I’ll never forget my first Christmas in London.
In front of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, the Christmas Village opened in late November. Every afternoon, in the early four o’clock darkness, crowds of kids whizzed in reckless circles on the ice-rink. It was here, in a prefabricated tent café/bar, among the “defeated by, not brave enough or too cool for the ice” crowd, I discovered British hot chocolate. Thick, sticky and sweet it slid across the tongue and ran down the throat like liquid velvet.
Alongside the ice-rink was the Christmas market, a collection of little wooden huts, selling cards and exotic wares made by unknown and forgotten people from faraway places. At its centre were a Christmas tree and a carousel.
Further up the road, in Harrods snow dusted, icicled window, Versace and Prada-clad mannequins gazed out over silver ice-buckets stuffed with champagne and Venetian glasses, past silver dishes laden with caviar and pate de foie gras.
Up in Picadilly, at Fortnum and Mason, the windows re-told the story of the Twelve Days of Christmas, while inside floor after floor unfolded tantalizing sights and smells.
Of course, there were the pressing crowds, the decorated streets, the Christmas trees, the jolly old chap in the red suit, the last minute rush through the shops and the queues at the counters which characterise Christmas everywhere. But those ice-rinks, that hot chocolate and those particular shop windows, were something entirely new to me. I’ll always remember them as uniquely London.