It feels very odd to be in the new year already. It almost feels as though Christmas didn’t really happen – and at the same time I have done a lot of Christmassy things.
Jens arrived on the 22nd and we were joined by Charles and his brother on Christmas eve for the epic queue at King’s. We got there at 8.15am and were let into the chapel at around 2pm, which on paper sounds like a very long time to be standing in the rain. As soon as we arrived I realised we should have brought things to sit on (even carrier bags would have been better than nothing). Some well-organised people had folding chairs, but I don’t actually own any folding chairs.
The time went more quickly than I would have expected. We chatted to a few people who Charles and Jim knew, talked to each other, ate the picnics we’d packed, made trips to the college cafe to warm up and buy drinks, and at one point were serenaded by members of the chapel choir singing carols. The final twenty minutes, after they had started letting people in but before we reached the front of the queue, were the longest minutes in the whole of the seven-hour wait.
The service itself started a little after 3pm, and we couldn’t see a thing. I actually think we might have heard the choir better had we stayed at home and listened to the radio broadcast, but we’d have missed the spirit of the event. I was amused by the fact that between the four of us, we sang all the different voice parts whenever the congregation were invited to join in with the carols. Jens was a little bemused; not all English carols are well-known in Norway and none of the rest of us were singing the tune…
In the evening we had a nap and then headed out for midnight mass at the church I occasionally attend for morning prayer. It was a really lovely service; it’s difficult to put into words what was so nice about it, but it just was enjoyable all the way through. We sang some of my favourite carols and hymns, the choir was smoked out with incense which actually smelt reasonably nice for once, an amusingly solemn procession placed a plastic baby in a lavishly-decorated stable and the vicar (whose installation service I attended last year) gave a witty and thought-provoking address with his right arm in an elaborate sling which was so liturgically appropriate with the rest of his vestments that Jens hadn’t even noticed it until we were greeted by him on the way out and had to shake hands with our left hands.
Christmas day began late, at around noon, when we had a scratch brunch, opened presents and then headed into the kitchen to start cooking. “Dinner” was ready at around 4pm, and to my amazement was totally fine, with all the components cooked properly at the same time. The Quorn roast was nothing to write home about, and I think I’ll not bother with one again, but the vegetables and sides were all great. I’ve never cooked such an elaborate meal before so I was rather proud.
We didn’t have the space or stamina for Christmas pudding, so we decamped (after some faffing with locked doors, broken television sets and well-hidden light switches) to the college bar to watch the traditional Christmas TV. Then we headed out to the MCR International students’ potluck supper, which was surprisingly good fun. I hadn’t met any of the people who were there, but I got the impression that they hadn’t met each other either so we didn’t feel odd. There were several non-Newnham people there, notably a few men who clearly weren’t students here, and a small male baby who was far too small to be a student anywhere.
We rounded out the day by watching some more Christmas TV, and then did some last-minute laundry. I wouldn’t usually wash clothes on Christmas Day, but the following morning we were heading off for a week and Jens had packed light.
Boxing Day dawned and Charles arrived to pick us up and drive us to stay with his family. We spent two nights there and it was a lot of fun. I’d met his parents and brother before, but we were also introduced to his sister and her boyfriend, and both of his grandmothers who were all very friendly. One grandmother was particularly good fun, joining in with the four-part-harmony carols (it’s rather convenient that I sing alto, since they already had a soprano, a tenor and a bass in the family) and making lots of jokes. The other grandmother is a gentle Irish lady who I enjoyed talking to.
When we weren’t being fed mountains of delicious food, which took up a lot of the time, we went for walks round the town. At one point our attempts to walk around a lake failed as the lake had risen up and taken over the entirety of the path and surrounding fields. Jens bought several books from an excellent little bookshop. In the evenings we watched films and played board games and all in all, it was lovely to have a proper family Christmas. In the last five years or so my family has been too scattered for that sort of thing to happen – although we haven’t done so deliberately, my brother and I have managed to be in different places for Christmas almost every year and we stopped spending the holidays with our similiarly-aged cousins years ago.
After that we headed north to spend a few days with my music friends, some of whom Jens had met before. It was an interesting contrast with the time in the south, and I was reminded of how differently my life could have gone if I had chosen a different university. One particularly notable feature of our visit to Manchester was that I got to hold a snake who coiled around my arms and body and went to sleep with his head tucked into my elbow. I have never considered snakes to be cute before, but this one decidedly is.
The final leg of our tour was in Aylesbury, for New Year’s Eve. Stumo helpfully offered to pick us up in Milton Keynes, which made the journey both cheaper and quicker, as well as having the dubious benefit of subjecting us to at least fifteen roundabouts in an hour. Most of the people at the party I hadn’t met before, but there were five or six old friends who I don’t see often enough. Jens and I were both fairly well exhausted by this point and went to bed not long after midnight. The following day we helped with the clearup, mostly by eating left-over cake, and then went to meet an internet friend for coffee. Our trip back to Cambridge, again courtesy of Stumo, was heavily delayed by an ultimately futile attempt to find a pub or restaurant which was open and serving food.
And now the festivities are over, and I have started working again. Today we went on a wander round Cambridge, visiting a few of the more famous colleges and delving into the depths of the UL to look for two books, one of which was there and one which was not. I feel rather guilty about the one that was not: I recalled it, which I thought would mean that the person who has taken it out would simply not be able to renew it again when it was due back on the 16th. I checked with the front desk after having done so, and they told me that it actually means that the current user has 7 days to return it to the library or they will start getting fined. My hope is that the fact that they have taken it out during the vacation means they do live in Cambridge, and aren’t undergraduates living in, for instance, northern Scotland. I would have left it until next week had I known… I don’t need it that urgently. But never mind, what is done is done.
College has reopened and there are hoardes of staff members around, which is very odd after such a long time of silence. The winter pool is taking place here, meaning that admissions tutors from all the colleges are milling around reading applications from people who didn’t quite make it into the college they originally chose. We’ve seen more people in the corridors today than in total in the entire college in the past two weeks.