25 December 2021
Do we prepare lunch or an early dinner?
It's Christmas Day but somehow I'm not fazed about whether we eat early or late - just as long as we do something special to celebrate Christmas in London. There are several presents beneath the Christmas tree, but we decide to open them later.
First, Natasha suggests that we take a walk. She warns me about 'Cardiac Hill' and I'm not prepared for the steep incline until we are halfway up and I am utterly breathless. I stop to catch my breath and Natasha encourages me to continue as she assures me that the reward at the top is worth the huffing and puffing. I suddenly remember why I should have taken an exercise regime seriously over the past months.
We reach the 'summit' where there is a park bench strategically placed for the unfit and I would have loved to have collapsed upon it to catch my breath, but I am immediately drawn towards the vista along the horizon. Recent activity by the local council is evident as thorny blackberry stumps are all that remain from what was a briar patch, providing us with an unobstructed view.
Just where the sky meets the land I can identify several tiny iconic London landmarks; St. Paul's Cathedral, the Shard, and the London Eye to name a few. Although it is cloudy and a little bit of fog is still hanging around, the view is magnificent.
Continuing in the same direction, we descend, walk through a few streets filled with terraced houses, many of which are decorated for Christmas; lights, Christmas trees, and other objects litter the front yards, providing a happy, festive atmosphere.
We reach Dulwich Park; wide walking avenues provide ample room for walkers and there are plenty here today. Little children riding bicycles and scooters; gifts left overnight from a very generous Santa no doubt. Exiting the park, we arrive in Dulwich Village, a tiny and quaint locality inside the larger Southwark region of London. Dulwich College, founded in 1619, was originally built as a school for underprivileged boys, but by the early 18th century, it allowed wealthy Londoners to attend. Famous literary figures that were educated at the college include PG Wodehouse, CS Forester, and Dennis Wheatley, who was expelled. We walk through the small commercial sector, which is mostly made up of restaurants, cafes, and other local bespoke stores. Twenty minutes later we arrive back at Natasha's and realise that our excursion has taken almost exactly two hours.
We decide to accept an invitation to have Christmas drinks with Natasha's friends, a young couple with two children who live close by. We arrive at a bustling home; dinner almost cooked, alarms periodically ringing to advise that something or other needs be removed from the oven. No signs of stress though as we are welcomed, handed celebratory champagne, as our hosts continue preparing what looks to be a delicious meal. The doorbell rings again and a small dog, dressed in a Christmassy elf jumper leads the new guests into the home. In amongst the chaos, the phone rings, and our hosts are advised that the guests of honour, parents, and grandparents are unable to come due to illness. At this time, nobody takes chances with COVID, where the elderly and tiny children are concerned.
As we prepare to leave, we are invited to stay; to fill in empty chairs at the table. And so we do. Roast chickens, pork, vegetables, a pork mince stuffing, pigs-in-blankets, and more. What a feast! The ill guests were bringing the dessert so an emergency pudding from Harrods is whipped out of a cupboard and put on the stove to boil for two hours, providing the perfect end to a wonderful day; fun, filled with friendly and welcoming young people and a dog that expertly opens gifts - a feat I'd never seen before.
We make our way home, sated and happy. Our own Christmas dinner is still uncooked and momentarily forgotten. Perhaps our earlier procrastination has paid off as sometimes it is the unexpected, random opportunities that provide some of the best experiences. Today is one such example.