December 22nd, 2006, 04:32 PM
A little human interest story.
As it is christmas I thought a little christmas story might go down nicely. So here it is. the soruce is http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6202751.stm
Happy x-mas all.
Queuing for King's
While others are frantically tearing around the shops, Neil Hallows is one of a small but loyal group who spend the final days before Christmas braving the cold and damp to queue for the King's College carol service.
For many, it's the start of Christmas. But it's also the end of a very long queue.
At a little after 1500 this Christmas Eve, the chapel at King's College, Cambridge falls silent for a few seconds, before a soloist sings the opening verse of Once in Royal David's City.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is heard, every year, by millions on the radio. But if you want to attend, you either need a job at King's or a good few warm layers.
The service is open to the public, and there are no tickets, except for college fellows and staff, and no admission fee. The only price you pay is to wait.
FESTIVAL OF NINE LESSONS...
First held in 1918
Since 1919, the service has begun with Once in Royal David's City
First broadcast on radio in 1928, and TV since 1963
My queue starts 32 hours before the service. You don't have to go that early - the college says a place in the queue by 0930 on Christmas Eve should get you in - but I have a reunion to attend.
When I arrive outside the college at 0700 on 23 December, I know the few who will already be there. There will be Ian, asleep, about halfway through his annual three-day queue; Charles, who saves every cent so he can fly 4,500 miles from Dallas to London each year to attend the service.
Through the day, others will slowly arrive for the reunion. We greet each other like old friends, although it is a strange friendship where we spend just a day and night together. When the service is over, and we step out into the dark, that's it for another year. So for the time we have, we talk and talk.
We reminisce about the Christmas when the whole city was covered in a perfect, delicate frost, and then argue about which year it happened. We talk about those who only came for a year - friends who just didn't get it: an American pastor who smiled continuously for more than 24 hours as he waited; assorted minor celebrities suddenly deprived of their backstage passes.
We remember each other's bold plans from the previous year, and then wonder whether it is wise to mention them.
If any regulars don't come, we worry. I'd love to know what happened to Robin and Lilian. They used to arrive in the early hours of Christmas Eve, and I still walk around in the darkness peering at newcomers' faces, even though they haven't attended for five years. Like me, they knew little about music but they said there was something about the service, and the queue, that they never wanted to miss. "Nothing will stop us", Robin used to say.
The civilised queuing system came as a relief to an American who seriously contemplated self-catheterisation
Because we know each other, no-one can push in. We know our place, so to speak - mine is invariably fifth. This means that we can wander off to eat, so long as we are in line and ready to enter the chapel before the service.
This simple system, which operates without need for the college's involvement, came as a great relief to an American visitor who seriously contemplated self-catheterisation as a way of solving the dilemma of staying in the same line for more than 24 hours.
One subject we rarely discuss is why we are there. Everyone has their own reasons for attending - a small minority of queuers are religious, a larger number are musical, for others it's simply a place to escape to.
I only tend to ask "why" in the middle of the night. It's not the cold and rain, which are hardly a challenge for a single night, but the bouts of heartiness among queuers. Some are young and, as Evelyn Waugh put it, "unused to wine". Others think a queue for a carol service is somehow an excuse for singing carols. I need my sleep and they wassail me at their peril.
I remember one man so consumed with excitement that he sat all night on a fishing stool telling strangers about every Christmas he had ever had. Some had been tragic, some just plain dull, but this one, he said, would be different. It would be perfect.
Neil, second from right, with fellow hard-bitten fans of the festival
The following day, I saw him sitting near the choir, the perk of queueing all night. There was a look of complete happiness on his face as he heard the first carol. This is followed by a prayer, and as we were urged to think of those "upon another shore, and in a greater light", his eyes closed, and he fell asleep.
The people next to him didn't notice, and I couldn't wake him, short of shouting across the chapel. As the organ played to mark the end of the service, he woke up with a huge smile on his face. Wonderful service, he said, especially Silent Night. But it had only been sung in his dreams.
Sitting on my deckchair outside King's, I used to watch the shoppers scurry past and feel as if I had somehow opted out of the Great British Christmas with all its excesses.
In truth, I could only be there because my parents, who live locally, were among the hordes, scurrying from shop to shop in readiness for the perfect family Christmas.
Last year, everything changed. My daughter had been born a few months before, and I wanted to take part in my own nativity scene. Having decided to spend Christmas in Dorset, it was too risky to contemplate getting there after the service. So I missed my first in 14 years.
For years before, I had suffered nightmares about missing the service. When I missed it for real, it wasn't a nightmare. I was too happy and busy for self indulgence, although its start came as a relief because I'd still be entertaining fantasies of being spirited there.
This year, I was desperate to return, even if only to say my goodbyes until my daughter is old enough to queue with me. But I have the same transport problems, and the prospect of being stuck in railway sidings over Christmas really would be a nightmare. My wife worked out the answer. I'm going to queue. I'll arrive at the same time on 23 December, and spend the day and night with my old friends. Then just before the service, as we're all forming into an orderly line, I'll leave, and give someone else my place. It's a Christmas present I never thought I'd be able to give.
\"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.\"
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