Oh dear, oh dear, oh me. Most of the time I am a mild-mannered public servant, committed to getting through the day to the greatest possible effect and least possible bother. But every once in a while I get very bad-tempered and testy indeed, and I regret to inform you that 1 December 2011 was just such a day. On 1 December they switch on the lights on the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and London’s festive season officially begins.
The day started badly when I forgot to bring my camera battery that morning. Spouse found it and brought it in specially, offering to meet me in the 3 phone shop by Charing Cross. As always, I left work later than expected, and stormed through the sodden streets of London to Trafalgar Square in the rain to meet the Spouse. I had to quell the urge to screech at the slow passers by whose only desire that evening seemed to be to getting in my way. I reached the shop and was rendered incandescent with rage when I realised it was a spouse free zone. I looked at across at the tree: it was still unlit, but plainly all was in countdown mode. I reached for my phone and had an unforgiveable conversation with my beloved.
“Hello, where are you?” I bellowed peevishly. I may or may not have started this with the word hello.” “I’m on the Strand,” said Spouse. “Right, well, I’m going over to the Square, its starting,” I snapped back.
As if to underline this point, the St Martins-in-the Fields choir processed towards the Square in the rain, singing carols sweetly.
“Well, you can’t go, you don’t have your camera battery,” said Spouse.
“I can go, I can use my camera phone,”
“You can’t go, the image quality will be all over the shop.”
“I can go, I can’t blog about it at all if I miss it because I’m stood here arguing the toss with you.” Such was the level of debate that night. To cut a long story short, Spouse made me wait until he gave me the battery before he dashed back to the shop and I nearly broke the sound barrier as I zipped to the Square straight as an arrow. I was promptly harpooned in the head by some stupid woman with an errant umbrella spoke. So focused was I on the unlit tree I hardly noticed my impaled bonce. Miracle upon miracles, I had not missed it. I did however miss Spouse, because we couldn’t find each other until the event was finished, but what an event it was.
The last time I went to Trafalgar Square it was to celebrate Eid (https://1000thingsinlondon.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/thing-201-celebrate-eid-and-hippety-hoppety-in-trafalgar-square/) which was curiously reminiscent of the Eurovision Song Contest. This was not the case with the lighting of the tree. For the last 65 years the people of Norway have given this tree to say thank you for freeing them from Nazi occupation during World War II: the ceremony is both more personal and more formal than the Eid gig.
The Lord Mayor spoke emotively about how she and her daughter had gone to Norway to help cut down the 70 foot tree; one of the most precious moments of her life, she said. The Norwegian Ambassador spoke about how close the relationship between Norway and Britain has been – many of their young people either work or visit here. And of course, he referred to the tragic events of the summer, and the Norwegians gratitude that among the first messages of consolation came from some of their oldest friends here in Britain, and from London. The enthusiastic cheering every time one of the Norwegians spoke in their native tongue showed clearly that large numbers of Norwegians were there that night too. I stood next to a burly bearded gentleman who stood there in the pernicious drizzle wearing nothing but a shirt, jeans and a smile singing the Norwegian national anthem: the Norwegians are a tough and magnificent people.
As it happens, I have very fond memories of Norway myself, not only because in a parallel universe I am married to the very beautiful Morten Harket,
but also because 17 years ago, Spouse and I visited Norway as part of a youth group. Exciting facts we discovered about Norway are that in addition to having some of the wettest weather in Europe and the cleanest environment anywhere, for some reason there were significantly more women than men. So what seemed to us women to be fairly hopeless Sheffield blokes to the Norwegian ladies were prime examples of man flesh. We were consistently touched by our hosts’ kindness and hospitality – honestly, I know it is a random place to visit, but if you can, you really should.
Anyhow, that soggy night in London, I dashed to get a better view, and deployed my mammoth long camera lens and found that I could actually see pretty clearly what was going on. The Norwegian ambassador finished by saying that as long as Britain wanted a tree from them, they would always freely give it. The Mayor said she would hold them to that. She spoke of the lunch she had had with a veteran of the Norwegian conflict, who had told her some of the horrors that had happened during the liberation.
We forget over 60 years on that the Norwegians suffered economic ruin as all trading ceased the moment the Nazis occupied, that many (especially the Jewish community) were forced to flee, and they were at major risk of famine, as they simply could not grow enough produce to sustain themselves. So it is right that once a year we reflect on that relationship, through this simple, and significant gift of a tree, decorated with vertical white lights as the Norwegians do. It was plain that the Mayor had been deeply touched by her visit to Norway, and that from her point of view, Christmas did not begin back in November when the West End Christmas lights switch on, but that wet and sodden night, with the Salvation Army band, the choristers of St Martins, and bucketloads of friendly Nords from the Nordic Society.
A couple more carols, and we descended into the cold and soggy night, and I did what I could to make up with the lovely Spouse. The Norwegian ladies of 17 years ago were right: he is a prime example of manflesh, and more importantly, he is very kind to me.
Full details of the events which run in Trafalgar Square, including Christmas carolling opportunities and Chanukah can be accessed from this link: http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/art-culture/trafalgar-square/events