I don't think any of us who rung in the New Year on January 1st this year could have had any idea of what it would bring. It has been truly an "annus horribilis"; probably the worst year we, as bellringers, have faced since the days of the early 1940s. But, you know, despite the problems, despite the uncertainties, frustrations and deprivations of these dark days, folks, we're coming through. Slowly, but surely, we're getting there. It's likely to be an uphill struggle, but we'll get there. As my late mother-in-law would have said, in her usual Queen Victoria mode, "you'll just have to be patient! It will happen"… just wait!"

I'm reminded of one of the internal verses of that beautiful Christmas carol "It came upon the midnight clear". A very apt statement, I fear, for us at this time!

O ye beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing.

The story of Martin's Angel

Talking of angels. I'd just quickly like to share this little thing with you. About 20 years ago, I was Churchwarden of Holy Trinity, Bottisham. As you might imagine, Christmas was busy! What with the Crib Service Christmas Eve afternoon, Midnight Communion, and finally Christmas Day Communion, life was a tad hectic! Not only that, but I used to troll along with the basses in the Church choir, and read at least one of the lessons in the services. The Midnight service that year was packed, and so we didn't finish and finally lock the church until getting on for 2:00 in the morning. As I walked home from the church, I remembered that my daughter, would say to me later that day, "Daddy, you did see Father Christmas on his sleigh when you walked home from church last night, didn't you?" She was of an age where I had to make a suitably convincing answer.

So I happened to look up in the sky. It was a cold night and would have been moonlight except there was a lot of high cloud obscuring the full moon, which was bravely trying to shine through it. Believe it or not, that moon appeared to be the profile of an angel, sleeping with its head on its folded hands, like when you see very young children asleep. Surrounding its head was a halo of orange light. My flabber was gasted and my ass was stounded. I watched this for several seconds until the moon moved on and the image faded. O.K., yes, I know, what I saw was the distortion of the moon through the ice crystals, and the halo was just refraction caused by the moonlight passing through ice crystals. But when you think you see an angel just an hour or two into Christmas Day, it can kind of be rather poignant!

I've never shared this with anyone else before; but I do so now because I'd like to share a Christmas story with you which might just be a bit uplifting. Let me thank each and every one of you for all you did during the lockdowns; yes, even if you just self-isolated at home, you did your bit and helped, and that makes you as much a hero as anyone else. Thanks to all of you who are running virtual practices and keeping the flag flying! Thanks to all who support these practices, and those who are doing a bit of tower bell ringing, however small.. With any luck, we may well all be back in the tower sooner than we thought. Let's hope so. And also. Thanks to you who are just waiting to get back into the tower… yes, you're heroes too!

So folks, a peaceful and Happy Christmas to you all. Keep safe, keep your chins up and… rest and hear the angels sing; because they will. And as Tiny Tim observed, "God bless us, every one!"