Christmas this year really began with listening to my very talented friend Chris singing on the South Bank with his choir Urban Voices, followed by mulled wine with Victoria and Karen. Walking home past the London Eye and trees lit with little blue fairy lights I felt very lucky to be a Londoner and to have the friends I do. Then Jamie and I shopped at Borough Market, and bought our guinea fowl from a butcher who jointed it for me according to the instructions in my Jamie Oliver cook book, despite threatening to charge more because Jamie Oliver is now too much of a big cheese to pass the time of day with him. Then he wouldn’t let me over-tip him for the Christmas box.
Christmas proper started with a plate of cheese and preparing a jelly for the next day, then a li’l glass of Prosecco. Jamie and I went to Midnight Mass in St John’s at Bethnal Green. I’m not used to a C of E service and so the intoning was a surprise and I found myself flapping desperately through the little blue booklet trying to work out – was it the creed? The eucharist? But it was a very jolly C of E sermon, exhorting us not to feel guilty for not coming to worship more often, telling us to celebrate the birth of Christ by having a good time – though not overdoing it. Rather different to the Quaker meeting I attended recently where people had ministered happily on a new child born to a single mother who is part of the meeting, and in a more conflicted spirit on a concern for the homeless, an anger against consumerism, and a plain refusal to believe a literal truth of the poetry sung in carols. There is a principled facing of the truth with Quakers that I value, but sometimes I do wish that we could just take it easy too.
Today Jamie and I cycled through town in defiance of the rain – and as often happens when you face up to an enemy, the rain melted away. Jamie led, and his confident presence helped me conquer my nerves about tackling the roads. We cycled past a working mans’ club in Bethnal Green, adorned by a Banksy graffiti and some cheery teenagers who wished us a happy Christmas, through quiet squares at the back of Kings’ Cross, through a sedate Bloomsbury and then Seven Dials in Covent Garden which was decorated with Christmas Lights arranged in the form of Candelabra. From there we went up the sandy path on the Mall, skirted the Queen’s home, past the palace of Westminster, and through Whitehall and Piccadilly. We clicked our heels together three times and said There’s no place like Soho (not really, but Jamie gave me a Wizard of Oz mug for a present and it was in my mind). As always in Soho we saw the strangest things – a woman walking down the street, oblivious to the twinkling lights of the strip joints and revue bar, with her two toddler-ish sons, who were both wearing toy police-man’s helmets; and then a moment later outside Village Soho, a small, localised glitter tornado. Some fragments of the journey were completely new to me, some (Iike Lambs Conduit Street) had impressed me ten years ago and then I had lost them, and some turnings were ingrained in the very movements of my body, places I had worked or met people at, or danced in. Then home, and then we ate a feast, from Jamie Oliver’s recipes, with some amendments from our own Jamie. We both worried some about the people we had seen who seemed homeless, or alone, or simply caught in the rain when they wanted to be somewhere else. When we were eating our home-made jelly made with berries, elderflower cordial and prosecco I was so content I could barely form words. Christmas was all I had hoped it would be – calm, luxuriant without obscene consumerism, full of laughter and friendship. It’s a good feast to wind down the year. Many thanks to Jamie for making it such a wonderful day. It’s never quite easy to decide how much it is fair to enjoy yourself when others do not have the things they most need – companionship, shelter, nourishment of all kinds. But I suppose we too need some leisure and easy time – with an old and dear friend – I think so.