John Sharrock Taylor

John Sharrock Taylor

Writer, Genealogist & Patient Choir Basher

The Christmas Robin 2019

Val loves lights. Not just the penny plain ones that help us to avoid tripping over the dogs or any of their tatty selection of toys, but glorious coloured lights that protest bravely against the darkness of winter. So I spent yesterday clambering all over the old homestead to string chains of tiny solar lights from the upstairs windows and the grapevine that fringes the porch. We have almost reached the solstice when the ancients made bonfires to rekindle the Sun and persuade him to revisit the Earth, so it is no wonder that the early Church decided that it should also be the time when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

Last year Mono and Jesus, our brilliant two-man building firm who had been with us since October (see The Monkey Speaks) were still hard at work when we left for church at six o’ clock on Christmas Eve, so decorating the tree had to be my job for Christmas morning while Val got on with producing miracles in the kitchen. This year, though I have been looking longingly at my box of baubles since the end of November, my Best Beloved has firmly enforced a tinsel moratorium until after our final carols rehearsal. Of course, as always, she’s right. Our living room is scarcely twenty feet long and persuading them to watch my beat is tough enough without their having to do it around an eight foot Christmas tree.

As always I posted reminders on Facebook about our Carols by Candlelight. Regular readers, if any, of my online maunderings, will know that I visit the site very sparingly. I know this is a disappointment to Mr Zuckerberg, as he often  sends me reproachful messages that begin: ‘A lot has happened on Facebook since you last logged on’. However, experience teaches me that most of these important happenings will consist of well-fed faces beaming across the wreckage of a lunch I wasn’t invited to, so stuff that, say I (with chestnuts, sage and onions, of course).

Some things really have been happening to the Taylors during 2019. No sooner had we celebrated Will and Mariska’s daughter Jaya’s eighth birthday in windy Holland than we were off to Minnesota to meet our latest grandchild, Richard and Lindsey’s daughter Frances Eliza Taylor six weeks old and already ready to smile at Grandpa’s daft ditties. As I write, Val’s tablet has just bleeped to receive a photo of Frankie greeting her dad at the finishing line of his latest long-distance run. It seems only yesterday that we greeted him for the first time (see El Cortijo del Rector) but he will soon be celebrating his fortieth birthday with a forty-mile ultra marathon.

Anyone who has suffered one of my interminable monologues about family history will know that when it comes to genealogy I am a not so distant cousin the Ancient Mariner, the sailor in the poem who could hold his reluctant hearers spellbound with no more than his madly glittering eye. Over the years my researches have turned up many an interesting fact including this year’s revelation that Val’s and her sister Margaret’s missing grandfather (see Finding Roger the Lodger) was a young soldier of the Royal Naval division killed in the Great War.

Discovering the dead can be fascinating but discovering the living is more so. Searching for the descendants of family members who emigrated from Wigan a hundred years ago has led us to real and lasting friends such as the Cloughs who live a few minutes’ drive from Richard in Minnesota. Almost twenty years ago the story of  my grandfather’s brother William Taylor who emigrated to Washington State to escape his cantankerous father (alleged by some to closely resemble me) led me into correspondence with his great granddaughter Linda who visited us earlier this year with my cousins Peter and David Taylor and their wives Susan and Anne who now live in Spain. A visit to Seattle is presaged for 2020.

Two nights ago we sang carols in a little village church in our quiet corner of Andalucia. Last year we abandoned the ‘traditional’ Nine Lessons for a format which naturally included the Birth, the Shepherds and the Three Wise Men but also some secular readings. This year we have gone a little further and brought in Tesco, Hallmark and the Three Wise Women. Self satisfaction is arguably one of the pitfalls of any annual Round Robin, including ours, so we have also included this deliciously smug parody:

Christmas wishes, dear though distant friends!

Incredibly, we still have your addresses,

So here’s a list of all our year’s successes:

We’ve been as busy as a lodge of beavers

(Though they’re just furry beasts and we are high achievers)

We’ve bought a big new house…

(No, let’s admit it – it’s a mansion).

Emily’s poems won a prize for scansion.

Tim got his partnership and Clare her PhD

Which all reflects quite well on Mick and me.

Our holidays abroad (we had no need to save)

Show us  as cultured, fit and brave:

Kilimanjaro, Venice, New York and Belize.

(No doubt you only dream of trips like these)

We’re thinking of you, humble friends, in semi, terrace, hovel.

We’ll write again next year, provided that you grovel,

And admit you envy us so much it makes you sick.

Happy Christmas, friends! Love, Dorothy and Mick.

2019 has been a quiet year here at El Cortijo del Rector where none of us would claim to be particularly cultured, fit or brave but the world's news screams of war, public terrorism, private murder and the rape of children. Yesterday the United Kingdom went to the polls after an election campaign in which disagreements routinely led to threats of death. In the final reading in our carol festival we returned to where I began this letter almost a thousand words ago:

Light looked down and beheld Darkness.

‘There will I go,’ said Light.

Peace looked down and beheld War.

‘There will I go,’ said Peace.

Love looked down and beheld Hatred.

‘There will I go,’ said Love.

So came Light, and shone.

So came Peace and gave rest.

So came Love and brought life.

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.


Love and Peace from El Cortijo del Rector in the hills of Andalucia.


Val, John, Biggles the Aspull Terrier and Bella the Brat.