It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in London, which, as cities go, surely springs to mind as one of the most festive locations in which to spend the Christmas season. It is, after all, the city that brought us A Christmas Carol, and whose foggy streets, holly-trimmed Georgian town houses and fairy-light filled shopping streets fill Christmas cards across the globe, images which are synonymous with the festive season everywhere.
True, we don’t have many cinnamon-scented, mulled-wine quenched Christmas markets, gingerbread houses or ski slopes, and when we get snow, it does generally turn to grey mush within the hour, but what we do have is a series of super-festive ice rinks set amongst backdrops of picture-perfect architectural grandeur, huge trees filling our squares and besides our most important buildings, an almost guaranteed cold wintery climate, and shopping streets crammed full of shoppers from all over the world. It’s the very image of a contemporary Christmas.
For we Londoners, 2012 has been an incredible year, for obvious reasons, but nothing quite tops the icing on the cake than a great festive season. I’m a working man, and my blog, as with my art, takes second place, sadly, in my day to day activities, and therefore I have been unable to go skating, to traipse around the shops for hours on end, nor to meander around the allegedly popular winter wonderland in Hyde Park. However, with what hours I have spared, I have noticed a tangible sparkle of festive feeling laying upon every facet of London like a sprinkle of freshly laid snow. And I’m loving it. So, I decided to share a few of my haphazardly shot photos and Christmassy experiences so that you too can share in the festive spirit which is cursing through the city.
In its shopping, London is practically unrivalled, and for Christmas splendour, the shopping districts and large department stores know how to lay on a show. The other night I headed to Covent Garden market which, despite being almost paralysed by cold, sparkled like a finely polished diamond. Inside the giant market, huge oversized baubles hang intermittently between giant disco balls and the permanent elegant iron lighting. Meanwhile, in the market square is a huge tree in an even bigger pot, while besides it, mulled wine stalls and hoards of shoppers help to make this one of the most festive areas of London.
As for me, well I met my dear friend Celia for dinner not far from the market – we headed to the Green Man and French Horn in St Martins Lane – an intimate french affair in the setting of an old pub, with low cosy lighting and some pretty hearty food – I had a feather-blade beef which almost melted away on my tongue when washed down with its rich wine sauce and our accompanying bottle of vin.
Talking of food, a few days before, my friends Cassandra, Jeremy and I headed off to trendy Islington in the North of the city, again an area of London giving boast to some excellent shopping, as well as the slightly more niche antiques and interiors market. However, it wasn’t our homes we went to indulge – rather, we were headed for Feast, a large undercover Christmas food festival, set within the very ramshackled surroundings of the old post office sorting offices, which made for quite the industrial contrast with the very popular festive spectacle below, as stalls from many a local restaurant offered a rich variety of culinary oblation, from glorious cupcakes (pictured), spicy asian cuisine, seared thai beef and mexican enchilladas, to gourmet burgers, Spanish chorizo sandwiches and fluffy pork buns. As for us, well, apart from and perhaps instead of the aforesaid, we managed to gorge more upon the liquid libations provided, from mulled wine, to mulled cider, to mulled wine again. Nothing makes one merry and festive quicker, particularly at 1 in the afternoon.
Back to the shops, and none can doubt the breadth and variety of Christmas shopping on offer in this great city, not to mention the decorative supremacy of the city’s most established shops. In Selfridges, one of my favourite department stores, the 5-floor high galleries are hung with huge dinging bells, which move up and down all day long, bonging a gentle, almost hallucinogenic Christmas tune. In both Harrods and Liberty, Christmas decorations fill a generous proportion of the shop floor space, and queues for the latest quirky bauble wind around the stores. However, for the best decorations, Fortnum and Mason, my favourite of all London shops, does simply the best in my view. Pictured are some of the white decorations they had this year, but just look at their lavish tree and old fashioned staircase. What I would give to import this entire set up into my sadly staircase-less flat! Meanwhile, with the decorations bought and wrapped, head around the corner to Regent street, where a lightshow worthy of the 3 Kings themselves awaits, strung across the busy shopping streets below.
No overview of London’s Christmas would be complete without a quick mention of those wonderful ice rinks. My favourite has to be the rink set within the glorious confines of Somerset House on the banks of the Thames. With flame torches flickering around the blue glowing ice and the imposing facades of the Somerset House quadrant standing majestically all around, this has to be the picture perfect Christmas scene. It’s so good in fact that when studying at King’s College London next door some 10 years ago, I painted my very own homage to the ice rink (below). See also the rink outside the spectacular gothic palace that houses the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. This again creates a remarkable backdrop to an intrinsically festive scene.
But while being out in the frosty busy streets of London is all very well, at the end of it all, there’s nothing quite like home. This very evening I have just finished gorging upon wooden platters loaded with fresh cheeses, festive chutneys, smoked salmon and ham, while with friends round for the evening, we toasted christmas with champagne in one hand and mulled wine in the other. For Christmas in the city is the jolliest place to be, but share it with friends and loved ones, and Christmas will truly have come home.
Tomorrow, as if you haven’t had enough already, I just have to share more photos of my Christmas decorations, candles, installations and more. See you then.