(This was the first Christmas letter that we circulated)

Dear everyone,

Every year we tell ourselves we're going to write to everybody, and every year Christmas seems to come a month before we're ready ... so this year we're starting a month earlier.

The cat and I are writing this while Jo is out at yet another rehearsal for her next concert. The boys are downstairs stuffing an owl. (Hmm. Better than cold turkey, I suppose.) Martin has been making this owl for the last decade, it seems, in sewing class, but now it's going to flap its furry way to his aunt, wearing an L plate. This has been quite a season for construction - given that it's not the Greens' strong suit - and we have a variety of half-made objects around the house, like the feet (only) of a paper model of a Mountie, a decoration no truly cool interior can afford to omit.

It has also been a season for music. Besides Jo's choir (mustn't forget to say that the record costs £5 and some people say it's not bad at all, some people say) all the males are learning the piano. Tricky stuff. I actually used one of the pieces in a theoretical psychology seminar yesterday as an example of something psychology should be able to predict was difficult, but as usual knowing that the source of difficulty can be formalised doesn't help me play it! Owen has joined the local church choir (as their token Jewish agnostic, maybe) and is being impressively responsible about going to practices and services.

Martin's version of the performing arts has been a part in the school play as a neolithic hunter modelled on a British General, with a big bristling red beard and a big bristling voice and a big handshake too. Very impressive - and a Christmas play about prehistory and the dawn of civilisation made a change. His other celebrated appearance this year was as runner-up in the local Guy Fawkes competition for Cambridge children. To those who know he won it last year this may seem a come down, but actually it was a much better prize - two crisp fivers, while the first prize was one fiver and two tickets to the Panto. Unless the panto's a great deal better this year, anyway.

At least for the time being, Thos has had to give up his own performing art ("performing WHAT?") because Spanish evening class Is same night as Morris dancing. Annoying. But all that Spanish - so little yet so painful - kept fading before his very tongue.

(Jo now returned from rehearsal.)

It's been a good year for holidays too: two trips to Spain to visit Thos' parents, a walking weekend en famille in the Peaks (ah! how we miss the hills, stuck down here among the cabbage fields), a cycling weekend (adults only) around Suffolk. We snapped each other leaning over the village signpost at well-named Ugley Green and pedalled off to Thaxted, where it turned out they had a marvellous concert which just happened to be that very night. The boys spent the weekend smuggled in and out of the nurses' home of St Mary's, Paddington where Jo's sister Hannah is now a student nurse, acquiring some surprising bits of knowledge. And a fortnight camping in Brittany, greatly enhanced by new friends and finding old friends from Sheffield on the same camp-site. The hedges there now contain an unrivalled selection of shuttlecocks and tennis balls. Weather, unfortunately, was not on our side for that one: we caught the tail end of Hurricane Charlie for the return crossing, and spent 15 hours on the ferry instead of four-and -a -half. Not recommended!

Other high spots of the year: the boys went on a school trip to Kentwell, which is a Tudor manor house where, for a couple of weeks each year, a bunch of enthusiasts settle down to recreate the life of one particular year - 1556, this time, with Mary on the throne and a bad harvest in Cambridge and a petition to be written by the school and presented to the Lord of the Manor to seek relief. The entire 2nd and 3rd year of their cool spent most of the term learning all there was to know about Tudor Cambridge in preparation. (Guess who had to make the costumes, of course, and no, you can't have the breeches THAT long, that would have been at least 10 years out of fashion. ) We tried to teach them the correct use of thee and thou and Good morrow, only to be greeted on the day by a Tudor teacher's cheery Hi-de-hi-i-i-i-i!!! Tudor fair later. Owen looked just right in the stocks while Martin juggled for a living.

High spots for Thos included lots of travel - Paris, Canada, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, which he assures me is an extremely nice place, and infinitely preferable to a number of other U.S. locations. (But not as nice as Canada. And Paris won easily on food, and Texas on gusto. - T.) There is a possibility of us all spending a sabbatical year there sometime, which might be rather nice. For Owen the year has been greatly enriched by the launching of a new comic aimed at people exactly like him, a cross between Beano and Private Eye - one has to congratulate the publishers on spotting the gap in the market. (I'm not a gap in the market! - 0.) If you haven't yet met Oink!, watch out. Owen's bliss has been completed by the family acquisition (or so the rest of us like to kid ourselves) of a new stereo system with a double tape deck, no less. Indeed I'm listening to it at this very moment, listening, by a strange coincidence, to the above mentioned record. (Only £5!)

Martin's new hobby has been slightly cheaper. Via hamsters, coins, shield bugs and other insects, photography, archaeology and badminton, he has now reached stamp collecting. ("Thomas, what do shield bugs eat?") What a year - is anything left? The archaeology course might have been the best but the pinhole photographs were good too, and both the boys now play much better badminton. In our drive we have one of the world's few badminton courts that happens to be 4 feet wide and 30 long. Calls for a style of play that might well unnerve anyone used to the wide open spaces - anyone can get the shot in on a real court, it takes skill to do it cross wind on ours. We have several versions, from 'walls are out' to anything goes, including bouncing the shuttle-cock off the ventilator flue to make it drop like a stunned skua.

Jo says it's time to go to bed, the bottle's nearly empty. Hope you feel a mass produced letter is better than no letter. Don't let me forget to mention - no, I can't bring myself to tell you about the Morris dancing video.

Happy Christmas and brave new year!

Love from Thomas, Jo, Owen and Martin


Index of Christmas letters