Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Happy New Year?

As it is the 30th of December, it’s no surprise that I woke up thinking about New Year’s Eve, and the year to come.

I have a mixed relationship with the 31st. As a child, I usually slept through it. The 1st of January was not traditionally a public holiday in England. It didn’t become one until 1974, by which time I was already 22 years old, and working. So any celebrations of New Year’s Eve were overshadowed by the knowledge of having to get up for work the next morning.

Once we got that day off, going out on the 31st became the norm. Special parties in restaurants or other venues, often going on until the early hours, sometimes travelling home in daylight. The newly-acquired rest day spent recovering from hangovers, and getting used to everything being closed.

Then I got married, and we chose the 31st as our day to wed. Something different, a day that few people ever got married on. It was so unusual, many of our friends and family suspected my first wife might be pregnant. But she wasn’t, and we just wanted to break with the tradition of a summer wedding. Our brief honeymoon in a Sussex town was notable for a party in the hotel that kept us awake most of the night. So New Year’s Eve took on an additional significance, as it became our wedding anniversary. We celebrated that for the next few years, combining the two with renewed vigour. Then I joined the London Ambulance Service.

That night is the busiest of the year for London’s emergency services. Non-stop calls from early evening, right through to the next day. If you are scheduled to work on that shift, getting it off is almost impossible. I had to forego my anniversary celebrations, instead spending my time struggling with aggressive drunks, unconscious party girls, and the outcome of traffic accidents fuelled by alcohol. For the majority of the next twenty-two years, New Year’s Eve became something to dread, rather than celebrate. And after eight of those years, my marriage ended, so anniversary celebrations were no longer on the agenda.

A few notable exceptions can be recalled. Watching the fireworks over London from Primrose Hill, standing in deep mud. An enjoyable and very drunken party, at the nearby flat of a close friend. But generally, I was either working, or doing very little to celebrate the arrival of a new year. That continues now, when we just relax after dinner, and watch the same fireworks on TV, from the comfort of our sofa 120 miles away from where they are exploding.

And as you get older, celebrating another year is not what it used to be. Anticipating being one year closer to the age of 65, 70, or 75 does not have the same allure, I assure you.

For all you younger people who are anticipating a wonderful celebration tomorrow, I wish you well, and hope that you have a great time. And for those older people who still enjoy such things, you too, of course. I will be lucky if I am still awake at midnight. 🙂

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE!

The seasonal lull

Is it really only Wednesday? I spent all day (until a few minutes ago) thinking it was Thursday.

So now the ‘lull’ begins. The presents have been opened, the bins full of wrapping paper and the debris of huge meals. I feel a lot like a slowly deflating balloon, and probably look a lot like one too. The aftermath of that seemingly endless rush toward Christmas, and the two days of hectic celebration. Bones aching, unusually tired, and wondering what to do with yourself once all the good crockery and cutlery has been carefully washed, and tidied away.

This year, we have four days of ‘lull’. Julie is off, and I no longer work. The weather is just awful so no chance of trips out, or bracing seaside walks. Still dark before 4 pm, and little enthusiasm to do much more than flop about, and wonder what we can salvage for dinner tonight. I can’t even imagine the stamina of those who have gone off excitedly to the sales. Maybe it is being older, but I never remember being that lively even when I was young.

I call it the ‘lull’, because there is more to come. New Year’s Eve is looming, heralding the arrival of 2018, which I have said previously somehow seems futuristic to me. I know it’s only one more than 2017, but something about the 8 makes it seem to be ‘the future’. There is no time to really take advantage of this lull though. We have guests arriving on the 31st, and a grandson to babysit that night too. The whole house to clean thoroughly once again, and special meals to prepare. Again.

But for today, on that Wednesday that still feels like Thursday, it’s time to stop.

London Life (3)

My previous two posts on this subject painted a less than attractive picture of living in London. They need to be balanced, to some degree, by this post about the positive side of London Life. After all, if it was that terrible, nobody would stay there, would they?

 
London has many parks, and most are well-known, even to outsiders. Perhaps the best two parks are the ones most used by locals, and less known to visitors to the centre. Primrose Hill, between Camden Town, and St. John’s Wood, offers one of the best views over London available from anywhere in the Capital. A short climb up the hill, which is surrounded by a small park, rewards the visitor with a marvellous vista, stretching across Central London to the river, and beyond. When it has been snowing, toboggans and sleds appear suddenly, and local children and adults alike, take advantage of the steep incline, to enjoy the closest you can get to winter sport in the City. On Firework Night, or New Year’s Eve, locals make the climb, in any weather, to enjoy the free show of fireworks from every area of London, visible as from no other location. On hot summer days, lovers, friends, and families take picnics to the hill and the park, to enjoy the open space, and get some relief from the heat inside the area’s small homes. There are occasional tourists, wandering there from Camden Market, or after a visit to nearby Regent’s Park Zoo, but most are local people, making full use of this amenity.

On the other side of London, south of the Thames, lies the area of Greenwich and Blackheath. This is also on high ground, and the park houses the famous Royal Observatory, with the whole area being a must-see for travellers on riverboat trips along the Thames. The view from this high point offers the splendour of The Queens House, The National Maritime Museum, and the Old Naval College and Hospital. You can also see the Millennium Dome, now called The O2 Arena.

You will also see tourists inside the grounds of The Observatory, straddling the line of the Prime Meridian, thus being photographed in both halves of the World at once. South of the park, and across the busy main road, is the large public grassland called Blackheath. This is popular with kite-fliers, and home to football grounds for minor league players, as well as vast areas where any outdoor activity can be enjoyed. In the small town of Greenwich, there is a popular weekend market, and two famous vessels moored in dry dock, as visitor attractions; these are The Cutty Sark, a tea clipper that is the symbol of Greenwich to many, and the Gipsy Moth lV, the first ship to be sailed single-handed around the World. The area is best visited outside the summer tourist boom, with the leaves turning brown on the trees in the park, and stronger winds, ideal for kites.

The other great joy of living in London, and the one that I miss the most, is the ability to eat out, with a selection of restaurants and cafes unsurpassed anywhere in Europe. This applies especially to the central area, north of Oxford Street, and stretching up to Camden Town, and beyond. I do not believe that there is any cuisine that is not catered for. I know of Mongolian, Armenian, and Eritrean restaurants, alongside the more familiar Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, and Greek eateries. Arabian tea bars, with customers sitting outside on large cushions, sipping mint tea, or enjoying shisha pipes, Italian espresso bars, popular since the 1950’s, and traditional English cafes, serving a full breakfast, all sit side by side.

When I was young, eating out was restricted to Pie and Mash, Jellied Eels, Fish and Chips, or the occasional foray to Limehouse, to enjoy a basic Chinese meal. By the late 1970’s, this had all changed, and anything imaginable was available.

During the last 12 years, I have had to travel no further than the area from Charlotte Street to Camden Town, to find delightful restaurants, at all price levels. In Camden alone, the choice is so great, I did not manage to visit them all, during the time I lived there. From the recent addition of the mighty Gilgamesh, which is worth a visit to marvel at the interior, even if you do not wish to eat there, to the older establishments on Parkway, and every street in between, there is something to cater for every taste. Inverness Street, a pedestrianised street market, is home to no less than six restaurants, including Hache, where they serve the best burgers in London, and Bar Solo, where you can enjoy a three course meal, or just have a coffee outside, and watch the life on Camden’s streets. Further along, there is Bar Gansa, a Tapas Bar, with live flamenco on Mondays, and Made in Brasil, a place with a great atmosphere, especially when Brazil are playing football! I have enjoyed many happy evenings, and some great food, in all of these, and more.

So, not all of London Life is to be demonised, or reviled. Wandering around Soho, or Chinatown, can be relaxing and enjoyable too. The unusual bookshops of Charing Cross Road, or the antique shops of Camden Passage in Islington, provide a nice diversion when you have time to spare. When the tourist season is at a low ebb, and the workers commuting in and out have gone home, London can offer much to those who actually live there. I am glad that I did live there, and equally glad that I no longer do.