Recently, Lost in the Pond guest blogger and British expat, Mark Turner, returned home for Christmas. The following is a journal from his visit to London.
We're in London! Following our 9-hour flight from Denver, I'm back in my homeland, family happily in tow.
After we check in to our hotel, I decide to do the one thing I've always wanted to do when visiting London, but constantly fail to find time for; Sir Winston Churchill's War Rooms. As it happens, my destination is only a short distance from our hotel. The War Rooms themselves don't disappoint, but I'm just as taken with the walk back to the hotel through beautiful St. James' Park. I suppose it could have been any park in London, in as much as I was struck by the people, the wildlife (squirrels and pigeons abound!), and the trees. I had seen the trees before, of course, but had never really paid attention to them, these ancient inhabitants, so large that you couldn't come close to wrapping your arms around them. Grey barked, muscular and sinuous, with wide patches of moss adding to each's character; I placed my palm on one trunk, and inhaled deeply. England filled my senses, and I am home.
Today we visited my favorite place in all of London; The Tower of London. It was an odd but highly satisfying feeling to be introducing my children to 'The Bloody Tower', to see through their eyes the breathtaking beauty of the jeweled crowns and scepters on display, and hear through their ears a Yeoman Guard relay tantalizing tales of treachery, torture, and murder, indelibly associated with this nearly 1,000 year old stronghold. Riding down the Thames later that evening, we were treated to our first glimpse of Big Ben and the London Eye, both festively illuminated in green and red lights respectively. We ended the day visiting another old friend, that of Oxford Street. I had spent countless hours in my youth traversing up and down this long street, this retail Mecca, bargain-hunting for myself and others, but never had I seen it as full as it was this evening. Pedestrians packed the pavements and with colorful shopping bags in hand zig-zagged between buses, cars and bikes, as they darted from one side of the street to the other. And above our heads, suspended across the road from the store rooftops, glittering Christmas lights in the form of shimmering stars and sparkling baubles. Tonight, for the first time this holiday season, I felt the familiar and welcome embrace of Christmas.
I write this brief entry sat in the stands at Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham Football Club, one of the oldest, proudest teams not only in the capital, but in the entire country. Attending a football match is a must for our family, and something I'd recommend to anyone visiting England, the home of 'the beautiful game'. Watching an intense end-to-end contest - fog rolling in from the neighboring River Thames on this crisp winters evening - gives the match an almost mystical appearance, illuminated by the floodlights overhead. At times the noise generated by the home fans, particularly when Fulham are on the attack, causes my kids to peer around partly with anxiety, but mostly in awe. This is unlike anything they have experienced in America. Sing on Cottagers, sing on!
When I was a 'little nipper' my grandad used to take me to a Christmas pantomime every year. A pantomime, aka panto, is a play of sorts heavily reliant on audience interaction and participation, containing music and song, farce, puns-a-plenty, brightly coloured sets and even more brightly coloured costumes. Oftentimes, our typically male heroes are played by women, and clearly female roles taken up by men, the latter often to hilarious effect. There really is no way to explain a panto without it sounding at best quirky, at worst lame. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that when done well it's as utterly brilliant as it is quintessentially British. Every year my grandad and I would be in the audience chomping on chocolates, laughing (mostly at jokes I didn't fully understand at the time!), booing, singing, shouting, clapping and cheering. It was always the most joyous, not to mention exhausting, two hours of the holiday season! I adored it. And so it was with an equal measure of excitement and intrepidation that I introduced my American wife and kids to their first panto this evening... and thankfully they loved it, too! In addition to all of the usual range of emotions, I found myself wiping away a tear or two at the end of the show. Maybe it was a little relief that my family had such a good time? Maybe it was the quality of the performance itself? But I suspect there was also a little nostalgia taking hold. Merry Christmas, grandad.
A whistle-stop tour around London today, taking in Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, the angels of Regent Street, the luxurious surroundings of Harrods department store, and a dash through the incredible Natural History Museum, and we are officially done! Tired, sore-footed, but satisfied. We'll end the day with a curry, and bid London farewell in the morning as we head to my home-county of Oxfordshire, and the family that awaits. I hope where ever you are reading this that you too have the opportunity to connect with home, how ever minimally. It feels important to me to do so. And if you can't connect with home, connect with family in whatever way you are able. Though a location can inspire and excite, it's ultimately the people that make it, and none more so than those you love the most. Sharing London with my family has been the real joy of this trip for me. I hope each and every one of you finds your own joy this holiday season.