Aw, bless. There aren’t many better places to hear Christmas music than the determinedly Christmassy St James’s Church on Piccadilly. Once you’ve threaded your way through the Christmassy market in the courtyard, you’ll seat yourself inside one of Christopher Wren’s smaller-scale, even intimate churches. Like so much of 18th-century London, this still feels like an (albeit grand) local parish church. I was tempted by Tituvillus to lazily write ‘it’s world away from the crowded streets outside’, but this is bollocks: it’s the same people in here, te well-to-do Mayfair types with nothing to prove and nothing to repay, as well as a smattering of slightly bewildered tourists and a handful of fossilised old dears who appear to have been attending since before the place was bombed, gutted and rebuilt after World War II.
This concert mixed up the classic Vivaldi usual suspects, a heaping of Messiah, Pachelbel’s soporific Canon, a handful of carols that we all joined in with, and a few determinedly modern pieces too. In the interval, we were encouraged to have a cup of tea – not from an old lady with an industrial-sized kettle, but from the Caffe Nero embedded in the church’s southern side. Well, this is Piccadilly, after all.
There’s a phenomenon in psychology called ‘de-individuation’. Essentially, this is when, if you’re in a large crowd of similarly-dressed people, you lose your personal sense of identity and even your morality, and become part of a faceless, surging, id-driven mob.
Santacon is like the world carnival of de-individuation.
if you weren’t already scarred by it a couple of weeks ago: it’s is the dubious concept of gathering in central London, dressed as Father Christmas, and then walking around, hoping nothing appalling happens.
Dress enough people up like the same thing – monks, soldiers, Beaker from the Muppets – and it becomes scary. There’s just something a bit fascist about it. And there’s something eerie about seeing a mob form without any point to it. Particularly in 2011, when we’ve become accustomed to the mathematics of mass protest, seeing hundreds and thousands gather to make a point, or stand up to The Man, or just steal things from Aldi. This rings particularly true for the redshirted Santa stormtroopers, faces hidden by sinister beards, clutching cans of Special Brew, laughing in my city – laughing! Out loud! Some of them might even have talked to people to who they had not previously been introduced. Anarchy!And the implied incitement to violence doesn’t stop with the attendees themselves. In this context, dressing up as Santa just makes everybody that much more punchable.
The Santacon website’s very sweet, urging all participants to be nice and avoid trouble – but they might as well be asking lemmings to adopt an exciting new no-cliffs policy. I mean, we didn’t actually see anyone getting into trouble, not with our actual eyes, but it must have happened. Must have. Oh God. We’re terrible people.
So, in summary, bah humbug, throw away the key, nobody have fun at Christmas again, okay? Cheers.
Ice rinks, then. Londoners used to be happy with dodgy ones in Streatham and Bloomsbury that smelt of socks, but these days you can’t travel a straight mile in London without falling on your arse on some kind of tiny frozen square. Somerset House – Hyde Park – the Tower of London – anywhere central that has a flat, wide space gets iced over at this time of year. Some of them are pathetically small and make you dizzy just to look at them, but the rink at the Natural History Museum is a more sizeable one.
“Better than Times Square!” the posters scream, but in reality the rink doesn’t have the greatest of views. You’re next to the Victorian behemoth that is the Natural History Museum, but there’s not a plesiosaur in sight. At least you’re partially shielded from the busy road next door, and the upstairs cafe, selling all manner of hot alco-drinks, is appealingly well-heeled.
The thing is, ice rinks are at their best when they’re a bit cheap and loud and fun, so although this one had everything in place, it really needed to crank the music up, welcome on the teens and get things moving. Mind you, we did go early in the season for this one – it’s probably all Justin Beiber, animal-eared woolly hats and screams by now, just like it should be.
Before we launch into some more Christmassy entries, here’s one we loved that might help with last-minute present-buying for boozers: The Sampler wine merchant in Kensington, not far from South Ken station. No bigger than your average Thresher’s (remember them?), The Sampler boasts a small bar in the basement but is basically a shop dedicated to informed wine buying. This is accomplished by the purchase of a plastic card which you load up with cash and then stick in the temperature-controlled cases around the shop to fill up your glass, choosing whether to have a dribble, a trickle or a whole glass of any one of 80 different wines.
So it’s like The Wonder Bar at Selfridges, then, which we visited all the way back at no. 200; but the emphasis here is on trying before you buy. Given the fact that, at any time, there are going to be several slightly pished, posh punters wandering around, it’s not surprising that the little shop has more of a bar-like atmosphere anyway. The fact that Ivy the Shop Dog lives on a bottom shelf surrounded by bottles helps, too.
The staff were friendly and knowledgeable – actually, we have no idea if they were knowledgeable, since we didn’t have to trust anything but our tongues, but the accompanying text for each bottle was straightforward and accessible. You only need a fiver to sample loads of different bottles, and its also a great way to taste really expensive wines that aren’t usually available by the glass. We’d bet that not many people leave The Sampler without snagging a bottle or three. This is surely the best way forward for congenial, educational booze-buying in London. Maybe if Joe Thresher had thought to install a few card-based Tennants Super sampling machines in his shops, he’d still be in business. Or possibly behind bars as an accessory.
Yup, it’s a tranny-tastic time for us right now. Next up, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the stage show of the 1994 movie – or at least the last lees of the show, as it’s finishing at the end of the month. This batshit extravaganza takes the already pretty camp story of three drag queens on a road trip through the outback, and turns the sparkly dial all the way up to 11. Even relatively sombre scenes from the film (like an early funeral scene) have been done up in glitter and fishnets and made to sing ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Since this is a disco jukebox musical, you know all the songs; you know all the arrangements; all that’s left to do is gawp at the costumes. Not because they’re outrageous, but because they all evoke the early 90s perfectly – giant-soled trainers and all.
And since, being at this show, you’re a middle-aged woman of either sex, you remember it all perfectly. It’s the perfect post-shopping sugar high. Because it’s a disco you sit down for! And basically impossible to hate (especially with Alf ‘Stone the flamin’ crows’ Stewart in the stalwart bushwacker role) however hard you try. And I tried. He dances around dressed up as a kangaroo at the end, you know. I wish I was making that up.
Pale Blue what? Here’s the deal: you pay a man called Tony Hornecker some money, and he tells you his east London address. You go there, and find his terraced house down a dark and anonymous alley.
You sort of wonder what you’ve let yourself in for, at this point.
You step inside, to find the narrow interior has been hollowed out, with the top level removed and reduced to a precarious-looking balcony, leaving the ground floor two (small) storeys high. Every surface is covered in kitsch memorabilia – carnival masks, umbrellas, old model ships, dolls, pantomime costumes and costume jewellery. It’s like being inside an inverted a Katamari ball that just ran over Ellen Terry’s house.
You are sat at one of the tiny tables that cover every inch of the floor space – except for four feet in the middle – and given wine.
A drag queen appears and introduces herself. She’s the entertainment. Depending on what night you go, it might be the famous Jonny Woo. Or it might not. While you munch on a three-course meal and contemplate whether you need more wine, you get a sort of minified, full-on floorshow between courses, with all the emoting, lipsynching and full-on drama you’d expect from London’s finest drag artists. “This is a completely original composition,” proclaimed our entertainment proudly, before launching into Single Ladies by Beyonce.
Many of those we talked to had been before and had come back in greater numbers – it’s an absurd, delightful, camp and thoroughly enjoyable night out in someone’s mad house. And to prove it – if you go to the loo, the house owner’s toothpaste is still in the bathroom. Awesome.
I know what you’re thinking. How can they be nearly there when they have 75 events/places/shenanigans still to attend/visit/enact? But we’re much farther through than it looks. We actually have less than 30 events to go – we’ve just been predictably rubbish at updating the blog. So we have over 40 events to write up, as well as 30 still to attend.
30 is still a lot to get through in 23 days, obviously. But have no fear. We’re climbing Mount London and we’re near the peak, passing the bodies of wasted, frozen socialites as we go. ONWARDS!