Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Robin's the top bird

I love Christmas cards with robins on, just like the one Margaret Humphreys sent me, and which I've reproduced. And if you believe Robin Redbreast has nothing to do with the Yule season - then think again.

According to ancient legend, it was a robin, then just a plain little brown creature, that eased Christ's pain on his way to the crucifixion, by pulling the crown of thorns out of his brow.

The robin's breast was stained with the blood of Jesus forevermore, says Philip Ardagh in his delightful little book The Truth About Christmas (MacMillan £4.99).

Ardagh takes this folksy tale a stage further, when he writes that Joseph of Arimathea, who had Jesus buried in the tomb from which he rose from the dead, later travelled to the British Isles, bringing robins with him.

This Joseph, watched by a robin, now permanently red-breasted, thrust his staff into the ground of Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury.

It grew roots and became a hawthorn bush, which is said to blossom every Christmas Eve.

Ardagh is at pains to point out that all this is according to folklore and not according to the Bible, but robins are definitely my favourite Christmas bird.

Ardagh also informs us that it was St Francis of Assisi who launched the Christmas carol tradition in Italy, when he requested his flock to sing " simple Christmas songs full of good cheer and merry spirit".

The two most famous carols are Away in a Manger and Silent Night, although some people prefer Good King Wenceslas, which isn't religious at all.

I loved the Christmas No 1 from 1953 by a 13-year-old called Little Jimmy Boyd, called I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

It's a simple little ditty about a lad watching Santa planting a loving smacker on mum's lips, unaware it is really his dad dressed up.

But some American radio stations didn't hear it that way at all and banned the ballad because they believed it suggested that Jimmy's mother, a married lady, was having an affair.

Waterfront gears up for dancing queen camilla

Danish dancing queen Camilla Dallerup will be turning the clock back 90 years when she visits Northern Ireland early next month.

She will be swaying in the samba with her professional partner, Ian Waite, at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on January 5 and 6, at gala nights with the Ulster Orchestra.

It used to be a favourite dance at the afternoon ballroom sessions in the old Plaza in Belfast back in the early 50s, and at John Dossor's Fiesta Palais de Dance. "The Samba was invented in Brazil way back in 1916, and is now a part of every street festival in that country," blonde Camilla reminds me.

"I adore the Ulster Orchestra players and I'm giving them fair warning today to brush up on their Samba rhythms.

"I just love this dance - Ian and I had fun performing it on an exotic beach in the Caribbean in a shoot for our DVD, The Magic of Dance."

Why Kauto is a future star

There's nothing quite like watching a great racehorse flashing past the winning post ahead of the field.

Tulyar, Red Rum and, more recently, Desert Orchid (who died only a couple of weeks ago at 27) have thrilled my soul.

Now comes another four-legged hero for all of us to watch, even those who have never made a bet in their lives. His name is Kauto Star, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Irish jockey Ruby Walsh (right), who says he is definitely the stuff of legend.

So, if Boxing Day gets boring, switch on the telly and watch Kauto Star running in the King George Handicap Chase at Kempton Park.

I guarantee you will be watching a special piece of horseflesh and an animal we will be reading about for years to come.

Keeping up with both the Jones'

The grown-up Aled Jones (below), the former boy soprano star who will be back in Northern Ireland in the New Year to host Songs of Praise, has recorded one of his old hits as a duet - with his younger self.

The older and the younger Jones are heard harmonising together in Walking in the Air, from The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs.

When Jones first recorded the song 21 years ago, it was a smash hit and went to No 1.

Now, Jones the older has defied time and digitally re-recorded Walking in the Air, accompanied by his own 15-year-old voice.

These days, the Welshman is as well-known as a television and radio presenter as he is a singer.

He and his wife, Claire, have a four-year-old daughter, Emilia.

Carols from Grosvenor Chorale

Grosvenor Chorale's Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, tonight (8pm) will be followed by a collection in aid of the Samaritans. Grosvenor Chorale was formed in Belfast in 1993 in memory of Ronald Lee, who died in 1992.

The Grosvenor, with Edward Craig as musical director, came first in the all-Ireland RTE Lyric FM Choirs for Christmas competition last year.

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