|The bells of paradise I heard them ring
||[Dec. 24th, 2014|06:05 pm]
Different every year and every year the same. This year, the carol evening was preceded by a small tea party, not so much an overture as a little preliminary throat clearing. Two couples of occasional participants, one attending this year, the other not, were having a get-together of their own, and called round on Saturday afternoon for tea and conversation so that we could share in it. So I got to spend extra time with people, and have interesting talk about art (the practice of art, and how seeing works, and perspective and stuff). This was all good.
The carol evening itself was not so much about conversation, being fully occupied with singing and mulled wine. That latter was one of the differences: for many years F. has taken charge of preparing the mulled wine, but this year when we rang him at the last minute to say we had failed to stock up on honey, and could he bring whatever he needed, please, he said: "Oh, sorry, I was about to phone you..." and that he wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be joining us. So I was put in charge of mulled wine, and since I'm pleased with how it worked, here it is for the record. I'd bought the wine at Majestic, where the young lady assistant had recommended this Corbières. Thank you, that young lady - it was very reasonably priced and did the job admirably - and had a screw top, which made life much easier. I poured four bottles into the big casserole, sliced one orange, one lemon and a knob of root ginger, added two sticks of cinamon broken in half and four or five cloves. Warmed it through, sweetened to taste with honey (emergency purchase courtesy of durham_rambler) and turned off the heat until guests started to arrive, when I warmed it up again. Just before we started singing I topped it up with a couple more bottles and some more honey, and turned off the heat. (At the end of the break I repeated this, and added a fresh orange, but I had underestimated how many of the guests would want to make a quick getaway, and there was more than we needed). In all I used just over 8 bottles of wine, and just under a pound of honey.
So there was that. We put an end to the tradition whereby a Bear produces a jar of pieces of bark and enquires "Are you going to grate this cinnamon?" I think it is cassia bark, and I suspect it was purchased by my mother (who died a decade ago) and it has been added to the compost.
I had told F. that I was happy to substitute for him in making the mulled wine, but that I could not take his place in the singing of O come, Emmanuel, in which he stands in the doorway and growls all the low notes. To make matters worse, in his absence I came in from the kitchen to discover that the singing had started at carol number one in the folder, and no-one had issued the ritual reminder that we usually start with O come, Emmanuel, which was printed out of sequence but is an Advent song and should really come first. We sang it second, instead. Every song is someone's favourite, and every song is someone's least liked, and this one always draws compaints from A. whereas I am very fond of it (no, it isn't my favourite, which is probably Down in Yon Forest).
At the half-time break, J. and J. slipped out onto the balcony (this is not as grand as it sounds) and performed their own solstice ritual, an invocation to the sun with sparklers and a libation of red wine. This is traditional in its own way, but not part of the carol evening tradition, since J. and J. don't attend every year, nor does the evening always fall on the date of the solstice.
The singing was remarkably amicable - or do I mean that the singers we very well behaved (the musicians might differ from this opinion)? There was only one first-timer, and she was a musician, so by now even the tricky tunes went pretty smoothly; we kept it down to two versions of While shepherds..., which were in my opinion the good ones, Sweet Bells and Cranbrook; J. pointed out that Cranbrook would also work with Oh, little town of Bethlehem (discussing this the morning after, BoyBear suggested that an evening of carols all performed to the tune Cranbrook would provide a counterweight to those sessions which sing exclusively While shepherds... to a variety of tunes.
So now it must be Christmas: