Brilliant trees

Actually, it’s Robert Wynn’s favourite song, one he plans to go out to. Here he goes out on a limb…


Twenty-four years ago, in 1994, my first Christmas at Muswell Hill Methodist Church was difficult. My diary tells me it was a bright sunny morning, while the Queen’s Speech on the radio talked of love and faith. Then I dragged myself along to Pages Lane. The ‘tree’ on display matched my mood. Stunted, with old tired tinsel and haphazard fairy lights. It seemed tawdry almost, a neglected relic exhumed as a perfunctory nod to tradition. It had no heart.

The next year, my rented house in Chiswick still sub-let, I transported three salad boxes of lights and decorations to the church. Four or five year’s worth, in assorted colours and styles (some even from a bi-annual Xmas dinner held on 25 June 25, with hot-weather turkey and home-made pudding, summer-lit by fake tree). No room in my 10’ x 12’ bedsit, so they emigrated to a lock-up in the Stables. And each year I added to them, buying cut-price in January to deliberately theme with colour and design.

Why we have Christmas treesa brief history

In 1997/98, tired of the ‘pagan’ whispers, I held a Twelfth Night party in my room. My white four-foot artificial tree, finished with suns and moons, was so charged: ‘Strip the tree and put it on trial’. Forty people squeezed in over the five hours, each group marvelling as I doused the white lights so the baseline blue set (bought with Shirley at Covent Garden flower market) could illuminate the bare cap. And throw a shadow of a kneeling Mary on my pale blue walls.

That was never going to work in church, but it led to one of my favourites. While Dr Susan Young painstakingly glazed lemons, quinces, limes and oranges, my art-school friend Lisa (she did that year’s calligraphy) and I spray-painted a 12 foot fir with green car-paint. Then hung those artificial-looking fruits on that artificial-looking tree. While we bedded in Susan’s clumped cinnamon sticks we found a bird’s nest (mercifully free of eggs).

But, now, here, was grandma’s china ornament worked large. Yet, up close, you could suddenly see – and smell – it was real!

And so, over the years (but I missed 2003, I think) there has been some attempt at surprise, or – dare I say – wonder? For a long time my poor mechanic friend, Craig, already exhausted with my ancient German cars, lent very willing hands. Some of you may remember the ‘Angel Wings’ we fabricated out of coat hangers and pillow-feathers (lots of them); some perhaps recall the reflective cds and pink and blue lights on ‘21stCentury Christmas’. We built a Full Moon for one year’s heavenly confluence and for Mike’s first year, the lantern from Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’.

Holman Hunt’s light of the world
The painting forms an altarpiece in St Paul’s Cathedral’s Middlesex Chapel, where it serves as an object of devotion and contemplation. Learn more.

Dressing the tree

The trick is three-fold. It has to last, so I spray it with cheap hair-lacquer to seal the ends and stop needle-drop. That needs a night to dry, and then come the lights. There’s always two colours, so the whole look can be changed. One year, I fitted remote-operated plugs, kidding David Mullins the lights were voice-operated, just say, “Jesus is Lord!” – and kept the remote behind my back, telling him it wouldn’t work with his Welsh accent. And thirdly – and most importantly – decorate the tree with the lights off. Get it looking good without artificial help, then, when you hit the switch, pow!

There’s a fourth – Lametta, aka single-strand tinsel, gently sprinkled, it clings to the branches and baubles, bulks up the gaps and, hanging, hides the holes in the tree. With the bead-chains it gives a hazy depth, even lustre. But it does drop, though I laboriously reclaim most each year. And, er, someone nameless doesn’t really like it, so sometimes I get bored and leave it bare.


Those Xmas boxes now number 32, and they’re stored in a crawl space in my loft’s attic (or my attic’s loft?). Getting them out – and back in is like wriggling down the tunnel in The Great Escape. But for the past three seasons, I have been aided – steadied would be a better term – in all ways by Tomas Tomasson and Steve Jacobs-Garrison. This year we were joined by Jeff Elmer, who seemingly has an inexhaustible supply of wires and glue, and so we repaired the gold and blue suns and moons from all those years ago.

They helped link to this year’s publicity motif, as designed by Alison Taylor-Smith. Our take’s a repeat of maybe six or seven year’s ago, but with added colour-changing ledlights. It’s a globe, of course, our earth as it might be seen from space.

Yet it’s upside down. Or is it?

Not to God.


Are you a big fan of bauble bling? Or do you prefer the natural look?

Robbert reveals the contents of his treasured boxes of Christmas tree decorations.


1) RED shiny
2) … in matte
3) … in maroon / matte Hearts
4) … in Bows / Beads / Poinsettias
5) SILVER… shiny / matte / Bells / Garland
6) … in Acorns / cluster / frosted
7) … in Mirror Balls / red emboss / Icicles
8) GREEN / BRONZE gold acorns / cinnamon
9) GOLD yellow / shiny / Hearts / old
10) .. in matte / mirror / Beads / Lametta
11) .. (old) matte / Ribbons / Beads
12) BLUE (dark) / small / Beads / matte
13) WHITE … snowflakes / Stars / Beads / Cupids
14) … Snowballs/ clear (green) / Icicles
15) PINK /PURPLE .. glitter / Beads / clear / Lametta
16/17/18) old / Ribbons / Hangers / Tinsel / gold Leaf
19) BLUE.. bright / silvery / glitter / Owls
20) …Acorns .. purple/pearl
21) Susan’s … ornaments (candles downstairs)


1) white (snowy) x 3
2) white (clear) x 4
3) red x 3 (2 transformers)
4) red x 4 (40s)
5) blue x 2 (3rd – bedroom) Icicles / matte decs
6) white (160) x 2 warm / Parasol / Nova boxes
7) green x2 Habitat stranded, plus 2 white strand
8) purple x 5 (6th in 9 assorted)
9) assorted : coloured 40s / white 50s & ribbon (transform) x 3
10) spares and unworking

Trees (black / Susan’s / Habitat) + peace Noel / wreath etc..



For those unfamiliar with Robert’s favourite song here’s a link to the title track of David Sylvian’s first solo album – Brilliant Trees.