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WI: The WI Christmas Party saw the Village Hall full of members and very many guests seated at tables decorated with lovely Christmas decorations and napkins. The atmosphere was jolly even before the meeting started and after a quick run through the business matters, it became even more so when our speaker Mick Lynn told us about ‘The Sussex Christmas’. He started with the origins of the Wassail way back in the 5th century when Rowena, the daughter of Hengist presented King Vortigan with a cup of wine and invited him to ‘Wassail’ and we heard how Wassailing became a Sussex tradition, which is still observed now to ensure a future good harvest in the orchards. Mick soon had everyone singing ‘The Sussex Wassail’ which he accompanied on a concertina. He went on to talk about West Gallery singers who sat at the back of churches, before the days of the church choir, who now sit in front of the congregation. Christmas bands performed in the towns, often with no musical skills whatsoever but it enabled the poor to collect money on the streets without begging.

‘Mumming’ became an important part of Advent when men dressed up in weird symbolic garb and performed plays about death and resurrection, indicating that after the long winter months, new life will begin again and the sun and warmth will return to the land. Mick then led us through the Sussex Carol, accompanying the singing on a piano accordion. In 1647 after the Civil War, the Puritans attempted to ban Christmas and merry-making, which did decline but was still celebrated secretly and in 1660, Charles 2nd restored the old customs. It was around that time that the tradition of ‘stirring up the Sunday Christmas pudding’ had its origins and the gathering of holly, ivy and mistletoe to decorate the home. In later years, it was said that on Christmas Eve the animals talked to each other and the chapel of St Wilfred at Church Norton in West Sussex inspired Rudyard Kipling to write the delightful poem entitled ‘Eddi’s Service’, which Mick read to us. We heard about Twelfth Night traditions and how the important families handed out the ‘Dole’ to the poor – gifts of food and money to help them through the winter. We all sang Good King Wenceslas, the carol written by John Mason Neale in 1853 and sung to a much older Finnish tune, which is an account of this charitable custom and which brought this enjoyable and seasonal talk to a close.

The committee made and served a lovely party tea and Ann Clegg had made a delicious Christmas cake. Members and guests voted for the winner of the ‘Most Attractively Wrapped Christmas Present’ competition who was Nicky Block, then everyone had a gift from the bran tub before the raffle was drawn and everyone went home very happy after a jolly good afternoon!

The CADS Panto’: – thanks to Mike for this review.

There was an air of cautious anticipation in the packed hall for the matinee of ‘Dracula, The Panto’ last Saturday. Would it be really scary or just ordinary? Well, the start was ok, the usual Queen version of ‘The Queen’ so that was not too scary. Then this strange hooded monk came on to set the scene. Well he was pretty scary but none of the children at the front left. The story really started and that WAS scary when a horde of rats came on to sing the excellent opening number (their heads beautifully created by John Search). Then a poor old lady was attacked, apparently by a cricket bat but the vampire hunting Buffy Van Helsing (played by Vanessa Francis as only she could) was not convinced it was a ‘cricket’ bat but the sumptuously costumed Dr Paul Bearer ( Rachel Putland) assured her there was nothing to worry about- really? We returned to ‘normality’ when we popped in to Dame Plasma Van Helsing’s (George Brunger) house who in panto tradition was penniless but was putting a brave if pungent face on life.

Buffy was convinced she could track down her long-lost vampire hunting father and make a fortune at the same time, however her plans were thwarted by soft hearted bailiff Fred Corpuscle (Aaron Vitler) with an excellently maintained ‘Frank Spencer’ accent and demeanour. He had just given them a stay of eviction when his boss Major Artery (Keith Robertson) arrived bearing a strange resemblance to a certain Count Dracula - hmmm!

The Van Helsing’s wriggled out of that situation only to be confronted by more twists in the plot. Thrown into the mix were the not very bright ‘cub’ Rema Globin and friend of Buffy, well played by Jane Overall, Tracey Hickman as the inept Inspector Ventricle and his pedantic sidekick PC Platelet (Annabelle Sparks). We now discover that Dr Bearer is under the influence of Count Dracula and that his bats due to a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ are dressed as cricket bats not vampire bats! More victims succumb to Dracula’s charms despite many assertions that vampires do not exist. Finally just before the interval Dracula retreats from London to Transylvania with Fred & the doctor as unwilling companions accompanied by many loud boos from the now totally hooked audience, Buffy and her friends then resolve to rescue her now boyfriend Fred with a rousing finish to Act 1.

The audience soon refreshed by copious draughts of juice & biscuits were ready to face the terrors of Dracula’s Castle. Here we met Daddy Van Helsing (John Search) trapped for 8 years in the castle and discover that he and Rema’s Dad, failed to all those years ago to catch Dracula or grab his treasure, although they did find a vital key that is now in three pieces hidden around the Castle. This leads to lots of traditional panto business involving audience participation and the noise level increased to a deafening level driven by the ‘obtuseness’ of the cast. A nice touch was a helpful but delightfully forthright bust (Buster Bloodvessel) played by newcomer Brett Fisher whose opinions of the Dame gave rise to great merriment. Eventually as ever in true panto style, good prevails over evil, the treasure falls into the right hands thanks to a ‘vamping’ machine Van Helsing invented whilst Dracula is turned into a very glamorous lady and everyone lives happily ever after.

Mention must be made of the multi-tasking Victoria Crawshaw, Baz Jenkins, Amy O’Sullivan, George Baker and Sallie Relf as sundry ladies, servants, bats and skeletons who all added to a great ensemble piece, directed this year for the first time and hopefully not the last by Keith Robertson. The cast with various ‘hats’ on were also responsible for the colourful scenes, costumes, props and inventive songs. After thunderous applause, the audience departed with many happy, funny memories of an excellent example of live local entertainment.

Sport: Our success on the football field unfortunately was short lived. Although we played well in our cup match, we narrowly lost 2 - 3 at home against Wadhurst United, with Tony Luke scoring our two goals. We play Peche Hill away tomorrow in the league on Tilekiln field where a win would move us up a place.

More Village News: Now is the time to renew your Village Hall 100 club subscriptions and next month we will publish the list of winners for this popular draw. Remember, over £800 is annually given to the Hall and this sum helps keep down the hiring charges. Victoria will be writing to you.

Driving home: through Bexhill and Ninfield the other day, it was a pleasure to see whole schools of infant children excitedly going on trips to rehearse their end of term entertainments or practice their nativities in the local churches. Watch out for our own school’s procession up to the Church, a practice which has been going on for over 100 years.

Carols for Christmas: This popular and informal evening at the Village Hall will be held on Tuesday 22nd December when the sound of carols and readings will be led by Bob Andrew at the piano. Mulled wine and mince pies will be served between 6.30pm and 8.30pm and you’re welcome to stay for as long or short a time as you wish. It’s always a happy and delightful time to get into the spirit of Christmas.

St Laurence Church: On Christmas Eve the Crib service will be held at 3pm and the Midnight Mass is at 11.30pm. On Christmas Day this year the Family Communion service will be held at Crowhurst at 10am. Details of these and all services can be found in the December issue of the Parish Magazine which is available in the church or from the Village Store price 50 pence.

Village Voice: As mentioned last week, this will be the last Catsfield Village Voice until the New Year so I’d like to wish all friends and readers a very joyful and peaceful Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year.

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