Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

It's finally here. The Big Day. The 25th. Christmas. Shame I still have a pile of wrapping to do...

This is the last one. Not quite at the top of the tree but as near as a strapping nephew or two could get it. Far enough off the ground to have to use the zoom on my phone, thus rendering it almost impossible to make out on the pic!

 Is it a cheat to finish on a flurry of stars? I don't think that's the technical term for a group of stars. Is it an asteroid? Maybe it's a solar system. It's just too darn late for that sort of general knowledge. But funny really when you think that baby born under that famous star was sposed to have been there when the stars were born too. It's a pretty bananas concept.  

R and I somehow managed a eucharistic moment when we did the last star last year. Maybe we'll manage that when we take these ones down. Twelfth Night outing anyone??

Monday, 24 December 2012

Lille Julaften

It's 1.06am now so I guess technically not Lille Julaften (Little Christmas Eve) any more... but it was nice while it lasted. K got a bit confused with the Danish references to the day before Christmas Eve all day and as he climbed the stairs tonight asked 'Is Santa coming tonight??'. 

 Another two carol concerts in 24 hours. One in the church with rather dangerous candles and unwilling children not performing when they should have. And one yesterday in a pub with a Sally Army band which was only slightly off perfect when I was ushered to the front by over keen (and somewhat drunken) relatives to sing a solo. I think the church should get out more and have maybe 50% of their services in a pub. Definitely going to try to do a carol concert in the local hostelry next year. Love it.

 Last night's was made even better by the picturesque village pub location, the fact that it's exactly at the bottom of the drive of the place we were staying, and by the fact it enabled me to see my nephew, who seems impossibly grown up all of a sudden, serving behind the bar!!

But back to tonight - here's (top) last night's loner by R - there's less wind tonight so you can actually see what it looks like.

Then (middle) tonight's Lone Star ... or is that Lone Ranger? And (bottom of the three) tonight's. Yes, spot the deliberate error? Well, I made the boxy one ages ago but we hadn't used it and by tonight when there should be 23 on the tree there are only 21.. so we thought an extra one tonight wouldn't hurt. Might do several tomorrow. We're not bound by rules and advent regulations, us!

I got a message from friends in Glasgow about similar starry sabotage going off in their neighbourhood. Another friend in Wales thinks she might do something next year. The Willow Wanderer just needs to figure out crocheted stars and we all might somehow be spreading seasonal lurve and beautiful things further and wider than any of us hoped. Ye hay!

And from the nuts and bolts (right) to the very nearly finished version (below) ... it's looking rather lovely even if I do say so myself!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

No 22 all alone

Another retrospective blog I am afriad to say.. tonight we might get back up to speed....

L away. R here alone.

Very wet, very windy and very lonely! 
I waited late to see if the rain would stop - it didn`t! 
I wondered if the wind would subside - hardly!  

On my lonesome I arrived to the horrific sounds of animals at each others' throats.
Piercing yelps of despair. 
No one around to share the concern. Not even flat cap man on the corner.

So I peruse a modest perch for tonight's star with voices in my ears of warnings not to go too high.
With an eye over my shoulder for the killer wolf down the cobbled alley,
I'm feeling sad to be so close to the end. 

Where does the time go?

At least the rain is a familiar friend. 

Night night!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Communal star

Last night, R and I were accompanied by 4 other adults, 4 teenagers and a baby. A communal moment after a night of feasting and singing and laughing. A little bit scary when some one else's teenage son is suddenly the one climbing the rather flimsy railings around the tree to hang the star. But his mum was egging him on so I thought at least she would take the responsibility if he ended up in Homerton's A&E department. If it still exists. 

And tonight I have abandoned R to do it alone. Christmas family visiting calls and we will be singing carols in a pub in Whitchurch on Thames by the time she's going out. Maybe this is the night when at last the Turkish corner shop man will be co-opted?


Friday, 21 December 2012

Angel of Hackney

I can't get a good picture of it. It's enjoying it's new found freedom and embracing its liberation from static milk carton to swinging dancing sign of Life. The blurry one is shown to the four that have hung it (another scary wobbly-combo-hanging, this time involving a leg up and grappling with the extremely thin railings around the bottom of the tree) and I say 'It looks like an angel'.. 'Angel of Hackney' R responds doing her best Bono impression.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Wanted: tall people

 So, we got ourselves a tall(ish) person. And now we have our lovely 19th star in place near(ish) the top of the tree. It was a bit on the scary side to be honest. It's quite a narrow trunk so the ladder sits against it, touching it only in the middle of the top rung. It makes for a pretty precarious contraption. R and me were hanging on to the bottom of it for dear life as A got nearer and neaerer the top. He not only stood on the top rung to get it as high as possible but he hung around for ages, arranging it properly so it would hang and swing just so...

Bit too far away for my phone to get a decent pic though!

Feel pretty sure someone must be taking them down periodically. Only 15 up there again tonight. Either that or they're swimming around in the gutter somewhere. Probably better if someone's actually enjoying them!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

School concert time of year

I went to two school carol concerts today. I will go to another two tomorrow. With the special UNICEF one they did in early December that's five. And I only have three children in the school. But I have to say I do love it. Today did not disappoint. Everything you could ever wish for in a school carol concert. My eldest will be at secondary school next Christmas and it feels like the beginning of the end of an era. I am rather ashamed to admit I made some notes to capture it:

There's a fight breaking out in the front row of the year 1 rendition of Oh Christmas Tree. Maybe over zealous actions making out the shape of the tree caught someone's eye? In the next (my least favourite song though all the children seem to love it) the autistic boy in class is sitting in his Santa hat on the edge of the stage, a little way off from the fray. His Key Worker is holding his hands to help him sign the Christmas word, smiling and bouncing his arms to the rhythm. Kids are falling off the stage. Some (including mine I notice) are playing with the leads to the mikes. There's a great poem starting with 10 little snowmen, making it an mathematical lesson as well as a seasonal song. A tough looking boy with a broad East End accent, complete with crew cut, Nike trainers and a chunky Pringle Christmas cardigan, finishes it off: "Then there was NONE!" Wouldn't want to mess with him.

The wonderful headscarved teacher is leading her flock, singing "I love thee lord Jesus" with gusto. A girl, she must only be 6 or 7, steps up boldly to the mike and belts out a slightly off key solo. Actually that's generous. Well off key would be more accurate. There are microphones hitting the deck.
25 violins! 25!! Sounding fabulous. What's the collective noun for violins? And since when did my kids' school grow so many violin players? A dozen brass instruments playing something approximating My Favourite Things. They are cheered for the sheer enthusiasm of their teacher and exuberance of their performance. Makes me pretty glad to have a violin learner at home. And finally, of course, the tear-jerking, hand -waving finale about friendship across cultural divides. "Lift your banners high for justice and for peace. Lift your banners high; may our friendship never cease." Is this gut wrenching schmultz of the tackiest variety or our true calling on this planet; the very stuff of life?? For me it's definitely the latter.

I can only hope that tomorrow's concert offers even half the entertainment!

But that's all a bit of a distraction from the tree and the star and the Advent Adventure. Here's no. 18... we seem to still be missing one or two, but can't really work out which ones. Several people stopped tonight to say how great it looked. One guy rolled down the window of his car: "This is absolutely beautiful" he said. "This is the kind of thing which makes living round here so great".. Yehay!! I told him that next year he should think of something beautitful to do too!

Ah, school carol concerts, advent-y street art... I wish it could be Christmas every day.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A bit of rejigging

The stars keep falling off. I think it's mainly mine. R has got a better technique for wiring them up and making them stay on the branches! But they are getting very blown about. I find it very tricky to capture them properly in the photos becuase they're swinging around so madly. This one doesn't really do it justice. Another great creation from R! And several have blown off. The street sweeper obviously never thinks to hook it back on the wire cage around the trunk of the tree. I wonder if he takes them home to put on his tree? Now there's a thought! Anyway, we did a bit of re-hanging tonight to replace ones that have flown the nest, adventuring on into a new life somewhere.

That's it really. Bed calls. I don't think I've been to bed before 1am for about a month!

But the tree is looking lovely...

Monday, 17 December 2012

Nativity time of year

It was our church's nativity service this morning. I am always amazed by it. Amazed that it comes together so well with such a dearth of rehearsal. Amazed I learn something new though I've heard it a hundred times before. Amazed that it somehow moves me though, to be honest, it's a bit of a riot, our nativity service! This morning was no exception: A grumpy King beacuse he'd not been allowed to bring his PSP to church; a small shepherd definitely not wanting to give his toy lamb to Jesus (aka his sister); a scary moment when the stable was revealed and it looked like we might not have either a Mary or a Joseph (I hear that in some churches kids will kill for these roles) and a slightly wobbly home made time machine whose buttons kept falling off. Complete with Dr Who music, a fake Jesus (as well as an alive one - female as it happens) and a visitor who ended up playign in the band our nativity was nothing short of miraculous.

And of course the joy of using a real baby as Jesus (even if she's a bit beyond the 'meek and mild' stage and spent a lot of the time eating her tinsel halo) is that the whole cast of the nativity naturally gravitate towards them. Preening and poking, cooing and clucking. The little ones just as interested (if not more so) as the big ones. As the Johnny-come-lately Mary I was nearly suffocated as kings, shepherds, elves, a camel and Dr What crowded in to catch her eye, play peek a boo and generally do what everyone in that stable long ago would have done. The poor narrator could hardly tear them away back into the Time Machine back to present day Hackney. And in the midst of it all, me, looking ridiculous in a 50 year old Mary outfit, trying to hide the tears pricking my eyes! Maybe there'll be some pics later...

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bit of a late one

N was out again tonight. So when I got the call at 11.15pm he still wasn't back. It was not until the wee hours that we managed to get out but nevertheless when I found R waiting in the car she was rooting through her button box for some adornment for some homemade Christmas present or other. My homemade jobs got a bit shifted by other things today: finding an outfit for E to wear to her debut piano concert tomorrow; printing our Christmas cards; cleaning the lounge windows so we could put up the kids' snowflakes; three loads of laundry; overseeing homework; watching Polar Express. Still, there's always tomorrow.  Mind you tomorrow's a bit full of Nativities and piano concerts!  

Willow Wanderer posted the results of her recent yarn bombing today. I never know where such crafty ladeez fit in so much crafty stuff into their lives which surely are just as full to bursting as mine... Looks lovely though. Maybe we need to do some advent crocheting next year?? Anyone up for it?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Unvisited tombs

I was sent a Christmas letter today at work. At the end the person quoted George Eliot (Middlemarch) who was making the point that the good of the world increases in part thanks "to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs". It's been with me all day. We're all treading this earth, and leaving our marks. Small and big. The marks have significance to either a greater or lesser extent. But I guess it's difficult to know what marks will survive. And what their significance might come to be. Salutory to remember that almost all of us will end up in unvisited tombs. But it feels too late for a deep treatise tonight. 

The star is very Flash Gordon (creative inspiration definitely back with R at least!) and that should be enough for one evening!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Over half way there...

We were accompanied tonight by one of the crafty ladeez following an extremely pleasing evening making tin can lanterns (don't they look beautiful  - below). She looked a bit worried when R got the ladder out of the car and even more so when she tried to climb it to pull down one of the highest branches. Those two glasses of mulled wine weren't mixing well with either the height or the general shakiness of the ladder. R had to descend she was laughing so much! I also wonder whether all our creative juices had been used up tonight on the lanterns. This one looks remarkably similar to one a few nights ago. I think we need a bit of design inspiration for the next 12 stars. 

Another neighbour stopped us tonight. He lives just next to the tree. 'It's great that you're doing this' he said. It may not be quite as adrenalin pumping as the spraying last year but it's certainly nice to have such lovely comments.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Loveliness and nastiness on Hackney streets

Here's last night's giant and tonight's smaller cousin.

R was in her pyjamas tonight. And we got several comments from passersby. Maybe because of the pyjamas? Maybe because it was a bit earlier than usual.  The girls from the Deli wondered if people had written 'advent hopes' on the stars (nice idea: bank it for next year). I am glad they like it as they're in about the best position to take them all down if they don't! The second couple loved it too - and as she walked away she said 'thanks!' in a way you could tell she really appreciated what we were up to. So nice. Just lovely to add a little Advent cheer to people's busyness and every day stuff. Lovely to feel that they might love their neighbourhood a little bit more because of it.

Then I get home and find N outside on the street with a couple of girls. One of them has just been mugged. Right outside our house, before it's even 10.30pm. He came out because he heard her screaming. The guy hit her in the face repeatedly. Someone called the police for her. N took out a bag of frozen peas for the bruises. I wonder if the contrast of life on the streets is quite so marked anywhere else in the UK? Mmm, I guess Belfast is doing a pretty good job at contending that one.

Oops no star

I bailed out. Needed a bath. The freezing fog was too freezing. I was knee deep in Nisemen hats. So many excuses. Lucky R is generally more resilient and she reliably hung a star. Or so I believe. Yet to see photographic evidence. Maybe next year we need a tree cam?!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Disappearing Advent

Where does the time go in Advent? Why is my life so full that I feel like I fall from one thing to another? Where do the evenings go? I had so much to do tonight. Booking panto tickets, bit of shopping online to get all the stuff Westfield couldn't deliver, making the things I've promised myself I would make for the kids' Christmas presents, trying out the next Crafty Ladeez* project and that's even before the Christmas card/letter job or sending parcels off to far flung friends task. Yikes. Haven't managed any of it.

I think the stress of a disappearing Advent can only have been compounded by a morning in Westfield. It doesn't help in the promotion of any sense of spiritual waiting or longing and certainly merely contributes to that general sense of unease of this time of year... why, exactly, are we doing all this? At moments like this (contemplating just how much is OK to spend on crackers, for instance) I do feel very grateful for at least having a faith and a 'reason for the season' (as they would say in those cheesy evangelical Christmas adverts). I can go with the feasting celebration thing more easily, I think, with the bigger story as a backdrop. I think without it I would soon find myself going down the Scrooge path.

So, tonight the star and the musings feel like just one more flippin' thing to fit in. But it's quite nice to get it off my chest. Is 23.57pm too late to get the sewing machine out?

Not sure the mushroom stick has ever been so well used...

*Crafty Ladeez is a monthly gathering of Clapton women who want to make things. Trendy wool-wrapped wreaths last time, tin can lanterns next time. Coming to a blog near you soooooon. When I get the time.... In the mean time, come along if you're in the 'hood.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Missing: two stars

The buzz of seeing the beautiful starry tree in the daylight with the festive backdrop of the Christmassey Chatsworth Road Market was somewhat marred by the dawning realisation that two stars were missing... The two that I put up on my own over the weekend when R was enjoying a weekend out of the Big Smoke. What sort of Advent Adventurer am I that can't even get the stars to stay in the tree?

So tonight was a bit of a restoration evening and a ladder enabled some more precision placing and untangling to be done too. It's looking lovely, even if I do say so myself.

As we chatted about this and that (shame that one of the many coffee shops, that have sprung up on the street since last year, is not open at 10ish every night. They would be making good trade out of me and R at least!) and then we spotted the picture. It is the sort someone would have to pay you to take away from a jumble sale, but here it is with pride of place on a random wall just next to our lovely tree. I am quite excited - perhaps it's one of many dotted around the streets? Perhaps it's another advent venture? Anyone know anything about it?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Dancing the night away

Being deserted by my partner in adventuring meant that tonight I was accompanied by the lovely Mary, and by Mini Mac One and Mini Mac Two. Mary brought the stool, but it was the Mini Macs who helped actually install the star so that the extra height of the stool was not exactly capitalized on. 

Lots of nice friendly affirmative comments from passersby today. Probably because it was a bit earlier than usual. I was complaining that I couldn't capture the recent addition with a decent photograph because of the wind. It took the 8 year old to suggest I took a video of it. Brilliant boy! (and what an old, old mother I must be not to think of that option myself!). 


Then Neil and I went out, leaving Mary in charge, for a 10th anniversary party. The band, Los Musicos, provided a fabulous repetoire and we had a good old boogie. Mixing up the ceroc, salsa and lindy hop we've learnt over the years seemed to work very well and, like the 8th star, we danced the night away. (Really good to have the Round Chapel once again decked out by the Willow Wanderer too).

Friday, 7 December 2012

More weather

Bitterly cold still; windy and rainy. What a lovely December it is so far. Mind you in the middle of a (might as well be) subterranean shopping experience at Westfield today (first time in about 25 years I've been properly shopping with mum!) I did suddenly notice some rather gorgeous blue skies. But all that disappeared with the equally gorgeous sunset this evening and hence the star was once more unceremoniously dumped on a low branch as quick as possible. You can see from the picture that the stars are being well tested for stickability and swing factor!


So cold, so windy, so rainy. So just a quick burst last night - out to put the star up and back without any chit chat too much. One of the stars had fallen off but was still lying in the gutter. R had driven so had the step ladder which at least allowed us gain a bit more height but felt a little dangerous in the prevailing wind! Here she is readjusting a few that had caught in the branches. Not sure Numero Seis is even shown here - will have to wait till later tonight for a better pic.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Appealing stars

Last year the question was always, where shall we spray it? This year it's more 'what shall it look like'. It feels nice for it to be a creative process in that way. Especially for me as work proved today to be a perfect supplier of milk cartons! Though R had a little help from her friends last night, and therefore in theory had a bit more 'height' on offer (thanks Simon) the galaxy of 5 still seem to be sitting pretty much all at one level on the tree. I think it may be time for another device. Or a chair or something. I keep wondering whether the Turkish guy from the corner shop across the road is going to offer to help us one night - this would be a perfect opener for us to borrow his step ladder rather than traipse it up Chatsworth Road every night - but so far he's wandered out, had a look, taken a few puffs on his cigarette, adjusted his woolly hat and retreated inside his conveniently warm store without making any move.

The fifth is inspired by the cardboard Christmas tree decoration sent to Christian Aid supporters for their Holy Land appeal. They are raising money for their partners in Israel and the Occupied territories. And seeing as I've spent all week with another lot of volunteer human rights observers who are heading out there in the New Year I thought I'd give the appeal a plug.

And here's another: aforementioned Simon's latest project. The Hillsborough Justice Collective bid for the Christmas No 1 spot. Good causes coming out of our ears tonight. In fact I already feel slightly overwhelmed by the number of times I've been asked for money on the doorstep or by post this Advent. But then I guess if you won't give now.. for goodness sake whenever will you??

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Sentimental or sacramental?

Just when you think you're getting into the swing of Advent and all the mini rituals it can bring, life crashes in and you're off the rails before you know it. Busy Tuesday today: at work unusually, acupuncture on the NHS (is this possible anywhere outside of Hackney I wonder?), Advent Adventures at Clapton Park church www.theroundchapel.org.uk with the Mandolin Men (think candle lit carol singing with toddlers without the colleting of money bit) and suddenly I find that the kids are home, in bed, and neither of our two advent 'calendars' have been opened. And what's worse him indoors has gone and left me so I can't even join R for the setting of a star in a tree tonight. 

Nevertheless tonight is the night for getting our Christmas song book sorted. It's a long story but chiefly emanates from the Danish mother-in-law and a tradition going back through her Viking roots of singing round the Christmas tree. There's usually alcohol involved and if you're going to be serious you also have to dance around the tree while you sing. Seeing as there are also (real) candles dangling on the tree branches and often small children to contend with, in a space most people would not even dream of having a 7 foot Nordic Spruce in, I look upon it not as an annual ritual so much as a chance to exercise faith in an interventionalist God.

But if you're gonna sing you have to have some words otherwise everyone just peters out after the first 2 lines. So a selection of songs have been shared, peppered with pictures from Christmases past, and I am trying to choose a few of them to print for this year's jollities. It was all going just fine until I came across 'Oh Holy Night' which is perhaps my most favorite hymn of all time. The tune is tricky though and I couldn't work out how to scan the words. A quick google later and suddenly I am singing my heart out, tears dribbling down my face, in front of a You Tube clip which has been watched at some point by another 8 million people. You have to check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ-8jYpa1-o. Though they are a bit virginal and misty in their floaty white gear and blond locks 'Celtic Woman' have beautifully clear voices and the minimal tampering with the setting is a joy (and beats both Celine Dione's and Mariah Carey's version by about a zillion miles!). I am never quite sure why those tears come. Maybe it's from the memories of Ali loving that song too, or of Becca singing it exquisitely in candlelit Christmas moments, or of a previous life in which I danced to a French version of it. But maybe it's also something deep in my soul connecting with the words and the enormity of the meaning of that 'divine night'. Whichever it is, I do love that song. 

And I do love star number four too. Thanks for the pic Rach! (Anyone got any spare milk cartons??)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

They got the call!

"They got the call! They got the call!" she says to me as we meet. I'm feeling vague after a frantic day at work, and a lovely but somewhat chaotic tea with ex-house mates. I have no idea what she is talking about. "OFSTED" she says, as if it were obvious. Finally, after keeping the staff (of which she is a long standing member) on tenterhooks for over 6 months, they arrive tomorrow. Why teachers, of all professions, should be put through such torture escapes me. My kids' own school endured it a month ago, and both local schools, though we're fiercely loyal to them, have had their ups and downs over the years and are more than a little bit desperate to make it to the next notch. 

It got me thinking about schools in Hackney in general. Having a daughter in year 6 means we've recently schlepped round the secondary schools nearby and had the somewhat difficult choice of where to send her next. But not difficult because there's no where to send her. Difficult because there's so many good schools to choose from. 15 or so years ago when R first had her eldest most of her contemporaries moved out as they neared that transition stage. Another friend was on the Governing body of a local primary school, which was all but closed following scandal after scandal. The school we would eventually choose for our children was bottom in all the league tables for everything apart from truancy. Hackney's come such a long way. But not quite far enough it seems. So more teachers, already in some of the most challenging schools in the country, will be pushed right to breaking point, all in the name of 'improving'. My children have always loved their school, no matter where the school was on the league tables, and it's one of the most vibrant, diverse, exciting, fun loving, stimulating, caring enviornments they could wish for. R's school is the same. Isn't that enough?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Is there, actually, a star to be followed?

So, the star in the tree is lovely. But if we put all the stars in the tree, is there any 'following' to be done at all? Oh the dilemas of an Advent Adventurer. R and I both love the idea of people following the star but last year we tried to spread them over too wide an area methinks and the trail was lost. This year maybe we'll have swung to the other end of the pendulum, but at least we feel people will notice them. We've plumped for variety being the spice of life and hope that regular Chatsworth Road-ers will enjoy the journey of the design development rather than a journey from A to B.

 Anyway, R had her adaptability tested severely today when she found herself half way to a well earned outing to the opera minus credit card to pay for the entry. Her DD (mm, too many hours on mumsnet... darling daughter for the unnitiated) had used it and not replaced it. She says she enjoyed a coffee and a chance to think about a piece of work she's got to do next week...  She is so calm that woman. You would have heard my reaction all the way from b****y Baker St if it'd been me.

In a rather nice 'we're all on the same wavelength' moment I noticed a few tweets about 'following the star' today, with people pointing towards a daily devotion app www.d365.org. Despite the terrible font used on the website (American - and you can tell!) the whole thing looks great - and they do a themed thing for Lent too, and going back to school. Brilliant. #followingthestar for those twitterers out there. Which reminds me I just realised I've got not one underused twitter account but two. No idea how I did that but I suspect it'll take me about 4 hours to work out how to rectify the situation. Feeling my age...

Here we go again...

These were the protypes. We're still playing around with ideas to be honest. The milk carton won out today but R doesn't think she'll get through a 6 pint pack a day and we have it delivered in bottles, so we might be a bit short of raw materials!

But it was nice to go out (bit windy round my recently chopped head - what a ridiculous time of the year to loose a fine crop of ear warming hair!) and be scheming and dreaming about Advent stars on Chatsworth Road again.
The result was terribly pleasing. Having toyed with the idea of spraying the milk carton gold (I think R secretly wishes we were graffiti-ing again - maybe she got addicted to the smell of the can?) we left it white and it looks luvverly. All glowy in the orange neon and sort of shimmery as it waves about against the inky sky.

Came back and made some home-made mincemeat so am definitely feeling all Advent-y. Though for those in the 'know' of course Advent doesn't officially (if the Church is the keeper of such officiality) start until tomorrow. The 2nd of December. ?? Don't ask me...