Advent began with a hangover. And sadly they have recurred fairly frequently since then. Actually, advent more precisely began in a whirl of dust and tartan beneath Rubens’ Apotheosis of James I. It was a very appropriate host who looked down on us, celebrating the union of the crowns while we danced Highland reels energetically in the heart of London. It would be sad if that became a ‘foreign’ tradition again…
Advent was properly announced with a carol service on the 5th. I have reported earlier on the lovely St. Mary-le-Strand; ten days later we were singing carols in quite different surroundings at the Queen’s Chapel. This feels a little like a doll’s house, not that it is at all small in scale as chapels go. It is rather its fairytale atmosphere, as you enter from the dusk into a brightly lit room of palely painted and gilt-edged panelling, everything light and delicate; the clear Venetian window crowned by the combined Stuart and Braganzan coats of arms, the coffered ceiling white. And all the choir boys in their red and gold regalia add to the feeling that one is on the set of the Nutcracker.
Another key aspect of the advent period: mulled wine and mince pies. I always feel obliged to test every permutation of these two festive delicacies, and this year I was not disappointed. Prize for the most innovative mince pie goes to Heston’s Waitrose special, with exotic additions of lemon curd and rose water, though I thought the tangerine sugar with which one is instructed to sprinkle the warm pie a little too akin to a sherbert fountain. I remain a fan of the traditional brandy butter.
Mulled wine was consumed across London; notably while watching the ice-skating at Somerset House (out of the rain, unbruised, and feeling rather smug), and in the Louboutin shop on Mount Street (trying to whisper, loudly, OMG can people actually WALK in those??!)… Top concoction: the Smoking Inquisitor. Recipe top secret.
Pantomimes have never been a stalwart part of my Christmas entertainment. We used to attend the Inverness offerings for a number of years, but the excitement of seeing ‘celebrities’ from Glaswegian soaps was lost on me. However, this year I went to see ‘Midnight’s Pumpkin’, a re-imagined Cinderella, at the Battersea Arts Centre which totally upturned all my preconceived ideas of a panto. To start with there was no enforced chanting, which was an enormous relief (we were encouraged to dress up and join in the dancing at the ball; however, watching small children drag their fathers up to do this was entertainment in itself). There was a good dose of tongue in cheek humour – especially from the Prince Charming, aka The Duke of Battersea, Clapham and Surrounding Areas – and frankly men dressed up as white mice or pumpkins makes me laugh. What’s more, Cinderella hailed from the Cirque du Soleil, and the soundtrack was packed full of uniformly cheesy 80s-90s classics. There was cross-dressing, there was bloodthirstiness, there was even nudity (in a child-friendly manner).
And so to today, the last day of advent, and also my birthday. Today we went on a family outing to Tesco, where, overwrought by the excitement of the expedition and having almost forgotten the bin bags, we had an altercation at the check out. There were raised voices. And pursed lips. Then we returned home where we have been filling in time before lunch playing hunt the peppercorns which have just been discovered to much exultation buried in a handbag. I might need a nap before birthday tea.