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London Calling – Christmas Cracker Capital!

Oh Christmas tree!

As Christmas trees abound in London over the festive season, the owner of one smart West End restaurant is counting the cost after the theft of his rather lovely tree. L’Autre Pied in trendy Marylebone is a well known haunt of film stars including Sir Patrick Stewart, and his quote from Star Trek : The Next Generation “things are only impossible until they are not” seems apt in this case.

CCTV footage shows the audacious tree thieves ripping out the wires and one of them calmly putting the 2.5-metre, lavishly-decorated tree over his shoulder and walking away! Having cost restaurant owner David Moore some £700 (€830), he is understandably reluctant to replace it but is offering a reward of dinner for two at his restaurant – all you need is information leading to the arrest of the culprits!

The most famous Christmas tree in London is the one in Trafalgar Square. Standing at around 20 metres tall, it provides the backdrop to the huge New Year celebrations which take place in the square. The tree is an annual gift to the people of Britain from the city of Oslo, in recognition of the their support in World War II.

Meanwhile, leader of the UK’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, held his annual drinks reception and revealed his tree to the world – red baubles only and a big red star on the top, of course!

Santacon 2016

The tube trains were already packed one early December Saturday when I headed into west London and, at every station, more and more people got on dressed in Santa outfits. The crazy but generally fun phenomenon of Santacon has really caught on in the capital. The idea started in San Francisco in 1994 and has now spread to London and other cities around the globe. New York is now the Santacon capital of the world with thousands turning out each year, but London is not far behind.

For many, it is a glorified pub crawl, but there is now a formal registration process and an encouragement to bring along Christmas carol sheets for spontaneous singing in the streets and mince pies to hand out as well as presents for children. Ho ho ho indeed!

Absolutely fabulous

Hot on the heels of her support for the Thames Garden Bridge project, actress Joanna Lumley has taken up another cause in London. In Berwick Street, Soho, there is an independent street market which can trace its roots back to 1770.

Westminster council is planning to offer a management contract to a private company and existing stallholders are up in arms as they believe this will lead to spiralling costs and take away the essence of the market itself.

There are some 40 stalls, selling mainly flowers, fruit and street food, and Joanna Lumley remembers walking through the vibrant market when she was a model in the sixties – “traders would sometimes give me a tangerine and always a friendly greeting”, she said. Standing alongside the 70-year-old Absolutely Fabulous star, Suggs, the lead singer of Madness, has also joined the fight for the market to remain independent. The stallholders have jointly submitted their own bid for the market licence and their aim, according to chairman Robin Smith, is to “maintain relevance to the people and businesses they serve”.

Water waste!

A couple of years ago, the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson bought water cannons from the German federal police, maybe fearing Londoners would take to the streets in mass protest after the EU referendum! Well, they did not, of course, and new Mayor Sadiq Khan has put the unused vehicles up for sale.

Astonishingly, the cost to London taxpayers for this flight of fancy is some £322,000 (€385,000). The vehicles have been in storage but were still upgraded to ensure compliance with London’s Low Emission Zone. What is less clear to many Londoners, though, is why additional cost was incurred to install radios and CD players in the driving cabs! City Hall has not commented on what type of music should be played by drivers when hosing angry protesters but “Smoke on the Water” seems like a good starting point to your columnist.

The vehicles will be sold to a “reputable European policing or civil defence force”, according to the Mayor’s Office, and they are a snip at £43,000 (€51,500) each. Maybe Boris should buy them back just in case the Brexit negotiations don’t go well – the Rolling Stones playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on loop in the cabs would then seem appropriate!

Extend your imagination

Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous and beautiful churches in the world, and virtually every monarch from William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth II has been crowned there. Well over two million tourists visit each year to quite literally tread in the footsteps of Royalty.

Somewhat surprisingly, therefore, the Abbey is about to be extended! Earlier this month, the Prince of Wales unveiled a foundation stone on a new tower on the eastern side of the building which, to the undoubted pleasure of Prince Charles, will be very much in keeping with the original building. It will feature a new museum on the history of the Abbey and also house the £23 million (€27.5 million) Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries which will open in 2018.

Michael Poppins

Watch out Mary, men are now signing up at an unprecedented rate to become nannies and babysitters to children in London. And so a new word is born – ‘Manny’ will no doubt be joining the list for inclusion in the next Oxford English dictionary!

The owners of a new babysitting app ‘Bubble’ are saying that the number of male applicants to the site has doubled in the last year. This rather clever app allows parents and babysitters to connect via social networks like Facebook, and the owners say that parents with boys seem particularly keen to find male babysitters. There are 1,300 London babysitters on the site with new people joining all the time. One to watch!

By Richard Lamberth