A Cambridge Christmas (and this year Carol’s at King’s!)

This year marked the 100th anniversary of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College Chapel. And, before the grammar Nazis pick me up on the extra apostrophe in the title, this Carol was there too.

While I normally watch Carols from King’s on TV, glass of fizz in hand, this Christmas we made an early start to attend the real thing. 

Mishmish

Why are the hoomins up at 2.30am?

Because, dear Mishmish, this is what the queue for tickets looked like at 3 am.

Yes, it really was that early, and tickets weren’t going to be handed out till 7am.

Not that I’m complaining. Some people had camped outside the college for three days, despite the rain.  The weather was fine when I got there, if a little chilly. No wonder people had their warmest coats, hats, sleeping bags, sheets of tin foil, etc.

The motley crowd had more than a touch of the Canterbury Tales, with people from all over. Originally a gift to the people of Cambridge, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is now a gift to the world.

The queue is finally on the move.

And here’s where the precious tickets are handed out, but only if you remembered to bring ID.

Now it’s time for the hardy types to pack up and go home for a few hours’ rest.

It’ll be a doddle.

Totes got the hang of this.

It must all fit.  Although…  could be worth turning the bike around.

Maybe a couple of minor adjustments.

Nailed it!

And here’s yet another happy camper, complete with dining chair.

No idea who this was, but they were a lot more stylish.

Outside King’s Chapel around 2pm.

Building started on the chapel in 1446 under Henry VI and took over a century to build.

It has the largest fan vault ceiling anywhere, and some of the finest medieval stained glass.

Just before the service began, it looked like this.

As always, the opening carol is ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, starting with a spine-tingling solo voice from the back of the chapel. There’s always a new, specially commissioned carol. The 3pm service is not the Carols from King’s, which is pre-recorded for BBC TV earlier in December, and broadcast a couple of hours later on Christmas Eve.

You can see the 1918 Order of Service here.

The crowd files out into the dusk.

Mist had already descended over the Backs.

By contrast, we slept well into Christmas Day.  Christmas dinner was at Six, a restaurant with 360⁰ views of the city.

This view shows Charlotte and Harriet asking the waiter whether the gravy is vegetarian.

This shot of St John’s Chapel didn’t turn out quite as planned, but it’s jolly all the same.

Here’s hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas. See you in the queue next year?

Could These Be the Best Ever Books for Christmas?

Well, I think these six books might be. They’re all books I’ve received for Christmas, and they’ve become my all-time favourites. What do you reckon of my choice?

1 First up, THE classic Christmas poem. This 1949 edition of Clement C Moore’s The Night Before Christmas is suitably vintage, though true nostalgics hardly need it as they know every word already.

The Night Before Christmas

2 For those after something different, there’s An Aussie Night Before Christmas. Roos take the place of reindeer, and Santa finds the traditional costume far too hot for a barbie on the beach.

An Aussie Night Before Christmas

3 Best children’s book ever, in my opinion, is Charlotte’s Web. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” says eight-year old Fern in the opening to the tale of Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider who helps save him. Even if you don’t know the book, you may recognise a Templeton, the rat who never does anything for anybody unless there is something in it for him.

Charlotte's Web

You don’t agree with me about Charlotte’s Web? “That’s the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard,” I will reply, quoting Fern.

4 OK, fine. Maybe you prefer The Wind in the Willows, with Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Mr Toad? As you see, I loved this book to pieces as well.

The Wind in the Willows

5 The Essential Shankly isn’t a matter of life and death, unless you’re a Liverpool fan, in which case it’s far more important than that. Football books and biographies make great Christmas gifts, and the wit and wisdom of Bill Shankly come in handy on so many occasions, including Merseyside derbies and pub quizzes. Also useful for those who rarely do housework. Shankly used to clean the oven whenever his team lost. To be fair, that wasn’t very often.

The Essential Shankly

6 The long read. This is the sixth edition, dated 1872 – newer versions are available. At 403 pages densely crammed with text, not counting the extensive glossary, Origin of Species is probably not for everyone on your list. But I can imagine an awkward teenager getting stuck into it to avoid social interaction over the Christmas period.

Origin of Species

 

Go on. Books make perfect Christmas gifts, and your local bookshop is brimming with great ideas.

What are the favourite books you’ve received as presents? I’d love to hear from you.

The 12 Allergies of Christmas

Think you’ve got enough to worry about in the run-up to Christmas? Spare a thought for people with allergies, for whom the festive season is fraught with danger. But, with a little consideration, you could prevent an allergic reaction, and even a trip to Accident & Emergency.

1 Real Christmas trees can contain moulds, a health hazard for those allergic to them, while the sap can trigger skin reactions. The mould content is highest when the tree is cut some time in advance and kept in a moist atmosphere. After buying the tree, it helps to store it in a dry place like a garage, and then shake it before bringing it indoors. Note that, once the tree is inside, mould spores can grow within two weeks. For those with symptoms, fake trees may be the answer.

2 Mistletoe allergy is uncommon, though it can cause skin reactions in some people. The main danger comes from the kiss. Proteins can linger in saliva for several hours, so a snog can deliver a sizeable dose of nuts or whatever else the person last ate. Those with food allergies may find their luck running out, just when they thought it had come in.

FreeImages.com/Stephanie Berhaeuser

3 Problems with latex are on the rise. About 4% of the general population is allergic to latex (the natural type from rubber), while nearly 10% of healthcare workers are. The incidence is growing because gloves are more often used for procedures which were done with bare hands in the bad old days. What has this to do with Christmas? Balloons and most condoms contain latex, and both may feature at the seasonal office party. 

4 Alcoholic drinks can lead to allergic reactions. There are often nuts in speciality beers, and there’s obviously dairy in Irish cream liqueurs. There’s even almond oil in Bombay Sapphire gin, as the Anaphylaxis Campaign reminded me. Besides, alcohol can lower your guard and make you blasé about risk.  And large amounts of alcohol tend to worsen allergic reactions.  

5 Presents that smell nice, like bath oil, soaps, hand creams, and reed diffusers, may contain almond oil or other essential oils. These cause no trouble for most people, but they can trigger nasty reactions in those with allergies to the ingredients.

6 Festive candles are, again, mostly harmless, unless you’re careless enough to start a fire. But, for those with allergies, the soya present in some posh candles can be an issue. Candles may also contain pine, a potential problem for anyone allergic to pine resin.

7 The poinsettia plant is related to euphorbia (spurge). It’s not often an allergen, but it can be, especially for those with latex allergy. Symptoms include rash, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It’s wise not to have a poinsettia if you’re latex allergic.

FreeImages.com/D Fleiderer

8 Chocolate can contain dried fruits and nuts (which you may not spot if it’s in the form of a paste). It usually also contains soya lecithin. If you have a food allergy, check the label before indulging – if, that is, the label is anywhere to be seen. This can be a problem when chocolate treats are unwrapped and passed around on a plate at Christmas.

9 Sulphites are food preservatives commonly used in sausages, as well as in many pickled foods, dressings, and soft drinks. Some people react to sulphites with asthma symptoms or an urticarial rash. In most cases, the reaction is a sensitivity rather than an allergy.  But occasionally there is a true allergy, with a severe reaction called anaphylaxis.

10 Fancy turkey stuffing can contain a multitude of allergens, including pecans and hazelnuts. One of the most widespread ingredients is celery. Although allergy to celery seems fairly rare in the UK, when it does occur, the reaction can be severe and may lead to anaphylactic shock.- see more about anaphylaxis.

11 The traditional Christmas pudding is full of nuts, an obvious problem to those with an allergy to them. But it is possible to source tasty nut-free versions in most large shops.

12 Christmas cake, as a rule, contains nuts. It’s easy enough to study the ingredients when out shopping and choose a product that doesn’t contain a particular nut or fruit (though it’s impossible to do without almonds if you want stollen or any other cake with a marzipan layer).  If you have a nut allergy, visiting friends and family can still be risky, though. It’s not always enough to avoid a food that’s a trigger. There may be cross-contamination, which can be critical with severe allergy.

This list of Yuletide allergies is obviously far from inclusive, so please take care and have a happy, healthy Christmas.

I’ll be back in the New Year. Meanwhile, for more information about allergies, including anaphylaxis, visit the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

You may also enjoy The dreaded Christmas newsletter.

Christmas Wishes

You’re all busy, especially this time of year, so this will be short. Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I send you my best wishes for a wonderful time, hopefully with family, good food, and not too many arguments or hangovers. Here’s to a vintage Christmas, and to a new year that’s an improvement over 2016.

Not that I’m holding my breath.

The Night Before Christmas, 1949 edition

Rushed off Your Paws at Christmas

You don’t need telling that it’s a busy and stressful time of year, especially if you have family to look after.

No wonder so many of us will be rushed off our feet. Or indeed our paws. 

I’m thinking of dogs like the lovely May here whose duties include opening and shutting doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches, and if need be getting help in an emergency.  

There’s the Christmas shopping to attend to, and that requires money. Here’s May using the ATM.

assistance dog using cash machine

photo by Canine Partners

All the food to buy.

assistance dog shopping in supermarket

photo by Canine Partners

Not to mention sorting out the Christmas post.

assistance dog with post

photo by Canine Partners

Canine Partners like May are trained to do a range of different tasks, but they’re intelligent and can adapt to the person’s lifestyle. In a survey, over a third of their humans say they rely on them to tidy toys away. Some dogs even let the cat in and out. And in and out again.

FreeImages.com/Robert Bak

And they do all this without a murmur of complaint, which can’t be said of most humans.

I don’t know about you, but I think May deserves something in her Christmas stocking.

Christmas stocking

If you don’t need an assistance dog yourself, you can still adopt one. Might even make a good last minute Christmas present for someone.

Have a merry Christmas, one and all.  

holly garland

You may like to know…

Canine Partners assists people with a range of disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and quality of life through the provision of specially trained dogs.

For example, the charity works in partnership with Help for Heroes, aiming to train dogs to meet the needs of people with even the most complex disabilities.  These life-transforming dogs also provide practical, physiological, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem.

Canine Partners is a registered charity and receives no government funding. It depends wholly on public donations and legacies.

That’ll be you and me.

angel tree decoration

 

Easy tweet: “Christmas stress? Some busy feet barely touch the ground via @DrCarolCooper & help from @canine_partners”

The Dreaded Christmas Newsletter

The Christmas cards are fluttering in through the letter box, and so are the round robin letters, lovingly composed to bring you up to date with all the people you no longer remember. This may be my favourite so far.

holly garland

Dear friends

 

 

 

My, doesn’t time fly! I supposed that’s what happens when you’re our age. 2015 has been a very special year for us although, as John likes to points out, it hasn’t quite ended yet.

Our exciting year kicked off with damp-proof treatment to our lounge. The builders got plaster dust literally everywhere, including in my beloved knitting basket. After the re-plastering, we re-decorated. We spent many an evening debating the relative merits of Magnolia versus Almond White. John got the Almond White he wanted. Well, he is the Man of the House.

Here is where I usually include some of the best photos of our year. Our 2014 Christmas letter featured an xray of my new hip, so this one, taken in our garden, is rather different.

tree

Not, alas, the much anticipated bumper crop of berries on our pyracanthus, because John had a bit of a go with the pruning shears right after his latest parking ticket.  At least this time he didn’t punch the traffic warden, which you will agree is a good thing if you recall our Christmas letter 2013.

Since John and I have long retired, the most interesting career developments are the children’s. I am excited to tell you that daughter Tabitha has finally decided what she wants to do, and is now a tattoo artist’s model.

FreeImages.com/Rokla

Our son Graham, who takes more after me, has found his knitting business has really taken off. To complement his range of egg-cosies, he now offers knitted ties, and he has sold three of them in just four months!

In March I had another bout of shingles, and John had an attack of gout. However this did not stop us from enjoying foreign travel. John and I went to Scotland in April. The weather was not as sunny as we had hoped, but we got to play a lot of gin rummy.

FreeImages.com/liensca

Six months ago, I joined a book club which seems quite fun. We do not yet have a Book of the Month. There are however a number of wine labels that are required reading.

The rest of our year was taken up with the replacement of my hip replacement. Here I must thank all our medical friends who got in touch just after receiving our 2014 Christmas letter and pointed out that the stem of the prosthesis was incorrectly positioned. 

FreeImages.com/Ali Taylor

Wishing you and yours all the blessings of the Christmas season, and a wonderful new year to come with peace and prosperity to all (with the exception of ISIL, as John wants me to point out).

Love from

Judy and John

 

 

 

holly garland

Seven Reasons Why August Sucks

While the name ‘August’ comes from the Latin for dignity or grandeur, the reality is somewhat different.  Yes, it’s still high summer, but when you compare it to its neighbours June and July, I don’t think the month of August makes the grade. Here’s why:

1 The days are already noticeably shorter. As if that’s not bad enough, the weather thinks it’s October.

Rain by Valentina Degiorgis

2 You can’t move for tourists in London. Have you been to Marble Arch lately? It’s heaving. Luckily I know just enough Arabic to move dawdling visitors out of the way.

And in Cambridge, there are even bigger queues to get into the colleges. As here.

Clare College gardens

And here. 

queue at Kings College Chapel

Even more competitive than it is for prospective students, it seems.

Clare College gardens

3 It’s the silly season for news. That’s why the papers carry stories about donkeys rescued from seven-feet deep storm drains.

rescued donkey

And stories about Morris dancers having a punch-up with blind footballers. If you’re wondering, that one’s a spoof.

The biggest silly story of all? Must be the Labour party’s leadership contest. 

4 Kids in Scotland are already back at school. They’ve given up pretending it’s still the holidays.

5 When the August bank holiday weekend is over, that’s it. There are no more official holidays until Christmas. And any minute now, Christmas merchandise will hit the shops.

by Raquel Santos

6 It’s high season for kittens. In north-west London, the Mayhew Animal Home’s kitten cabins are overrun with furry bundles that need forever homes. Can you help? 

posed by model. photo by Roger Heykoop

7 Everyone is away (except for tourists). If you’re an adult, your inbox is full of automated away messages. If you’re a child, there’s nobody around to come to your birthday. I should know. Mine’s tomorrow. Are you going to be there? Thought not.

Roll on September.

***

Easy tweet: 7 Reasons Why August Sucks http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13z according to @DrCarolCooper