We were a little tired this morning after the previous night’s events, so we didn’t get up to peek at abandoned London, which is what London looks like on Christmas Day morning. Instead we each had a bowl of cereal before Sarah got stuck in making the trifle and I attempted to do laundry in the flat. Attempted, because the tiny all-in-on washer and dryer doesn’t do what I expect of it. No matter how small a load, everything comes out damp and hot and far from what I would call dry. What was supposed to be a quick task quickly became a reason to worry about the clock and the timing of our departure for Jack’s place.I think Sarah’s trifle looks great, but she worries about it. Working in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar equipment and materials always makes it a challenge to her, but she always does well. Even the plastic punchbowls we picked up at Sainsbury’s are doing a fine job in their roles as trifle bowls! We are each a little on edge as the clock clicks closer to the hired car arriving in front of the building at half two. It took a great deal of begging and negotiation on Jack’s to secure a car on Christmas Day for a reasonable rate of 25 quid. We have spotty reception in the flat and we did not want the driver to leave us behind.
The car arrived a few minutes early, but we got the call. We rushed to gather the food, gifts, coats and anything else we could before running to the lift and out to the road. The drive from Pimlico to Tooting went by our windows quickly as London was closed for the national holiday. We were soon at Jack’s doorstep. Ann showed us where to put our coats and we made our way into the front room to meet their “German friend”, Al. We had been expecting a person who spoke German or at least English with a German accent, but instead it was an old mate of Jack’s from university who happened to be of German decent.Ann brought Sarah a glass of red wine and a pint of bitter for me, along with some delicious canapes, and we sat down in front of the fireplace to get acquainted and reacquainted. Al put on his special winter mix of music which was made up of selections from Captain Beefheart, Del La Soul, Radiohead, Revered Horton Heat and even Snoop Dogg. Not your traditional holiday sounds!
When the turkey was ready, we gathered at the table, pulled crackers, donned hats, and made very merry over a lovely meal. In addition to the bird, there was bread salad, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and a tangy sauerkraut which our new German friend had brought.After the meal we retired to the front room again, loosened our trousers (well, I did!), and tried to play a game far too complicated for the conditions. We decided to have pudding and try another game (Scruples) and had more than a few laughs. I am dubbed a “man of high moral caliber” making it easier for people to get points simply by asking me their questions.
Drunk and happy, we reluctantly call the car hire service for our return trip before they close for the evening, and it arrives so quickly we barely have time to say proper goodbyes. In the backseat on the way back to the flat I follow along with Google Maps as we weave through the heart of the capital while we discuss the evening. To the taxi driver I mention the agreed upon fare of £25 and he fires back that it will be £37! I argue as politely as I can, but once we arrive at the flat I eventually bite through my lower lip and give exactly £37. The driver on the way to Tooting received a nice tip, but not this guy.
Exhausted, we brush our teeth, fall into bed and wish each other a happy Christmas.
After Nick and Paula spoiled us with an evening of great food and good humor in High Wycombe, we were ready to camp out in their home for a few more weeks of idle relaxation. Alas, they have lives to get on with and we had plans to meet up with an old friend in Wales, so we had to press on to the next stop on our tour.
We tagged along with Nick on his morning commute via train, stopping at a small cafe near his office for yet another Full English Breakfast. (It was at this point in the trip that I thought one or both of us might turn into a Full English Breakfast if we continued eating them.) Fortified on grease, potatoes, and coffee we took a short hop on the tube before catching the train to Cardiff.
The view out the train window was beautiful, and we rolled along through the hills and many farmlands with sheep, horses, and beef cattle. At some point it began to snow quite steadily, adding to the layer of frozen precipitation already on the ground and upping the magical winter-wonderland feeling.
After three hours we arrived at Cardiff Central Station in the Welsh capital. At this point the snow was falling fast and heavy, and had already blanketed the city. We waited several minutes for a cab to take us to the hotel, managed to check in despite a problem with the online reservation I had made weeks earlier, and spent a few minutes relaxing in the room and enjoying our snow-laden view of downtown.
I wasn’t keen to spend a day lazing about, so, despite the snowstorm, we decided to trudge into town for some sightseeing. We realized that this type of snowfall was unusual for the area, and this was confirmed along our walk: a van stuck in a car-park — unable to make the 10-degree incline of the exit to the street; taxis, buses, and cars sliding along the road; and no sign of any snow shovels or snow blowers for clearing the sidewalks. By mid-afternoon there were at least 4-5 inches of accumulation on the ground and the snow was still coming down in a sheet. It was beautiful! We made our way along the river and over the bridge to the central downtown area.
Apparently the economic boom of the early-mid 2000s spurred a massive revitalization effort in Cardiff. The buildings on the main streets looked completely new, and the entire downtown felt like one large upscale open-air shopping arena. Although traffic on the streets had lessened due to impassibility, we found many people on foot enjoying the snow while holiday shopping. We passed through the streets of shops to the northern end of the city and found Cardiff Castle. Unfortunately, due to weather, the tour guides were closing it up. We did manage to cajole them into letting us take a quick photo from the main gate, and they told us that they expected to reopen at the weekend.
Foiled at our first attempt at tourist activities, we set off to try to find the Dr. Who exhibit that a friend had recommended. I couldn’t remember whether this was in the Millennium Center, or the sports stadium, so Rick humored me as we made a circuit around town, trying to find any sightseeing opportunity that hadn’t closed due to weather.
Eventually we backtracked and found the National Museum Cardiff, but like all the other cultural points, this was closed too. Tired, cold, and soggy, we decided to give up and began making our way back to the shopping district in search of dinner. Rick had received some suggestions of pubs to try, but our phone Internet service was spotty so it was difficult to locate them. Then, as we passed Cardiff Castle and paused for another photo of the outside, I realized we were standing in front of The Goat Major, one of the suggested spots. It was a sign, and we went in to warm up with pints and pies.
Like many of the pubs in Cardiff, The Goat Major serves Brains…SA Brains beer that is. This brewery was founded in 1882 and has their headquarters is in Cardiff. We began with one pint of Brains Black and one of the bitter while pondering the menu, an extensive list of pies, including their award-winning chicken pot pie.
After ordering I took a turn around the pub to check out the historic photos and memorabilia on the walls. It turns out that the place is named for the mascot of the Royal Regiment of Wales. There were photos and a number of newspaper clippings about the history of the Regiment and its Goat Majors….a fascinating and quite odd bit of military tradition.
The pies were brought and we settled into a second rounds of pints. The food was indeed excellent, and we enjoyed our meal as the pub began to fill with the after-work crowd. Finally, warmed from the food and drink, we tottered back to the hotel through the snow and the Christmas lights, looking forward to our visit to Trealy Farm the next day.
As predicted we both woke up a little worn for wear from the cocktails the night before, but we got up, got dressed and walked back to Nick & Jess’ flat before landing at The Regency Cafe — which both Jess and Rich had recommended.
We had been warned about the rules of this place: Do not sit down at a table until you had placed your order, and be ready to order when it is your turn. We had also been warned of the way our order would be called, but that part ended up being nothing like we imagined. After the four of us had placed our orders with the nice, petite, soft-spoken woman at the counter we grabbed a table by the far window and chatted. The food comes out in spurts, but you are alerted in bursts.
“BREAKFAST SPECIAL, BLOOD PUDDING, HASH BROWNS!”
Vibrating off the window next to us came bellowing a deep, baritone voice from the same woman who had quietly referred to me as “love” moments before. We realised then that this place was a challenge the morning after a night of drink.
Jess needed to get to work, so we left The Regency Cafe, said our goodbyes to her and walked with Nick to Pimlico Fresh for coffee. As we are standing out front I noticed a familiar face waving to us. Rich greeted us at the door explaining that he and Carol had different methods for dealing with red-eye flights. Hers was to nap (I agree) and his is to plow on through and pretend nothing happened. Granted Rich travels a great deal, so your mileage may vary. Rich was having his breakfast and we joined him with our delicious lattes.
After second breakfast, Sarah and I took Nick and Rich’s suggestion and took The Tube over to Monument to the Great Fire of London (aka Monument) to take in some views of the city from Christopher Wrens functional tribute.
When we arrived the weather was gray and misty, but by the time we paid our admittance fee and climbed the spiral staircase to the observation deck it had also become a bit gusty, making the walk around the deck interesting. We both think the thick wire meshing made it a challenge to enjoy the view, and may have even induced a bit of vertigo. It was an enjoyable experience that we were glad we did. We took a few more photos and then made our way back down, where we were greeted by a woman who gave us certificates that we had, in fact, been to the top of Monument.
Next we headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags which had been stored while we played tourist. We strapped on our backpacks and rolled our luggage to the Lambeth tube station, and took a straight shot to the Baker Street stop. We got a little turned around, but we weren’t expected by Tait for an hour. We reoriented ourselves and headed for the Sherlock Holmes Museum to pick up a souvenir for a colleague of Sarah’s. We then noticed a Beatles memorabilia shop a few shops down and squeezed to the tight little shop with our luggage, which they preferred to my standing in the doorway. I stood very still with the bags while Sarah looked at suitcase-friendly gifts and brought them to me for my approval or whimsy. I listened to the two female store employees as they quoted Yellow Submarine along with the film which was playing in the store.
Satisfied with our purchases, we walked a few blocks along the crowded sidewalks of Baker Street to Tait’s workspace. Still a bit early, we made our way to his office and took a seat and tea and chatted while he tied up loose ends with clients in various time zones. Satisfied that no one would be too angry if he left 2 minutes early, we made our way back down the lift and around the corner to The Bee Hive pub, where we briefly caught up over a shout before heading to Marylebone station.
We gave Tait cash and he used a kiosk to purchase our tickets to High Wycomb. We made our way to the platform and boarded a “quiet” carriage, where Tait and I played backgammon against each other on our iPhones while Sarah played a game on her iPad. The trip was brief, so I was only able to beat Tait the one game we played before we our stop. At the train depot we cleaned out the back of Tait’s station wagon which was full of dog gear. Sarah asked to be in the front seat and promptly made her way to the wrong side of the car.
After a quick shop at the market to get some more beer, we arrived at Tait’s place where Paula was waiting. Tait retired to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the curry, while we caught up with Paula and met their two wonderful rescue Greyhounds. We presented Tait with a hat made of our yarn that Sarah had knitted along with some Vermont-made hot sauces and a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Paula received a set of handwarmers which Sarah had also knitted and we also gave them the spoon I carved when we took a course with Bill Copperwaite five years previous. I also had one of the better beers I would drink this trip when I was presented with a Gem by Bath Ales. After dinner, we watched a few comedy sketches on YouTube, and I beat Tait on a traditional backgammon board, before we all went to bed.
If we thought we were being spoiled by Jenny with her Chinese food cooking and overall generosity for the week, she out did herself on Christmas. As I mentioned in the previous installment, we stayed up quite late the night before drinking and generally making merry, so when we heard Jenny yell “David!” on Christmas morning, we decided we had better get up and not make Jenny wait to open her presents.
When we got downstairs, Jenny had already put out some delicious mini breakfast baps, eggrolls, and had coffee ready, so all we had to do was fall into the couch and wait while Santa Jenny handed out gifts from under the tree. After opening gifts we enjoyed more tea and coffee and relaxed under dinner.
For the first time since arriving in England we took it easy today. No shopping, no site-seeing. Mostly we hung out drinking tea, talking, watching Christmas-related shows on the telly, and occasionally slipping away to wrap holiday gifts. A nice, lazy, Christmas Eve.
In the late afternoon Jenny surprised us with another scrumptious meal. Sarah had told Jenny how her favourite meat was lamb and so there it was. Jenny is amazing!
After supper Sarah and I watched our traditional holiday film, About a Boy. Not exactly a Christmas film, but with some elements that we think display Christmas spirit. David joined us and seemed to enjoy our silly little tradition. Once the film had ended, Jenny, David, Sarah and I played Upwords. It was the first time I had played, and while it seems familiar to Scrabble fans like me, it is a game that requires a different way of thinking. Jenny and David competed with each other while politely watching while Sarah and I struggled. It was still good fun to relax and play a good board game.
While we were playing games, Chris was off practicing for the night’s gig… playing organ at midnight mass at St. Mary’s Church in Walthstow. He came back after rehearsal to pick up Sarah and I so we could join him for the jam.