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Martin Parsons autobiography

Chapter 1 Birth and Childhood
Chapter 2 Youth and Conversion
Chapter 3 Three years at Cambridge
Chapter 4 Bermondsey - my first job
Chapter 5 St John's Hall, Highbury
Chapter 6 As a young parson
Chapter 7 To the Jews of Poland
Chapter 8 Settled in Ireland
Chapter 9 General Secretary of HCMS
Chapter 10 Vicar of St John's Blackheath
Chapter 11 Emmanuel Northwood
Chapter 12 St Andrew's Oxford
Chapter 13 Sheffield and the CMJ
Chapter 14 Retirement
Chapter 15 Jubilee in Holy Orders

6. As a Young Parson

On Sunday, October 5th 1930, I set off early from the C.U.M. to walk to St Paul's. I was wearing my clerical collar for the first time, with a dark clerical grey suit and of course, in those days, a hat. I carried a bag with my robes. As I passed Tower Bridge the Vicar of St Olave's (which is now the Headquarters of the London City Mission and other Christian bodies) gave me a cheery wave. We did not know each other, but it was a nice brotherly gesture. At the Cathedral we robed in the Crypt (I think). As far as I can remember, the service was at 10 a.m. and lasted about 2 hours. At a guess there were about 25 Deacons and 25 Priests. This was the biggest Ordination of the year.

The processional hymn was Thy hand, O God, has guided, to the well known tune which I only knew before as a chorus we sang at Broadstairs. The sermon was preached by Mr Scott and contained the words I have so often quoted about never seeking preferment. The quotation in full is given in my book The Ordinal. ["You will gain a blessed peace, and increase your usefulness tenfold, if you resolve today that you will never seek preferment, and never choose the place where you will work. Trust your heavenly Father, who has called you to the priesthood, to reveal his will to you as to where he wants you to work. 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' is the heartfelt cry of the converted man."] I hope I have persuaded a few young men to take the same line of always asking: "What wilt thou have me to do?" Desmond Dean and Arthur Rowland were the two Highbury men I remember best, but there were others I think, including a am named Higgs who died very early on. My parents were there in stalls where they could see well, and Stanley and Lydie also. After the service all the newly ordained lunched with the Bishop at an eating house in St Paul's Churchyard. We were first served with cups of tea. I suppose some of the high churchmen had had no breakfast.

I joined my parents later at the Ivanhoe Hotel, and later walked back to Bermondsey and attended Evening Prayer at Christ Church. Then I cycled back to Highbury as I had so often done before. At that time I do not think I had ever travelled by public transport on a Sunday. I reported to Dr Gilbert and was most kindly received by him and Mrs Gilbert. The next day I remember very well. After 7.30 chapel and breakfast, I had my first "lecture", a Latin class with the first year. In those days Latin was compulsary, and this meant just enough to be able to read the Vulgate, though what for, who knows? From then on, with a short hockey practice and a break for meals and evening chapel, I worked till 11 p.m. correcting the first year Bible papers they did on their first morning. It was a strange introduction to my ministerial life.

My biggest responsibility as far as teaching was concerned in the early days was the evening classes. They were attended by men who had no Matric and needed to pass the College Entrance Exam in order to start training. They came for two hours on four nights a week after a full day's work in their jobs. I admired them greatly and am proud that among my first batch were Owen Brandon (now M.A., M.Litt. [and later a tutor under Dr Coggan]) and Louis Bralant. Perhaps I did a little to encourage them to persevere. I took classes in English, Old Testament (Life and times of David, and Amos), and Latin and Greek (two hours of each). The Principal had them for History once a week, and Guy Bevan for New Testament. By having them for six out of the eight hours I did feel that this was my particular "patch". One or two men failed to make the grade, but among those I remember with thankfulness are John Collinson [(Rwanda Mission)], Herbert Venables who became Senior Student, and John Page (who actually went on to Oak Hill, for which our exam also qualified).

The years I was on the staff at Highbury tend to be a bit telescoped. One term was like another and I cannot remember clearly which students belonged to which year. During my diaconate year I had to read certain books for Priest's Exams, including Armitage Robinson on the Greek text of Ephesians, Gore on the same Epistle and one or two other books. Especially am I grateful for having to study the life of Lancelot Andrewes and his Preces Privatae. They are still a stimulus to me from time to time. My Ordination as Priest was on October 4th (the day of a terrible airship disaster). The retreat was less memorable than the year before, but I was altogether happier in myself. It was a joy that Dr Gilbert joined in the laying on of hands.

For some years I had been worried about a medical matter which I thought might be a serious condition. It was very foolish of me not to see a doctor but, like many people I believe, I did not like to. The whole matter became a spiritual issue and I knew that if I was to do what God wanted me to do I must go to the doctor. At last, in May 1931, I wrote to a Christian friend, Dr Reg Hill, and asked if I could come and see him. As soon as the letter was posted I felt a peace about it. I duly visited Dr Hill, had tea, and then told him what was worrying me. He was very kind, and assured me that it was not in the least serious. So I had had many needless worries which I should have been spared if I had done what God wanted me to do. He is a loving Father.

This liberation brought a new power into my ministry. Since my Ordination as Deacon I had done a lot of preaching, especially at St Mary Magdalene, Holloway Road, where the vicar was a bit of an invalid. I had also taken missions: one at the Soldiers' Home at Aldershot among the children who attended; one at the Mission Church at Hadley Wood after term ended at Easter; and one at St Matthew's Oxford which I think must have been just after Easter. At the last I was to have been helped by Oliver Allison, but his father died then and he could not come. Bob Parkes, who had been with us at Filey, came instead. I was really too young to be pitchforked into these missions while still a deacon, but perhaps I learned a bit. Children's meetings were an important part in each case, and there was still some thought that I might go to the C.S.S.M. as a children's evangelist.

Anyhow, after May 1931 I was much happier. At half term I went to a Crusader camp of the Harrow and Kenton classes and found a new strength in ministering. It was a very happy weekend near Chesham. I was invited through one of the students, Ken Hawkins, who alas died quite young. He came with us to Keswick that summer and there met the girl who became his wife. Keswick became part of my duties, mainly assisting Guy Bevan in running the Highbury party, but that year he could not come so I had to run it alone. We used to beg for funds by writing to good Christian folk and so get students to come at a reasonable price. The College Council gave 50. In 1931 we were low on students, so we took in others, including the famous Dr Duncan Maine of Hangchow. Keswick was a great blessing to me. W. Y. Fullerton gave the Bible Readings, Lindsay Glegg took the young people's meetings, for which I was eligible in those days.

Our party in former years had a reputation for mountain walking in the afternoons. But we had bad weather, and only managed to get up Cat Bells. This was on Peter Baker's 21st birthday and we made him cut a cake on the top of the mountain! He has had a fine ministry in several parishes and his son Tony is a splendid men. It is good to recall these things.

At the Missionary Meeting at Keswick the appeal was made for all those willing to go wherever God sent them to stand. Of course I stood, but I was a bit worried about the implications. I had joined the C.V.U. at Cambridge years before, but I was not at all clear. Bryan Green, who was a speaker at Keswick that year, was inclined to agree with me that the appeal was ambiguous. Hartley Brooke, an old Highbury man who was with us in the party, comforted me a lot. Anyhow there was a long was to go before I was ready to go overseas. In the event God seems to have wanted me to be at home for most of my ministry.

That summer, 1931, I again acted as Padre at the B. B. Camp. There had been a lot of talk of it being in Wales, so I looked around for a C.S.S.M. to go on to somewhere in Wales. This brought an invitation from Norman Anderson to join his party at Criccieth. So after B. B., about which I remember very little, I arrived at Criccieth a week late. (In those days C.S.S.M.s lasted a month.) Norman and I shared a downstairs room where all the gear was stored. He was in those days very intense and we talked deeply and prayed much. It was a good C.S.S.M. The Aldis (C.I.M.) family were there, and Gordon and Arnold were both workers. Derek Ross and Desmond Givan were both in the party, and David Adeney. I was regarded as the old man of the party, being just 24!! Edris Ellis led the girls' work, and with her were Pat Givan, who married Norman Anderson, Jean Strain, now Coggan, Kathleen Fison, whose brother Joe became Bishop of Salisbury, Enid Mears, who married Derek Ross, and others.

After Criccieth I joined my parents who were on holiday at Gerrard's Cross, doing a locum for Uncle George. I did a bit of swotting for Church History lectures which I was about to take on. I had also taken over first year St Mark when Sykes moved to Bristol. So I had a busy programme. Doing Church History included teaching the third year, which meant having for the first time those who had been my fellow students. This was not easy, chiefly because of the absurd idea of keeping tutors apart. Nowadays it is Christian names all round. It was much easier when that generation had left. Among those who were students in my time on the staff were Leslie Brown [Archbishop of Uganda, writer of A Liturgy for Africa, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich - DP], Leslie Fisher [at one time Home Secretary of C.M.S. - DP], Reg Bazire and other notables. C. C. Wolters, who became Provost of Newcastle, was Senior Student, but I fear now repudiates his evangelical heritage. On the whole there was a happy fellowship. [Leslie Brown told me that the lectures on Church history were not inspiring, sounding as if they were just reproducing the notes taken a couple of years before, but that Dad was the only member of the college staff that students could talk to. Dad has told how students in an end of term concert sang a song about him adapting Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore number, and including the refrain: "So stick like glue to your history / And you may all be Tutors of Divinity!" - DP]

Each vacation I was very busy, either in Tiverton, or more often further afield. In the summer of 1932, after Keswick I went to B. B. Camp at Instow, then to Seaford for a few days at the C.S.S.M. being run by Highbury men, on to be Padre of Crusader Camp at Felixstowe, and so to the last week or so of the C.S.S.M. at Criccieth where Norman Anderson, now engaged to Pat, was leading again. It was a bit of a marathon but I enjoyed it all. At Crusader Camp I gave the morning series, on the Holy Spirit. At Criccieth I spoke at the Birthday, and I also remember a garden party for parents at the Lloyd George's place. The whole Adeney family were there, Ronald still in short trousers.

From Highbury I used to visit Uncle George and Aunt Belle at Gerrard's Cross. He asked me to lead a Campaign for young people in the Easter vac of 1932. The party consisted of Norman Anderson who stayed with me at the Vicarage, Derek Ross and another lad who came each day, Edris Ellis, Jean Strain, and Joy Gersson, who I think was then at Ridgelands. She is now Mrs Bertie Berdoe. We had great times of prayer together and some wonderful discussion groups at which Norman has always excelled. Two who were converted were a brother and sister called Robinson and they both came later to Criccieth as workers. I remember Norman telling me at that time that he thought my strongest weapon was the formal type of sermon. Perhaps he was right.

I cannot write a complete story without mentioning that about this time I became deeply attached to Jean Strain. It was very much worship from afar and I first told her by letter. She was willing to come to Criccieth to lead the girls' work when I led in 1933 and I promised that nothing at all would be said. However when all was over and I told her over a cup of tea at Waterloo station that I loved her, it was a bitter blow when she said No. I returned to the attack several times later, but it was always the same. But how wonderful God's ways are! He saw to it that my affections were engaged for a period of 2 years - for I never for a moment thought of the possibility of anyone else - in order that I might be kept for the one girl in all the world who has been, and still is, the perfect ideal for me. So Romans viii. 28 [All things work together for good to them that love God] has proved to be true although at the time my misery was complete.

It was at the end of the Michaelmas Term in 1933 that I went to take a Mission at Aldridge, Staffs. It was then quite a small parish whereas now it is immense. The Rector was Mr Cooper for whom I had led the Mission in Liverpool in 1928. As there was to be a Children's Mission also, Bob Sharpe of C.S.S.M. came to help me. We had quite a good time but it was a strain, and on the second Monday I had a sort of nervous blackout in the pulpit. It was something quite new and strange to me, but no doubt it was allowed to happen for a purpose. From time to time I have had to face similar troubles, and it has kept me from getting too cock-a-whoop, which is always a temptation to anyone to whom speech comes easily.

I got through the final night somehow and when I got back to Tiverton I saw a doctor. He advised rest, so I cancelled a C.M.J. engagement to give Bible Readings at a young people's weekend. All the next term I cut out preaching: the very sight of a pulpit filled me with terror and I had completely lost confidence. No doubt psychologists would find a good reason in my disappointed hopes. Dr Gilbert was most kind, and Mrs Gilbert plied me with Sanatogen! I decided to take the Easter vac off and visit the Givans in Egypt. I think Dr Gilbert made a point of getting me a rise in salary - to 275 per annum! This was actually quite generous, considering I also had free board and lodging in term time.

Mr and Mrs Stock Givan had given me an invitation to visit them at any time so all was fixed up and I set off at the beginning of the Easter vac. I travelled by train from Calais to Genoa and spent a few days there, waiting for the Lloyd Triestino boat to Alexandria. I visited churches and picture galleries, and had a trip to the mountains which surround the city. On the voyage I shared a cabin with two German Jews. There was just one other Englishman in the steerage class, an R.A.F. officer, and we became quite friendly. We sailed on Saturday, and reached Naples on Sunday morning. I went ashore and attended the first part of Morning Prayer at the English Church. I was scared of missing the boat so thought it best to leave early and take a taxi. The following day was very rough and I was terribly seasick. In the end the doctor came and gave me an injection. I had been seasick before when crossing the Channel, but this went on and on for hours. But the storm passed, and the Tuesday and Wednesday were calm and sunny. As it was Holy Week I was reading Campbell Morgan on St John's Gospel. We arrived at Alexandria on the Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Givan met me and took me to their lovely house in the suburb of Ramleh. I was to stay there till Saturday when I was to go to Cairo. I remember seeing the sights of Alex, and a trip to Abou Kir along the coast, and a service in the English church of St Mark on Good Friday. The chaplain did ask me to preach at it, but I declined. The journey to Cairo by train was most interesting and I was fascinated by the little mud villages where conditions must have been most primitive and unhygienic. I wondered what chance the people had of ever hearing the gospel or seeing Christian love in action.

Norman Anderson met me at the station and took me to their flat near the river. Later we went to the hospital to see Pat and baby Hazel who was about a week old. I stayed with Norman for the few days that I was in Cairo that time, but he was naturally busy, and I was mostly looked after by teachers from the English Mission College (C.M.J.). But I remember a pleasant evening sailing on the Nile in a native craft and talking with Norman as in days gone by. From E. M. C. I met O. O. Postgate and Leslie Rice whom I knew from Cambridge days, Bill Todd who had worked at C.U.M., Isaac Dunbar who was then still a layman and of course A. C. Martin, the founder and head of the school. With Leslie Rice and his wife I visited mosques, churches and synagogues. Postgate and others took me to the pyramids, and the museum where we saw all the treasures of Tutankhamun's tomb. I also visited the C.M.S. hospital founded by Dr Harpur, whom I later met in Ireland. On Easter Day I preached at E. M. C. to a multiracial congregation , and had lunch at the new property at Qubbeh to which the school was to be moved. I had a sense of the greatness of the work that was going on, and I believe it really was one of the most effective pieces of missionary work anywhere in the world. It also gave valuable experience to a number of short-term missionaries, among them Joe Fison and Ken Howell, both to become Bishops. On Easter Sunday evening I went with Norman to church at Heliopolis where Bishop Gwynne preached with enthusiasm to a rather small congregation. It was probably smaller than usual because a khamsin was raging, covering everything with dust and sand.

It was probably on the Wednesday evening that I met the Givans in Cairo and accompanied them to Palestine. We crossed the Suez Canal at Kantara and then went on the line which the British had built across the desert. It was rather a thrill to wake up inthe morning and find we were at Gaza. From Ludd to Jerusalem was a slow, winding climb, when children could run along beside us keeping pace with the train. In Jerusalem we stayed at the Y.M.C.A., a very comfortable place in a good position. During our stay the Givans introduced me to the Clarkes. They were fine Christians and he was manager of Barclay's Bank. Then there were the Shelleys, very strict Brethren with rigid views on prophecy. He was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. The Couples were a delightful pair who gave up retirement to take on the work of the Soliders' Home in Jerusalem. We visited them on the Sunday evening and I spoke to the men. In the morning we had been to Christ Church where Mr Maxwell preached on the walk to Emmaus. On the steps outside I met Gwen Barton, later to become Mrs Roger Allison, who recognised me from childhood days in Tunbridge Wells. There have been few more devoted missionaries to the Jews.

Our stay in Jerusalem was all too short, but during it was managed to visit Bethlehem, Jericho and the Dead Sea (where I bathed) and to see a good deal of the Old City and Gordon's Calvary and the Garden Tomb. I had a memorable walk with Mr Givan, past Gethsemane to the summit of the Mount of Olives, and back via Mount Scopus. One evening at the Y.M.C.A. there was a lecture on the League of Nations by a professor of Beirut University, and another [evening] there was a piano recital by Arthur Rubenstein.

we set off on Monday by car to Haifa. on the way we saw Jacob's Well, and there also met Miss Burney Hall. We called at the Scottish Hospital in Nazareth and met, among others, a young doctor and his wife who had a young baby. Then on to the slopes of Mount Carmel to stay at a Pension called Karmelheim, run by German sisters. The Givans left the next day for Damascus, and I went on alone to the Lake of Galilee. I think one's first view of the Lake is breathtaking. I stayed at a German Jewish guest house, quite close to the water, and spent the first hours there sitting quietly on the shore. Next morning I went to Capernaum where are the ruins of a second century synagogue, and a Franciscan monastery beside the water. Here I bathed from a quiet private beach. Then back to Tiberias, being late for lunch because I had to walk a long way before a car came. It was very hot. For the journey back to Haifa I shared a car with three Jewish women who spoke English. Next morning I got the train from Haifa to Cairo and was glad to see the desert route by daylight this time.

I had just two nights in Cairo before I had to leave for Alexandria to catch my boat. I stayed at E. M. C., and as term was just beginning I had a good opportunity of seeing the school in action. I was given the opportunity of speaking by turns to the boys, the girls and the kindergarten. I played some tennis, and talked with Arthur Johnston about ordination. He came eventually to Highbury. E. M. C. attracted me, and I rather think Mr Martin would have liked me to go there, but there was not really an opening for another ordained man.

On the journey home we stopped at Syracuse and had a conducted tour; and again at Naples when I joined a party going to Pompeii. There were one or two missionaries on the boat, which made it interesting. I rather think I only got home just in time for the beginning of term, but I may have gone to Tiverton first - I just can't remember. I felt better for the trip and the experience has enriched my whole ministry. I got some really first rate photos. The cost was 71, which was a lot of money for those days. But I was away for practically a full month.

During the summer I felt well enough to do some preaching and was able to face the prospect of running the C.S.S.M. at Criccieth once again. But before that I had been in touch with Mr Gill of C. M. J. asking if there were any openings. He replied that there were two possibilities in Palestine, and also that Poland would soon need a new Head of Mission. That gave me plenty to pray about and I was already virtually committed to work among Jews. On my way to Keswick that year (1934) I stayed with the Crowsons at Wrekin College, where he was chaplain, and we talked about my plans. I enjoyed the stay and remember judging the diving competition, and also golf with Sydney. I preached to the school in the morning, and at All Saints, Wellington in the evening. The Headmaster, named Gordon, had been a master at Tonbridge in my time. One of the boys who came to breakfast with the Crowsons was Billy Rooke, whom I knew well later in Dublin.

At Keswick I had a talk with A. C. Martin, and as a result any doubts I had about the rightness of offering to C. M. J. were resolved. I went on to the C.S.S.M. convinced that my time at Highbury (and all the activities in the vac which went with it) was coming to an end. Between Keswick and Criccieth four of us spent a week at a farm house near Barmouth: Laurie Sheath and Berners Wilson who were going to Borth, and Norman Barlow and I who were bound for Criccieth. On the Sunday afternoon we staged an open air service on the shore and had a fair hearing.

My last C.S.S.M. as a leader was happy enough. Irene Baxendale was leader of the girls' work. I would have asked Alice Longworth-Dawes, but Jean had told me that she and the house mother, Miss Calthrop, would not pull well together. I had Derek Ross, who took over the leadership the following year, and Enid Mears who was virtually engaged to him. Derek Kidner was also a great standby. Strangely enough I cannot remember who made up the rest of the party. I was booked to lead the afternoon service at the reunion in London and to give the closing address. My nerves seemed to have settled down and I was not unduly worried.

That September I went to see Mr Gill who told me that the Committee had me in mind for Warsaw. He told me a lot about it and then said, "Are you willing to go?" I just said "Yes". I went before the General Committee later in the month and they seemed to accept me. I do not consider I was properly vetted, and I am glad that things are more thorough nowadays. [ I was not happy with my interview by the General Committee of C. M. J. The Chairman was concerned that I should not be a 'Modernist' and I assured him I took a conservative view of the Bible. Someone else asked about any prospects of marriage. Answer: 'None.' ... Someone suggested I might meet some Polish heiress, which I thought in rather bad taste. The question of salary was raised and it was clear that I should be worse off than at present, but that struck me as being quite unimportant. Anyway I was accepted, presumably because Mr Gill had filled in the gaps before I came to be interviewed. He was always a kind and good friend.] I wrote and told Dr Gilbert what was in the air. He had previously given my name to the Bishop of Uganda and I lunched with the Bishop at his club. But when he learned that I was committed to C. M. J. he did not disclose what he had in mind. At the same time the C.S.S.M. approached me again with a view to my going to India to succeed Mr Archibald, or else to take on Bryan Green's work in England. All this was exciting, but I had a sense of peace about the C. M. J. call. I met E. L. Langston at the C.S.S.M. reunion and he asked if I would go and lead a young people's Campaign in Sevenoaks. I told him I was going to Warsaw and of course he knew it well, having been General Secretary of C. M. J. He said I should need great grace to deal with a not very easy situation. Later he was our first guest in Warsaw after we were married.

The C.S.S.M. Reunion went well. I was carried through by prayer, as I faced the congregation of 2,500. I had spoken before, but that was before my nervous onslaughts. Bishop Taylor Smith was on the platform, and at the end he said, "I congratulate you; not a dull moment." Brian Morris, later Headmaster of Monkton Combe Junior School, was the other speaker. when I got back to Tiverton, my nerves began to play me up again. It may have been the strain of making the big decision about C. M. J., or it may have been the final refusal of my oft-repeated proposal (for I wrote again after being accepted by C. M. J.). Anyhow I began to face agonies, not only when preaching, but even when assisting at Holy Communion. I did not preach at all that term, even though Dr Gilbert asked me to give a farewell sermon. Of course I felt it right to tell Mr Gill, but he did not seem to take it very seriously. Fortunately I felt quite able to do the lecturing and teaching.

When I told Dr Gilbert on the first night of term that I was finally accepted and must give notice he was genuinely sorry. Mrs Gilbert had told me just before that her husband had foreseen it coming and was dreading it. I know I had not contributed much on the scholarship side, though as I developed I think my lectures were passable. But there was some value in having a young tutor who could mix with the men and to whom they could come easily to talk. I may have helped to keep some of the students on a balanced course as evangelicals. Several who were rather "lame ducks" looked to me for help. In college work one did not look for "results" of the kind one does in a parish, but steady sowing and tending of the plants does bear fruit. I was moved when one of the students, Wilfred Parsons, told me long after that he had given my lectures on St Mark to groups of prisoners of war when he was spending five years in East Germany.

The staff changed quite a bit while I was there. When Sykes left, Horan came from Canada as Vice Principal, but stayed only two terms and then went back. Irwin left to go to C.M.S. as Editorial Secretary, and Steer came, also from Canada. Guy Bevan became Vice Principal, so I had his much nicer room in Library Wing, variously known as the Cockpit or the Protestant Underworld. I introduced Jack Cobb, president of the C.I.C.C.U., to the Principal and he came on the staff. I do not think he was ever quite at home with the Prin. Finally Arthur Winnett, a brilliant student, became a student lecturer, and then after Ordination a full tutor. He and I were good friends, though we did not always agree on theology. He has since contributed much to sacred learning. Steer was also not particularly evangelical, but we were good friends, and once or twice escaped to dine together at the Bonnington Hotel.

After 5 years at Highbury it was quite a wrench to leave. I was attached to its monastic type buildings, its fellowship, its chapel services and the ordered discipline of its life. If I had been of a critical nature there would have been plenty to find fault with, but I accepted it all in good faith. We never saw the Council, and the Prin ruled with a rod of iron. It never occurred to me that tutors, let alone students, should have any say in the running of the College. Things are very different today. My leaving was marked by the presentation of a lovely camera which I used until it became too expensive in film (it was quarter plate size). In my reply I told the Hall that I went out as convinced an evangelical as I came in, but with a deeper understanding of the evangel. On the last night of term a large party of students came and sang carols outside my window. It is the sort of occasion one remembers.

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