The Aldeburgh Xmas Light
I was guest of honour at the Aldeburgh ‘Switch on the Xmas lights celebration at the weekend. My friend and sometime co-writer Jon Canter had asked me to do the honours and I said ‘Yes’, not quite knowing what I was letting myself in for…
My girlfriend Lisa and I drove up in a hired – very nice vehicle, one of those press button things with no key, no visible way of changing gear or changing the radio channel. Lovely journey punctuated by cries of ‘how does it stop?’ ‘how does it start?’ ‘what’s that light mean?’ ‘why are we listening to Christopher Biggins on Filth FM?’ and so on. A tad disconcerting.
We arrive at Snape Maltings just outside Aldeburgh and go to this Harry Potter Diagon Alley style shopping centre – very cool place with all kinds of food and kitchen stuff and crockery and smelly candles and …yes, ok, I was with a girl, I HAD TO DO THESE THINGS.
‘Snape Maltings’ is a great name for a Bond Villain btw.
Bond: ‘Do you expect me to talk?’
Maltings: ‘No, Mr Bond – I expect you to buy this antique magnifying glass just £6.99! And perhaps some Lemoncello in a bottle shaped like a lemon!’
We drove from there into Aldburgh – picked up diesel – not Vin Diesel but the actual fuel (why is Vin Diesel called Vin Diesel? It’s a ridiculous name – a friend of mine wanted to change his name to Sauvignon Paraffin but I voted against it) – and then drove into town… From about 3 miles away we could see that every tree had a poster on it telling everyone that was going to be reading that tree, that Lenny Henry was going to be turning on the Xmas lights in Aldeburgh later that day – this was amazing. I half expected to get to the main roundabout and spot a Premier Inn cardboard cut out of me holding a sign saying £29! And by the way, I’m switching on the lights later on!
The awareness of the event was palpable – everyone knew I was in town – the Twitter activity leapt considerably. People were talking about it. It was a big deal.
Aldeburgh has been described by some people as being ‘Notting Hill by the sea’, meaning that there are celebs, bloggers, writers, programme controllers and TV Kingpins and gurus up the wazoo – but I didn’t see any of that. OK, there was the odd child called Tamsin, Tarquin, Fenella and Piers – but that was just one family …in a Maybach …eating Swan sandwiches …and watching Brideshead Revisited. That was just them.
Everyone else was relatively cool and normal peeps.
We got to meet everyone, Jon and his gorgeous wife the artist Helen Napper; Rob Maybe, restaurateur and organiser, and the Vicar – Nigel. Also the Carnival Queen Emma, who was wearing a plastic bag over her beautiful costume because it had been a monsoon all day and she didn’t want to get soaked. We all sat a bit awkwardly in the Regatta restaurant (such good food) and waited for the cue to go and switch on the lights.
Carnival queen, whose sole job was to lead me to the stage, was shoved aside by a Liz, a very smart and commanding woman in a bush-tucker trial hat, who clapped her hands twice and led me to the tiny marquee in the centre of town. The place was packed with parents and kids and fans, some of whom were carrying light sticks that swirled and curled in a rainbow of colours, like an electric Willy Wonka confection. The stage was tiny and the marquee was too – it was like trying to do a panto in a leg of Anne Widdecombes pantaloons. You could nearly do it but not quite.
There was the smallest stage I’ve ever seen, which contained some PEOPLE standing around, an organist, a microphone, some CHILDREN and then in front of us – at least 3OO people crammed right up to the stage. Which meant that no one on stage could see anything but friendly faces, light sticks and the odd woolly hat.
Rob Maybe thanked everyone in Aldeburgh for helping to organise the whole thing – and then gave a mention to a guy called Big Jimmy who’d obviously just died recently. Everyone was sad – but then Rob introduced the Vicar, Nigel, so that was cool… that meant I was up next. Cool Beans, right?
Nigel went on and spoke for a while …and then spoke some more …and then ended with a more sombre prayer for Jimmy, the guy who’d just died and was a big, important cog in the local community. Massive respect to the guy, he was obviously loved by all and sundry in Aldeburgh. A few sniffs as the crowd remember just how important Jim was.
And then Nigel the Vicar says – ‘OK,here he is Lenny Henry!’ And then I’m on!
Looking at a crowd of people who are all wet, freezing and have just been reminded that one of their best loved members has recently passed away. And now – it’s comedy time!
Actually, it was OK, a small child called Luke came on – and everyone said ‘Ahhhh’. Then the Carnival Queen came on and everyone said ‘OOOH’. Then Luke and I pushed the plunger that was to turn the ALDEBURGH LIGHTS ON FOR XMAS! There was a countdown – 10, 9, 8,7 etc – and then Luke, the small child and I pushed the plunger and …the crowd went ‘OOOH!’
And I didn’t actually see the lights come on – because in Aldeburgh, the actual lights are just on the one Christmas tree, which was situated behind the tiny marquee, that only the people at the back of the wet, freezing and tearful populace could see.
I turned the Aldeburgh light on. That’s what I did. One Christmas tree… Thank you… You’ve been a great crowd.
The people were lovely and looked after us incredibly well. Thank you to everyone involved… Just don’t ask me to come and turn the bloody thing off in January!