Snow is falling, all around me…

As snow falls from the London skies a mere five days after its last appearance, it feels like an apt moment to share some of this year’s snowy fun. (After all, there’s no fun like snow fun…)

In comparison to the last few years, this year’s snow has been rather pathetic – at least as far as central London’s concerned. However, this doesn’t appear to have disappointed my Norwegian flatmates. Since they arrived in August, they’ve been keenly anticipating the white stuff, which is odd, given as they must get plenty of it back home. But it seemed appropriate that when it finally did descend, we all happened to be at home. (Yes, Saturday night is rock and roll in the Frederick Street household!)

Their reactions were amusing in their own ways. I was busy making cupcakes, but once I realised it was settling, I sat at one of our (many) windows to watch the flakes and the people. Female Norwegian squealed in excitement that the snow was “just like Bridget Jones!” – her favourite film, on which she has based most of her time in the capital (apart from forays to Notting Hill). Initially, I was a little concerned that her reaction to the snow would involve her running into the street clad only in a vest, pants and a granny-cardigan…she didn’t. (Luckily. King’s Cross would not be a place to do that!)

You’ve got to admit, that could be a scene from a Richard Curtis movie.

Male Norwegian on the other hand was all about the art. Snow = fantastic photography opportunity, obviously. Off he disappeared for almost an hour, until I began to wonder just how interesting snow in the dark could be. It seemed I had cause to be concerned when he returned and posted the following Facebook status:
“It’s funny how angry drivers can get when you are laying face down in the snow in the middle of the street, trying to capture that special picture.”

When I questioned him, it emerged that there had been a leaf on the road…obviously that’s worth risking death for! 
Personally, I’d been looking forward to snow in my new neighbourhood. How better to view Dickens’ one-time street than under a Dickensian blanket of snow? Even better, a snowy Sunday morning required a walk through the prettiest part to get to church. I left early (miracle) to get some camera action in…
 Current street; street I’ll be living on from June; church; Queen’s Square

Even better, the snow didn’t scupper my weekly walk home (all 5 miles of it) from Vicar School on Monday. It’s a highlight of the week – a good workout that lasts almost exactly as long as the Wittertainment podcast – and I was worried that snow and ice would make it unfeasible. Even better, though there was little evidence of ice in South Ken, the fields of Hyde Park were still snow-covered, meaning that my wearing of the wellies of joy was finally justified. It was rather pretty…

A frozen Serpentine, beginning to crack.

Sunset over the snow…

However, as pretty as it was, I was relieved to see that most of the streets were quickly ice-free. I have absolutely no patience for prolonged periods of time where falling flat on my backside is a high probability. Thus, I’m hoping the current flurry settles, but only for as long as it takes me to take more photos, build a snowman and have a good snowball fight. Not much to ask, surely?

So, I finally went to the ballet

Or rather, I went to see contemporary dance – strictly speaking what I saw wasn’t traditional ballet. Whatever, ballet’s one word, whereas contemporary dance is two…

When I wrote my original 2010 Firsts post, I included: ‘Watch live ballet (Matthew Bourne for preference)’. One of the comments that followed was from the lovely Jules, who is a dancer and therefore enjoys watching such things, who suggested I go with her. After 7 months, she took matters into her own hands and inside my birthday card I discovered a promise of a ticket to see Bourne’s Cinderella this Christmas.

You might be surprised that I’d managed to avoid ballet for over 29 years, given that I’m usually such a culture vulture. I’d wondered myself. True, I wasn’t shipped off to ballet lessons age 4 (the ballet teacher of classes in our church hall smoked cigars, my mother didn’t like her), but I did read ballet books voraciously – especially the Drina series by Jean Estoril. My sister somehow managed to rebel and finally got lessons aged 11, resulting in her taking both GCSE and A-level dance. [Yes, such qualifications exist and are not the dossy option they may sound. Like English you have set-texts; like Music you have to learn a whole new language of notation; and like Biology, you have to know a heck of a lot of anatomy.]

Anyway, I digress. The real reason why I never got to see ballet growing up was revealed when I was chatting to my mum en route to the theatre – apparently neither of my parents liked it, so they didn’t want to take us. Fair enough, and it may also explain why they never took us to musicals, instead finding willing friends who would.

So, Saturday was the day – exciting stuff, made all the more exciting with the frisson of danger provided by a mid-morning blizzard. Would I get to Sadler’s Wells? Would Jules? Would the cast be able to make it?  Would it snow more while we were in there? Would we get stranded in Islington? On reflection, walking to London Bridge was possibly an error, though certainly beautiful…

Reaching Islington (and with the snow no longer falling) we felt as though we were in a Richard Curtis film. One day, when I am married to a rich man and have children clad solely in Mini Boden, I will live on a street like this:

Apologies, I appear to have gone off on another tangent. Anyway, eventually we got to theatre, found our seats (and my GBF who’d taken up our spare ticket) and waited for the curtain to lift. I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t like it or that I’d be bored – but by the time the first scene was over, I’d pretty much got the hang of it.

“Got the hang of it”?? I know, it sounds odd, but really, the concept of a story told solely by dance with no speech (or singing) was really rather alien! It took a while to get used to the fact that no one was going to speak or explain what was going on. Plus, the stage was so full (at some points) of dancers doing different things that at times it was tricky to work out who you ought to be watching to make sure you followed the story.

In typical Bourne fashion, although this was Cinderella, it was Cinderella with quirks. Set during the London blitz it incorporated the bombing of Café de Paris and used the classic venue for the ball. There were no ugly step-sisters, instead there were two glamorous step-sisters and three step-brothers. The fairy godmother was a male angel and the prince was an injured RAF pilot. [In fact, there were considerable similarities with A Matter of Life and Death with dream sequences and a heavenly figure only certain people could see.]

The biggest quirk, as far as I (and GBF) were concerned was that Cinderella jumped into bed with the pilot and it was from there that she disappeared, leaving behind her sparkly shoe. To quote GBF as we left, “that Cinderella was a bit of a whore, wasn’t she?” – and I’d always thought that she was such a nice girl…

What else to say? The costumes were stunning, with gorgeous long skirts and evening dresses (though GBF felt that Cinders’ ball gown wasn’t sparkly enough) and the set design impressive and true to life. How many ballets include a large motorbike and steam train? Not to mention a scene set on an underground platform? The music was Prokoviev, which meant that it didn’t match the swing style dancing of the era, but this didn’t really matter and it all fitted. Knowing little about choreography, I probably can’t comment further on that aspect.

A Christmas trip to the ballet is traditional, but I was surprised by quite how many children were there. Bourne is known for having his risqué moments (as I mentioned, Cinders was a bit of a floozy) and there was a sex scene (discreetly done) with a prostitute as well as a weird foot fetish on the part of one of the step-brothers. But perhaps when you’re 6 and entranced by the music and sparkling lights you don’t notice such things?

One final note on Sadler’s Wells itself. It’s a thoroughly sensible theatre with plenty of toilets. This may sound like an odd quality to note, but it’s highly important. Do you know how many ladies loos a typical West End theatre has? Approximately 6. At the Savoy (home of Legally Blonde) there were 3 for the entire stalls, meaning a queue for the whole interval that wasn’t worth bothering with. At Sadler’s Wells our level had 12 very nice ones meaning you could go to the toilet and the bar during the same interval and still have time for a good chat.

Oh Christmas twigs, oh Christmas twigs…

Remember my foraging adventure? Well, I am now able to explain its purpose in full, technicolour glory…

I have a big mouth and a tendency towards sarcasm – the combination of these two things often lands me in trouble, especially at work. Add to the mix a propensity for sporadic creative ideas and it results in my occasionally finding myself in odd situations.

A classic recent example would be a conversation I had with our administrator about our cluster’s Christmas Tree. For the last two years we’ve had a real one, which though nice and smelly, I’ve seen as just a little pointless – especially as someone who finishes work as early as possible before the festivities owing to travelling obligations. I shared this thought and then (flippantly) remarked that “a bucket full of twigs would be just as good  to hang decorations on”. Fast forward to our next cluster meeting and under agenda item ‘Christmas Tree’, the administrator said that she wasn’t bothered about a real tree, but really liked the sound of the twigs. The cluster then decided that I should be given the task of creating such an installation and that I should spend Thursday lunchtime foraging for suitable bits of tree.

To be fair, this idea has been in the back of my mind for some years – I just don’t live near enough a decent source of twigs to make it possible at home. But I do have a track record of coming up with ridiculous creative ideas in the middle of meetings, that then land me with a whole heap of unexpected work. Like the time I suggested a ‘mugshots’ photography project in order to identify which colleague owned which mug and how they liked their beverages served – I never actually completed it and it still gets brought up from time to time (much to my annoyance).

Thus, I found myself facing the prospect of foraging under a foot of snow for twigs on one of the coldest days of the year. (C was also meant to be helping with the project, but he declined to join me, citing the bad weather as his excuse – hmph.) After initial sceptism that I’d find enough of the right type of twig, I ended up with a huge armful, including some that could be better termed as branches – and over 4 feet long. This is me, half-way through my collection, but gives you an idea of what I looked like crossing one of London’s busiest roads on my way back to the office:

This is what I ended up with:

That’s practically half a tree! Thankfully, the colleagues were impressed.

Left to dry overnight, Friday’s lunch time project was to assemble the other necessary ingredients – silver spray paint, oasis (in which to arrange the branches within the bucket) and silver paper to decorate the bucket – and then get on with the creative process.

Step 1 was to spray the twigs. It would have worked if I’d left them au naturel, but who doesn’t want a bit of extra Christmas sparkle? One can of paint was just about enough – possibly would have been fine if I’d been less over-enthusiastic with the first few.

That second photo’s from after the newspaper was cleared away.
 I possibly could’ve done with more newspaper – oops. Still, nice for the back stairs to shine…

Step 2 was to prepare the bucket – firstly covering it in silver wrapping paper (to disguise the fact that it was a generic under the desk bin) and then making it ready for the sticks. It needed weight to stabilise it (I found a couple of old Minutes that finally came in handy), some plastic bags for added height, a plate for the oasis to rest on and finally the insertion of the oasis. 

Finally, it was time to arrange the twigs and then to decorate it. Somehow I ended up without photos of the pre-decoration phase, but you get the idea…

Who says you need an expensive tree to make things feel Christmassy? 

Snow Fun Friday

Those of us who have not managed to have any snow days this week and instead have battled blizzards, ice and temperamental transport systems, could do with some fun this morning. (To be honest, I’d have settled for staying under my duvet, but sadly work had other ideas.) Ever the predictable, I thought it would be good to keep to a snowy theme for this week’s entertainment.

First up is an oldy, but a goody. In fact I think this may have started off the whole idea of Friday fun. Many, many years ago when I worked in a draughty office building in Waterloo (its imminent closure meant that during my last winter there, when boilers began to fail, they weren’t repaired) Friday entertainment was often circulated between colleagues. A particular favourite were pointless games, which would then result in highly competitive contests as to who could achieve the highest score, the most memorable of which was the Penguin Tossing game. There’s snow, a penguin, a yeti and a club – I think you can figure out the aim of the game… It’s not sophisticated, but it is diverting for a good few minutes. (There’s also a whole list of other yeti related games, should you be really, really bored.)

One of my favourite occupations during Snow Chaos is reading the Guardian’s live blog of the deteriorating situation across the country. On the one hand, it’s great to keep appraised of what the trains in Scotland are doing when you’re sat at your desk in London; it’s also slightly sickening reading of the thousands of school children enjoying a day of sledging – but this time round, I actually had a practical concern.

On Tuesday night my Dad got stranded at Gatwick after his flight to Belfast was cancelled – so I was keen to keep track of his potential options. [He arrived home late on Wednesday after managing to get to Stanstead for an unaffected flight.] Yesterday morning the blog provided details of a hideous train journey experienced by people attempting to travel from London to Brighton the previous night. This rang a bell with me as my fellow researcher had dashed off to Brighton Wednesday night and yes, she was on the affected train. She’s still not made it back to London.

But none of that’s fun – what is fun is the random videos, pictures and quotes that the Guardian provides as light entertainment. Take this update from 9.46am:
BBC News has just tweeted this: “Woman in Kent criticised by police for calling 999 to report theft of snowman for which she’d used ‘two pound coins’ for its eyes”. I’ll investigate. We need to get to the bottom of this.

As for videos, well I’m a sucker for snow and cute animals, so the combination of the two is rather fabulous. I also have a soft spot for comedy dogs, so this short clip of a small dog in deep snow had me grinning.

Of course, snow also has a bizarre affect upon the population – making them do strange things. In London this manifests itself in people talking on the tube, in Brighton, it apparently results in naked tea-tray sledging. (Possibly not one to watch in the office.) Knowing how painful my fingers were after less than an hour in the snow yesterday, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain this crazy man endured. Ouch.

Just in case you felt that was rather gratuitous, my final suggestion for today is a beautiful video showing just what you can get up to with a couple of chainsaws, a snow mobile and a lot of ice – no blood or gore included. 

The perils of creative ideas

You may not have noticed (particularly if you don’t actually live in Britain) but we’ve had a little snowfall recently. This morning, I opened the front door to nearly a foot of soft white stuff – infinitely more pleasant than the icy stuff that’s greeted me over the last two days. It’s a lot less dangerous to walk through too…

At a meeting a couple of days ago, a task had been allocated to me for Thursday’s lunch break (relating to my inability to suppress either creative ideas or sarcastic, flippant remarks) which involved not just going outside in the freezing cold, but also foraging for something [precise details of the foraging and its results to follow later]. It wasn’t an attractive prospect today, but the idea of taking photos in Regent’s Park did appeal, so I went for it.

Unsurprisingly, the park was stunning. The pond was frozen, the trees laden with snow and its fields virtually deserted of its usual lunch-time runners and tourists. There was also a lot of wildlife – pigeons, herons and the like – as well as lovely squirrels.

I’m a fan of squirrels. When I was young we had a lovely one that lived in our back garden and sometimes came and sat on our back step when the kitchen door was open – I named him Spike. I was rather impressed that the squirrels were letting me take some pretty good photos of them today, clearly Regent’s Park’s inhabitants are cockier than most.

Getting on with my foraging, I paused occasionally to take more photos, increasingly amused at the squirrels’ tenacity and their apparent fascination with the purple wellies. Some tourists behind me were getting very excited about them, but I carried on my search amongst the snow drifts. After a few minutes I paused to organise my findings on a nearby bench [sorry, this sounds ridiculous without explaining what I was up to – I’ll explain soon – promise] and the squirrels followed.

Out came my camera again, amused that one had sat on my foot. Amusement soon turned to shock and horror as the creature proceeded to run up my leg! Urgh. They may be cute from a distance, but up close they’ve got sharp claws and look rather rat like. After shaking my leg viciously and squealing like the girl that I am, I walked briskly on, continuing my mission.

Immediately prior to the incident – you can tell the squirrel’s plotting something. 

The squirrels followed. This time, I vowed not to be distracted, or to make eye contact with them.
My stalkers did not get the better of me again.

There was another peril of this winter-time adventure – the sheer cold and specifically, its affect upon my extremities. When one arm is devoted to carrying a pile of something, it doesn’t allow much circulation to the fingers and even if they’re glove-covered, they can get very cold. Very, very cold. On returning to the office the pain was so intense that all I could do was pace my office moaning “ow, ow, ow” until it subsided. Over an hour later they were still tingly, though apparently because they hadn’t turned black or snapped off, no permanent damage was done – good to know.