Over at my favourite cinema, The Rex in Wareham, it’s jumping. Being barred from going upstairs – ‘they’re not ready for you yet’ – scores of us are trapped in the tiny foyer where there’s an opportunity to buy a couple of books on Dorset and some raffle tickets to win a meal at Moreton Tea Rooms. We don’t want any of this but the ladies in aprons are relentless. We escape to the bar which, being about five feet square, is also packed to the hilt. Leonie manages to order a festive Baileys. Bob the barman pours a generous measure or three into a large glass and estimates the cost to be £2. It’s a fair price. Eventually, we’re allowed into the auditorium.
‘Glass of mulled wine’, asks a friendly type with a flask?
We peruse (and taste) the local olives, crisps, cold meats and mince pies before finding a seat to listen to the four-strong brass band playing carols. I don’t need to tell regulars about this place. It used to be the last gas-lit cinema in England but they’ve finally conceded to EU health and safety requisites and installed electricity. The seats are the same though: hard but comfortable.
Anthea ascends the stage and introduces the evening. There will be a short seasonal film, especially notable for having won an Oscar in 1869, followed by an interval. During the latter, there will be Christmas pudding flavoured ice-cream for sale. A collective ‘mmmmmmmmm’ permeates the room accompanied by a loud rustling and jingling as folk reach for their token contribution. It’s Margaret’s birthday. Everyone looks to the aisle to see who Margaret is before the band strikes up that familiar tune and we all sing in congratulatory tones. The noisier part of the audience has missed the introduction.
‘Whose birthday is it?’
‘Don’t know. Jesus?’
And an ancient but enjoyable ‘short’ (what we used to call the B film) commences to be followed by an agreeable round of applause.
It’s the interval and the ice-cream event is carnage. Clearly, the organisers are confused by the bonhomie which they did not expect despite its centrality to Christmas. I have collected money from a number of people in my row that I didn’t know half an hour ago. Leonie stands up and asks for nine ice-creams.
‘How many’, asks the incredulous usherette?
‘Nine please’. The people in the row behind us are told, rather abruptly, ‘only one per person’.
Then there are not enough spoons. Some people have to wait until more are rushed out. Leonie, forever on the wedding diet, is the only person in the place without an ice-cream. (She might as well have had one as later she’ll be cooking late-night toast).
The main feature commences. It’s the 1945 version of Christmas in Connecticut. And very funny it is too. The woman sitting behind me is in fits of laughter throughout and keeps telling everyone how they used to watch films like this. Afterwards, I remark to Leonie that had this appeared on TV at home, we would’ve immediately switched it off. Here, however, in this delicious company, we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Outside in the cold, dark Dorset night, we admire Wareham’s sparse but pretty Christmas lights. And a multitude of stars.
‘It smells like winter’ says Leonie.