Walking London. Grand Union Canal, Paddington and early Christmas lights.

I really, really, really don’t want much for Christmas … really.  Right now, I just want the whole wide world to return to normal.  That’s not asking much is it?  Just put it under my Christmas tree, in a beautifully wrapped parcel – here delightful, here is the world returned and all is good with the universe.

This lockdown has been brutal. Twelve months ago, the city was vibrant, alive with festive merry spreading.  Lights were inspiring and the best excuse to go into the city, have dinner, or to a show.  A glass of wine at the Stafford after a brilliant tour, so different to now.  So now we are trying to capture Christmas a whole month early, and who can blame us?  Houses are being draped in lights, trees are up and it is only November. Along with the November moustaches and early pretend it’s Christmas, all looks altered again.

To still the anxiety which creeps regardless, and kill the boredom of not having to go to my favourite place for an early morning coffee, I walk. If anything, to hear the sound of buses going, to seek life, to find nature. The tube seems like the last ride to a scary place, all masked and suspicious.  Some are mask defiant and we scowl at them.  I try and sip my second choice coffee furtively and not draw attention – sneak under mask and repeat. Said before, outings now are governed by the acute need to know where to pee – route according to toilet facilities, ah, it has come to this and I guess I am an expert now on where to go when you have to go, when in London.

 

The walk today had me at a few ago. Regent’s park.  It is Sunday, a sunny day, and the entire world is here.  Finding a bench to sit becomes a silent war, as is the pushing and queueing for a takeaway, as if we use ration stamps. The roses are confused – budding and blooming as leaves fall. I feel their fuzziness. The sense of unnaturalness permeates, but we are blessed for sun and budding roses.

Walking along Regent’s Canal is a always a thrill for me, but it is packed with others thinking the same.  We pass, we shimmy alongside, we dodge the puddles and hope not to end in the drink. Armies of the anxious out in the few hours of light. We marvel at the duo paddling on the icy water, actually no. Fawn over the mansions with a view and a silent resolve to try the Lotto once again. The weather is indeed, great, so great I am sweating in the double layering of maybe winter.

And then the light happens.  It’s only four in the afternoon, but the light comes to the water. It is astonishing, brilliant and sharp and magnificent on swans, duck feathers, house boats, spilling down from glass buildings and into liquid. Gushingly gorgeous. We all, collectively, swoon and click. This is the reward for the cloying, claustrophobic living lockdown.

 

The light is dancing on the Paddington basin.  Houseboats are smoking and show piles of firewood on their roofs. It must be cold on the water.  The Grand Canal is a triumph of development behind Paddington station.  Now office blocks are eerily quiet and the many restaurants closed, but the odd ‘essential’ offering open to ply fish and chips, pastries and coffee. It is modern and eclectic and smatterings of old London, given credit and offered to cheer us up.  Love the statues, the messages, the poems on walls and the neon lights.

The station is deserted.

Then it is to London, my style Christmas delight.  The Angels on Regent and Jermyn Streets. Burlington arcade, quiet but glittered.

Lashings of copper, gold and green. The tree in Trafalgar Square is still missing, a gift from Norway to the English in thanks for the support during the war and always delivered, every year.  Will she appear? Still walking, still not ready to go home, I cross to Southbank. There are no stalls, no Christmas music and steaming Mulled wine.

She has survived many times, did I ever imagine myself to see her wounded so? She shoots shards of brilliance still.

 

These are a few of my favourite things …

Christmas Time, Mistletoe and Wine …’

And oh dear, all intentions are lost, but not entirely lost.  There is a perfectly positive reason for the lapse in the new, weekly story.  And that is the point, it’s ok to sometimes not be on target.  The truth is, I have been lost in the very Christmassy life around me – absolutely, stunningly beautiful London at Christmas.  Officially feeling ‘Christmassy’. 

The past two weeks rolled into one with me working everyday of the week.  Either at Coutours or St. Clements.  I am blessed to have diverse and engaging occupations, meeting new people, ideal ‘office’ environment and the best co-workers one could ask for. My barista skills are coming on and my knowledge of Christmas icons hidden in London has grown.  Let me not reveal all, but if you do wonder by, head down, down Piccadilly – look up at the marvellous Advent Calendar that  are the windows of #fortnum and mason. The Art that is Window Shopping has me at thinking, it’s going to be difficult not to gush and repeat the word ‘wow’, over and over and over again.  Each detail, minute detail, designed and executed to present a scene of ‘wow.’! The story of the Christmas windows at Fortnum and Mason is a great read.

 

Another highlight of the Festive season was attending an evening with Madame Genever and Gent.  The occasion ‘Ghosts and Spirits’, the venue – 38th Floor of the Gherkin Building. The experience, priceless. I have never been up the Gherkin building, though she has been a landmark in London for many years (and the location for many films).  The view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, that high up, at night, is etched forever.  Emma and Will entertained us with stories of Gin, ghost stories, stories of eerie co-incidence and how to make a Dark and StormyOnly with Black Seal Rum of course. Thank Goodness the night was perhaps dark, but not stormy being up so high in the sky.  

Not only did I finally get to go up the Gherkin, conquer my fear of heights – very creepy – as one walks all around the pinnacle, but had the proper canapés and gin experience with the wise and witty Emma and Will.  Great idea for corporate and special events.  

 

Leaves have fallen now, a few really fisherman’s coat coloured yellow one’s still clutching to feint branches, so natural has been replaced with oceans of fake for Christmas.  It’s all lights, candy stripes and metallics now. Not being an online shopper (the amount of plastic wrapping is heinous), I prefer every little nook and cranny, alley way and big Department store to do my shopping.  Been holding out with the ‘it’s not cold’ but brrrr, it is starting to bite now.  Yesterday, my lovely guests on our Icons of London; Christmas Special, were being extra brave outdoors – it is so worth it when the lights really begin to perform, but I think the Hot Mulled Wine (or Bishop) was most welcome in The Clarence, on Dover Street. 

The gorgeous staircase at Fortnum and Mason.

It’s all about finding the time, now that the year is running at a pace towards the Great 2020.  Office parties galore, lists of presents, and that not so good for you but must have party food – just because it’s all in miniature.  Why do I succumb to these little pastries, the silly crackers, the party hats – because we celebrate our families, spoil our children (and George) and also, ourselves in return.  It is the festive season, it is the spiritual season.  

It is the coming together in peace and goodwill.  The story of the Mistletoe originated as a Pagan custom, where warring opposites, finding themselves beneath Mistletoe in the woods, would lay down their arms until the next day.  From there, the idea of hanging mistletoe, and should on find oneself beneath it, a kiss could mean friendship, true love and perhaps,  the one to marry.

A good sign.  A good sign.  One more week to go.

 

 

Image:  Fortnum and Mason