandra one of Hill House’s keenest resident dancers, watches the TV screen carefully, clapping in rhythm (d) Joan, who is slightly slumped in an armchair begins to conduct with her right hand (e) Mavis, a care team member, dances across the room close to the camera (f) Brydie gently explores her chair arm and then begins, eventually, to focus on the TV. And (g) even Roderick (“if you must”) taps the rhythm on the arm of his chair with verve. Then Tina and resident Sandra begin to dance. 

Seasons’ greetings from us to everyone at Hill House at this challenging time.

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