London Calling – Enjoy the City and the season

Let it snow!

Christmas cards famously depict the sights of London, like Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, in a snowy, seasonal setting, but, in truth, snow in London is rare these days. The last time the Thames froze over was nearly 60 years ago.

This year looked like being no exception with a very mild and sunny November and many trees hanging onto their leaves seemingly endlessly. Gardeners were rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a mild winter with many more plants surviving through to 2023 than usual.

Then, the Christmas month came along and, almost on cue, the wind changed direction. A direct blast from the Arctic brought heavy snow and plunging temperatures.

In Scotland, an all-time low of -15.7 degrees was recorded, whilst in the Capital daytime temperatures for the first half of the month were barely above zero and plunged as far as -6 at night.

2022 has seen three UK Prime Ministers, the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the outbreak of war in Europe – will there now be a White Christmas to cap off a memorable 12 months? Bookmakers are offering odds between 9/2 and 13/2, so it might be worth a flutter. Weather forecasters are generally predicting low temperatures, but the likelihood of snow is slim.

Going out for less

London has a fantastic array of entertainment opportunities throughout the festive season. Of course, all the famous London shows in the West End continue and there are opportunities for interactive Dickensian feasts, pantomimes and spectacular outside treats like the magnificent Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and the amazing light show at Kew Gardens.

But in tough times, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the City and the season at little cost. The street lighting is spectacular, particularly in The Strand and Trafalgar Square this year and there are German-style markets to wander around and enjoy in the West End and Southbank.

One of the world’s greatest concert halls, Wigmore Hall, is just a few minutes’ walk from Oxford Circus Station and is staging a series of concerts with world-class musicians and choral performances this year.

Cantatas, Bach’s uplifting work, is the highlight on New Year’s Eve and Wigmore Hall is the perfect place to hear it with amazing acoustics.

There are other performances by Scottish baroque ensemble Dunedin Consort and the Il Pomo d’Oro Choir from Italy amongst many others. Under 35s can buy tickets for just £5 (€5.73) and regular pricing is from £16 (€18.33).

Another relatively new and reasonably priced phenomenon comes into its own at Christmas and this is Backyard Cinema. This incredible concept venue is located in Wandsworth, Southwest London. Throughout the year, it shows blockbuster new releases of movies and also old favourites but with a twist.

There are proper bars and restaurants to enjoy and watching the films is a joy as the auditorium becomes a beach with deckchairs to watch ‘Grease’ or a spaceship for ‘Star Wars’!

At Christmas time, of course, the place becomes a winter wonderland showing all the emotional old favourites like ‘Elf’, ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Love Actually’. It really takes the enjoyment of cinema to a stratospherically higher level.

Bah Humbug!

Perhaps the greatest franchise of all at Christmas is that amazing 19th century author and proponent of social change, Charles Dickens. There is something about his name even that evokes a Christmassy feeling whatever the time of year.

The enduring image of Scrooge constantly entertains and reminds us of social division, providing us all with a role model to avoid! Famously, there have been films, plays, cartoons and even a Muppet version of the story with Michael Caine.

This year, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is back at the Old Vic and promises, once again, an immersive, enjoyable, raucous telling of the tale ‘in the round’.

Channel 4 is airing ‘Miriam’s Very Dickensian Christmas’, with Miriam Margolyes telling us why she is a self-confessed Scrooge! This programme will be of interest to regular London Calling readers as Lucinda Hawksley, Dickens’ great-great-grandaughter and contributor to this column, stars in the programme too!

Perhaps the most bizarre incarnation of the story this year though is taking place at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank. ‘Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol’ runs until January 8, 2023.

This reimagining of the Dickensian classic Christmas tale is set back in the 1930s in the Great Smoky Mountains where Dolly lived as a child.

These were tough times for most people and Ebenezer Scrooge is the heartless owner of the local mine, blinded by his own wealth and greed. The four traditional ghosts visit and the rest of the story we all know! The music is, of course, provided by Dolly herself and a strong cast deliver what Time Out describe as ‘a fun and tuneful night out’.

Christmas with a King

King Charles III will this year deliver the first Christmas Day speech by a King for 70 years. Whilst he will spend Christmas at Sandringham in Norfolk, it is believed that the speech has been recorded mainly at Buckingham Palace.

He will clearly be paying a personal tribute to his mother and her lifetime of dedication to service.

It also seems likely though that he will focus on his own agenda for the future and it is expected that the message will achieve a record number of viewers and listeners.

A time for Goodwill?

This is the first Christmas post-pandemic and despite the cost-of-living crisis, war in Ukraine and political uncertainty, Londoners were hoping for a joyous festive time.

It is estimated that, in normal times, Christmas boosts the UK economy by some £15 billion (€17.2 billion), much of it flowing into London. It did seem this year though that trade unions had other ideas.

On the Saturday before Christmas (usually the busiest of the year), the capital’s roads were clogged with traffic as rail workers went on strike. Buses were crammed to capacity and tempers frayed as drivers faced long queues for parking and seemingly endless delays on the roads.

Tube trains were full to capacity and offered only a limited service. Despite this, the capital was busy though restaurant and shop workers reported less people spending less money than usual. A seemingly self-defeating chain of events when we all needed a bit of good cheer!

By Richard Lamberth

Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.