Christmas in the City
by Julie?Morgan King
A medley of cathedral bells punctures late afternoon apathy and heads look up to find the source of the din. They?ll see nothing, no lonely hunchback hanging off a rope. Just a tall thin spire recently unveiled with predictable pomp and ceremony. A perfect match to its magnificent twin.
A crowd gathers in the square below; friends and relatives mostly, and a few stragglers waiting for something which feels a bit special. Blokes with shirt sleeves rolled up impatient for the holidays; groups of mums pushing bag-laden strollers and toddlers dancing in their very own fairy orbits, decked out in pink and expecting a party.
Disinterested swimmers saunter by on their way to the pool. The rain spits warm pellets and threatens to halt proceedings. It doesn’t seem to bother a swarm of screeching bats flapping around the fig trees in the shady reserve next door. Their nocturnal mission to hang off a comfy branch has started. An old man hoists a filthy swag over his shoulder and heads for a quiet spot under a concrete canopy away from the stares.
The sound guy peers skyward. We hold our breath: we want to finish the year here, a blink away from where we rehearse every Tuesday. An appalling space for singing that hall is, with its spongy asbestos-looking ceiling and splotchy timber floor, bruised from a century of wear and tear. Nothing much survives in the lean-to kitchen except a rusty one speed urn and piles of smelly tea towels. The toilet reeks of piss and bodily fumes leftover from the twelve-steppers who gather there just before us. But it?s downtown and central and it?s a bargain.
We get the nod and mount the glorious sandstone stairs, arranging ourselves in familiar four part harmony. We are teachers, lawyers, public servants. Some of us are jobless. There’s even a poet.
Tall ones in front? No, better put the new guys there: they need surround sound.
Eyes front! Smile!
We sneak a glance at Hyde Park where flocks of filthy airborne rats otherwise known as ibis raid the bins. Visitors photograph them while locals sneer. Straight ahead, nasty high rises which house students, whores and criminals. That end of town could do with a spruce.
The humidity and petrol fumes will flatten us, so eyebrows up and keep the water handy. Ignore the glitches and don’t wave at friends.
Some of us are so excited we giggle uncontrollably. For others it’s been a tough year and it will good when it’s all over.
The conductor raises her arms and smiles. Her enthusiasm is infectious. The crowd unfurls umbrellas as dark clouds swirl around.
We brush away the raindrops and let it rip; full-throttle belting with our mouths wide open, hoping the blowflies won’t find their way in.
The basses wobble, the tenors forget a crucial entry, the altos are all over the place and as usual the sops are deliciously overblown.
And the city gives thanks.