Advent Song for December 16: Carol of the Birds

This is another song I never would have heard if it hadn’t been for 2012’s Christmas Songs from Around the World. I loved it the first time around, and I love it even more now that I’ve visited Australia (though not at Christmas; something I would like to rectify one day). There are lots of awesome things about Australia, but the most awesome of all – I use the word in both its original and more usual sense – is the wildlife, and, neatly, I can pair this beautiful carol with the good news that a solar-powered sound system, installed on Broughton Island, New South Wales and playing recordings of birdsong, has successfully lured breeding sea birds there to nest, including a petrel until recently thought to be extinct. And that’s pretty awesome too.

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 13: I get knocked down, but I get up again

…but maybe not just yet. I am amazed and inspired by the people who, mere hours after the worst possible election outcome, are already planning and campaigning for what’s next. I will get back up again, but as of today I’m officially ignoring the real world and retreating into two weeks of friends, family and food, ready to face 2020 with a new vision (see what I did there) and resolution (and again).

And music, of course. Most of the year I don’t really listen to music, because I can’t do that and something else at the same time and there’s almost always something else to be doing. (It’s why I like film scores and soundtracks so much, because you can listen to them and watch a film at the same time.) But at Christmas I am all about the music. This morning my brother Will sent the siblings a Spotify link to an album of the carols we used to listen to when we were small, and I have shut out the worst of today by being transported back to the nineteen eighties (which has happened in more ways than one, I suppose). So I’m going to swap today’s planned song with one I had earmarked for next week and bring you back in time with me to 1982 and the original (Peter Auty, not Aled Jones) version of Walking In The Air. It’s not exactly happy, given how The Snowman ends, but it makes ME happy, so it still counts.

Advent Song for December 12: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die

Yes, you’re quite right; that’s an actual quote from the actual Bible (Isiah 22:13). I will be exercising my democratic right later this evening, after which I will go to bed with a Christmas ghost story and ignore everything until tomorrow. Who was it who said that happiness is a journey, not a destination? Whoever it was, they were right, and if Christmas isn’t a reminder that even when things that are at their coldest and darkest we can still eat and sing and love each other then I don’t know what is. Tomorrow might be awful (I hold out hopes that it won’t be, but having deliberately skipped most of the election coverage I don’t feel qualified to pronounce beyond that), but today there is still mulled wine and the best bad Christmas song ever, the Darkness’s Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End).

(An aside on voting: I was undecided when the election was announced, having flitted between Labour and Green over the last few years without ever having been quite satisfied with either. But the climate crisis has convinced me to vote Labour –  in my safe Labour seat – on the basis that unless we stop Brexit we won’t have enough time or money left to fight climate change in time to avoid its most catastophic effects, which means that the responsible thing to do is whatever it takes to prevent a Tory majority – which, in my case, means voting red. So that’s what I’ll be doing, even though I think my MP is pretty awful.)

To the good news! You already know this,  but I can’t not include Greta Thunberg being named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019,  which is just the most visible sign (today) of a generation of young people, women and girls especially, who care enough about things to stand up and be counted (and care about tomorrow, even when some of the rest of us are trying not to think about it). The kids, at least, are alright.

Advent Song for December 11: Winter Wonderland

I’ve got two versions of this song for you today, because the Bing Crosby below is the perky, lilting version we all know but there’s a gorgeous version by Doris Day, with an equally gorgeous video, which only doesn’t win out because it’s a little too slow to be truly uplifting. So take your pick.

I’ve also got two pieces of good news for you! The first is that despite a cold, three nights of eating and drinking, Scottish-style, followed by an evening out with internet weirdos last night, I am feeling almost as jaunty as Bing today, for reasons which remain unclear but I’m taking advantage of it by getting a lot of work done (except for just now).

The second, probably of more value in the long term, is that 2019 is set to see the biggest ever reduction in coal consumption.

Advent Song for December 10: Boas Festas

One of the nicest things about eleven years of advent music has been discovering songs I’d never heard before and growing to love them just as much as I do the trusted and reliable classics. Boas Festas is a Brazilian song from 1933 which I found the year of Christmas Songs From Around The World and which is now firmly on my Christmas rotation because it’s so jaunty. In my sample of two this morning, nobody failed to start dancing to it when I played it.

It’s only fitting, then, that today’s not of good news should also come from Brazil, where there hasn’t been much good news recently, but this plan by Brazilian state leaders to partner with France to save sections of the Amazon rainforest is, at least, a sign of something hopeful. Perhaps this is the week that Bolsonaro, Trump and Johnson are all toppled. Let’s at least allow ourselves to entertain the delicious possibility, shan’t we?

Advent Song for December 9: Driving Home For Christmas

Coincidentally we are on our way to R’s ancestral home, though we’re on a train and it’s for a birthday, so it’s not an exact match for today’s song. We’re speeding our way through a whirlwind of Caledonia-based family and friends and getting a go at the Christmas markets while we’re at it, and although it’s minus one hundred and twenty degrees outside it’s all very twinkly and lovely. And tonight we’re staying at a hotel on a golf course! Although last night’s hotel gave us free mulled wine and mince pies, so it’ll have to outdo itself in more ways than one to measure up.

This is a ridiculous song but it’s one of my favourites, mainly because I like doing the voice (I’m better at it after a glass of mulled wine).

Today’s good news is a bit unusual because it’s not the kind of thing you get as an “and finally” on the news, but I read it in the small hours of this morning (all these Christmas parties are throwing me off-kilter, sleepwise) courtesy of my friend Jonathan, who shared it on Twitter, and – as I said to him – it’s SUCH an extraordinary relief to find that in the morass of uninformed and bad-faith opinions on the Labour party and antisemitism, there are people who think and feel the same way I do and are able to articulate it (which, despite trying, I haven’t really been). So do me a favour and read this article and don’t let’s speak again until you have. I’ll even let you skip the Chris Rea.

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 7: Mary’s Boy Child

As you will know if you have been following my advent calendar since it started ELEVEN YEARS ago, I like to reserve Saturday for party songs, and there are none more party than Boney M’s 1978 disco classic. Did you further know (I did, but had forgotten until today) that Bobby Farrell didn’t sing any of this, but danced and mimed along to Frank Farian singing? Apparently you could get away with that in 1978, though not for long, as Black Box and Milli Vanilli were subsequently to demonstrate.

I have a third fact for you, which is that Bobby Farrell died on 30 December 2010 in St Petersburg, the same city where Ra-Ra-Rasputin died on the same date a mere ninety-four years earlier? I know, SPOOKY.

Talking of Boy Children, today’s good news story was pointed out to me yesterday evening by my auntie Jane as we waited to cross the road at Cambridge Circus, and we all collectively ahhhh-ed in the street, so I thought I’d share it with you too, in case you missed it.