Christmas in Cambridge is a pretty special thing. The town centre is illuminated by a web of glittering lights, people go punting all huddled up in tartan blankets, the world renowned college choirs turn their skills to carols and if you're very lucky, the spires and quads may be covered in a light dusting of snow. (No such luck on the snow front this year as the south has felt like spring for the whole of the month, but it did happen in my first term at the university!) The first week of December also marks the eighth and final week of term, and the glut of festive college formals are inevitably incredibly popular, selling out in minutes. Luckily, a couple of my friends are still at the university, doing six year courses or else PhDs, and managed to get a couple of extra tickets for us to come along for one last Christmas formal at college.
For those of you who've been reading my blog for some time you'll be quite aware of what formal entails (a three-course dinner with silver service in hall). You may also know that my college isn't one of the 'Harry Potter', dreaming spires ones, but rather one of the first established specifically to give women a Cambridge education in the fifties, and moved into the (some say Brutalist, I say iconic) sixties building complete with spaceship-esque dome, designed by Barbican architects Chamberlin, Powell & Bon. We're allowed to walk on the grass here, and no, our buildings don't date back to the 15th century. But do we have good formal? Oh hell yes.
I legged it from the City to King's Cross to catch my Cambridge train after lectures mid-week, enveloping myself in my old black gown in the taxi up to college, power walking up the spiral staircase to Dome with a nod to our President (Dame Barbara Stocking, former Chief Executive of Oxfam - see top photo!) standing in for the angel on top of the tree, and joining my friends at the grad table after grabbing a glass of sherry from the Fellows' Dining Room. Not flustered at all. Crackers were pulled, groan-worthy jokes read out. Then the gong sounded and formal began! Good - I was starving.
So you know how I was boasting about how great our formals are? Well, that doesn't quite extend to Christmas formal. It's just a standard Christmas dinner in Week 8 - a prawn cocktail salad that looks slightly like it's just been unceremoniously tipped on to the plate, then a roast with all the trimmings and Christmas pud. It's still good though - at some of the older colleges, they quite literally serve Angel Delight for pudding.
Oh yes, and did I mention that grad dining rights include a steady flow of wine, on the house?
My first, but certainly not last, pig in blanket of the Christmas season.
The lights in the Dome went down for the traditional presentation of the Christmas pudding - doused in alcohol and set aflame. Usually the chefs take their sweet time walking around with this baby, but this time they seemed in a hurry to get it back to the kitchen. I don't know why - it's not like we get that Christmas pudding or anything...
Perhaps it was the merry-inducing effects of the sherry, but I managed to polish off my teeny Christmas pud this year - something that never happens! Maybe I'm finally developing a taste for it, 24 years down the line...
And finally, mince pies, coffee and tea were trundled out for the end of formal.
Love these ladies.
And if you can't finish your free mince pies, you have to take them away with you! (Oh, those polystyrene takeaway boxes from buttery take me right back). Well, it would be rude not to.
Thank you A, M and G for inviting us to formal! It was so lovely to catch up with my former housemates over dinner, and I can't wait to see you all in the new year. Merry Christmas, one and all!