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The London Eye

Chris Neill sums up Christmas with a lesson from his infant school headmistress

Published on December 20th 2011.


The London Eye

WHETHER she was called Mrs Lemon or Mrs Lemming, and frankly both names seem unlikely, I can't remember, but I do recollect that the headmistress at my infant school was a slightly remote, benevolent but all-powerful figure. A kind of She-God in sensible skirts whose domain was an office in an off-limits corner of the school rarely sullied by children. 

Further down the street lived a family whose daughter went by the exotic and foreign-sounding name Deniseyaliddlecunt.

As even her name isn't clear to me, it's a surprise that anything else has lodged in my mind but one occasion has. After a school carol concert she spoke of the true meaning of Christmas. It was, she explained, a time of miracles, but miracles, she insisted, weren't limited to the nature of Jesus's birth. Oh no, miracles were around us all the time, if only we were careful to spot them. 

Being quite keen on witches and wizards and their ilk at that age I sat up straight and anticipated advice on the casting of spells or communion with the dead. Instead she rattled on about citrus fruits. “Just think,” she told us, “when you peel open an orange or a satsuma or a tangerine you are the first person in the world to see that fruit. No one else has been there before you. That's a miracle,” she declared with some poetic licence. 

Was this blather about satsumas the gateway drug to more spicy info about conjuring up bad spirits or genies? Sadly not. Mrs L's explanation of the world of everyday miracles went so far as fruit-consumption and that was that. 

She then spoke of the true meaning of Christmas. Apparently, it had absolutely zilch to do with toys, eating sprouts or Morecambe and Wise but rather Being Good. Good to our brothers and sisters, our parents, our friends and a fourth category of souls seeking our benevolence: our neighbours. These tragic types, it transpired, were often lonely at Christmas and wanted nothing more than us to pop round and say hello.

I thought of the people who shared our little terraced street. There was Maisie next door who achieved an everyday miracle of her own: that of being born only a few years before my mum but looking older than my grandmother; across the road was a properly old woman called Mrs Cox who constantly had a bottle of Tia Maria on the go; and a few doors down from her was an even older lady, Mrs Dew, who blew my mind one day when she told me she could remember Mrs Cox being born. (Surely an event which had taken place in the primordial slime before the arrival of mammals).

Parrot

Further down the street lived a family whose daughter went by the exotic and foreign-sounding name Deniseyaliddlecunt. Spurning my headmistress's advice, I decided that their Christmases would have to be endured without a greeting from me.

On the radio the other day I heard the story of an elderly man who'd been found under 7,000 yachting magazines that some thoughtful friend had left him in his will. Rather than taking the opportunity to acquaint himself with his local council dump, he instead piled them up in his attic where, over a period of years, their accumulated weight beat his ceiling rafters into a state of submission until one evening they came crashing through, trapping him in his bed until the fire brigade popped round and rescued him.

Phyllis, my pigeon-loving neighbour, who I've mentioned before, doesn't limit her ornithological passions to one species. Oh no. She shares her home with a parrot; a vicious, yet uncaged, creature whose attentions have been known to send a plumber to hospital with a ripped hand before now. 

Should the mere presence of this flying menace not be proof enough of her affections, she has in her attic every copy of Parrot Monthly going back to pre-decimalisation days. Asked why she can't get rid of them her response is always the same: “You never know when they'll come in handy.” As it happens, I do. Never. My answer, however, doesn't chime with Phyllis. I now can't help think doomsday for Phyllis may be imminent. 

So, should I hear a deafening avalanche over the next few days, I shall recall my headmistress's advice but instead of rushing round to help I'll shout through her letterbox “Told you so,” then squeeze through a satsuma and call out that once she's escaped from the mess there's a miracle waiting on the doormat to cheer her up. 

Happy Christmas.

Chris Neill is a comedian, broadcaster and native Londoner. You can make him feel more popular than he actually is by following him at @chrisneill on Twitter.

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