Rest Ye Merry 20

© Annie Lennox – God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

I was invited by Robbie Cheadle at to participate in the Anything but Books tag.  Read her thoughts here:

I want to thank Robbie by dedicating a song to her.

No, I am not going to sing.

Yes, I heard your collective sigh of relief.

‘Cat Black the Wizard’s Hat’ is one of Bolan’s most sublime nursery rhyme lyrics (included on You-Tube).



© Robbie Cheadle

As for the other questions… Sorry, I am profoundly uninteresting. I would leave you bored. All I can manage is…

Q2. What is your favourite [Christmas] song right now?

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen sung by Annie Lennox on her A Christmas Cornucopia (2010). Fans argue it is the greatest Christmas album ever. I agree, even though I doubt Michael Bubble or Mariah Carey do.

Lennox says in the album notes…

‘Carols tell ancient stories. They are timeless and lasting. While I don’t personally subscribe to any specific religion, I believe the heart of all religious faith has to be rooted in love and compassion otherwise it serves no purpose.’

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is often mispunctuated because the phrase ‘Rest Ye Merry’ from the 1500s has long since fell out of use. It makes the carol one of the earliest we have. First printed in 1760, the words we sing today date from 1833. (The earliest carol is probably the medieval Coventry Carol, also on the album.)

Lennox captures the early feel with a sparse arrangement: penny whistle, hurdy-gurdy, positive organ and tabor drum: popular instruments used by travelling ‘gleemen’ such as the troop portrayed in the video.


On A Christmas Cornucopia Lennox added her song Universal Child : all profits from which go to SING – the Annie Lennox Foundation – helping support HIV work especially in Africa among children.

The 1st December was International Aids Day.

Now I intend to follow the advice of the great eccentric and self-proclaimed ‘One of the Stately Homos of England’, the remarkable Mr Quentin Crisp.

Quentin Crisp (unknown)

Crisp lived in London during the intolerant 1930s and 40s. Refusing to be cowed, he flagrantly displayed his effeminate homosexuality through mannerisms, clothes and by hennaing his long luxuriant locks. Needless to say, he had an extraordinarily tough time. In old age, the gay liberation movement made him an icon. Known for his wit, one of his sayings always stayed with me.

‘Let us say,’ he said, ‘you have a geography examination. Naturally you spend all night learning about Italy, only to discover to your horror the question on the paper reads: What are the major exports of China?

‘In such a case,’ he advised, ‘begin… China is unlike Italy…’

In other words write what you know.

Given we have just had International Aids Day…

I do not want to rehash the tragedy that destroyed a generation. Mourn the millions who died in a backlash of ignorance and prejudice. Or lament the millions still dying in parts of the world for want of effective drugs (costing pennies) that have reduced this once killer disease to a treatable condition.

This is merely the biography of a retrovirus.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus destroys the immune system meaning the body, unable to fight off infection, succumbs to opportunistic diseases which any healthy immune system would effortlessly shake off.

Viruses are notorious for jumping species. Natural selection favours any mutation enabling it to replicate within a new host. This is how Asian Flu spread.

In rural China, farmers lived in cheek by jowl with their pigs and chickens. Avian Flu would jump species becoming Swine Flu. Because we have a similar physiology to pigs, Swine Flu jumped to humans. Travelling across the world on commercial shipping lanes, all the time mutating, it eventually returned to China to infect birds with a new Avian Flu strain; starting a new cycle.

Simian Immunodeficiency Virus evolved some 32,000 years ago in African primates. Originally it was probably as devastating as the human version to monkeys and apes. Whole populations died. But some were immune. As the survivors bred, their resistance grew until African primates were not significantly affected by SIV. However Asian monkeys were never infected and so never developed immunity. If an Indian macaque contracts SIV it develops the equivalent to human Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome.

Genetic studies show the Simian virus mutated into the human form on a number of different occasions.

Initially some suggested, well shall we say, monkey business. Yes. I also thought all scientists with those views were tried in Nuremburg in 1946. Apparently not!

SIV has affected humans in sub-Saharan Africa for thousands of years, without causing any epidemic. The virus was probably spread through bush meat. Not so much eating, but the danger from blood contamination during butchering.

Genetic studies point to the emergence of modern HIV in the colonial Belgian Congo in  the 1880s, when large numbers of young men came to work in boom towns, mines, docks and plantations or in forced labour camps. Poor working conditions, as with Europe at the time, led to suppressed immune systems, providing easy prey for opportunistic viruses.

Bush meat was a ready source of food. Large numbers of workers were inoculated against smallpox and sleeping sickness with the same hypodermic needles, due to poor hygiene. As always with large numbers of young men, with money to burn, and women and alcohol on hand, things got free and easy.

With hindsight, epidemiologists have identified HIV in 1959 preserved tissue samples from the Congo; a Haitian shipping clerk who died in New York, and ex Navy man who died in England from immune system failure.

It is now thought the disease entered the USA from Haiti around 1969; already being established in Haiti in 1966 when a mini-epidemic occurred. Tissue samples from a St. Louis teenager who died in 1969 revealed HIV.

In the mid-1970s a Norwegian sailor, his wife and 7 year old daughter all died of AIDS. Records show the man contracted a venereal disease in West Africa in the early 1960s.

At the time these were puzzling anomalies. The virus was not identified until 1983.

Despite strange conspiracy theories, such as HIV being an engineered biological weapon, the virus behaves the same as other viruses. 1% of humans possess total or partial resistance, just as a small number of primates were immune to SIV. In 1994 Stephen Crohn was found to have a genetic mutation that made him immune to HIV. He later took his own life. In 2007 Timothy Brown was cured of HIV with a stem cell transplant, given to treat leukaemia.

After tens of thousands of years of devastating mortality, SIV became harmless to primates. With the same time frame, and the near extermination of the human race, HIV would become harmless to us. Something similar happened before. 70,000 years ago humans were reduced to under a 1,000 breeding pairs, from whom we are all descended. There is no evidence what caused that human population collapse.

20 thoughts on “Rest Ye Merry

  1. Pingback: Writing Links 12/11/17 – Where Genres Collide

    • Reply Paul Dec 14,2017 12:40 am

      Dear Traci it is heartbreaking and even more so that it is still going on in countries where there is not access to these relatively cheap drugs that can also be used as preventative medicines too. I just wish the world could work together sometimes. Then to cap it all off there was a program on Brit TV about the world’s most expensive gifts.. A Half a million pound monopoly set with gold and diamond figures and real money or a gold plated bike. Half a million could change so many lives.. These rich people need to hang their heads in shame !!!Pxx.

  2. Reply Kim Dec 11,2017 2:04 am

    I wonder how many lives would have been saved if society and the medical community had treated this the way they should have.

    • Reply Paul Dec 13,2017 11:38 pm

      Yes Kim your are so right. If people has started to act early enough millions could have been saved. And even today if there was some UN program to distribute what are actually cheap effective drugs that can be used even as preventatives. When will governments stop thinking about their own agendas and put humanity first? PX

  3. Reply Teagan Geneviene Dec 6,2017 6:58 pm

    What a varied and fascinating post, Paul. Great videos too. I didn’t know Annie Lennox did a Christmas song! I so enjoy her work. I’m delighted that you took Robbie’s challenge. Hugs on the wing!

  4. Reply Robbie Cheadle Dec 5,2017 4:03 pm

    Thank you, Paul, for joining in in your own delightful and unique way. I love it. Thank you for the song, I am thrilled. AIDS is a very big deal here in Africa and I enjoyed reading your thoughts above.

    • Reply Paul Dec 5,2017 5:46 pm

      Robbie it is my pleasure. It wouldn’t be me if I played it straight.. and I really am boring! Glad you found it interesting and fun and thank you for the inspiration with your wizard’s hat cake and for including me in the nomination.
      I hoped you’d like Bolan’s lyrics to this song- although they are not much like what you do, they reminded me a bit of your and Michael’s books…. there is an exuberance and goodness in them and a whole slosh of magic.
      AIDS is a big deal in Africa and it is an absolutely scandal the world is not sorting it out as one. Luv Px

  5. Reply Shehanne Moore Dec 3,2017 4:54 pm

    Very interesting what you say in every way Paul. My dad spent time in Africa WW”. He said straight off before HIV was ever ‘identified’ in the 80s, that this disease was known in Africa. This is before any of the first official links were found.

    • Reply Paul Dec 3,2017 7:56 pm

      You know what you said Shey is so interesting and it makes perfect sense. There as so many things I come across as an amateur sleuth historian that never gel with the official story. When I heard them I would instantly think HANG ON THAT COULDN’T BE TRUE. Then you start digging. You don’t have to gig far to realise we are fed official stories about everything… whether through Conspiracy or Laziness I don’t know. But I am not surprised your dad new all about this years before it became official and hit the west. I guess ex colonial African people were not important enough to do something about. The powers that be have such shameless self interest… and it’s still going on everywhere. Thank you for that comment it really helps shed light on what was (and still is) happening in the world we live in but really know little about. Love PXX

  6. Reply Brigid Gallagher Dec 3,2017 12:54 pm

    Such a poignant post Paul. So many beautiful people smitten with this terrible disease. Thank God there is a little more compassion for sufferers these days. I have fond memories of John Hurt playing Quentin Crisp on TV many moons ago. It was an outstanding performance. So too was Matthew McConaughey in “The Dallas Buyers Club.”
    I shall have to check out Annie Lennox and God Rest Ye.. I was blessed to see Eurythmics twice in concert a long long time ago. Brilliant.

    • Reply Paul Dec 3,2017 8:03 pm

      Dear Brigid, yes thank heavens that people came to realise this was just a disease and not a punishment. I do think in many ways there is hope for humanity… so many ordinary people are waking up to the machinations of the powerful and the stupidly of the prejudiced. I don’t know if we can do much about it but at least we are aware! I had never heard of the Dallas Buyers Club but it sounds a great film (just looked it up). And I liked John Hurt (so sadly missed- he could do no wrong as an actor) in The Naked Civil Servant. Have you seen the second part he made about 20 years later… An English Man in New York…and of course the Sting song after the period in Quentin Crisp’s life? Love Pxx
      PS lucky you. I have never seen the Eurythmics live.. I was a massive fan and would have loved to!

      • Reply BRIGID GALLAGHER Dec 3,2017 8:47 pm

        I did not know there was a follow up to the Naked Civil Servant Paul. I hope you get to see The Dallas Buyees Club. It highlights some of the inhumanity that affected so many souls. Fabulous acting from Matthew and Co. X

        • Reply Paul Dec 4,2017 11:51 pm

          Hi Brigid, it is very good and has John Hurt reprising the role of crisps life after the success of his book the naked Civil Servant. I have looked on you tube to see if it was there but there is only a German language version,,, so unless you speak German! Px

  7. Reply D. Wallace Peach Dec 3,2017 12:15 am

    Not the “Anything but Books Tag” I expected, Paul, but a post well worth reading. I remember the tragedy of AIDS unfolding in the 80’s and the horrible dismissal of human lives. The failure to address this virus around the world today perpetuates the despair. I remember when the first housewife died, the little boy who contracted the disease through a transfusion, and the movie Philadelphia that brought the human story to mainstream America. All of it so heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing this important reminder.
    And thanks for the lovely song. Annie Lennox is something wonderful.

    • Reply Paul Dec 3,2017 7:44 pm

      Thanks Diana, it is a pretty heartfelt piece because it speaks not about what happened so much as how things occur both in nature and the way the world reacts. And what it might portend for our future as a species. I find it amazing in such a relatively short space of time they were created highly successful antivirals to combat a disease they only identified in the early 80s. Then I wonder why are people still dying in less fortunate parts of the world. Annie Lennox is a brilliant artist and she has a heart too. And as for the ‘anything but books’ tag… well to be fair I didn’t talk about books! Px

      • Reply D. Wallace Peach Dec 4,2017 9:59 pm

        The borders of care are always disheartening, Paul. Lives are valued in terms of a cost-benefit analysis instead of human potential. I worry too about the massive amounts of chemicals we are exposed to. I think it’s related to the increase in immuno-deficiency diseases, neurological disorders like Alzheimers and autism, and the reductions in fertility. Troubles ahead unless we change our ways.

        • Reply Paul Dec 4,2017 11:37 pm

          You know Diana I think you have hit the nail on the head there, our species is as likely to end with a whimper as a bang. P

  8. Reply Chuck Jackson Dec 2,2017 9:24 pm

    As a gay man, I went through the AIDS epidemic and lost more friends than I can count. It is always this time of the year, the LGBT community never fails to recognize the horrible tragedy. One of our local organization had part of the National AIDS Quilt on display along with a prayer service.

    Thank you for your acknowledgment and a great historical post.

    • Reply Paul Dec 2,2017 11:40 pm

      Dear Chuck, thank you for the lovely comment. As a gay man myself I did not want another memorial to something that took a whole generation of arguably the brightest and best. Although I do believe we should not forget either the disease or the reaction to it within the community or from certain groups outside the community, I wanted to show that this particular illness was caused by a virus: an opportunistic piece of rogue DNA, without independent life, which exists only to hijack body cells so it can replicate itself. It is without conscience or moral judgement. And is merely one of many thousands in existence – all mutating. The disease was spread initially by poorly understood medical procedures designed to prevent illness and became global due to changes in the modern world that allows larger numbers to travel and mix more freely. Sexual behaviour did play a part, but from an historical perspective human sexual behaviour was the one aspect in the whole sorry tale that hadn’t changed. All my very best mate, Paul

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