Christmas in London makes the early darkness of the afternoons bearable. Houses, streets and trees are all lit by a myriad of silver, gold and coloured lights. Christmas trees stand—belle of the ball with their bejewelled skirts, aglow and pride of place in living rooms. There is a light tension in the air, of shopping list items still needing to be purchased and that oh-so-elusive, last present.
Taking a pause, my sister, niece, nephew and I decide to pay a visit to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Like moles, we hurtle through the tunnels of the London Underground, in brightly lit, crowded carriages. Eye contact is to be avoided at all costs and compared to twenty years ago, is made all the easier by the accompanying modern technology that we all feel obliged to carry.
At Hyde Park, standing at the bottom of the elevators to the surface, the underground staff cheerily goad the surge of passengers from each new train, through loud speakers:
Go on, take the stairs! It's the healthier option—you might even get to the top first. Try and beat the current record of 19 seconds!
No thanks! We opt for one of the two elevators to the surface, either side of the marathon stairs with their 121 steps. As we glide effortlessly to the top, we watch the valiant few who having only reached half way, are struggling with their choice and becoming red-faced and wobble-legged in the process.
Bursting forth into the muddle of people above ground, we head for the arced entrance to Winter Wonderland and the festive throng. Luckily, being spread over a vast area of Hyde Park, it means that the enormity of the crowds doesn't feel oppressive.
There are stalls selling Christmas gifts, decorations, craft ideas, snow globes filled with Santa in his gift filled sleigh and snowmen. English pubs with live music, a German beer house with a view of the ice rink, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, fast food and candies. The stalls in turn, are replaced by a large sprawling fair, where enormous stuffed bears and cartoon characters can be won. Rides for little people, rotate and sway gently in contrast to the hurling, dropping, and swinging motions of the bigger rides. Around these the air is filled with shrieks of delight, horror and in some cases tears.
Soaking up the atmosphere, we shop for treasures. Beer is drunk, the Roller Coaster is ridden and brains are scrambled in the neon blue and red lights of the spinning Waltzers. We stay until daylight fades and the intensity of the Christmas lights increase against a backdrop of a darkening sky, with black-branched trees.