Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Here We Come A'Caroling

Every year, on Christmas Eve, for the last 30 odd years, Canterbury High Street transforms as hundreds of people descend to raise their voices in song and celebration, all for charity.
We have only managed to make it once before, 3 years ago, as the following years have always seen one, or both of us laid up in bed with heavy colds.  The kind of cold that waits until you have finished work, stop moving for 2 minutes and your body just collapses.  One year I was so ill I couldn't go to Grantham to see Steve's parents, couldn't get out of bed to do the Christmas food shop and couldn't drink a drop on Christmas day.  Steve was just as bad the following year.
This year, amazingly, (touch wood) we are both ok, and joined Ellie, John and John's brother, Andrew, on the high street for a night of pure Christmas spirit.
The Community Carol service is in aid of the Lord Mayor's Christmas Gift Fund, a Charity that was first established 62 years ago as an appeal to give parcels to the elderly and needy and Christmas time.  In its first year of operation, the appeal raised between £200 and £300.
This year it aims to raise £15,000 in the two months in the build up to Christmas, with each individual parcel distributed valued at £25, given to the elderly, lonely, families, individuals in need and young children.   Recommendations for recipients are made by local organisations, including health centres, doctors surgeries, nurses, Social Services, clergy and schools to the Committee, which is made up of 12 volunteers.
All parcels are delivered personally by volunteers as well (including senior school pupils) who spend time with the recipients, and, for many, this human contact is more important than the contents of the parcel and can mean the difference between a happy and a miserable Christmas.

The Community Carol Service is just one of the fund raising events for the Lord Mayor's Christmas Gift Fund.  Led by conductor Chris Gay from the top of an open top bus outside Primark, the high street bursts into song, accompanied by the Salvation Army Band and the St Stephen's Choir.
Also on top of the bus are the Lord Mayor, normally the Archbishop of Canterbury (he was laid up with suspected pneumonia this year, so the Bishop of Dover joined us and gave the blessing), the Chief Constable of the Police and a few other dignitaries.
There are a few things that are truly memorable about the Carol Service.  The first is the Salvation Army Band.  Squirreled away at the front of the bus, unless you are quite close you can't see them, but you can hear them.  We Three King is always accompanied by 'bopping', led by the dignitaries on top of the bus.  It's quite a sight as the mass of human bodies bobs up and down in time to the chorus!
There is also the Canterbury Carol - a re-written edit to the tune of Jingle Bells, which includes the truly awful line 'and a sleigh's not safe on a motorway'.
The St Stephen's Children's Choir leads us in a rendition of Once In Royal David's City, with the solo always sung by a very brave child soprano from their lofty position on the Primark balcony overlooking the high street.
Songs like Good King Wenceslas also require a bit more audience cooperation, with the men singing the lines said by the King, and the women and children playing the part of the Page, often in competition with each other, with the winner being declared by the conductor.
After the Carols are over, we said our goodbyes and Merry Christmasses, gave hugs all around and headed home to hole up for Christmas with big mugs of amaretto filled hot chocolate and The Nativity on the TV.
I hope you all had an amazing Christmas time, and Happy New Year!
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Monday, 29 December 2014

Denizens of Wroclaw's Dwarf City

As I stepped out of our taxi from the airport to our hotel, the first thing I did was nearly trip over this little guy.  He was sat quite happily outside of our hotel, and, clearly not having done my research properly before I came to Wroclaw, I had no idea that he would not be the only dwarf that I would see.
Arcik the Traveller
You see, Wroclaw happens to be famous for its little dwarf statues.  They are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.  They are on street corners, up lamp posts, on window sills, inside hotels and pubs, sitting on water fountains, holding onto shopping trolleys, perched on top of street signs and even on rooftops.
Professor Medyk
They are outside the University, shops, bars, restaurants, inside the zoo, outside the aqua centre, at the airport and train station, in the market square, next to church's and on top of bridges.
Christmas Dwarf
Railway Dwarf, Suitcase Sitter

Olawaska Street Polers
Finding them becomes a game, and one you can see people playing all over the city.  You see, there are over 300 of these little dwarves scattered from one end of Wroclaw to the other, and more are appearing every month.  Many businesses will commission their own dwarf as a unique marketing feature. 
Rogalik (Mr. Croissant)
Bavarian, one of the handful of female dwarves
They have their own props, unique and individual expressions, and some come complete with their own miniature set!  They didn't start off with such a quirky purpose though...
They first appeared on the streets in 2001 to commemorate the Orange Alternative movement.  During the politically turbulent 1980's, the Orange Alternative, an underground movement, used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful but subversive protests against city censorship and communism.
When the establishment covered up protest graffiti, the Orange Alternative would come along and re-graffiti the same space, using the symbol of the dwarves (or gnomes).  The movement quickly grew in popularity and soon the Orange Alternative and the dwarves were intrinsically linked together.
Firemen by St Elizabeth's Church
Sleepy, guarding the City Armory
Soon protests and marches, celebrations and cultural events in Wroclaw were filled with people dressed as gnomes and dwarves.  By International Children's Day in 1988, people were celebrating with dwarf hats and flags.  After the fall of communism the dwarf remained a well loved figure within the city.
Little Snorer
Veteran by St Elizabeth's Church
In 2001, the first Wroclaw Dwarf figure, Leader, was placed on the steps of Świdnicka Street, site of the Orange Alternatives headquarters, to commemorate their work, making Wroclaw one of the few cities in the world who think nothing of honoring a subversive group that tried to undermine their authority.
In August 2005 Tomasz Moczek, a graduate of the Wroclaw Academy of Art and Design, was commissioned to design 5 more dwarves which were placed in various locations around Wroclaw, including the Swordsman, the Butcher, Sisyphers and the Odra Washer Dwarf.
Butcher on Na Jatkach
Since then, it is as though the flood gates have been opened and dwarves can now be found throughout Wroclaw.  Some are engaged in hardworking, time honoured crafts, others are going about day to day activities such as withdrawing money or checking the internet.  Others are far more interested in play and can be found drunk, or well on their way to complete inebriation!
Drinker and Boozer, the friendly drunks
Busker and Music Lover
Others are commissioned by organisatons to either raise awareness of their work, or as a visible and quite honestly adorable mascot!
Chopper Dwarf, mascot for the Motorcycle Club
Chopper Dwarf, mascot for the Motorcycle Club
Still more are city commissions to raise awareness for campaigns.  I particuarly love the three below, the mascots for Wroclaw Without Barriers, a city wide campaign to raise awareness of the challenges facing citizens with disabilities in Wroclaw.
Deafie, Blindie and W-Skers, part of the Wroclaw Without Barriers campaign
Airport Charity Dwarves
There are maps available to help guide you around the city to find the dwarves, but in all honesty I don't think you can ever hope to find them all on one break, there is no guarantee that the map is up to date and it's much more fun to walk up and down the streets, keeping your eyes peeled and yelling 'DWARF!' every few minutes.
Water Keeper
Pigeon Keeper
It is also a brilliant way of forcing you to look around the city.  You cannot help but take in the architecture, the fresco's and the all the fine details of the city that, in all honesty, you would probably otherwise not spot.
Wiesiek Partnersk
Well Wisher
The dwarves are incredibly popular with both the local residents and the tourists.  Many of them have their own stories and personalities, they have relationships and have their own particular friends within the city.
They are ruled over by Papa Dwarf, who regulates the amount of ice cream they are allowed to eat and punishes unruly dwarves who have misbehaved.  The dwarves have people who spend hours tracking them (we spent a whole morning on a dwarf hunt) and they even an official website dedicated to them!
Barton, the ice cream shop dwarf
Prisoner outside the old Municipal Jail
I am genuinely wondering if I could persuade Canterbury City Council that this whimsical, beautiful idea is something they would consider taking up on our streets.
Amorinek and Cakey, passing the cakes down
What do you think?
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