Sunday, January 19, 2014

2008 Joseph Phelps Insignia -- or, waiting


Since the wine retails for something like $200, we are waiting to bring it to the Christmas party. Meanwhile, waiting reminds us of stories of Christmas Waits.


It seems that, in nineteenth century England and before, carolers went about in the depths of the night of Christmas Eve and sang songs outside people's windows to celebrate the joy of the approaching day. The word waits makes sense, deriving as it does from old English words meaning to be awake or keep guard. Washington Irving, American tourist in the English countryside circa 1819, thought the custom picturesque and delightful. Jerome K. Jerome, whose story is quoted below, was less impressed.   


The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome (1899)

"Christmas Waits annoy me, and I yearn to throw open the window and fling coal at them--as once from the window of a high flat in Chelsea I did. I doubted their being genuine Waits. I was inclined to the opinion they were young men seeking excuse for making a noise. One of them appeared to know a hymn with a chorus, another played the concertina, while a third accompanied with a step dance. Instinctively I felt no respect for them; they disturbed me in my work, and the desire grew upon me to injure them. It occurred to me it would be good sport if I turned out the light, softly opened the window, and threw coal at them. It would be impossible for them to tell from which window in the block the coal came, and thus subsequent unpleasantness would be avoided. They were a compact little group, and with average luck I was bound to hit one of them.

"I adopted the plan. I could not see them very clearly. I aimed rather at the noise; and I had thrown about twenty choice lumps without effect, and was feeling somewhat discouraged, when a yell, followed by language singularly unappropriate to the season, told me that Providence had aided my arm. The music ceased suddenly, and the party dispersed, apparently in high glee - which struck me as curious.

"One man I noticed remained behind. He stood under the lamp-post, and shook his fist at the block generally.

"'Who threw that lump of coal?' he demanded in stentorian tones.

"To my horror, it was the voice of the man at Eighty-eight, an Irish gentleman, a journalist like myself. I saw it all, as the unfortunate hero always exclaims, too late, in the play. He - number Eighty-eight - also disturbed by the noise, had evidently gone out to expostulate with the rioters. Of course my lump of coal had hit him - him the innocent, the peaceful (up till then), the virtuous. That is the justice Fate deals out to us mortals here below. There were ten to fourteen young men in that crowd, each one of whom fully deserved that lump of coal; he, the one guiltless, got it - seemingly, so far as the dim light from the gas lamp enabled me to judge, full in the eye.

"As the block remained silent in answer to his demand, he crossed the road and mounted the stairs. On each landing he stopped and shouted-

"'Who threw that lump of coal? I want the man who threw that lump of coal. Out you come.'

"Now a good man in my place would have waited till number Eighty-eight arrived on his landing, and then, throwing open the door would have said with manly candour-

"'I threw that lump of coal. I was-,' He would not have got further, because at that point, I feel confident, number Eighty-eight would have punched his head. There would have been an unseemly fracas on the staircase, to the annoyance of all the other tenants and later, there would have issued a summons and a cross-summons. Angry passions would have been roused, bitter feeling engendered which might have lasted for years.

"I do not pretend to be a good man. I doubt if the pretence would be of any use were I to try: I am not a sufficiently good actor. I said to myself, as I took off my boots in the study, preparatory to retiring to my bedroom - "Number Eighty-eight is evidently not in a frame of mind to listen to my story. It will be better to let him shout himself cool; after which he will return to his own flat, bathe his eye, and obtain some refreshing sleep. In the morning, when we shall probably meet as usual on our way to Fleet Street, I will refer to the incident casually, and sympathize with him. I will suggest to him the truth - that in all probability some fellow-tenant, irritated also by the noise, had aimed coal at the Waits, hitting him instead by a regrettable but pure accident. With tact I may even be able to make him see the humour of the incident. Later on, in March or April, choosing my moment with judgment, I will, perhaps, confess that I was that fellow-tenant, and over a friendly brandy-and-soda we will laugh the whole trouble away."

"As a matter of fact, that is what happened. Said number Eighty-eight - he was a big man, as good a fellow at heart as ever lived, but impulsive - 'Damned lucky for you, old man, you did not tell me at the time.'

"'I felt,' I replied, 'instinctively that it was a case for delay.'"

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And we will discuss the Insignia later.

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