It’s Day Two of the “Five Months in Five Days” series, and we’ve arrived at… drumroll…November!
What’s that? No suspense? No surprise? You guessed that was coming? Hmmm. Why was there no spoiler alert??
Jump Start the Holidays
One Saturday night early in November, we took a little outing down to Covent Garden. What a nice surprise to find the halls all decked and the crowds feeling festive! I usually hate it when any season starts before its time. Don’t show me Easter candy before Valentine’s Day; and please keep the red foil hearts in the warehouse until after New Year’s Eve! But then, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.K., so what’s to keep us from starting the Christmas season in early November here? In any case, the early Christmas vibe at Covent Garden that night was working. A string ensemble entertained on the lower level– dancing around, spinning their cellos, and rocking the garden with the rockin-est of classical music– while a crowd watched from the tables nearby and the steps and balconies above.
This year’s decor featured spinning disco balls that cast snowflake lights all around the halls. It was like some well done mashup of a party and a stage production– I kept feeling that tickle of anticipation I always feel when the Nutcracker Overture starts and the curtain comes up to all the people going to Clara’s family Christmas party. (Does anyone else love that scene and get that same feeling??) I snapped a thousand pictures on my iPhone– very few of which actually turned out at all. We peeked at the macarons in Laduree, I ogled the soaps carved so beautifully into flowers at one of the stalls, and Clay let the kids pick candy at the ‘penny candy’ stall. I think we even went upstairs in Pollock’s Toy Shop to see the puppet theatres and other old-fashioned toys. When we’d soaked in the atmosphere for a while, we stopped for mulled wine and hot chocolate at one of the outdoor cafes with those tableside heaters that look like torches inside glass tubes? It was too cozy! (In fact, it was probably was a little too cozy for the 20-somethings on a date at the table approximately 30 millimeters from ours… but it didn’t bother us!)
We had a full house for Thanksgiving, with Will and Chloe home for the holiday. Since they had already traveled several time zones to be with us for a few days, we decided to stay in London. We managed to procure a nice, farm-raised turkey– for something like an elbow and an ankle, if not an arm and a leg, as most of the British turkeys were apparently not on the market until December. But we celebrated a proper American Thanksgiving, right down to the pumpkin pie. And we had American guests– two of Chloe’s friends (one ASL, one Marblehead) who were in London without their families. I was so grateful to have the whole family together this year. We packed a lot into those days. Here’s a look…
And a Few Other Things
Also in November? Mudlarking– digging around in the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide for whatever you can find! It’s a time-honored tradition– and a way that some folks made their living back in Victorian times. Claire’s class had a field trip to see what it was like, as well as to study the ecology of the Thames. One kid dug up the sole of a hob-nailed boot– perhaps not valuable, but certainly old and interesting. But mostly we did a lot of fishing around in tidal pools for freshwater shrimp and other “treasures” of the biological kind. The group I was chaperoning collected a great Chinese Mitten Crab specimen– the guide looked it over and was excited to show the kids because he was obviously a ‘warrior’ who had survived a lot as he was missing some of his limbs. Trouble is, while the children were mucking in pools down the way from our bucket, our little crab became a seagull’s lunch. We’d left the poor old warrior out like a buffet for the birds! Yes. I felt bad about that. What? You think I should have let the kids go play near the river while I stayed close to the crab? Still, it was fun to be down on the Thames, and the kids loved it, which is always so great to watch. Coincidently, not long after the trip I picked up a book called DODGER, by Terry Pratchett. It was a treat to read, with all kinds of Victorian characters– real and fictional– springing to life. And yes, there was mudlarking in it.
We closed out the month with another bit of Christmas: a carol singalong at the church of St Martin in the Fields. It’s one of my very favorite places in London to hear live performances, and it was really special to hear all those English carols we’ve listened to from the Chieftains for many years. Last year Clay and I went to hear the Messiah by candlelight there. This year we went to the sing along with the Littles instead (because they were begging me to take them out caroling, and I simply had to find a different way to scratch that itch!) The church is in Trafalgar Square, so it’s also a great place to go for a nice little hit of London spirit– what with the National Gallery, the Nelson column, the fountains and the lion statues, all the theaters and all the diverse London people. It’s also a beautiful, beautiful place. I love the window behind the altar (look closely and pick out the cross and the Light in the center). It was created and installed after the old, traditional stained glass window was shattered during the Blitz.
The older I get, the more I want to pause at this time and breathe. And call it cultural conditioning if you want, but most of all I want to be thankful. November seems like a very good time for that.