Fun in London this Christmas
A short rundown of wonderful Christmassy things
This festive season will be celebrated with more anticipation and joy than the previous one by many of us. I thought I’d share some of the seasonal pleasures that I’ve enjoyed before and will be again with the wonderful Mrs H. this Christmas.
A Christmas Carol
The Christmas season started early in our household. We’ve seen the angels hanging in Regent Street, although not shining brightly yet, unlike Stephen Mangan, who is playing a very credible Scrooge, in a preview which we saw last week at The Old Vic of A Christmas Carol.
This is the 5th time the production has appeared at The Old Vic and it has never been more poignant. Charles Dickens was 6 years old when the theatre opened under a different name; so appropriate that it is now the home for one of Dickens’ most famous stories.
He was moved to write this Christmas favourite, after visiting a Ragged School, where he witnessed severe deprivation first hand. Such schools were run on charity to help destitute children get some sort of education. He thought a popular novel would stir emotions and help effect change in society.
The story, traditionally told, highlights the extremes of wealth and poverty. Extremes which have crept back into our own society today. No surprise that Mr Mangan asks for donations after a worthy performance, in aid of FareShare.
It was wonderfully uplifting and I was holding back the tears after Scrooge awakens from his selfish, preoccupied life. This version has significant improvements from my previous visit two years ago. While the setting is still Dickensian England, I was moved by how easily this Scrooge would comfortably fit into today’s society. Aside from the obvious lessons of a miser forsaking love, friendship and ultimately happiness for money, we are also reminded how Scrooge turns a blind eye to the plight of others. He has done nothing wrong except care.
Ice Skating at the Natural History Museum
Image courtesy of LD Communications / Carolina Faruolo.
This is the last season you can skate outside this most beautiful of buildings. I was a little surprised to hear about the new plans, because it’s become a significant cash machine from late October through to mid January.
On the ice, you can really enjoy the setting in all its architectural glory, soaking in the atmosphere, as night approaches and the lights from the museum and trees glisten brightly into the distance.
A new garden is being installed, so icy pleasures will need to be sought elsewhere in future. Two worthy alternatives if you’re looking for historical settings are Somerset House and Hampton Court Palace. For convenience, the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park has the biggest outdoor rink in the UK. While you elegantly circle the Victorian bandstand you might also enjoy some live music, presumably on the busier days leading up to Christmas.
Carols at Christmas
I sang plenty of carols as a child. A Church of England junior school, insisted on entertaining parents at a not-to-be-missed carol concert every year. There was also door to door carol singing with my sister and an annual Christmas concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, with Richard Baker (BBC news reader) presiding. If that wasn’t enough there were the expectations of Miss Mather, my piano teacher, to master at least two simple carols by Christmas. Television was surprisingly allowed on the big day, provided it was a carol service to maintain our festive cheer while frenetic activity continued unabated in the kitchen.
This year Mrs H has decided we need our Christmas fix at Carols for Shoppers on Wednesday 1st December at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. There’s nothing better than an uplifting hour belting out all those well known childhood favourites. Hopefully the New London Singers won’t be stealing all the limelight given the two old sets of pipes present, one set at least is ready to blow hard.
Singing is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and one of the best experiences is Carols at The Royal Albert Hall, from Saturday 18th to Friday 24th December. I’ve been once before on Christmas Eve and it was magical.
The after-dark trail at Kew Gardens
Temperate House at Christmas at Kew, Jeff Eden © RBG Kew
When we went last time, it was a bit off-putting to be told, in advance, to arrive at a certain gate, within a certain timeframe to avoid disappointment. It sounded like it was going to be packed and we’d be cajoled along, so the mushrooming queues behind also got their chance to see.
See what exactly? Trails at night can be notoriously underwhelming, a bit like those old family firework displays which are excitedly talked about for weeks before and are great for at least a minute.
Fear not. On the first point, Kew is a big place and its ability to swallow gallons of people was impressive. The instructions about arrival times and gates is not strictly adhered to and once on the trail there was never a sense of being sardined in. You will queue for a mulled wine or a street food burger at one of the many refreshment stations or cafes, but on the trail, there’s freedom.
Stunning is the only word to describe this after-dark walk. They warmed us up with odd trees, along our designated route, decorated with thousands of tiny white lights. As we progressed, the colours began to change and the trees came eerily alive with hues of purple, orange and red, reaching up, exposing the barest of branches against a dimly moonlit sky. And then the first installation, wow. Then another. This was a well choreographed firework display with a beginning, middle and oh, what an ending. Can’t wait to do it all over again. Come on Mrs H; grab your hat.