Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,
please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
There is something a little extra poignant about that song, which I can’t define, Christmas being the one time of year that stirs mixed emotions.
On the one hand, it’s a wonderful time of year to catch up with friends and relatives, send each other cards, exchange gifts and enjoy a traditional celebratory end of the year feast. On the other, it strikes me as being very commercial, with retail giants rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of how they can maximise their profits.
I wrote this blog to ponder over a bit of both…
The weather really leant itself to the season; crisp cold walks, a sparkle of frost on the ground and beautiful winter sunsets. We were lucky this year to have an skating rink in Bognor, an absolute treat for families where even the more senior folk took to the ice.
December, I also found myself coming to the end of a long edit of second novel, Visions. Filled with reminiscences of the 80’s, such memories provided inspiration for a Christmas scene, in which younger character, Elijah, found a visit to London quite enthralling:
“They were mesmerised by the window displays in the West End, the streets hugged by tall Regency buildings, not to mention the pretty street lights.”
It got me thinking how nice it would be to go back, after a 30 year absence. So on December 16th, a week before Christmas, my husband and I took a train and enjoyed an entire day mooching around London with friends. Despite the crowds, we immersed ourselves in a spectacle of sights, sounds and smells from live acts in Covent Garden to hot chestnuts in Oxford Street, also famous for its magical Christmas Lights.
Our Itinerary: (for those thinking of a tour)
1. Covent Garden: bursting with character, live entertainment, shops, markets and eateries, this is a great place to start, have a coffee and soak up the atmosphere.
2. Trafalgar Square: street artists, living statues and buskers fill this iconic place, flanked by the National Galleries and dotted with an array of monuments.
3. Moving on to Soho: before we got there, we discovered an amazing Danish bakery for lunch. Ole and Steen in Bedford Avenue offers a delicious choice of breads, cakes and pastries, including a mouth watering focaccia with gruyere.
From there, feast your eyes on the bright city lights of Soho and wander into Chinatown.
4. China Town filters its way gently into Leicester Square, filled with theatres and famous for its West End shows such as Les Miserables.
5. From Leicester Square wander into Piccadilly but are the streets lined with gold? Just past the theatres of the West End, the shops are expensive, possibly the most exclusive to be found, including the Ritz and Fortnum and Mason, finest of all food halls.
6. and 7. Short cut through the back streets: we stumbled across a craft fair, a peaceful church and a park, not to mention beautifully decorated shop windows and Christmas trees; a welcome diversion from the crowds.
8. Oxford Street: starting from Marble arch and moving east, the lights got better and better; a kaleidoscope for the eyes, before the tube station at the junction of Regent Street marked the end of the day and the start of our homeward journey (9).
Treasure the High Street!
Thinking back to that day in London, I cannot emphasise how much I enjoyed the tradition of shopping in the High Street. The local towns of Bognor and Chichester too, provided endless inspiration for gifts and put some ‘people power’ back into Christmas. I blatantly boycotted Amazon this year. I’ve seen hundreds of traditional retailers sinking under the swelling mass of online giants and if we’re not careful, this quintessential ingredient of British culture could be lost forever.
Don’t let it happen! High Street shopping is a far more personal, interactive experience, it supports local businesses and keeps our town centres alive.
A Final Word
Before I round off my post, I’ll finish by saying this was a very special Christmas for me, but at the same time I want to spare a thought for those less fortunate. On Christmas Day, I read a most heart-warming story in which 200 homeless people in London tucked into a free Christmas dinner served by volunteers: (source: i newspaper 25.12.17). The article describes how “Euston Station opened its doors for the festive treat, thanks to a partnership between charities and Network Rail.”
My message for 2018 is, the world can be a better place if we all do our bit. Enjoy yourselves and have a happy new year; be thankful for everything you’ve got but most important of all, be kind to others.