Am I too late to recall Christmas day? In late January, winter doesn’t seem to have displaced the monsoon season yet so I’ll indulge myself.
It was a quiet day for us, anticipating our annual trip to Venice for The Great Dinner on New Year’s Eve with a group of Venetian friends. It was a bright and sunny day and our Christmas dinner was well in hand so we thought that it would be a good, rare opportunity to take Tippecanoe on a drive through the very heart of London, as there would be no commercial traffic, no congestion charge and few private cars. Only the last of these assumptions was a little out of place as those that there were, were full of people unfamiliar with London, cars full of dazzled children and bewildered drivers causing congestive cardiac failure. Thus I have a “drive your Studebaker” memory to share.
It’s only a few minutes from home along the Euston Road from King’s Cross before turning left at Park Crescent into Portland Place. I lived at International Students’ House in this handsome, Nash crescent when I was a student half a century ago. Soon passing Broadcasting House, the number of people about is quite surprising, but little traffic so crossing Oxford Circus into Regent Street is an unfamiliar breeze.
The Christmas lights of Oxford Street stretching out left and right and Regent Street glittering ahead look lovely and have attracted remarkably large crowds that increase as we progress in stately fashion down Regent Street. Tippecanoe is a great bonus for the large crowds of visitors here for the sights and lights of Piccadilly Circus and we’ll be in many people’s photographs of their Christmas visit to London. It occurs to me that the absence of public transport on this day makes it all the more remarkable that there are so many people and also makes the roads in this part of London far less congested than usual.
From Piccadilly Circus we go down Haymarket sidling across to the left ready to turn towards Trafalgar Square. This area is the cause of real confusion for drivers unfamiliar with London. However, people are always kind to Tippecanoe and we make our way through the congestion like the Queen Mum progressing through a crowded room.
Whitehall is easy going and by now dusk has set in, so the flashing of cameras is all the more startling as we turn into Parliament Square and Bridge Street where there is hardly room on the pavements for all the crowds. We turn off left along The Embankment just before Westminster Bridge and so along the Thames all the way back to Blackfriars Bridge where we turn inland again and make our way home in a now darkening London, with a quick view of the floodlit West front of St. Paul’s up Ludgate Hill. So back to Islington and the quick, final stages of cooking our traditional Christmas beef wellington.