Dunstable, it has to be said, is not the most forward thinking or exciting town in the United Kingdom. At times I feel as though I've been mysteriously transported back to the 1950s or at best the early 80s. A friend says she can almost hear the duelling banjos. However, if there is one thing that Dunstable does really well it's the lighting of the Christmas tree ritual in the Square.
Children from the lower and middle schools attend with their choirs as well as community choirs like the Priory Church Boys Choir and Dunstable Ladies' Choir. They all 'process' from the Priory Church, through the Priory Gardens to the Square. In a rare show of people power, the police close the A5 for a few precious minutes to allow them to pass; I always find this bit rather moving as for most of the year our town is dominated by the inexorable activity of the A5.
Next we all sing carols with the Salvation Army band and then comes the lighting of the tree and the appearance of Father Christmas (thankfully not Santa Claus - I refuse to acknowledge him!). Every year we sing the same carols, every year we all cheer for our local schools and every year the Christmas tree 'fails' to light up and we have to repeat the countdown.
Come rain or shine, crowds of people turn up each year to do exactly the same thing and for many, including me, it's the start of the festive season proper. Many a year I've stood in the Square with rain dripping off my nose and soaking my carol sheet enjoying myself despite my soggy condition. Then I look around me and everyone is making the most of it, a rare sight these days.
Last year the event was made more 'exciting' by the addition of a celebrity to turn on the lights - a real life, bellowing celebrity in the shape of Brian Blessed. I have to say he was good value for money and probably louder than the two celebrities we had this year in the shape of Letitia Dean (Sharon from EastEnders) and Sooty. Now Sooty really needs to up the ante in the bellowing stakes, he didn't say a thing you know! Whether he was the real Sooty or a stand-in Sooty I can't say but the children present seemed to find him acceptable.
My days of attending the lighting are fast coming to and end as Patrick refuses to come with me anymore and Flora will soon grow out of it. There may come a time where I'll have to borrow a child to give me an excuse to go along. For the moment though I'll continue enjoying this very traditional start to Christmas time, which is one of the few things of which Dunstable can be justly proud. Indeed, it almost almost makes up for the awful shops (many closed down and festering with pigeon droppings), terrible traffic, lack of entertainment, chavvy nightlife and Arctic weather. Well almost!