Christmas in London

I’ve been a fan of Terry Pratchett ever since I picked up a copy of Small Gods at Munro’s book store1 in Victoria, BC back in the late 90s. That was my introduction to the Disc World and I devoured the few books I was able to find in Seattle book stores. I wasn’t going to allow a little thing like an ocean stand in the way of my enjoyment of Pratchett’s storytelling. So I began ordering hardcover versions of Pratchett’s books from Blackwell’s of London. In many cases, shipping was close the the same cost as the book.

Pratchett died on 12 March, 2015 of Alzheimer’s and a small bit of the magic left this world. I really wanted to visit the His World exhibit at the Salisbury Museum before it closed, but with Molly’s performance schedule on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that pesky work thing, the earliest we’d be able to go would be the middle of December.

That meant we’d get to spend Christmas in London.

I’ve never really spent much time in London. Molly and I often fly from Seattle to Heathrow and then immediately zip off to another destination. I general I’m not a fan of gigantic cities. One of the reasons I’ve always liked Seattle is because for a city it feels more like a small town. Conversely, I’ve always disliked New York City, because it feels too big and impersonal. Recently, I’ve come to love Berlin, because it also has much of the same small town feel as Seattle only on a larger scale. (If that makes sense.)

Truthfully, I don’t think I ever gave London a chance. Because while it is much, much bigger than Seattle, the bits we visited seemed welcoming and comfortable. Like a very well worn shoe that fits exactly right. I mean really, where else would someone feel comfortable enough to go around wearing funny hats?

One thing I love about old cities is how they’ve incorporated open space. London has lots of public squares and parks. We were lucky enough to spend a day with our good friends who live in Clapham Common who took us to the park in the photo below2. The royal family needed someplace to hunt close to the palace, but now that means there’s a fairly sizeable park complete with gigantic man-eating beasts you can ride if you’re brave enough.

Berlin does a great job of incorporating open spaces too. Almost everywhere you go you’ll see a small little park with a playground and screaming children3. It’s one of the reasons why I’d move to Berlin in a heart beat. But I think if it weren’t for Brexit, I might move to London once Molly heads off to university, because if there’s one thing I’d miss in Berlin it’s street theatre.

Covent Garden seems to be the centre of street theatre in central London. And really cold weather didn’t stop either the performers or the audience. Photographing street performers is always a challenge for me, because most of the audience never knows when to clap. Because they’re idiots. The busker will do something really hard4. The audience will sit there like lumps. But all it takes is one person to clap and they get the message. So I try to be that person, but it means putting down my camera (and often missing a photo).

I don’t think Molly is as much a fan of street theatre as she is proper musical theatre. We had the opportunity to see two shows while we were in London: Wicked and Dick Whittington. As both a fan of and performer in musical theatre, I think Molly enjoyed both shows. It’s a bit hard to tell with a twelve year old.

My friend Michael recommended we attend a Christmas Pantomime. I’m glad I took his advice. While many of the jokes flew over Molly’s head and I probably missed some too, the show was simply terrific. Even without understanding the jokes, I hope she enjoyed herself. I know I’d go back for another pantomime were we in London next year.

Normally I cook for Christmas dinner. Our tradition is to make duck breast with bacon blackberry chutney and hasselback potatoes and some sort of vegetable (because I should). I never cook turkey, because turkey sucks. I don’t know who came up with the idea of having turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but they were an idiot. They probably owned a turkey farm.

But in London, I wasn’t going to cook. Fortunately, London is one of the best places to eat in the world. Yes, I imagine I’ll have something to say about Paris after I’ve visited there. Of course, you really don’t need a world class restaurant for Christmas lunch. After all, we’re usually happy with what I cook. But we did want to enjoy some of the English Christmas traditions.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect when we booked our Christmas lunch. I saw the menu and knew Molly wouldn’t object to anything on it5, but most importantly, the restaurant was close enough to our hotel and could seat us at 14.00 which would allow us to be back at the hotel in time to watch the Dr. Who Christmas Special on BBC One @ 17.30. We have priorities.

Molly had made it her singular mission to attempt to exterminate all lamb from England with her visit6. So she was delighted to see lamb chops on the menu. She had a berry trifle for dessert and tried my Christmas pudding. (She wasn’t impressed.) She definitely enjoyed the Christmas Crackers and other treats in the stockings the restaurant gave us.

The finale of our trip and possibly the highlight for Molly was our tour of Whitechapel on the Jack the Ripper tour. I suppose I’m partially to blame for this, I do buy her the books feeding her love of gruesome tales. In my defence, she wasn’t the only youngster on the tour.

While I would gladly spend Christmas in London again, Molly missed having a tree and unwrapping presents and all the rest. So I think next year we’ll stay at home. But I think we both agreed London deserves another look, probably in the summer when it’s not so bloody cold.

  1. Munro’s is a great bookstore. If you visit Victoria, you really have to visit Munro’s. Go buy a book and take it over to Murchies and read it while having some tea & a scone with jam. That’s what I’d do. 

  2. Neil, I’ll have you know I am still working off the delicious Yorkshire puddings from dinner. And all the cake and pies Molly made me eat… 

  3. I’m pretty certain German children learn that obvious and enthusiastic demonstrations of enjoyment aren’t German in a special class when they are teenagers. It doesn’t work with all of them, but that’s why many Germans barely crack a smile, but will tell you they’re having the time of their lives. 

  4. Maybe the audience just doesn’t realise that juggling three sharp swords is hard. I heard one person next to me opine, “I bet those aren’t really sharp.” To which I responded, “Do you think you could juggle three dull swords, motherfucker?” 

  5. For a kid who will eat nearly any damn raw fishy thing at a sushi restaurant, she can be pretty picky when it comes to cooked things. I keep telling her, “If the chef didn’t think you’d like it, he wouldn’t serve it.” But that doesn’t seem to work with her. 

  6. She made a valiant effort, but I regret to say there are still lambs in England.