Wednesday, January 04, 2006

37 Kinds of Christmas

Our plans for Christmas Day were simple, the centred around one thing: ISH; the International Students House. For £10 we could have pre-Christmas Luncheon drinks, a Traditional English Christmas Luncheon (with wine we later discovered), a guided walk through Regent’s Park, Tea and the Queen’s speech at 3pm, and then movies at the ISH. This all began at 12 so we were up by 10 or so… but we couldn’t leave the house without opening the prezzies (as they say here). I got a chocolate bar from the girls, a mug from Kara, and a little rubber turtle that sticks its tongue out when you squeeze it. It was a good haul; there was lots of love there. I felt bad that I didn’t get anyone anything, but they told me not to, so I stopped being guilty and shared chocolate.
We walked over to ISH on Great Portland Street, it was a bit of a walk and we all sort of split off into groups of two or three, per normal, chatting away happily as we walked. At ISH we purchased the tickets I had pre-reserved, and we headed into the bar to be greeted by glasses of Champagne from the man who heads the London ISH. His name is Kevin (I think) and he was very happy, with a thin, close cropped grey beard, crinkles around his eyes from smiling, and just a little fat around the waist, he has he appearance of a dieting youthful Santa. A very, very nice man, who (later) pulled out a cane and a long cigar that he smoked while walking in Regents Park. He didn’t need the cane to walk around, but used it instead to point out things, and to generally give him the look of a bad ass with his grey trench coat, leather gloves, and long brown cigar.
We’d been sitting in the bar a while talking and laughing with Scott (an Aussie I’ve mentioned before) who’d joined us for the day, when Kevin came up guiding another boy of around 20 toward us. “You are all from the states right?” we all gave positive responses, “Well this guy is from Michigan-” an eruption ensued drowning out Kevin. Michigan!” a number of us yelled at once, and welcomed a new member to our table. He was soon fitted with the obligatory glass of champagne and we talked and laughed for another ten minutes (a few of us getting a second glass of champagne), when Kevin steered a girl of over, “She’s from New Jersey…” another emulsion of hello’s and cheers for the good ‘ol USA poured out, and she joined our now crowded table. Soon after another was brought over, Erica (Massachusetts), then two more from California, and Texas (these got rather louder cheers similar to Michigan because there were others from those states represented at our table). By this point we no longer had available seats, Andy had gone to meet new people and freed his seat, but there were still people standing around the table. 15 minutes later the announcement came and we headed downstairs to luncheon.

We lost most all of our newcomers except Erica, and we secured a table in the corner of the large room for our food. The tables were very well decorated for a £10 dinner, complete with two bottles of wine per table, nice napkins, golden crackers, poppers of every colour, and even a little Christmas tree in the centre. I quickly traded my paper hat from the crackers that morning during prezzies for the Santa hat that was sitting atop the tree and we started the feast. After the pâté with salad Kevin got up in front and wanted everyone to say their name and where they were from. There were about 60 people there so this was no small task, but after it was done we discovered we were sharing Christmas with 37 other nationalities from all across the globe. It was astonishing to think of… all of us in the same room. I smiled from ear to ear, and they brought out the turkey… Over an hour later we’d had our fill of turkey, stuffing balls, cranberry sauce, and wine, we’d cracked our crackers, popped our poppers and our table looked a mess, but we weren’t through yet. We got our Christmas Pudding for dessert, and as we were eating a woman came by with long balloons, a straw to blow them up with, and instructions to blow them up and let them fly around the room.
It was harder than it looked, after much strain (and Andy nearly having an aneurism) I managed with a great heave of my lungs, to inflate my balloon (the first one to get it going in fact) I was so light headed, perhaps assisted by the quantity of wine I’d consumed, and couldn’t help letting out a giggle of delight as it flew around the room squealing as it went. I then doubled over as a little kid named David from Colombia ran to where it fell and brought it back to me to try again! David and I got the balloon to fly around the room two more times before anyone else had even gotten the damn things inflated. We were a good team.
After the dinner was through, we all applauded the cooks (working on Christmas) and gathered back upstairs for the walk around the park. I called my mother, talked to my family who were all assembled at grandma’s for Christmas morning, took a couple of pictures, and was dawdling behind chatting away as the group I was with began applauding. I had caught up with them at a fountain and I had apparently been missed. I laughed along with them and shortly after said goodbye to my family as I endeavoured to keep up the pace. Regent’s Park is beautiful, and the sun was setting nicely over the trees as we walked, full to the brim. What a happy day.
We got back to ISH and had some tea and sandwiches as we watched the Queen speak on national TV about the travesties of 2005, and how we needed to come together and work for a better 2006. I like the speech, and thought the Queen had the right idea. After tea, we headed back and we all veged out in front of Eddie Izzard, and a few other films while fighting off food coma for the rest of the day. Happy Christmas it was.

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