John Sharrock Taylor

John Sharrock Taylor

Writer, Genealogist & Patient Choir Basher

The Christmas Robin 2018

The rosy fingered morn at El Cortijo del Rector: Snow on the high sierras and bees buzzing amidst the forget-me-not-blue of our trailing rosemary. Soon the almonds will blossom in clouds of white and deep rose pink along the road to the village. And here at El Cortijo del Rector we are blossoming in clouds of a different kind.

We had hoped our building project would be finished in time for our Golden Wedding in August but here we are in mid December with Christmas approaching fast, and nary a bauble nor a strand of tinsel hung. We have never been great beach enthusiasts. One of the reasons is the grit that gets into one’s knickers and gives a special resonance to the word sandwiches. Well, the beach seems to have arrived in our kitchen and, let me assure you,  grit is not a desirable ingredient of soup.

It’s not our builder’s fault (well, not much). The total restoration of another ancient pile back in the Spring revealed that the beams that were supposed to be holding it up could be crushed in the fist like crisps. This discovery set our builder Mono’s schedule back by months. ‘Mono’ means ‘monkey’ in Spanish. Everybody has a nickname here and it’s often hard to figure out why a particular person has attracted his particular apodo. Does Mono look like a monkey? Of course not (well, not much). He is a brilliant and visionary craftsman and a man of absolute integrity. And Biggles and Bella like him, which is all that really matters.

Thirty-nine years ago, when we moved into Rector’s Cottage near Cambridge, a friend joked ‘Beware: new job, new house, new baby.’ Nine months later Richard arrived. After that we had got the hang of it, and Will, looking remarkably like Pope John Paul II, though this was probably a coincidence, arrived in time for Charles and Diana to call their first born after him.

Richard and Lindsey recently moved into their new house and it can now be revealed that during our anniversary week Lindsey whispered confidentially into Val’s ear. From early April we shall be able to refer to our third granddaughter by a more elegant name than Bump. 

Will, too, has a fine new town house and he and Mariska have welcomed a new arrival: Sally the Golden Labrador puppy who is now Jaya’s inseparable friend.

On 7th August we celebrated our Golden Wedding with a choral evensong at which we sang some of the music from our wedding of fifty years ago. As Church Warden John got to choose who would preach the sermon (himself). These are some of the things he said: 

‘Val and I are from different parts of Wigan. She’s from leafy Orrell where the avenues are named after poets and I’m from the other side of the tracks, where our street was called after a railway shed. I tried to explain the difference to Richard and he said ‘I get it. Those Orrell people’s pies and whippets were bigger than yours.’ 

We met in an opera rehearsal. She lent me her vocal score of The Gondoliers. I still have the score. And the girl. Music and a shared sense of humour have been a continuing bond. She even laughs at my jokes and rolls her eyes ever so discreetly.

We sometimes disagree but never quarrel. My parents had one falling out. It started just after their wedding in 1942 and ended when Dad died forty years later. Mum didn’t think much of marriage and thought this quietly-spoken, convent-educated little lass would be easy to manage but my new wife adopted Rudyard Kipling’s maxim: 

Daughter I am in my mother’s house but mistress in my own.’


My mother once told us bluntly: ‘It’s a good job you two found each other because you would have spoiled another couple.’ That was her idea of a compliment. I think.

Some couples who have reached fifty years decide to repeat their vows, which seems like opting for another round of vaccinations in case the first lot hasn’t ‘taken’. We have a scratchy, fizzling but distinct recording of the vows we made on 7th August 1968. They took. And if I tell you I love you, Mrs Taylor, it will come as no surprise, because there have been very few days among the past 18,353 when we have not exchanged those words.’

After our blessing, Richard, a veteran of the award-winning Minnesota combo Smoke 'n' Swine, presided over a barbecue for fifty family and friends.

2018 has been a good year for us but a rough one for many. The collection at our Carol Festival was donated to El Comedor de Santo Domingo which serves 35,000 meals a year to struggling families in Malaga  and teaches the skills to help people into work so they need not depend on handouts.

Instead of the traditional ‘Nine Lessons’ we used a mixture of biblical and secular readings. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi, of course, but also the British and German soldiers playing football in no man’s land in 1914. That war ended a hundred years ago and nobody seems to have been able improve on that simple example.

Our final reading was the carol singing from Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie

Two thousand Christmases became real to us then; The houses, the halls, the places of paradise had all been visited; The stars were bright to guide the Kings through the snow; and across the farmyard we could hear the beasts in their stalls. We were given roast apples and hot mince pies, in our nostrils were spices like myrrh, and in our wooden box, as we headed back for the village, there were golden gifts for all.’

A happy and blessed Christmas from the Hole in the Wall Gang: Val, John, Bella the Brat and Biggles the Aspull Terrier.