Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

I’ve never really thought of a red London bus as a chariot. But that’s exactly what we travelled in yesterday. Our bus driver told us so. Well, actually, he sang it so.

Travelling back from Greenwich to our home yesterday, our bus driver sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” at the top of his lungs, with all his heart and to the joy, horror and entertainment of his travelling charges. The cynical commuters wondered if he was p***ed drunk, some didn’t notice, some smiled coyly and two people alighted earlier than planned. The self-confessed “drunken bum” next to my niece and me was endlessly entertained. The proud owner of approximately two teeth, he chattered constantly and laughed like a drain. If he could stand up, he’d have been a stand-up. But his seated banter broadened our smiles all the way home, and the driver’s singing warmed my heart.

“He’s quite religious, I think. He’s trying to save you. Not me; I’m just a drunken bum. But he thinks he can save you. I don’t think he can, but that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Just another day in our joy-filled Christmas season. Here’s a short journey through our past week.

As we were due to leave London on Christmas Eve, we had to amend our tradition and see our Christmas movie a few days earlier. Burlesque proved to be a fun, lively and heart-warming introduction to the season – it totally fit the bill.

On Thursday evening, we went to the South Bank to visit the German market that appears next to the London Eye every Christmas. This is what we saw:

London Eye and the German Market at the South Bank, Christmas 2010
Stalls at the South Bank, Christmas 2010
Colourful carousel at the South Bank, Christmas 2010

It was VERY cold and we soon sought shelter and warmth within the hushed walls of the National Theatre, where a ragtime pianist was preparing for a free concert. We sat and listened to him for a while, before getting a call from a friend who was on her way to the Christmas Spectacular at the O2 Arena. She had a few spare tickets and invited us to join her.

What an amazing show – if we hadn’t been in the Christmas spirit already, that would have blasted us into it faster than the speed of light. What a special concert: an audience of 20,000, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Choral Society, the Capital Voices and four, world-class soloists who took us through Christmas song after Christmas song, some of which we were invited to sing along to. The last audience-included number was a rousing version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with actions for each gift! Then the four singers ended the show with a medley of Christmas songs, punctuated with fireworks, exploding glitter balls and a shower of “snow”. What a special and unexpected Christmas gift the show turned out to be.

We left for south London on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas Day with dear friends from our university days. If we couldn’t be with our family, spending the day with wonderful friends that we’ve known pretty much forever was an excellent substitute. We ate well, laughed plenty, toasted our absent family and friends and listened to the Queen’s speech on television. We played games, did hideously badly at an Oxford-devised pub quiz and reminisced up a storm. What more could we ask for? A bit of snow, perhaps? Although we had no fresh snow, everything was covered in white and it felt for all the world that we had our first white Christmas. Close enough to make me happy.

So, in this build up to the end of 2010, may I wish you all much joy, beautiful relationships, happy work, fulfilling spiritual journeys, and may you dream, find or fulfil your dreams in 2011. I feel completely out of touch with my blogging buddies and the cyber world that I inhabit most week days. Please forgive me for not visiting blogs or commenting on all your posts; know that I love you all, my special readers and friends, and I will, like Arnie, be back.

Thank you, Mr Bus Driver, for keeping my Christmas joy alive yesterday with your delight-filled noise and for carrying us home in style. Keep singing and may your musical dreams find their chance to break out of that dreary uniform; you never know who may be listening.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Damp squids and veekend viewing

We ventured into the heart of London on Saturday to witness the Lord Mayor’s Fireworks display. Public transport woes and an unsatisfactory ten-minute display left us feeling a little disappointed. A damp squid indeed.

(Before any of you boffins jump to tell me that saying is incorrect – I know. It’s intentional. Keep reading.)

Rugged up good and proper (as my Aussie friends say), we headed off with some friends into central London, to watch the fireworks display. I asked one of our friends what the Lord Mayor’s Show was all about (it took place all day on Saturday) and he said it was to mark the inauguration of the new Lord Mayor of London.  The show has been taking place at the same time each year for 785 years! Read more about it here – such a heritage astonishes me!

First up, our local tube was not operating at all over the weekend. Ideally, we could have jumped in a tube, travelled for about ten minutes and then walked up the road from the tube station to have a good view of the fireworks. Instead, we caught a bus and, as we approached London Bridge, discovered that the bus wasn’t going any further. Because of the Lord Mayor’s Show. This meant a repeat of our walk of last weekend, but in reverse. Not actually walking backwards (although that would have been fun!), but walking from London Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.

It took us about 45 minutes, with the added challenge of three gorgeous, energetic, small boys running this way and that, fascinated by everything that caught their eye, not least of which were the mounds of autumn leaves which got kicked and thrown and tucked into other people’s jackets!

We got to Blackfriars Bridge, along with the rest of the world and his wife, and found a good spot in the middle of the bridge. The fireworks were due to start at 5pm (at which time it’s been dark for about half an hour). The fireworks are set off from a boat on the Thames, somewhere between Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriar’s Bridge, so you can view from either.

The display began at 4.55pm (just as well we had got there a little early) and were over by about 5.05pm. What we saw was spectacular, but it certainly left us expecting more. Apparently the show is usually much longer and more spectacular, but I guess no-one has escaped the austerity of the budget cuts that the bosom buddies have introduced since taking office.

As teenagers, my siblings and I used to talk about things being “too much effort and not much fun”, and I think that described our venture to Blackfriars Bridge on Saturday. As a teenager I met someone who described a disappointing event as “a damp squid” … I rest my case.

And on to the veekend viewing. I have mentioned before that we are enjoying the current series of X Factor, the reality TV show for aspiring singers. Saturday’s show began with the final nine, which includes fabulous young soloists, a gorgeous and infectiously enthusiastic boy band, a delightful 50-year old Irish woman who describes herself as a belter and who left her day job as a cashier at Tesco to enter the show. And then there’s Wagner.

Hmm, how to describe Wagner? He’s Brazilian. He’s 54. He has long hair, which he usually wears in a half-moon. He can’t sing. And he can’t dance. Apparently he’s in the show for the sheer entertainment of having a former lion tamer in the line-up. (He was actually a PE teacher, but they keep showing a photo of him in his bare-chested youth, holding the tail of a lion.)

His mentor, Louis Walsh, can’t pronounce his name. No matter how much he’s reminded that Wagner is pronounced Vagner, Louise continues to correct everyone by air writing “W” and saying, “No, it’s spelt with a W. So it’s Wagner.”

However, things seem to have backfired for the show. Last year, a bunch of people started a Facebook group to try and stop the X Factor’s winning single from becoming the Christmas number one (which it usually does). They pushed for support to buy Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name and they succeeded; it outsold the X Factor single. X Factor Haters 1. Simon Cowell 0.

This year, the same group – I understand – have mobilised to vote to keep Wagner in the show. And so he survives week after week. His rendition – or shall I say rending – of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing rang false but true, if you know what I mean, on Saturday night. He dances like he’s running downhill in heels. And he sings like he just stepped down a steep staircase and can’t stop himself. Like he’s trying to keep up with the music. The music always wins. He smiles. And his numbers (and outfits) are always over-stuffed into productions reminiscent of Gary Glitter at his tottery-heeled peak.

Each week when Dermot announces that Wagner is safe (he hasn’t yet been in the bottom two), the X Factor-watching public sighs. No doubt the X Factor haters punch the air. And Louis grimaces – like he doesn’t know what to do next. And week after week talented youngsters slink off the stage, into a future that I hope will bring them more meaning and success than the X Factor drama. And Wagner prevails.

And ve continue to vatch. Vy, I ask you, vy?

Sunshine signing off for today!