Monday 24 December 2012

Sunday School and the Choir

No doubt because of the links between the Church and the School, (Kingsley Church of England School ), and therefore many joint ventures, it seemed quite normal for most children to join the Sunday School. This in turn lead smoothly into joining the church choir when children were considered old enough to do so, I don’t recall exactly when that was but I have an idea it was at the age of eight or nine.
School and Sunday School linked together for events at Easter, Mothering Sunday, Harvest Festival and Christmas in particular and the village fete and jumble sales etc. in general. In the case of the former it was a religious festival that brought them together and in the case of the latter, fund raising.
Sunday School took place in the Church, between services, and consisted, for the most part, of low key lessons on biblical stories and singing. The Sunday School teachers were ladies from within the Church community. They obviously made a great impression upon me because I can’t remember whom a single one of them was. I suppose we stopped going to Sunday School when we graduated to being members of the choir.
As far as I can recall, the choir membership and its activities were of rather more interest to most of us, but I am sorry to say, for all of the wrong reasons. In the first place, choir practice took place in the evening on, I think, Thursdays. This, of course, meant I and my friends were released from our homes and allowed out into the village. The practice itself lasted about an hour but we endeavored to leave home as far in advance of its start as we could. Equally we delayed our return after the completion of the practice for as long as that could be stretched without causing parents to come in search of us. I well recall how grown up we felt, particularly in the winter when the evenings were dark, by being out together without parents. This weekly escape increased in duration as we grew older and moved on from Kingsley School to the Secondary Modern in Alton. The choir was, of course, mixed and as we got older, the fact that girls were involved provided additional attractions.
During church services choir boys sat on one side of the aisle and girls on the other, in the case of All Saints, as one walks towards the altar, the girls were on the left and boys on the right. Being directly above the organ, the girls could be watched by the organist, Mrs. Inwood. Mrs. Inwood was also the choir mistress during the time I was a member. Her husband was a Church Warden and sat in the front pew on the left from where he glared at the choir boys.
The angelic faces of those young people clad in purple cassocks and white surplises belied the naughtiness and un-angelic behavior contained within. It was very much the norm for the boys to attempt to make the girls giggle and to this end we went to quite extraordinary lengths. Common in our arsenals were elastic bands, these could be easily concealed, but when stretched between two fingers provided a super little catapult more than capable of propelling a folded up roll of paper well into the ranks of the female singers. An additional benefit was the almost silent operation of these little tools. All that was need was to avoid Mr. Inwood’s gaze. For the most part the vicar had his back to us and did not represent a risk.
If our paper missiles managed to create an odd giggle from the girls this would be followed up by, what I believe, is known as gurning. Although not aware of this old rural pursuit at the time, it was effectively what we were doing. The aim of each of us was to pull such a ghastly face that the girls opposite would descend into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Fingers were pushed up nostrils and noses persuaded into grotesque shapes, mouths and tongues were all brought into service in order to achieve our aims. I first learned, in the Kingsley choir stalls, how to make my eyes go cross eyed, all in pursuit of causing the girls to giggle, and then receive the telling off from Mrs. Inwood.
On one occasion the boys of the choir brought with them, into the morning service, a selection of various coloured beer bottle tops. Together with these we had four inch nails. The bottle tops were arranged along the shelf in front of us designed to hold prayer and hymn books. During the playing of the organ,for hymns and psalms, we tapped the bottle tops with the nails to the beat of the music, poor old Inwood nearly had a heart attack. Another highly successful mode of giggle making was achieved by two or three boys at a time when they stuffed their handkerchief up one of their nostrils. The handkerchief would hang in place, dangling down the side of the face, and could be caused to swing and sway by sharp movements of the head. Invariably this did the trick and much giggling would be the result. Of course, once the giggling began the hapless girls had little chance of controlling it and the end result was red faces, coughing and a general break down of decorum. Needless to say, at the point of reckoning, that was when Mr. Inwood had reported us to the vicar, and, no doubt accused individuals of all sorts of heinous behavior, we all steadfastly denied any involvement in such matters.
As we progressed through the choir, for there was a progression of sorts, (servers and candle lighters), we became even more devious at” Inwood “ bating. In addition to the chief objective, of a pew full of giggling girls opposite, there evolved the subtle art of “Inwood “ bating. It became increasingly obvious to us all that Mr. Inwood had no sense of humour and furthermore he could be easily wound up. Unfortunately for Mr. Inwood he had an eye defect. One eye was normal and the other peered off at a rather acute angle. Therefore, at any given time, it was quite difficult to be sure exactly where, or whom, he was looking at. If this were not enough, when he got angry he got very fidgety and twisted and turned in his seat getting redder and redder in the face. Throughout this torment the poor fellow desperately tried to maintain his composure and the semblance of adherence to his devotions. On the other hand our aim was to disrupt them. It is quite extraordinary how affronted we were by Mr. Inwoods weekly attempts to get the vicar to give us a good roasting and how much this behavior on his part increased our resolve to bate him. It quickly became clear that our bating had, on the one hand, to be subtle and on the other to be effective. What we needed was a method which sufficiently offended Mr. Inwood and made the girls giggle without appearing to be overtly naughty or of bad behavior.
Young we may have been, innocent we were not. I am not quite sure how the solution evolved, but evolve it did and to devastating effect. It became clear to us that it was completely correct and indeed polite to agree with everything the vicar said. When he was preaching, when he was making public announcements or any other form of statement, we boys felt it was our absolute duty to agree or disagree with any and every thing he agreed or disagreed with. Simple! Here you have it lads; every time the vicar made a point the whole of the boys side of the choir stalls would nod furiously in agreement or shake their heads vigorously in disagreement, which ever was appropriate. The desired effect was achieved almost in an instant, girls were giggling uncontrollably and Inwood was in a lather, bingo!! Game, set, and match and how on earth could we be told off for listening intently to His Reverences every word and loyally expressing our support?
I rather imagine that today’s children do not join the village choir, if indeed there still is one, but I am confident they would be much better behaved if they did. Since this is December's offering may I take this opportunity to wish all of my readers and the people of Kingsley a very Happy and peaceful Christmas.

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