I don’t know if it’s because I grew up on a farm but I’m a big fan of a nativity scene. I remember, as a kid, snipping fresh straw with scissors and spreading it on the floor of the miniature barn my Dad and I had made years ago, before setting up all the wooden animals.
I loved the barn’s design. It was straight out of the Little Donkey song we sang at school, with tiny fences and gates that we had made by hand, and a varnished wooden shingle roof and manger for the baby. I would rearrange the figures on a daily basis as if it was some sort of toy farm or action-figure set, much to the amusement of the rest of the family.
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Fast forward a few years and a certain nativity scene was the catalyst for the reason you never see me eat pork on Countryfile. It was about 20 Christmases ago in Germany, during my time presenting Blue Peter. As we unpacked the Blue Peter Christmas decorations, we noticed that the donkey from the nativity scene was missing! With no time to lose, I was sent to Nuremberg Christmas market – the very place that Val, John and Pete had bought the original decorations 30 years previously – to find a replacement.
On a festive assignment
Excited by my Blue Peter mission, I arrived at the most magical Christmas market you can imagine. It was everything I ever dreamed a Christmas market would be and there was food and glühwein aplenty. In fact, to be more specific, there was pork aplenty – pork sausages, pig on a spit, pork ribs, crackling and pork belly. It won’t surprise you to hear that by the evening, I’d eaten a lot of pig products, all washed down with various drinks.
I went to bed and, at about 2am, I realised something wasn’t quite right. Thankfully, my wife Nicola was with me, as she is a big fan of Christmas and desperately wanted to see the German Christmas market for herself.
I said, “I’m just going to the loo, I won’t be long” – and that’s the last thing I remember. I passed out on the bathroom floor and came round being resuscitated by Nicola. I had gone into a kind of anaphylactic shock. It transpires that this reaction is a common family condition, where our bodies cannot digest pork fat.
To cut an eventful story short, the next day I gingerly scoured the festive market (avoiding any pork contact) to get the replacement donkey and returned triumphant. Mission accomplished! But from that day on, I have never been able to sample as much as a chipolata without having a hideous reaction. So spare a thought for me as you tuck into your pigs in blankets this Christmas.