Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The cathedral challenge

I don't know what makes me think the candlelit Advent Carol Service in Blackburn Cathedral will be suitable for a five-year-old and a three-year-old. Maybe it's the prospect of singing carols, or the word advent with all its calendar-opening anticipation.

Anyhow, ignoring the fact that it's a service and that it's an hour and a half long, I persuade my family to miss Strictly Come Dancing and jump in the car for an adventure. I'm in grave danger of overusing the word adventure.

Luckily for us, Joe falls asleep on the way, stays asleep as we carry him past the slightly intimidating Blackburn youths, and doesn't stir throughout the first half of the service.

Luckily for us, we're seated in the north transept. The service starts in semi-darkness, with the candlelight and choristers gradually making their way around the congregation. The north transept is their last stop, so we have plenty of time to whisper to Rosa and feed her snacks.

The singing is sublime. Piercing medieval plainsong, crunchy modern chords, lilting Victorian melodies, all in an impressive modern cathedral with underfloor heating.

Then the moment of truth. The bishop, the choir and the candlelight reach the north transept just as Joe wakes up with a coughing fit. I hold up his favourite plastic dinosaurs to distract him, at which point he noisily bashes their heads together (silly me for choosing a herbivore and a carnivore). So I frantically unwrap a Kit-Kat - crinkle crinkle - and thrust it into Joe's hand. Sticky chocolate silence.

More singing, a few prayers, another Kit-Kat, a reading and then... a hymn. Allelluja! As the organ pipes up and the congregation scrape to their feet I make a getaway with Joe to the loos in the crypt.

We process out at the end of the service and notice that ours are the only children present, with the exception of the choristers. As we shake hands with the bishop there's a familiar feeling of foolhardy triumph.

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