Friday Fun with photos, singing lessons & biscuits

There is a plethora of TfL fun this week. Obviously, you’ll already have seen the football themed underground map? But, have you ever wondered what the map might look like in German? No, neither had I, but thanks to Katie E for sharing a link with me, we all can!

The map is a large one – excluding the DLR and Overground, there are 270 stations. Such a vast number of locations can be tricky to memorise (though it’s got to be said, I’ve never tried). However, there’s now a song to help you! Fellow TfL nerd and comedian Jay Foreman has written a song that features all 270 stations. [You may remember Jay from his fabulous Unfinished London videos – one on the Northern Line, the other on a road building scheme. Both are fascinating.] So your challenge is to learn them:

But it’s not just the tube that’s had all the attention – this week has seen the launch of a website on which you can track the movement of buses across the capital. A transfixing and addictive occupation. Pick a route and voila! The current location of every bus currently moving along it. (For visual purposes, I’ve chosen the most scenic route in London – the RV1.)

Live RV1 Movement

Nicely segueing into my next discovery is this very early photograph of a Metropolitan Line train:

Metropolitan railway steam locomotiveMetropolitan Railway Train. (Credit.)

This is one of a set of photos from the National Media Museum collection, taken with the world’s first consumer-accessible camera – the Kodak No.1. It has to be said, I’d no idea that the first photos were circular! The set is fascinating, not least because the photographers had no form of view-finder, they simply pointed the box and hoped for the best. This was a favourite, as it looks like it was taken not too far away from my flat:

Hansom cabI’m disappointed that the caption’s been cut off – I’m nearly positive it’s Mecklenburgh Square.

Penultimately, we have a rather retro site – in that it doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2002 – that still has a great deal of charm. I have to thank Andy S for this find (I’d love to know what he was doing when he discovered it), as it’s a peculiarly compelling series of biscuit reviews (that link will take you to a page featuring the utterly awesome Tunnocks tea cake). Obviously, it’ll make you crave biscuits – so why not follow the direction of the website name and have a nice cup of tea and a sit down while you watch my final offering?

To round off this week, I highly recommend sitting down (with your tea and biscuits) and enjoying this for the phenomenal comedy that is Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Merchant & Joseph Gordon-Levitt having a lip-synching contest. SO many genuine laugh out loud moments – trust me! Anyone who can mime to Boom Shake the Room has my respect for an eternity…

Laying ghosts to rest

Yesterday was Carol Service Sunday – aka a very, very long day in the church calendar that sees early starts, massive mince pie consumption, mulled wine aplenty and plenty of carols. Yesterday also saw me lay to rest a ghost that has bothered me for fourteen years…

When I was an idealistic Sixth Former, I wanted little more in life than a Prefect’s badge. [Ok, who am I trying to kid, I really wanted to be Head Girl.] I got one, and in addition, acquired the visual monstrosity that was the Choir Captain badge – ironically, my co-captain and I fought for several months for a badge that identified our status, once we got them, we refused to wear them except on formal occasions. The job of Choir Captain was essential to be the Music department’s dogsbody – taking choir registers, chivvying no-shows, cataloguing the music library (actually, I chose to do that for funsies). At Christmas, there was a specific role: to prepare and perform with a choir of juniors (known as the Pippin Choir – don’t ask, it’s to do with apples) at the annual concert – this proved to be my first, and until this year, only experience of choir conducting. 
This year, through a chapter of accidents, there was no one available to conduct the Christmas gospel choir at the morning carol service and thus, I think because I am a choir nerd, I was asked if I’d step up. The prospect was terrifying. I can remember little of my Pippin Choir conducting of 1998, other than that I was anxious about the fact that school rules dictated that my shirt had to be tucked into my skirt and thus, I could do little to hide my posterior from the audience. (I was 17, of course that’s what I was concerned about!) I do remember that I wasn’t eager to repeat the process. But thankfully, the church choir was accommodating and all went smoothly yesterday morning, in fact, I rather enjoyed myself.
In action during the rehearsal. 
See the baby? That was the only time he wasn’t watching the conductor, 
he’s going to be a singer for sure! 
However, that wasn’t the only Choir Captain task that was being repeated yesterday. Fourteen years ago, I missed a couple of days of school in order to spend 24 hours being grilled at the University of Cambridge (it did not go well). The night I arrived home, I received a message saying that, as Choir Captain, I’d been picked to sing the Once in Royal solo that would begin the school carol service the following morning. I was rather proud and excited, but partly thanks to nerves and an absence of rehearsal, when it came to the service I fluffed the high notes and was mortified. 
It says something about my personality that I’ve held on to my failure in this performance for nearly half of my life. (I’m also virtually certain that no one who was there remembers my error at all.) In fact, I could probably tell you of every single mistake I’ve ever made in my not particularly impressive solo singing career – in fact I did tell you about one I took five years to recover from. I possibly ought to look into this. Occasionally, there have been opportunities to redeem myself, but they’re rare. Sometimes, such redemptive opportunities take fourteen years to come along…
Last week I was asked to sing Once in Royal at the start of the evening carol service (and only because the other contenders were already down to sing solos in the rest of the service). I said I’d think about it, genuinely considering refusing because of what had happened all those years ago. In the end, I agreed, but was racked with nerves as the clock ticked towards 6pm last night. Screwing up the opening of the biggest service of the year was just not an option. 
Never have I been more pleased that I’m no longer the angst-ridden 17 year old I once was. Last night, I held my nerve, remembered to breathe and successfully hit the high notes. Four simple lines of music were sung and a ghost was lain to rest. 
This is not me blowing my own trumpet. I didn’t really care what people thought of my singing, what mattered was that I proved to myself that I could do it. That I didn’t give in to my fear. That I didn’t let myself believe that I couldn’t do it. I don’t need to do it again (though I probably will be at Wednesday’s service). It is done.
The moral of this story is simple: just because you got something wrong at the age of 17 doesn’t mean that you’ll still get it wrong when you’re 31…

An alternative to chicken soup

Thursday night is always a highlight of my week. Forget ‘Thursday is the new Friday’ – when your weekend is Friday & Saturday, it literally *is* my Friday. On top of that, it’s usually the night when the women of Matryoshka Haus gather for a convivial Thai curry, a bit of wine and a glorious hot chocolate. It’s an opportunity to catch up, moan, pray and plot. It’s a thoroughly restorative process.

But last Thursday night, things went up a notch and we discovered that our great Thursday evenings had the potential to become even greater…
…when an hour of karaoke is included. 
Ah yes. The power of karaoke is never to be underestimated! I’ve waxed lyrical about its benefits many a time, but of late, my karaoke opportunities have been limited. My one-time favourite sleazy karaoke bar shut down just weeks after I moved within walking distance of it last year and it’s been a while since the last frenetic SingStar party. However, after last week, I think it’s likely this is going to have to become a regular activity.
[Yes, that’s a Dave Walker original.]
Last Thursday, there was a lot going on amongst the group that met for curry. Jobs are changing, houses are being sought, lives are altering in dramatic ways – heavy conversations were being had over the table. You might have thought us a little subdued if you’d seen us in our Brick Lane curry house, but things could not have been different at 10pm when we tumbled out of our karaoke room in a singing induced euphoria. 
We only had an hour in our booth, but we made the most of it. Shoes were immediately shed and sofas jumped upon. Jugs of margaritas were ordered [though I insist that the alcohol was a minimal factor in the euphoria that followed]. A playlist of appropriate songs was formulated and the singing of them was entered into with gusto. The mics didn’t work properly, but we didn’t care – we just sang and sang and sang. 
Being the karaoke lover that I am, I was slightly anxious about singing for the first time with this particular group of friends. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t about impressive solos (as was often the case in the public karaoke bar of old), it was about being there together and singing simultaneously. As ever, some noteworthy discoveries were made:
  • Björk’s It’s oh so Quiet is a brilliant karaoke track. Shhhh! Shhhh! 
  • Yazz’s Moving on Up is not. Can you remember how the verses go? No. Neither could we.
  • Always choose a really long song just as your time in the booth is expiring. Don’t Stop Me Now was a good choice, given its theme, but Bohemian Rhapsody would have given us longer. 
  • Don’t bother complaining that your mics didn’t work properly until the end of your session as you’re then likely to get a decent discount on a subsequent visit. 
  • Most of all, ensure someone you know is regularly checking the deals available via Living Social – which was how we managed to get a bargain hour complete with cocktails. 

Seriously, forget chicken soup. When it comes to healing souls, there is nothing that surpasses the power of an hour’s raucous singing.

Karaoke booths may sound like an expensive option for a night out. As mentioned above, you can score deals via offer websites, but some chains also do offers. Lucky Voice (one of my favourites as it has Wicked tracks on its database) offers a free hour of singing to groups that include at least one person who ‘does good’ in their job (i.e. medics, teachers, social workers, charity workers) on two nights a week. Others do discounts for local residents, so it’s well worth doing some research. [I have actually, in the course of writing this post, sent an email entitled ‘Karaoke Research’. I take this stuff seriously. And obviously feel a need to get another karaoke date in my diary.]

Great theologians of the past, present and future

This past weekend saw the last Vicar Weekend of the academic year and with it, a day of assessed presentations on great theologians for the first years. It was somewhat stressful – how do you condense a mighty mind’s work into a 30 minute presentation and 15 minute discussion? And, more importantly, how do you make it interesting?

Some groups tried food – the Kierkegaard crew brought in Danish pastries, but sadly we weren’t presenting in the same room as them. However, I think our room was even more creative. The day began with ‘Teresa of Avila, This is Your Life…’, complete with nuns, monks and excellent acting and ended with a John Wesley themed Songs of Praise, involving compulsory hymn singing.

But the highlight – without a doubt – was the group presenting Martin Luther. For a start, there was an abundance of monk outfits; then there was a particularly gross Horrible Histories video clip of Luther’s toilet habits [his fascination with poo was news to me, so I definitely learnt something]; an enthusiastic baptism of a doll; a Luther inspired rap video; a spurious rap reference that only two of us appreciated (“I’ve got 95 theses but the pope ain’t one…”); and finally, and most gloriously, a live performance of the Reformation Polka. Obviously, I had to film it:

That guy with the guitar can be seen leading worship at Soul Survivor this summer. 
I can’t guarantee he’ll perform this number though.

And what of our performance? Well, we’d been allocated Barth, possibly the trickiest of all theologians to present in half an hour – and with the college’s Barth specialist marking us. Even my father, a Barth aficionado, says that reading his work is like walking through the forests of the Bavarian mountains – every so often you find a clearing and a beautiful view, but soon afterwards you’re lost in the forest again. We went with a court room setting and put Barth on the witness stand – I’m eternally grateful that my group consisted of me and two enthusiastic, competent actors. I’m also grateful that my Dad went to a Barth symposium with the excitement of a teenage boy at a rock concert and returned home with a Barth t-shirt (and a poster for his study) meaning that I had an excellent costume for my role as ‘super-geek Barth fan’. I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to dress up in a dress though…

That’s Teresa of Avila and Alex the judge watching Alex as Karl Barth…

I could also include our video interview with Karl Barth, but it’s not very exciting (apart from a brilliant papal infallibility joke), so instead I’ll close this post in the same way we closed our presentation:

Barth may have a reputation for being complicated and difficult to understand, but when stripped down to a basic ethos for doing theology, it is as simple as his summary of Church Dogmatics when visiting Princeton in 1962:  “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

And here is Barth’s Sunday School memory combined with another great 20th Century theologian, Whitney Houston… 

Singing alonga in the shire

I think there’s just one cinema context in which it’s perfectly acceptable to break several elements of The Code of Conduct – where singing along isn’t frowned upon, it’s actively encouraged; where phone action in the form of photography is positively essential; and the audience’s noise levels rise, instead of falling, as the film progresses.

On Thursday night my sister and I spent the evening participating in Singalonga Grease back in the Shire, courtesy of our former neighbour and a long awaited Christmas gift. This friend had previously made several trips to Singalonga Sound of Music and I’d experienced Singalonga Joseph at a Greenbelt yonks ago, so it seemed logical that the Grease version would be something we’d appreciate. Not least, in fact, because it has a long-standing history with us. I babysat J’s children while she and her husband watched a 20th anniversary re-release; and we took their eldest girls to see it for the first time.

Sure, the year before last Greenbelt put on a sing along Grease screening which we entered into with aplomb. But it wasn’t the official ‘Singalonga’ experience – that’s something quite exceptional. It includes goodie bags with props for various points during the film, so for Grease we had a balloon, tissue, chequered flag and a party popper (I’ll leave you to use your imagination as to which got used when). Plus a host who kicks off proceedings with a bit of a singing warm-up and choreography advice. (I am now proficient in the hand-jive. I am immensely proud of this.)

But the most essential element of any Singlonga screening has to be the costumes. Years ago, when first experiencing Singalonga Sound of Music, J arrived at the venue to discover a sea of nuns and felt foolish that her family were not appropriately dressed. At two further screenings they went to town, on one occasion even creating a set of outfits out of curtains – that, my friends, is dedication to the cause. The key to these things is to choose something a little niche, like the people who went as brown paper packages tied up with string, or my sister’s cardboard guitar. Willing audience members are always invited up on stage for a costume contest, and it can get rather competitive.

For Grease, we were a little flummoxed. Pink Ladies jackets are two a penny, and 1950’s prom dresses can be hard to come by, but what else could we do? In the end all three of us simply went for ‘generic 1950s girl’, which was fine. However, on the morning of the show I was seized with an idea that, had I had been inspired days earlier, could have been a roaring success – all I needed was a Victorian style nightgown, a sheet of pink note-paper and an inflatable paddling pool.

[Don’t understand? That would be Olivia Newton-John’s outfit and props for Hopelessly Devoted To You.]

Arriving at the venue, we found many similarly generic 50’s ladies; a multitude of Pink Ladies; a plethora of Frenchies with unfortunate pink hair; and a smattering of T Birds. The competitors for best costumes included few truly creative numbers – although the bright spark who decided to go as Eugene had my vote. However, there was one group of women who were definite exceptions. It took me ages to get a photo of them, and this was the best I could do:

That, my friends, is the costume from Beauty School Dropout and is, what we like to call, genius.

And this is what we looked like:

The effect of all of this is a night out best described as a hen night on acid. Men were very much in the minority, and there seemed to be an awful lot of wine purchased from the cinema’s bar (we had Diet Pepsi and Jelly Babies – classy). In fact, when I finally get to the point of having a hen night, a night out like that wouldn’t actually be a bad way to go – normally I decry dressing up on hen nights, but I’d make an exception for this. No one seemed to mind when we shouted out the lines, and the subtitles were a joy to watch – not just simple words with a bouncing ball, no, this was full-on animation. An especially favourite moment was during Stranded at the Drive-In with the addition of dancing hot dogs and ice lollies.

I’ll accept that such an evening out might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do highly recommend it. In addition to the films mentioned above, there’s also the obligatory Singalong Rocky Horror and Abba. Honestly, what’s not to enjoy about that?