54a Cragpath, the house I used to rent in Aldeburgh, looked onto the kitchen window of Tuckaway, Ethel Keane's cottage. Ethel moved to Aldeburgh after she was widowed at the end of the second world war and died there in 2012. I sang "On Wings of Song" at her funeral.
When I arrived in Aldeburgh on around the sixth or seventh of December each year Ethel would be pinning string across the kitchen window to hang her Christmas cards. She would have four or five cards to go up then. Half way through the month cards would cover half the window; and by Christmas Eve, a pottering Ethel could be barely glimpsed.
After the Christmas corporate this week for the Four Front Group at the Cafe de Paris, I talked to Tom, my warrior of choice, about Ethel. Posing for photos taken by his boss and mine, a pair of Keiths, we were chatting about Christmas coming, and specifically the religious as opposed to commercial aspect of the season. Tom said he was an atheist.
'How can the earth have possibly been created by an intelligent being when rain falls out of the sky? Surely if there was an intelligent being God he would have caused it to bubble up solely from below ground? Cafe de Paris needs a smokers' awning, by the way.'
A few more photos - the bristle around Tom's shoulders gave me some nice traction when I held on for ballet poses. Cafe de Paris Keith brought us some shots. Tom was now referring to the YouTube clips of Stephen Fry demolishing one or other of Anne Widdecombe's arguments during the Is the Catholic Faith a Force for Good? debate.
'I watched that debate, Tom - chin up to camera, please, we are not a camel - and I notice how people tend not to mention how Anne Widdecombe demolished a number his arguments. But she has far fewer Twitter followers, doesn't she?'
And then I talked about Ethel. How Aldeburgh's parish priest would send for Ethel when an ill person needed to be sat with overnight. How he rang her one Christmas to ask who could most do with the "superflous turkey" some second-homers had given him.
'True, Tom,' I added, 'there was my mate Magnus's granny. When she got into a depression, she would hide in the garden if she caught sight of Ethel coming down the High Street, not wanting another bracing up. Being told to at least run a comb through her hair. And to make her family put the walls of the sitting room back the colour they had been before the unfortunate new red made it look like a blessed curry house. But overall not, not to let herself go any more or it would all end it her needing that ghastly local health visitor woman. Yes, the one who was so drunk coming to giving Jimmy Coombes his insulin injection she toppled him over beneath her and dislocated his hip...'
The Keiths had finished taking photos and Tom was putting his shirt back on.
'But my point is, Tom, that Ethel in cahoots with the local priest doing good works wouldn't have happened if the church didn't exist.'
'It would,' Tom said, fastening buttons. 'Because we're closely related in the animal kingdom to dolphins; and dolphins can't be indoctrinated with any of the world's religions, but they're still totally altruistic by instinct.'
'What, totally, Thomas?' He looked at me. 'Even when, as they're often recorded doing in the wild, they're committing revenge gang-rape on each other?'
Parental guidance advised