Sunday, December 27, 2015

Keep It All the Year

Since our return on Wednesday, we've been celebrating the season nearly nonstop. We really had to dive in after eight days of no carols, no trees, no Santas, no advertising of Christmas of any sort. As with elections, Christmas with minimal buildup is infinitely more enjoyable than it is after six weeks (or two years, if we're talking elections) of being beaten over the head with a media mallet.

We dove right into Christmas Eve at Klauser and Sue's, where we drank bubbly and ate dates stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, scotch eggs, mince pies, and pork pies, much to my delight (the champagne) and Ben's (the eggs and pies) and, of course, Phil's (all of it). We watched the Kings College Cambridge Christmas Eve carolers and a film of the last part of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which we'd seen at the Royal Opera but only partially, due to our box seats. Ben was amazed to realize that Mercutio was actually fighting another person on stage left when he was stabbed to death.

On Christmas Day, we returned to Rosslyn Hill (a mere .8 miles from our hotel) for Christmas lunch. It was a remarkable production -- beautifully staged, delicious, and perfect in every regard. We had champagne and hors d'oeuvres, watched the Queen give her Christmas Address, and exchanged presents. Sue and Klauser gave us our very own stockings with our names on them, stuffed with lovely thoughtful gifts of every sort, from a squirrel nutcracker (which we tried out later, with riotously messy results) to yummy sweets.

We then moved on to roast goose and bangers, sprouts, red cabbage, roast potatoes and parsnips, and cranberry sauce, accompanied by a marvelous Bordeaux. There were Christmas crackers, and we tooted a very bad rendition of "The First Noel" with the whistles we found inside. Dessert was flaming Christmas pudding and brandy butter sauce. (Sue somehow managed to avoid setting her head on fire.) We had to walk a little afterward to avoid coma, so Sue took us around the neighborhood in a light rain.

As the day was to end with the Christmas series finale of Downton Abbey (none of the five seasons of which Ben had seen -- or wished to), we repaired back to the hotel for a rest, then walked again to the flat. To our shock, there was laid out a cheese course, Sue's Christmas cake (a fruitcake that died and went to heaven), Sauternes, more bubbly, and single malt scotch. The latter was required to keep Ben in his chair during the two-hour Downton special. By the end, he was nearly in tears. We are pretty sure that his emotion was the result of the deeply affecting storyline rather than unbearable boredom, but we thought it best not to ask.

Our first Boxing Day in England took us to Kew Gardens, west of the city center. ("Plantastic!" Ben exclaimed.) We staggered around the garden, admiring the 1840s greenhouse, the Japanese pagoda, the small aquarium, and the treetop walk. We thought we were hallucinating when we saw parakeets -- but apparently they were a few of the Kingston Parakeets, of which there are somewhere between 6,000 and 50,000, according to the always-accurate Internet. Apparently the originals either escaped from the set of the African Queen in 1951, got loose from an aviary during a 1987 hurricane, or were released by Jimi Hendrix  sometime in the 1960s. After that, we were ready for a beer and Chinese food.

And now it is our last day. Laundry done, bags sort of packed. We've seen In the Heart of the Sea, about the Essex's encounter with the whale that became Moby-Dick. Phil and Ben have been back to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles. In a fit of fearful symmetry, we've had our last meal in the same Indian restaurant where we ate on the day we arrived.  Tomorrow morning Ben will go on to Paris and we will head to Heathrow. At least there will be no snow in Wassaic (I hope)! (Note: WRONG. Damn.)

We have had an indescribably wonderful time. From island-hopping (Mallorca, Malta, Sicily) to Phil's and my first visit to Asia (Ben claims the food is better in Turkey than Mongolia). From making new friends (we'll see you soon, Cynthia!) to hosting a plethora of gracious guests in the dread Bunkbed Room. We're indebted to the London Programme for making the visit possible. And to Nick and Laurie for keeping an eye on the plumbing and making sure our house didn't burn down. And most especially, we are grateful for the kindness, generosity, and innumerable good times Klauser and Sue have shown us. You've made this sojourn more fun than we can say, and we will miss you more than we can say. I feel somehow that London has become one of my heart's homes, and that is all because of you.

See you, once again, on the other side...

...we resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived. -- Moll Flanders

Our final pubs (a total of 44, plus revisits!):

olde indeed
in Kew Gardens, right at the tube station
the last pub


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