Advent windows of Greenwich, part 3

My final set of photos includes a particularly bad snap of window number 17 at 32 Hyde Vale, which was one of my favourites but those houses are so grand and their front gardens so expansive that I couldn’t get close enough for a good shot. You might just have time to get along there yourself before the end of the day, but if not you’ll have to take my word for its being one of the best of all. (You could, of course, also go and look at the official photos on adventwindows.com.)

I don’t have time to go for a walk today because we have to squeeze in all the Christmas TV we haven’t caught up on yet, and finish all the Christmas food. Tomorrow, though, in a belated “new year, new you” bid, I am going for a swim at Charlton lido. Wish me luck.

Advent windows of Greenwich, part 2

I have a cast-iron excuse not to go for a walk today, because I am awaiting the arrival of a dog (only for the afternoon; in this case a dog is just for Christmas, not for life). In the meantime I am vaguely contemplating taking the tree down before it gives up the ghost completely and all the ornaments fall off, but I think I can eke it out until Monday, which is the day before I go back to work and therefore the proper day to take the decorations down and fill the house instead with early spring flowers – a tip I got from Richard Madeley, of course.

So today I think I’ll use up the Christmas cheeses on a Hawksmoor-recipe macaroni cheese (I have experimented with various recipes and this one is the best, although I will be using different cheeses from theirs and a mix of semi-skimmed milk and double cream rather than full-fat milk, because I have some of both to use up and it’s Christmas so everything should have double cream in it) and catch up on the TV Christmas Specials I have missed. If you don’t have anything more pressing, I suggest you do the same, but either way it’ll take you mere moments to enjoy advent windows 9-16, with apologies for the peculiar angle of day 10, which I couldn’t get closer to because an angry man was parked in front of it.

Advent windows of Greenwich, part 1

I was planning a new year’s day walk, but it’s just started to rain and there’s something on ITV called “Britain’s Favourite Walks” so I have decided that watching that, while writing this, also counts. I walked a lot in December; partly to try to regain some basic fitness after Covid left me unable to walk up a flight of stairs without getting breathless, and partly because every year St Alfege Church in Greenwich organises a series of advent windows, where a combination of residents, schools and businesses around the parish each decorate an outdoor window on their premises, with a new one “opening” each day from December 1 to 24, and I’ve meant to go every Christmas that we’ve lived in Greenwich and never gotten around to it until now.

My photos don’t do justice to all of the entries, but you’ll get the idea – and during a Christmas when we couldn’t meet up with other people or go to carol services or gather in the market with mulled wine and mince pies, it was a good way to feel a part of something communal, especially when I arrived at a window at the same time as someone else and we’d do the social-distancing dance.

If you are local you still just about have time to do the trail yourself, because the decorations will stay up until Sunday 3rd, but if like me you’re happy to stay warm and indoors and look at the evidence of someone else’s walk, here are days 1-8 of the windows, with the rest to follow in two more parts (probably over the weekend, but I don’t like to over-promise).

Advent Song for December 15: It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

This is just a lovely warm hug of a song. And Perry Como = Christmas anyway, because they used his recording of Magic Moments in a Quality Street advert and Quality Street are the main type of Christmas chocolate, or at least they were until Nestlé bought them. Let’s not talk about the world of chocolate mergers and acquisitions; it’s liable to make me riled, which is the opposite of what this advent calendar is for. Did you know Magic Moments is a Burt Bacharach/Hal David number? I didn’t, and I’m still not quite sure I believe it, but it is apparently so.

Did you go to a Christmas party this weekend? I didn’t; I spent Friday night watching The Apprentice with the dog and Saturday night watching the Strictly final with my family (and the dog). (Karim was robbed.) But if you are a partygoing sort of person you will know that Christmas party outfits are the kind you buy and then wear at best three times before stuffing them back into the cupboard for next year, which is why it is excellent news that the Stockholm branch of H&M is trialling a clothes rental service this Christmas, so you pay a subscription, borrow what you need and then give it back so the next person can do the same, thus saving money, waste and another little bit of the planet. It would be Stockholm, wouldn’t it? Shall we all move to Scandinavia?

Advent Song for December 14: Step Into Christmas

I said yesterday that I don’t listen to much music, which is true but it means that when I have a few days of listening to something obsessively, which I do do, it always ends up as that year’s top song on my Spotify history. The only song to have topped the list in multiple years is ABBA’s My Love, My Life, which I snobbishly lost interest in slightly after it featured in Mamma Mia 2 (which I haven’t seen) but it is an incredible song and you should listen to it today if you don’t know it.

This year that slot is occupied by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which I listened to over and over again after it was used to dazzling effect in the opening credits sequence for Rocketman, the part-biopic, part-musical-fantasy version of Elton’s life which came out earlier this year. I should admit that I was also a bit obsessed with the film; an obsession which petered out a little after I read his autobiography (also this year; the Elton John publicity machine has excelled itself promoting his goodbye tour which yes, I am also going to) and discovered his actual life was quite a lot funnier and more interesting than the movie (but you should still see the movie).

Anyway this isn’t one of my absolute favourite Christmas singles, although the interlude at 1:57 is glorious, but I do love the video, so today you must watch as well as listen, please. (Nothing in particular happens; it’s just Elton doing Elton.)

Today’s good news should serve as a reminder, among other things, that everything going to shit here doesn’t mean everything going to shit everywhere. In Mexico, some of the poorest families in the state of Tabasco are starting to move into flood-resistant 3D-printed houses which can be built for $4000 in 48 hours. Back when I thought I might be interested in academic research in the future of housing on a planet with reducing resources and an increasing population, I don’t think I’d have ever imagined this as a possibility. (In the event, I got a job in a bookshop instead.)

Advent Song for December 8: Let It Snow

And Sunday is always for crooners, and there’s none more croony than Dean Martin. Excuse the lateness and brevity of this post; we were first-night-of-the-holidays drinking last night (whisky for the boys and prosecco for the girls, true story, so I’ll have to hand in my sisterhood card in just for this week) with OVERLY HOSPITABLE friends in Glasgow. Isn’t Glasgow the best place? I might like it even more than I like Manchester. That’s not my good news story, though; and the doggy ballgown at a bargainous £40K that I’ve spent quite a lot of this morning thinking about isn’t it either. Instead it’s this news that an initial trial has indicated that a new drug could potentially reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s on the brain. That really would be good news, wouldn’t it?

Advent song for December 5: Gaudete

Today I’m starting with the good news, because it’s the most important bit: last night I went on an outing with my “Acting For Beginners” class to see Little Miss Burden at the Bunker Theatre on Southwark Street, which we mainly chose because it’s conveniently located, the tickets were affordable and they could seat us all. But I’m so glad we picked it because it’s one of the most thrilling, hilarious, heartbreaking and beautiful pieces of theatre I can remember seeing: gorgeously written, produced and performed and just an all-round treat. It runs until December 21 and if you are in London between now and then YOU HAVE TO GO.

Rejoice, rejoice, as Steeleye Span would say. I went to see them about five years ago and they are still dazzling, but although there are live performances of their a capella Christmas classic available on YouTube, nothing quite matches the icy perfection of the original 1972 recording.

The Royal Ceil

Quick! There are only ten days left to see the ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich up close before they take the scaffolding down and you won’t be able to get near to it for another hundred years, by which time your knees will probably be too tired to make the climb.

The scaffolding is there to facilitate a restoration which has been going on since 2016, which is also how long I’ve been living up the road, so of course I left it until it was almost too late to go and have a look. But I’m so glad I did! Completed under the direction of James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726, the Painted Hall was once the dining room of the Royal Hospital For Seamen, which went up in 1694, was designed by Hawksmoor AND Wren, and was (the name notwithstanding) a retirement home for old and poorly sailors. Its vast interior mural covers all of the ceiling and most of the walls, and features a festival of scenes from mythology, history and allegory, all of which are intended to be seen from 100ft away, rather than up close, which is exactly what makes a visit so interesting, because you (well, I) expect eighteenth-century paintings to be perfect, the toil and sweat involved in their creation to be hidden behind a glassily flawless finish, but here, because they knew that nobody would be looking too closely (surprise!), the artists employ an impressionistic approach, hinting at details rather than perfecting them, and using broad brush strokes which you can see perfectly plainly. And the fact of having to crane one’s neck at odd angles to begin to even see some of the scenes depicted brings a painful awareness of the extraordinary amount of effort that must have gone into painting them.

I took A LOT of photos but the below is just a selection and doesn’t even begin to convey the experience of actually being there. If you are in or close to London you must go immediately before it closes on September 30th. And if you can’t make it, the hall will reopen next year once the rest of the renovations are complete, with the most exciting part of that work being the opening up of the undercroft, which was also designed by Hawksmoor AND Wren and which nobody has seen since it was closed up a hundred years ago. Isn’t that exciting? Although also a bit scary, because there is almost certainly a becurséd creature sleeping down there and they are about to wake it up.

Advent Carol for December 11: I Saw A Maiden

I’m sorry this so late, but it’s been a busy day: I’ve

(wait for it)

…been to Hull and back.

(True story!)

Anyway, I Saw A Maiden, also known as Lullay Myn Lykyng (and isn’t that a better name?) started life as a middle English poem, the text of which (you can find the original in the British Library) was written in the fifteenth century, making it our oldest carol so far, although the music is from later. It is, as you will have discerned, a lullaby, but this time it’s about Mary singing to Jesus, so we needn’t be harrowed at the hands of any massacres this evening. Good.

I can’t find a video for this song, so you’ll have to be content with a Spotify link and this picture of the Humber Bridge, which isn’t taken by me because my picture of the Humber Bridge was rubbish.

The Humber Bridge

On being a cycling anti-cyclist

A sponsor-free Boris bike

I am rude about cyclists. I’m not rude to them – that would be rude – but when they sail through red lights when I’m at a pedestrian crossing, or cycle into me on the pavement, or ignore the existence of one-way systems, I mutter grumpily after their retreating backs and then retire to the internet to post mean-spirited anti-cyclist jibes.

So I’m as surprised as you are to discover that since starting a job that’s just too far away to walk to on days when I struggle to get out of bed (which is to say, all the days), I have found myself travelling to work by bike. Even more unexpectedly, I’m using Boris bikes, which should really be named after Ken, whose idea they were, and which are ridden not by the arrogant, hands-free, fuck-you cyclist who commits the above sins, but by a breed almost as bad: the wobbly, incompetent part-timer who weaves down the middle of the road and/or pavement, blissfully unaware of distractions like cars, and other people.

As it happens, wobbly and incompetent is an accurate description of my skills in all sorts of areas, and it’s certainly how I’d have described my cycling ability until recently, but an amazing thing has happened: in a very short time, I have become someone who swoops and zooms my way around the back streets of London, gaily clad in a silver helmet and garish neon yellow tabard, attracting the killer glares of white van drivers everywhere I go.

And I’ve realised that some of the dick-moves that cyclists pull aren’t quite the dick-moves they seem. I don’t run red lights, but I do sometimes fail to stop at zebra crossings, because when you are cycling on rush-hour streets you are using all your conscious thinking on staying upright and alive, and so you start to edit out things which aren’t a potential danger, and that sometimes includes people waiting to cross the road. I don’t do it often, and when I do I stop hard if I can, or wail out an apology if I can’t, but it happens.

And when I’m waiting at a junction and the light goes green and someone looks like they want to cross the road, I don’t sit and wait for them to do it, but that’s because those few seconds where you can get away ahead of the cars angrily revving their engines behind you are the safest time to negotiate a busy road, and if you wait the cars start beeping their horns at you, even though they wouldn’t have gotten away any faster, being cars. So you evade the rage by dashing off just as soon as you can.

And those times when you’re crossing the road and a cyclist seems to be trying to hit you? They’re not trying to hit you. They’re trying not to hit you, because you are crossing the road at an unexpected place and you can’t hear them and you didn’t look for them and the reason they’ve swerved around you at speed is because their alternative was to knock you over, which would be about as unpleasant for them as it would for you.

So I have had to grown-up-ly remind myself that I don’t have automatic right of way just by virtue of being me (my journey is more important than anyone else’s, the unconscious thinking goes, so I should automatically get to go first), that people pulling dick-moves might just be trying to stay upright and alive, and that the world turns more smoothly when we all try being a little bit nicer to one another.

I’m still going to mutter grumpily after the retreating backs of cyclists who run red lights, obviously, but now I’ll do it in a self-righteous “you’re giving us all a bad reputation” kind of a way, which might be even more fun.