Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas 'Panto' in Richmond and Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My guests arrived when I was beginning to despair--close to noon. I had expected them at least an hour earlier, but used the time to finalize my own packing as well as seeing to the last-minute items on my To-Do List.

With little time to spare after we said our first Hellos, I ushered Jenny-Lou and her daughter Kristen to the underground station for our long ride to Hammersmith from where we changed lines to get to Richmond. I was afraid it would take us much longer to get there and was relieved when we arrived at Richmond with a good 45 minutes to spare. This left us time to pick up sandwiches from Tesco which we ate while overlooking Richmond's spacious Green, right behind the bustle of the shopping area which is called The Quadrant. Then, ten minutes later, we were inside the theater, picking up tickets that were held for me at the Box Office.

No one was more surprised than I to find the theater packed to the rafters with the tiniest little school kids out on a field trip with their long-suffering teachers. Every seat was occupied and the little ones were squirming in their seats with excitement. Peter Pan was the perfect play for this age group--most under seven years of age. I had such a blast sitting in the midst of these lovely innocent angels and watching their reactions. From everything I had read about this typically British tradition of the pantomime, it is a highly interactive form of drama in which the audience participates fully, warning the hero and heroine about the approach of the 'baddies' who hide behind the rocks or shows their appreciation not just by clapping their hands but by stamping their feet as well and shouting till they're hoarse. Bonnie Langford's Peter Pan was wonderfully lively and her flying through the stage, though now technologically old-hat was still marvelous enough for the little kids to stare open-mouthed in amazement. As for Captain Hook, played by the one and only Simon Callow, he was superb and seemed to be having the most fun. I was delighted to find an old song I had learnt when I was myself in primary school, "We're following the Leader" as well as, most unexpectedly, Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" both featured in the show --the latter with slightly different lyrics!!! Overall, I had a superbly entertaining time at the theater and was glad that my very first British 'panto' was a resounding success. Jenny and Kristen loved it too and were as charmed as I was by the vigour with which the audience got involved.

Back on the Tube, we got off at Hyde Park Corner, which made it very convenient for us to visit the Winter Wonderland about which everyone has been raving. Each time I have passed by Hyde Park in the past few weeks, I have been attracted to the giant ferris wheel and the lights in the trees and the general mood of merriment that surrounds the park. Entry to the park was free, but as soon as we reached the first stall, we knew we were in for a rare treat. The Wonderland turned out to be a German Christmas Fair complete with food stalls, shops selling distinctively German Christmas handicrafts and a variety of awesome rides that were most unusual and extraordinarily tasteful. Jenny and Kristen went on the Big Scream Roller coaster and Kristen walked through the Maze of Mirrors. We picked up steaming hot Gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and hot chocolate for Kristen,and walked with our glasses as they warmed our hands effectively. Not that they needed much warming. After weeks of awful weather, it was unseasonably mild tonight which made our stroll in the park very pleasurable indeed. For dinner, we chose to eat a variety of items--all German, all carb-heavy. Kristen opted for bratwurst in a long toasted roll, Jenny was attracted to a plate of hot boiled potatoes seasoned with bacon and I chose a big bowl of sauteed mushrooms served with a garlic sauce. For dessert. we picked up a paper cone filled with crisp honey roasted cashew nuts and almonds--so yummy! We walked right to the very end of the fair to take in the bungie jumpers and the huge ferris wheel that was beautifully lit up and filled the entire area with a festive spirit.

When we'd reached the banks of the Serpentine, we turned around and talked towards the exit, then hopped into a bus that took us to Marble Arch from where we caught another bus that went along the lengths of Oxford and Regent Streets. This gave us all a chance to marvel at the holiday lights which everyone says are more spectacular than usual this year. Shoppers still crowded the streets and the stores and since everything is handsomely discounted, hopefully Christmas this year will not be as doleful as the economists predict.

When the bus arrived at Aldwych, we jumped off and walked the short distance along Waterloo Bridge to get to the South Bank where I had heard that a Continental Market was on. However, by the time we arrived there, it was winding down and the stall owners were calling it a day. It was time for us to think about getting home. My guests had arrived from the New Jersey and were starting to feel the difference in time zones get to them.

Back in my flat, Jenny and I sat down to chat for a bit over cups of tea before I made up the sofa bed for them in the living room and we decided to call it a night. It had been a memorable day and I was pleased that I had their company as I covered two more Must-Do items on my holiday list--a London pantomime and the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park.

Now I must turn my own thoughts homewards and start to think of all the things I need to do to get well and truly ready for Christmas in Connecticut.

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