I’m really a Lancashire lass, though have spent most of my life further south. In Prescot, where I was brought up it was the custom for young children to spend the weeks before Christmas going from house to house carol singing. There would be several small groups, but I only recall going from house to house alone. I can imagine the shock /horror of mothers today learning that a child of 9 – 10 years old was allowed to go out in the dark knocking on the doors of strangers, but, looking back, it was just regarded as normal.

The streets were terraced with the front door opening on to the street, so it was easy to move from one house to another. Since I could probably be heard by more than one householder, they were usually ready for me, but would stand in the open doorway waiting for me to finish before  handing out a few coppers – ‘You doan’t get owt for nowt!’

I was thinking about those days – Christmas is a time for reminiscing – when I read the notice about the proposed carol singing organised by the Olney-Newton Link, a regular annual event which is well supported. However, very different from my early experience. That had more in common with the small, scruffy boys described by Dylan Thomas who went carol singing:

 And I remember we went carol singing once, when there wasn’t a shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one of us holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.

 ‘What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?’

 ‘No,’Jack said, ‘Good King Wenceslas. I’ll count three.’

 One, two, three, we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door.

 ‘Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen.’

 And then a small dry voice, like the voice of someone who had not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small dry eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small, dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.

 Dylan Thomas

[Thelma Shacklady]