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).

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.