Doesn't the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree look sparse this year?
Someone on Twitter mentioned how sparse it was looking, and the BBC and othernationalmedia picked up on it, and this made the tree's sparseness a proper bona fide news story. Calum reckoned it was the most anaemic tree possible, and another troll reckoned if it were any more sparse it'd be a twig. Absolute definitive truth from the armchair critics there.
I went down to Trafalgar Square specially, purely to be appalled, and was faced by the sight of a tree that looked nothing like I thought it should. I mean, just look at the size of those gaps between the branches! If this tree were propped up outside a garden centre absolutely nobody would take it home. Why is taxpayers' money being wasted on inadequate specimens like this? What was the Mayor of London thinking?
Apparently the tree is a gift from Norway, for heaven's sake, and they've been foisting one of their threadbare conifers on us every year since 1947. How embarrassing to send a stunted 79 foot specimen and expect us to make it the centre of attention in Trafalgar Square, a place of pure national pride. I have no idea why Norway send it, it didn't occur to me to check, but it's not like we owe them or anything. Typical EU.
I wasn't going to hang around for the official switching-on of the lights, because no way the would the tree look any better after dark. What's more they couldn't even get a proper celebrity to press the button, only the Mayor of Oslo, and for entertainment all they had was a brass band and a church choir singing carols. It's hardly Christmassy.
So obviously I went to the Olympic Park for their Christmas switch-on event instead. You can't beat the festive combination of an E20 housing estate and a live performance from a similarly postcoded boy band. At the heart of the East Village, a proper Nineties Christmas was about to kick off.
They said to be there at half six, in the apartment canyon between the Athletes Village and the newest block of flats. A line of food stalls had been set up alongside some squidgy grass, plus some late-opening dodgems, plus a central stage to host all the main action. An amateur choir of local residents stepped up to sing some poorly amplified carols, an experience surely better than enduring the St Martin-in-the-Fields crew in Trafalgar Square.
The organisers had promised "a *free hot chocolate and free festive sweet treats on arrival", admittedly with an asterisk saying subject to availability, but we Britons love a queue so I tagged on anyway. The girls in front of me drifted away once it became apparent there wasn't an oat milk option, because millennials have no backbone. Alas the free drink and tiny brownies ran out just before I got to the front, but that was fine because it had filled fifteen minutes and there wasn't much else to do.
The wind was whipping up something rotten, but with true British pluck we struggled on. Two of the sound engineers hung onto the gazebo above their control deck to stop it flying away, while the crew from Clownfish Events packed away their Wii and Snowcube because they couldn't withstand atmospheric conditions. I passed another quarter of an hour in a queue for the free mulled wine, a dribble of which was served up by a local bar in a non-recyclable coffee cup. A proper yuletide treat.
Events on stage were led by an East Villager whose favourite phrase was "we're only a few moments away from...". He introduced a steel band, then whipped the crowd into a muted frenzy for a countdown from ten to zero. Like magic the lights on the East Village Christmas tree burst into life, their cord wound tightly around the bulky conifer. It may have been significantly shorter than Trafalgar Square's whopper, but at least it was a British tree and had proper branches.
A 24 year-old singer-songwriter padded out the event further, being sure to mention his name a few times so we'd be able to find him on Spotify, until eventually it was time for the main act to take the stage. And wow, the East Village organisers had only gone and booked one of the greatest pop acts of the late 20th century, the legendary East 17. They bounded on in massive anoraks, looking very much like the middle aged uncles of the original band, and launched into a lively House of Love.
The crowd adored them, despite many being too young to have remembered them first time round, and showed their love by raising their phones to record the performance for posterity. I was having trouble trying to work out which band member was which, and why there were now only three of them. Only later was it revealed that 'East 17' now contains just one of the original band members (neither Brian nor Tony), plus some bloke who once had a hit with the Artful Dodger, plus someone else.
After all but one of the big hits, and several backflips, the lads nipped off and returned in pure white anoraks. The only possible encore was Stay Another Day, belted out with gusto and a splattering of fake snow, the crowd responding by raising dozens of recording devices into the air. It had been a dreamlike evening, the spirit of Christmas very much in evidence throughout, and no way could you describe it as sparse.