Sunday 14 December 2008

Christmas Carol Concert, Horniman Gardens, London Road, Forest Hill

Once a year, on a Sunday before Christmas, the hill-top Horniman Gardens stay open after dark to host a free carol concert. From this high vantage point, you can see thousands of lights twinkling across London, providing a magical backdrop to the English Baroque Choir and the Crystal Palace Band. Mostly middle class families grab the rows of seats in front of the Edwardian bandstand, while the latecomers stand around the edge in a large huddle, sometimes bobbing up and down to the music. Although parts of the audience seem to sing along with the well-known carols, most of the volume comes from the microphones projecting the powerful and pure tenors fronting the choir. The singing, punctuated by the Geordie compere, goes on for about an hour and, if you have a seat, your legs and feet might go numb in the cold night air. Still, the programme includes a few lively Christmas jingles, such as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, to keep the kids interested.

Santa's grotto
Nearby, a long queue snakes up to the refreshment stall, which sells tea, rudimentary hot dogs and cups of Batchelors' soup for £1 apiece. Alternatively, you can head over to the Hornima Museum cafe, which has a broader range of fancier snacks. Also near the museum, in the elegant, white cast iron Victorian conservatory, is a picturesque crafts market, selling toys and other presents, plus Santa's grotto. If you want to see Father Christmas, you need to be there early as the queue builds up quickly. But save some cash to give to the collectors' tins, as the museum puts on this enjoyable concert just to raise money for charity. 8/10