Today’s Christmas carol is, ‘When a Child is Born’. This is a popular Christmas song that was popularised by Johnnie Mathis in 1976, and whose version was Number 1 in the UK. The original melody was ‘Soleado’, a tune from 1974 by Ciro Dammicco (alias Zacar), composer for Italy's Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble, and Dario Baldan Bembo. The tune was based on Damicco's earlier tune ‘Le rose blu’ that was published in 1972. The English language lyrics were written a few years later by Fred Jay (Friedrich Alex Jacobson, who wrote many hits for ‘Boney M’ such as ‘Rasputin’ and ‘Ma Baker’). They do not make specific mention of Christmas but the importance they attach to looking forward to the birth of one particular child somewhere, anywhere, suggests a reference to the birth of Jesus Christ and the citing of ‘a tiny star’ that ‘lights up way up high may allude to the ‘Star of Bethlehem’.
So many other singers have covered this song and include: Bing Crosby: Boney M: Matt Monro: Kenny Rogers: Sarah Brightman: Charlotte Church: The Moody Blues: Willie Nelson: Demis Roussos: Andrea Bocelli and Placido Domingo, plus many others.
I suppose that the happiest moment in the lives of most parents tend to be the day they married and the birth of their children (especially their firstborn). These two occasions were never meant to take place around the same time, and during the 1950s and 1960s, the parents of a pregnant daughter of single status usually ensured that they didn’t.
This was the era where all young men and women quickly learned that with ‘freedom’ comes ‘responsibility’ and when one made one’s bed, one lay in it! These were times when society expected young courting couples ‘to save themselves for their wedding night’ and not to abandon their self-respect down some dark alley or on the back seat of a car because of being unable to keep their clothes on during moments of physical temptation.
The 1950’s was before the introduction of ‘the contraceptive’ or the ‘morning after’ pill and abortions would remain illegal until 1968. Whenever back-street abortions were sought, they could lead to imprisonment and were often fatal. During my teenage years, if a boy and girl tasted the fruit from the tree of temptation before they were married, they were not allowed one bite of the apple before throwing away the rest! The couple had bitten into the forbidden fruit, so they were meant to chew it all and finish what they’d started. The most common phrase that covered these circumstances was, ‘You’ve made your bed; so lie in it!’
The couple would invariably be marched down the aisle before the bride’s baby started to show, and they would become man and wife long enough before the baby’s birth to enable the fiddling of the dates of its stated conception and presumed ‘premature birth’. This was invariably known as being ‘a shotgun wedding’, an apt-titled description you might think, for both groom and bride, having dishonorably discharged their weapons instead of leaving them holstered until the wedding night!
There were occasions when the infant would be adopted at birth, and it was not unknown for many a child to be brought up calling its grandmother, ‘Mother’ or believing its blood mother to be their ‘sister’ or ‘aunt’.
There was many an infant who was born into a poor, working-class home between the two world wars 1914-1945, whose cradle may well have been the drawer of a dresser. I have often wondered where the term, ’saving up for one’s bottom drawer’, used by courting couples who were saving up to be married, originated from? Could I have stumbled across the truthful origin of the saying?
There are many things that a parent may be unable to do for their child today, given the austerity of the times or a low standard of living, but the most important thing in life will not cost a parent anywhere in the world one penny; love!
Being the oldest of seven children to my mum and always having been able to engage in honest dialogue with her, my mother would invariably tell me whatever I had the courage to ask her. At the age of ten years, while all my mates could tell you where they were born, I was the only boy on the block who knew where I’d been conceived. My site of conception was in a farmer’s field beneath ‘The Metal Man’ in Tramore, County Waterford in Ireland. This was the place where my courting parents would meet up unknown to my maternal grandparents. Dad would cycle 33 miles from County Kilkenny once a week and meet my mum at ‘The Metal Man’. It was during one of their secretive meetups when I was conceived, ‘according to my mother’.
The treacherous Tramore Bay often led to the sinking of ships. After the sinking of the Sea Horse, its insurers, Lloyds of London, funded the building of piers and the erection of pillars on two headlands as a visual aid to prevent similar calamities from happening.This construction became known as ‘The Metal Man.’ I never visit Ireland without vising the place of my conception in Tramore.
Many myths and legends surround ‘The Metal Man’. It's reputed that a woman who hops backwards on one bare foot around the base of his pillar three times will be married within the year. I have hopped around the stone beacon often and got my first wife to do so. On the second time around, my first wife-to-be started to tire and flag, and being too much of a gentleman (or was I being an Irish fool?), I allowed her to take my arm to complete the task. Would I offer my assistance again, you might ask? No way!
If I could make one law, it would be this. I would make it compulsory for the parents of children never to let their children get up each morning or go to bed each night without physically telling them, ‘I love you’ as they hug them. As a former Probation Officer for almost twenty six years, I have literally met hundreds of problematic adults who never heard these three words from their parents when they were a child, and who, in turn grew up unable to say ‘I love you’ to their partners or their own children.
Sheila and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Love and peace Bill xxx