I've got a terrible illness which is preventing me from doing most of what I want to do; in other words, in man-talk, I've got a cold. I've been suffering as conspicuously as possible in front of Maxima and the girls, but getting no sympathy. Sometimes I think I'll never understand women...
One of the things I'd wanted to do was go over to the Grassy Old Fen for the annual Service of Carols and Lessons in aid of the Alzheimer's Society, but felt really bad. In addition, the atosphere of mild hysteria that has surrounded the swine-flu outbreak has effectively ostracised everybody with anything more than the sniffles, even though in a parallel outbreak of common sense the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have reintroduced Holy Communion from the Chalice. And not a moment too soon: the Revd Bosco Peters was astounded when news of a no-touch Communsion Host dispenser turned out not to be a joke in bad taste but a real product.
Still, over here in the Draughty Old Fen we still have a Service of Carols by Candlelight to come, which I'm looking forward to. It's good not only to sing songs looking forward to the feast of Christ's birth, but to touch a part of childhood with which those songs are linked that seemed - perhaps not without justification - to be a better time. So it was disappointing to hear that the Bishop of Croydon has denounced traditional carols as nonsense, embarrassing and "Victorian child control", in the sort of negation of one's culture that makes it all the easier for those who wish us harm to tighten their grip yet further the reins of power.
We also have an excellent Advent course being put on by St Gallicus' parish by Rector Pellegrina and Musica, the Parish Assistant, and based on the theme of waiting. We've been through the covenants of the Bible, like God's "Rainbow Covenant" with Noah and the Covenant of the Heart spoken through Ezekiel. We've also been through the Binding of Isaac and the story's prefiguring of somebody else who would climb a hill with wood on his back but would not walk away; and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, indicating what kind of person that would be, if not exactly Who.
There was also an examination of secular sayings involving waiting that Minima, the youngest person there who was thrilled to be told she was an honourary adult, enjoyed. Especially when we came to "a watched kettle never boils", which Minima, in her wisdom, said was true, that the electric kettle seemed to boil quicker when she frogot about it and put her mind on more important things, like High School Musical.
I had to challenge this, and told her about a time in the mists of the past when we didn't have such luxuries. Once, mindful of the saying, I put the kettle on the gas cooker and sat down and watched it until it boiled. Then, just as I was contemplating success, my Mum came in and asked what on earth I was doing sitting watching the kettle.
It made Minima and a few others laugh. And I was glad about this, because the secular time in which Christmas is set is so full of forced bonhommie and warmth that we are in dire need of the real thing. Many people find it a hard time, because for a fortnight it becomes societally unacceptable to say you feel rubbish or that you want people to leave you alone, and possible the less religious one becomes the more guilty one is of this. In Cambridge, if you have mental health problems, most of the services for us that haven't been closed for good are on holiday or reduced hours, so it's really good to be part of a family where I'm allowed to slope off for a while if I feel awful. And out of the house, I must admit I do revel somewhat in the epithet of "bah humbug": it's good to be grumpy.
So when it comes have a happy Christmas, and before then have a good Advent. It's an excellent season to become acquainted with something we're all involved in: the big wait.