Mark Cummings: The man with the finger on the button
PUBLISHED: 11:29 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 11:29 05 December 2016
BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Mark Cummings gives us his recommendations on how to enjoy Christmas in the Cotswolds
The man with his finger on the button
For as long as I can remember the Christmas magic has started in early December as the Cummings family heads to Bourton on a chilly Friday night. The late night shopping event is so jammed full of surprises and delights that it gives us grown ups that heady feeling of excitement we used to get when opening up our stockings on Christmas morning.
This perfect pilgrimage sees my clan converging from all four corners of the Cotswolds, meeting by the glorious Christmas tree placed perfectly in the centre of the River Windrush. Once assembled, we join the countdown and the communal gasp and applause as the lights are switched on and the river shimmers with the reflection of the multi-coloured tree. We spend the next three hours wandering around the High Street covered in fairy lights to the sound of seasonal brass band music, stuffing ourselves with waffles, mince pies, pulled pork rolls and toffee apples washed down with gallons of festive tipples including hot apple and cinnamon, mulled wine and mulled cider.
After that we split up to do our individual Christmas shopping for each other then reconvene by the river for a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a final listen to the brass version of Winter Wonderland before heading home with full bellies and empty wallets. Although my eldest daughter left home this year she’s coming back from Exeter for this special night and her boyfriend is flying in from Holland so as not to miss the magic. So if you fancy all of that as well as children’s rides, characters from Cinderella and Father Christmas, then make a date in your diary for the first Friday in December.
This year I have the honour of pushing the button and lighting up the iconic tree that the chamber of commerce and parish council lovingly provide and erect in the river for our joy. Come along and say hi and I’ll slip you a very special ‘stress bauble’ for your own Christmas tree.
Will you be driving home for Christmas?
Christmas music on the radio - what are your thoughts? Some stations start playing festive songs in mid November…mid November! We drop a few in for early December but only a few. We increase the count two weeks before the big day then they vanish after Boxing Day.
At home we have a festive playlist that echoes around Cummings Towers in the week running up to Christmas. This assortment of crackers includes classic hymns and carols, a pinch of wassailing, a sprinkle of folk and lashings of pure unadulterated pop. Slade, Wizard, Bing Crosby, Bublé, Greg Lake etc are all on there but my top three goes like this: In reverse order - Andy Williams: It’s the most wonderful time of the year, followed by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl with the stupendous Fairytale of New York and at number one Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas.
It resides at the top of my Christmas tree hit parade because of several stories and emotions it evokes. Many years ago, I used to present the regional late night show across the West Country and one Christmas Eve I played this tune on my show as my wife, Jo, was driving over the old Severn Bridge back home to her parents in Cardiff at around midnight. The words and feel of this piece of music summed up her feelings of excitement of getting back to her childhood home full of love, warmth, parents and presents.
As I made my way over the bridge to join her a couple of hours later that same night I had the same song blaring out of my speakers. For both of us it brings back special memories and special times. Recently I heard Chris Rea tell the story behind the song. It was written towards the beginning of his career in the seventies and things were not going too well. He’d been doing some work at a recording studio in London and his wife had come down to drive him home to Middlesbrough in her Austin Mini to save money.
On the way back for Christmas they had discussed him giving up the music business as he was struggling to make ends meet but as he got through the door of his freezing cold house in the North East there was a royalty cheque on the mat from his first hit Fool If You Think It’s Over. This wintry windfall was more than enough to fix the boiler and plenty left over… the rest is history!
The Great Escape
If I told you where I got this next story from I’d ruin several family relationships and be hunted down and sent to Swindon. So I’ll write the next few words with great caution and circumspection.
This year I met a group of people from a very special place in Gloucestershire who were arranging a ‘local event’ shall we say. Many of them were faithful listeners and over the course of a few hours we had an absolute blast as I recorded their stories ahead of this very important event.
During my time with these mystery people they very kindly invited me to a little get-together they have every Boxing Day. A few friends escape the noise and chaos of their crammed houses and laden with leftovers and booze head to a mystery location, light a big bonfire fire and have a party. It has become a tradition amongst a select band of brothers mainly to escape the family visitors who by this stage of the festive period are driving them completely around the bend!
My Christmas selection box
A winter’s tale… Last year some friends hosted a winter-themed evening to welcome the winter solstice. Everyone brought their favourite poem or readings of the season; we sang carols and did a bit of wassailing plus plenty of drinking.
Exercise on Christmas Day… Since we spend so much time indoors cooking and eating, this year I’ve resolved to start the day with a 20-mile bike ride.
Stress baubles… Look out for these pimped-up stress balls on a tree near you. I’ve earmarked Gloucester, Cirencester and Bourton to start with but I aim to distribute at least 100 all over the Cotswolds.
Present auction… Landlords everywhere, why not try this? Put a flyer up in the pub to get everyone to save their unwanted Christmas presents and in January have a cheap and cheerful turkey leftover night and auction them off for a local charity. It worked a treat at the award-winning Salutation Inn near Berkeley. Go for it.
Turn me on… It’s such a joy to be asked to switch the lights on in the Cotswolds. I had a wonderful night one year at Fairford with the children from the local school providing the pre-countdown entertainment. There have also been many nights of glamour and theatrics in Cirencester over the years with the Stroud-based Snowbusiness providing a wall of flakes cascading down the parish church in the Market Place. I was even asked to switch on the lights on a tree on a ward at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital! Luckily I got the right switch since the tree light was next to the life support machine. (I made that last sentence up).
Christmas starts early… The decorations and tree will be going up very early this year. My eldest daughter has promised an Italian friend that she will treat her to a traditional Cummings festive experience which includes an Enchanted Wood walk at Westonbirt, Bourton late-night shopping, a house full of music, a roaring fire and a fully decorated house.
The dates you will love… There are only two items of food I can’t eat - marzipan and dates. I always associate dates with Christmas. I have nightmare images of a long boat-shaped white box with these sticky, smelly brown mushy blobs and a plastic fork with which to extricate them. However I’d like to leave you with some much more appetising dates. Have a wonderful Cotswold Christmas experience and I hope to see many of you at some stage in this utterly magical time of year. Here are a few of the events I’ll be hosting:
Friday, December 2: Late-night shopping in Bourton.
Friday, December 9: Christmas Cracker Concert at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist in Cirencester. Join us for seasonal music, songs and traditional carols with the brilliant Cirencester Town Band and Cirencester Male Voice Choir.
Monday, December 12: Meningitis Now Christmas Carol Concert at Gloucester Cathedral.
Tuesday, December 13: Carol Concert at Princess Hall, Cheltenham Ladies College, organised by The Rotary Club of Cheltenham North
Plus Dominic Cotter and Faye Hatcher will be hosting BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Christmas Celebration at Gloucester Cathedral. Join all the presenters from BBC Radio Gloucestershire on Wednesday, December 21. Full details on how to book tickets Facebook.com\BBCGloucestershire.
For more from Mark Cummings follow him on Twitter! @cummingsradio