Christmas in the capital

Every year Christmas in London gets bolder and brasher – and starts earlier! From October onwards shops are filled with decorations and the Christmas music begins its loop. But there are some truly spectacular sights and sounds building up to the big day.

In a small corner of Hyde Park, just across the road from Harrods, the fantastic Winter Wonderland gets better every year and now includes a traditional (no animals) family circus, a magical ice kingdom and a 60m observation wheel – worth a whirl on that just to see into the billionaires’ apartments at number 1 Hyde Park!

Enjoying the capital at Christmas time does not have to be expensive – nothing beats a wander through the streets of London to see the shop window displays and lights. The best windows are at Selfridges in Oxford Street, Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly and Liberty, just off Regent Street. Don’t miss some of the new and less obvious displays of lights like those in the Strand, Neal’s Yard, Soho, Carnaby Street and Covent Garden.

A relatively recent import from mainland Europe are the Christmas markets which flourish all over London. Little chalets selling everything from gluhwein to bobble hats abound and the best is around the Southbank Centre where you can fight your way around a Christmas tree maze and skate off some of those Christmas calories.

“When a man is tired of London…”

… he is of course also “tired of life”. Samuel Johnson’s wise words are truer now than when he uttered them nearly 250 years ago but the next part of what he said is less well-known. He completed his eulogy for the capital saying “For there is in London all that life can afford”. And he was not talking about money. Even today, some of the best things in London life are free and thankfully this includes entry to the main exhibitions at what are arguably the best museums in the world, including the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert.

As with all museums, what you normally see on display is a fraction of what they have in their archive collections. There are currently some two million objects stored at Blythe House in Olympia and the government has decided to sell this prime piece of real estate and house the objects elsewhere. Let’s hope they become more readily accessible to the people.

Meanwhile, there are some exciting, lesser seen objects on display around the capital for the next few months which are well worth a visit. At the British Museum there is a fantastic new exhibition called ‘Faith After the Pharaohs’ which provides a fascinating insight into the clash of Romano Christian culture with ancient Egypt.

At a time of high tension in the Middle East, it is poignant and inspiring to see how humanity pulls through and adapts – so often through compromise. Take for example the wonderful seated statue of Horus, on display until February, the falcon-headed ancient Egyptian god – wearing the clothes of a Roman Emperor!

Meanwhile, over at Tate Britain you can see the bugle that was used to sound the Charge of the Light Brigade. In an unusual take on the subject, Turner prize-winning artist Susan Phillipsz has assembled 14 musical instruments which were taken into major battles in an installation to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Very moving.

Are friends electric?

Well, it depends how you view your car if you live in Wandsworth, South West London. Residents of that borough are threatening to lie down on the track if plans for next year’s Formula E Grand Prix go ahead at Battersea Park, beside the mighty Thames. The Conservative controlled council, which prides itself on low council tax and attracting business opportunity, has voted in favour of staging the race in the park again in 2016.

In 2015, the event attracted some 60,000 people after earlier plans to stage it in Hyde Park were scrapped. E cars look like normal Formula 1 racing cars but are silent apart from screeching around the corners as they reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.

The organisers say that 7,000 local people bought tickets for the first ever UK E Grand Prix but now some 550 have joined the Battersea Park Formula E Action Group, which has threatened that members will chain themselves to railings around the park and lie down in front of cars next July to stop the race if necessary.

With some £600,000 pledged by the organisers for park improvements if they get their way, the battle lines are drawn in this highly charged contest.

Stairway to Heaven

Fed up with congestion and too many people at Underground stations? In the latest attempt to deal with massive over-crowding on platforms and at exit barriers Transport for London is experimenting with some new rules on escalators.

Following introduction on the crowded metros in Japan and Hong Kong, London is considering abolishing the written and unwritten rule that you stand on the right and walk on the left! Now the plan is that all passengers stand and no one walks up or down an escalator. Twitter went into meltdown as people declared that the abolition of this sacred rule was madness!

The thinking, based on a 2011 piece of work from the University of Greenwich, is that people waiting to stand cause a backlog as they queue to get on at the bottom of an escalator and that exits will also be faster as the flow will be more regulated. Let’s see – judging by the angry reaction experienced by your columnist when inadvertently standing on the wrong side occasionally, this could result in a new phenomena – ‘escalator rage’ as 3.7 million people jostle to get around the city each day.

Love me, love my dog

That’s what owners of pampered pets in London are demanding from high-end landlords. So called ‘handbag dogs’ are the latest must-have accessory for any well-heeled socialite and traditionally landlords have not been keen to accept pets, worrying about the damage they may cause.

There was a time when only in Paris did you see a perky little shih-tzu under the arm of a wealthy looking woman – or even with a place setting at a restaurant. Not so now – professional London couples in their 30s and 40s want dogs in their lives.

Property landlords are responding by seeking sky high deposits and actually finding that dog owners generally make great tenants. Insurance companies are also spotting an opportunity with specialist products for let properties with pets. Not quite dog-eat-dog out there then thankfully.

By Richard Lamberth