Saturday, 26 December 2015
Christmas started early this year, in fact, it was still November when London's Winter Wonderland opened in Hyde Park. With market stalls, rides, lots of life-size models of animals – not really sure why, but there were plenty of African ones, like an elephant and giraffe, plus a whole sled team of huskies – a giant man and an even gianter Ferris wheel, plus an ice-skating rink, beer halls, live music and food, it made a jolly outing.
Next up was a trip to see The Blues Brothers Christmas Special at the Arts Theatre in London's West End. Like the movie, but with even less of a plot and total non-stop singing and dancing so that, by some time in the second half, the audience was on its feet, singing and dancing along. Great fun.
Hyde Park wasn't the only location of a Ferris wheel. Smaller, but no less jolly was the one in Leicester Square and from the top there were great views of central London and an escape from the pre-Christmas hordes. This before a trip to see three films in the Adventure Film Festival, all of which were inspiring and absorbing. By the end of the last one, I felt like having an adventure too...
Then there was the trip to Cambridge where the car we were in was overtaken by two, apparently in a rush, random Santas.
After which the marathon really kicked in. There is a tradition in the UK, at least it seems this way to me, that everyone feels they must see everyone they know before the 25th of December. Why? I don't know. It will be January soon and you could see people then as well, but suddenly people get in touch with the words, "We must get together before Christmas!", which leads to quite a few consecutive nights out, often involving large quanitites of alcohol, and a workforce who are visibly struggling to get through the day.... One of these nights involved a trip to Kent, where the hosts had transformed their summerhouse into a very good reproduction of an Alpine chalet, complete with sheepskin-covered chairs, a log-burning stove and plenty of fairy lights. There was also restaurant-level cooking and quite hilarious games to follow.
There were also the requisite company nights out and, as a freelancer, I got to enjoy more than one – a perk of having multiple employers – and one of these was held at a pub/restaurant with a stuffed stoat to keep us company and possibly the most interesting bathroom sinks I've seen for a good long while.
As ever, central London put on a good display of lights and trees round every corner and in every square. I got to enjoy Covent Garden's bluey-lit tree on the way back from another night out, and the folks at Waterloo train station did their best by hanging a massive bunch of mistletoe from the clock.
All in all, after a fairly scary year in terms of world events, it seemed everyone just wanted to spread good will and cheer - hoorah!
At last it's the travel bit: Nerja, Spain, where we came for Christmas and saw a Christmas-decorated olive tree, went to the beach on the actual day – but didn't swim – and partook of a chocolate yule log. It's true it's warm all over the Western world this year – 70°F in New York, 50-odd in London – but nothing beats the sunshine and warmth of southern Spain for pretending like winter just doesn't exist and it's summertime already.
Boxing day at last. Everyone take a deep breath – phew! Why is it that, as soon as Christmas is over, I feel as though now I can relax? Maybe because it's like the rush is over, the stress of planning is done and now a few days can just be enjoyed.
In Nerja, this means a visit to the caves, followed by a walk up into the Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Natural Park – basically, enormous mountains covered with pine trees and wild thyme, lavender, rosemary and sage. The air smells wonderful.
Oh, and food. Plenty of food. First resolution for 2016? Hint: it begins with the letter 'd'...